In the fall and winter of 1862, approximately 20 vessels of a new type were added to the river fleet—the so-called "tinclads." These were small river steamers, usually stern-wheelers, purchased in the cities along the river, sometimes by the War Department and sometimes by the Navy. They were armored with 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch of iron, with extra protection around the boilers, and they often carried an armored pilothouse. The sides were pierced to accommodate from 4 to 6 guns, usually 24-pound brass howitzers, and sometimes 2 rifled guns in the bow. They were of extremely light draft, usually not more than 3 feet, and some of them drew as little as 18 inches. These boats were capable of cruising up and down all the tributaries of the great river, harassing the Confederates, particularly the guerrillas operating behind Union lines. A number of the tinclads patrolled the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, convoying supply steamers and fighting bushwhackers. Twentytwo tinclads were put into service in 1862, and by the end of the war more than sixty had been used.
The Osage Class
In April of 1862, the Navy Department requested Eads to submit plans for a light-draft, fully armored vessel. He responded with a design similar to the Cairos, with a casemate and a draft of 5 1/2 feet. By this time the Monitor had burst upon the scene, and the department now wished to see turrets and still less draft. Eads then submitted a design with a turret 8 inches thick, an armored stern paddle wheel, and a 4 1/2 -foot draft. The department was impressed, but wanted even less draft, so Eads gave them a design drawing only 3 1/2 feet. This was acceptable, and the following month Eads received a contract to build two of this type, the Osage and the Neosho.
While they were designated as monitors, they did not really conform to the Ericsson pattern, although a modification of the Ericsson turret was used. The difference primarily was in the placement of the turret; it was quite far forward with a field of fire of only about 300 degrees. The armored overhang also was lacking, and the deckhouses and the conical armor on the stern wheel must have made John Ericsson gnash his teeth. But all this was necessary to achieve the shallow draft.
Admiral David Porter, who was something of a connoisseur of monitors, pronounced them satisfactory for light work, but not at all suitable for rough weather or heavy combat. He did not recommend building any more of them.
Still they did meet the light-draft requirement, unlike the more sophisticated Cascos. In fact, when they were launched, they drew only 3 feet, and so an extra 1/2 inch of iron was laid on their decks.
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