Captain Rodgers was not exactly a success. When Eads located the Benton, a stoutly built salvage boat he once had owned, and proposed to convert her into a warship, Rodgers vetoed the idea. The Benton later became the most powerful ship on the river. When Eads suggested purchasing Missouri riverboats and converting them in St. Louis, thereby avoiding the uncertainties of navigation on the Ohio at low water, Rodgers vetoed that too, and proceeded to go off to Cincinnati on his own, where he arranged the conversion of three steamers into wooden gunboats—the Lexington, the Tyler, and the Conestoga. The conversion of these, really amounting to not much more than adding heavy wooden bulkheads and some cannon, was completed by July, 1861, and file:///H|/Buecherbearbeitung/Navy/Civil%20War%20Ironclads%20-%20The%20Dawn%20of%20Naval%20Armor%20-%20MacBRIDE/Civil%20War%20Ironclads.htm the embryo flotilla started downriver to Cairo. As Eads had predicted, they were delayed by the low water, and did not reach Cairo for six weeks.
In the meantime, Eads had been making plans, and had drawn up a proposal of his own for a gunboat building program. In July, Quartermaster General Meigs advertised for bids, and, by some coincidence, Eads was low bidder. He was awarded a contract.
The contract called for the construction of 7 vessels which were to draw 6 feet of water. They were to be plated with iron and carry 13 guns each, and were to be delivered at Cairo, Illinois, on or before October 10 of that year.
The shipbuilding industry in St. Louis by that time had come to a virtual halt because of the war. Eads had no difficulty obtaining the materials, facilities, and labor necessary. He quickly organized an elaborate network of subcontractors throughout the Ohio Valley: the rolling mills of Gaylord and Sons in Portsmouth, Ohio; Swift and Company Newport, Kentucky; Harrison, Chouteau and Valle, in St. Louis; Thomas G. Gaylord, Cincinnati. Orders and instructions were sent by telegraph, often for hours at a time. At Cairo and Mound City, Illinois, and St. Louis, a force of 4,000 men worked night and day on the hulls while the 21 steam engines and 31 boilers necessary were being built.
The ships were not delivered on time. This was due to the government's failure to pay for them as promised—forcing Eads and his associates to buy materials and labor out of their own funds. The St. Louis, the first of the seven, was launched October 12 at Carondelet, Illinois, 45 days after laying the keel.
There was certainly nothing radical about the design of these ships. On a more or less standard riverboat, hull 175 feet long and 75 feet wide, a casemate with sides sloping back at 45-degree angles was built. This casemate extended the full width of the boat and almost the complete length, leaving only the blunt bow and 10 feet or so of the stern uncovered. Within the casemate were the guns, three in the bow, pointing ahead, four on each side, and two astern. The paddle wheel was located in a well near the stern, and was completely surrounded by the casemate. Only the forward side of the casemate and a section of the sides abreast of the boilers and engines were armored, and here there were only 2 1/2 inches of railroad iron. The rest of the casemate was backed with 24 inches of oak.
The boilers were dropped into the hold as far as possible, but, like those of most riverboats, they were high-pressure boilers. When hit they would explode like bombs, scalding anyone within the compartment with superheated steam.
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