Before the seven gunboats were completed, Eads undertook to convert two snag boats into ironclads. [Heavily built salvage boats, with powerful engines, also used for removing obstructions and towing.] The first became the redoubtable Benton, for some time flagship of the Mississippi Flotilla.
The snag boat was really a catamaran, with its twin hulls about 20 feet apart. The open space between the hulls was planked over, top and bottom, and a new bow added, forming a strong single hull 75 feet wide and 200 feet long. Upon this was built the usual casemate, only on the Benton the sides were armored as well as the bow with 3 1/2 inches of iron. She carried 16 guns. With all this armor she was somewhat overloaded, and her top speed was only 5 knots.
A second snag boat was converted into the Essex. Although she was as large as the Benton, she carried only 5 guns, and was even slower. She was an unlucky ship, always hard hit, in trouble of some sort, missing the big opportunities, somewhat like the Saratoga in the Second World War.
Slow and lightly armored as they certainly were, these 9 ships were the work horses of the Mississippi Flotilla throughout the war. As happened with the building of the monitors in the East, production slowed as the war progressed. This was caused by the shortages of labor and materials, as well as the burgeoning bureaucracy of the Navy Department.
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