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The Monitor and the Virginia at 157 Years: The Clash of Ironclads at Hampton Roads

800px-the_monitor_and_merrimac1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today marks the 157th  anniversary of an event which changed naval warfare forever. It was a watershed event which ended the reign of the great wooden ships which plied the oceans of the world under massive fields of canvas sails. 

It took place just a few miles from my office, if it happened today I would certainly be able to watch it from beach any of the beaches were I work at Joint Base Little Creek – Fort Story.  

On that day, two very strange looking ships joined in battle. This is the story of the Battle of Hanpton Roads and the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

On the morning of March 8th 1862 the CSS Virginia steamed slowly from her base at Portsmouth Virginia into Hampton Roads at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Awaiting her was a US Navy squadron of wooden warships including the steam Frigate USS Minnesota, the Sloop of War USS Cumberland and Frigate USS Congress and a number of smaller vessels. The Virginia was an armored ram built from the salvaged remains of the large steam frigate USS Merrimack which had been burned at Gosport (Now Norfolk) Naval Shipyard. Her plans had been leaked to the US Navy which was also in the process of constructing a number of ironclad ships of different types. The first of these ships to be ready was the USS Monitor, a small ship mounting a single heavily armored turret mounting two powerful 11” Dalghren smoothbore guns was still steaming to Hampton Roads when Virginia came out for battle.

CSSVirginia1862.2.ws

During the ensuing fight of March 8th Virginia rammed and sank Cumberland which though fatally wounded disabled two of Virginia’s 9” in guns. She destroyed Congress by gunfire which burned and blew up and appeared to be in position to destroy Minnesota the following day as that ship had run hard aground. The losses aboard Cumberland and Congress were severe and included the Captain of the Congress and Chaplain John L. Lenhart of Cumberland, the first US Navy Chaplain to die in battle. During the battle Virginia had several men wounded including her Captain Franklin Buchanan.

Cumberland_rammed_by_Merrimac

Due to the coming of darkness and a falling tide the acting commander of Virginia, Lieutenant Catsby Ap Roger Jones her executive officer took her in for the night. During the night Monitor, under the command of Lieutenant John Worden arrived and took up station to defend Minnesota.

603px-Battle_of_Hampton_Roads_Map

The next morning Virginia again ventured out and was intercepted by the Monitor. The ships fought for over three hours, with Monitor using her superior speed and maneuverability to great effect. During the battle Monitor suffered a hit on her small pilothouse near her bow blinding her Captain. Monitor’s executive officer, Lieutenant Dana Greene, the son of Union Brigadier General George Sears Greene, the hero of Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg took command. Neither side suffered much damage but the smokestack of Virginia was pierced in several places affecting her already poor engine performance.  Jones broke off the action and returned to Gosport for repairs and Monitor remained on station.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles wrote after the battle:

“the performance, power, and capabilities of the Monitor, must effect a radical change in naval warfare.”

USSMonitor1862.3.ws

It did. The battle showed the world the vulnerability of wooden warships against the new ironclads. Monitor in particular revolutionized naval warfare and warship construction. Her defining mark was the use of the armored gun turret which over the succeeding decades became the standard manner for large ships guns to be mounted. Turrets like the warships they were mounted upon grew in size and power reaching their apex during the Second World War.

arizon-main-battery2

Both Virginia and Monitor reached less than glorious ends. Virginia had to be destroyed by her crew to prevent her capture just over two months after the battle on May 11th 1862. Monitor survived until January 31st 1862 when she sank during a heavy storm off Cape Hatteras North Carolina with the loss of 16 of her 62 man crew. The remains of two of those men, recovered during the salvage of Monitor’s engines, turret, guns and anchor were interred at Arlington National Cemetery on March 8th 2012. The relics from Monitor and some from Virginia are displayed at the Mariners Museum in Newport News (http://www.marinersmuseum.org )while one of Virginia’s anchors resides on the lawn of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.

Those early ironclads and the brave men who served aboard them revolutionized naval warfare and their work should never be forgotten.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Clash of the Ironclads: The Battle of Hampton Roads

800px-the_monitor_and_merrimac1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today marks the 156th anniversary of an event which changed naval warfare forever. It was a watershed event which ended the reign of the great wooden ships which plied the oceans of the world under massive fields of canvas sails. 

It took place just a few miles from my office, if it happened today I would certainly be able to watch it from beach any of the beaches were I work at Joint Base Little Creek – Fort Story.  

On that day, two very strange looking ships joined in battle. This is the story of the Battle of Hanpton Roads and the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

On the morning of March 8th 1862 the CSS Virginia steamed slowly from her base at Portsmouth Virginia into Hampton Roads at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Awaiting her was a US Navy squadron of wooden warships including the steam Frigate USS Minnesota, the Sloop of War USS Cumberland and Frigate USS Congress and a number of smaller vessels. The Virginia was an armored ram built from the salvaged remains of the large steam frigate USS Merrimack which had been burned at Gosport (Now Norfolk) Naval Shipyard. Her plans had been leaked to the US Navy which was also in the process of constructing a number of ironclad ships of different types. The first of these ships to be ready was the USS Monitor, a small ship mounting a single heavily armored turret mounting two powerful 11” Dalghren smoothbore guns was still steaming to Hampton Roads when Virginia came out for battle.

CSSVirginia1862.2.ws

During the ensuing fight of March 8th Virginia rammed and sank Cumberland which though fatally wounded disabled two of Virginia’s 9” in guns. She destroyed Congress by gunfire which burned and blew up and appeared to be in position to destroy Minnesota the following day as that ship had run hard aground. The losses aboard Cumberland and Congress were severe and included the Captain of the Congress and Chaplain John L. Lenhart of Cumberland, the first US Navy Chaplain to die in battle. During the battle Virginia had several men wounded including her Captain Franklin Buchanan.

Cumberland_rammed_by_Merrimac

Due to the coming of darkness and a falling tide the acting commander of Virginia, Lieutenant Catsby Ap Roger Jones her executive officer took her in for the night. During the night Monitor, under the command of Lieutenant John Worden arrived and took up station to defend Minnesota.

603px-Battle_of_Hampton_Roads_Map

The next morning Virginia again ventured out and was intercepted by the Monitor. The ships fought for over three hours, with Monitor using her superior speed and maneuverability to great effect. During the battle Monitor suffered a hit on her small pilothouse near her bow blinding her Captain. Monitor’s executive officer, Lieutenant Dana Greene, the son of Union Brigadier General George Sears Greene, the hero of Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg took command. Neither side suffered much damage but the smokestack of Virginia was pierced in several places affecting her already poor engine performance.  Jones broke off the action and returned to Gosport for repairs and Monitor remained on station.

Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles wrote after the battle:

“the performance, power, and capabilities of the Monitor, must effect a radical change in naval warfare.”

USSMonitor1862.3.ws

It did. The battle showed the world the vulnerability of wooden warships against the new ironclads. Monitor in particular revolutionized naval warfare and warship construction. Her defining mark was the use of the armored gun turret which over the succeeding decades became the standard manner for large ships guns to be mounted. Turrets like the warships they were mounted upon grew in size and power reaching their apex during the Second World War.

arizon-main-battery2

Both Virginia and Monitor reached less than glorious ends. Virginia had to be destroyed by her crew to prevent her capture just over two months after the battle on May 11th 1862. Monitor survived until January 31st 1862 when she sank during a heavy storm off Cape Hatteras North Carolina with the loss of 16 of her 62 man crew. The remains of two of those men, recovered during the salvage of Monitor’s engines, turret, guns and anchor were interred at Arlington National Cemetery on March 8th 2012. The relics from Monitor and some from Virginia are displayed at the Mariners Museum in Newport News (http://www.marinersmuseum.org )while one of Virginia’s anchors resides on the lawn of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.

Those early ironclads and the brave men who served aboard them revolutionized naval warfare and their work should never be forgotten.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Cemetery & Culp’s Hill Pt 5

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am catching up from  from another trip with my students to Gettysburg, and happen to be posting my newest additions to my text, these dealing with the battles for Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill which occurred on the night of July 2nd and early morning of July 3rd 1863. I hope you enjoy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

greene monument

When the divisions Alpheus Williams and John Geary marched away to meet the threat to Cemetery Ridge, only George Greene’s brigade remained to defend Culp’s Hill. In addition to his own position, Greene found his brigade “guarding nearly half a mile of Twelfth Corps works.” [1] Much like Joshua Chamberlain on the extreme left of the Union line, “Greene ended up with a much-thinned single-rank battle line without reserves.” [2] Greene only had between 1,300 and 1,400 men and one battery of artillery, but he made the most of them taking advantage of the natural terrain features as well as the entrenchments which his men and the other Twelfth Corps units had prepared. He “formed his brigade in a single line, with spaces between the men, regiments moving to the right as the line lengthened.” [3] In addition he sent out his smallest regiment, the 78th New York “The Cameron Highlanders” down the hillside to act as skirmishers where they joined with men of the 60th New York.

culp's hill

Allegheny Johnson and his division drew the toughest assignment on this warm summer evening. Since it arrived on the battlefield the previous night it was sheltered to the rear of Brenner’s Hill about a mile east of Gettysburg north of the Hannover Road, where with the exception of sending some skirmishers to Rock Creek, “Johnson kept his infantry concealed and quiet throughout the day.” [4] His four brigades, one of Louisianans under the Colonel Jesse Williams, and the brigades of Brigadier Generals John M. Jones, George “Maryland” Steuart, and James Walker, were primarily Virginians. His four brigades had sat inactive the entire day and impatiently awaited orders to attack, with one staff officer “prudently “conducting religious services…the men gladly joining the solemn exercises.” [5]

When Latimer’s battered artillery battalion withdrew from Brenner’s Hill, Ewell gave orders for the attack to begin. At about seven o’clock Johnson ordered his troops forward, but unlike Early’s troops who were well deployed in a position where they could immediately attack Cemetery Hill, John’s brigades had to make a march over bad, obstacle strewn ground in order to get to their attack positions, and the advance did not go according to plan. James Walker’s “Stonewall” Brigade had to be left behind “to settle accounts with aggressive skirmishers from General Gregg’s cavalry division who had persisted in harassing his left flank and rear.” [6] This stubborn fight of the Union Cavalry troopers prevented “the entire Stonewall Brigade from taking its place in Ewell’s assault column” as Walker “was so flustered by the resistance that he encountered that he deferred his movement to Culp’s Hill, fearing to uncover Ewell’s left to Union observers.” [7] This deprived the Confederates of a quarter of their strength before the attack even began.

ewells-attack-on-culps-hill

As the remaining brigades of the division, “Jones, Williams, and Steuart, in that order, reached Rock Creek, they discovered waist-deep water that would take time to negotiate.” [8] In addition to the high water the far back was very steep and “infested with Yankee soldiers ready to contest any passage.” The officer commanding the skirmishers wrote, “We held this point with the briskest fire we could concentrate…. I decided to…sweep them as the crossed the brook.” [9] The delay cost the Confederates another half hour and the Union troops slowly withdrew up the slope continuing to maintain fire as they withdrew “using “the heavy timber” to make “every tree and rock a veritable battlefield.” [10] As the New Yorkers withdrew, the brigades of Jones and Williams had to make the assault up the steep and rugged slope of Culp’s Hill, and by now it was dark. The main part of Culp’s Hill, where these brigades attack “with its steep, rock strew slopes broken here and there by cliffs fifteen to twenty feet high, afforded great protection to its defenders,” [11] who as previously noted had worked hard to fortify the already imposing ground. Johnson himself was concerned about the effect of the terrain on the advance as “the Confederate infantry halted from time to time, waiting for its advance to clear the way.” [12]

Johnson sent some 4,700 men up Culp’s Hill to attack Greene’s 1,300 dug in veterans. “That kind of manpower edge would have likely been decisive elsewhere on the field that day, but against Pop Greene’s providential and well-constructed breastworks the odds leveled out.” [13] The Confederate troops continued to move up the slope battling the persistent skirmishers the entire way when they discovered another unpleasant surprise. Greene had concealed his men, even hiding the colors below the barricades to disguise his positions and he waited until the Confederates were almost upon his positions and had stopped to dress the line, before opening “a general open fire “like chain lightening” from his brigade.” [14] The fire had a devastating effect on the Confederate’s, whose line wavered. A captain of the 44th Virginia remembered that “all was confusion and disorder.” Private Benjamin Jones of the 44th remembered the enemy’s works as “a ditch filled with men firing down on their heads.” [15] The volleys of Greene’s men from “in front and the abattis behind trapped John Marshall Jones’ Virginia brigade “scarcely thirty yards from the enemy’s breastworks,” [16] forcing them to take cover for nearly fifteen minutes while their officers figured out what to do. Finally they rose up and stormed the works. They charged four times, and General Jones was wounded in the leg, forcing him to turn over command of his brigade. The attacks of Jones and William’s brigades “were bloody disasters. The steep pitch of the hill and the darkness of the hour, compounded by the rocks and brush that everywhere hindered movement, rendered any sort of coherent assault an impossibility.” [17] Finally, the Confederates withdrew to the base of the hill where they established a foothold and tried to regroup.

Greene’s men fought hard but Greene was not ready to rest on his laurels. He requested reinforcements from First and Eleventh Corps on his left. Despite being under attack himself, James Wadsworth, who had fought his division so well at McPherson’s and seminary Ridge the previous day, “promptly sent two regiments, the 6th Wisconsin and the 84th New York. Howard, in response to Greene’s call had Schurz hurry over the 82nd Illinois, the 45th New York, the 157th New York, and the 61st Ohio.” [18] However, the six regiments that arrived had been reduced to fractions of their former strength by the first day’s battle “increased Greene’s force only by about 755 men.” [19]Additionally, Hancock who heard the battle raging “sent two regiments to the relief of Slocum as well.”[20] Greene’s after action report noted:

“we were attacked on the whole of our front by a large force few minutes before 7 p.m. The enemy made four distinct charges between 7 and 9.30 p.m., which were effectually resisted. No more than 1,300 were in our lines at any one time. The loss of the enemy greatly exceeds ours.”[21]

Further south, “Maryland” Steuart’s brigade entered the area of the Federal line which had been vacated by Geary and Williams’s divisions where it posed a brief threat. However, Steuart’s brigade fared no better as it hit the Federal line. Two of his regiments “got ahead of the rest of their command and hooked onto the right flank of the Louisiana troops. This had the unpleasant effect of funneling them into a deadly cul de sac, with unfriendly fire in their front and on both flanks” [22] His left regiments faced little resistance and began to look for a way around Green’s flank in the darkness.

As the night wore on Confederate attacks continued and in the darkness other Federal units arrived, including those from XII Corps which had gone earlier in the day. By mid-morning Johnson’s assault was done. His units had suffered severe casualties and his division had been drained of all attacking power by the time Lee needed it on the morning of July 3rd to support Pickett’s attack. “This division, formed by Stonewall Jackson was never the same again. Its glories were in the past.”[23] In the end the Army of the Potomac still held both Cemetery and Culp’s Hill, in large part due to the actions of the old soldier, George Greene who’s foresight to fortify the hill and superb handling of his troops and those who reinforced him kept Johnson’s division from rolling up the Federal right. However, Greene had refused his right and had occupied the traverse trench line that he had constructed earlier as a fallback position. From here, Colonel David Ireland’s 137th New York conducted a private war with them. Ireland’s men were joined by three companies of the 149th New York, and the 14th Brooklyn, recently arrived from First Corps as well as Rufus Dawes 6th Wisconsin of the Iron Brigade. Steuart wrote “The left of the brigade was the most exposed at first, and did not maintain its position in line of battle. The right, thus in advance, suffered very severely, and, being unsupported, waved, and the whole line fell back in good order. The enemy’s position was impregnable, attacked by our small force, and any further effort to storm it would have been futile, and attended with great disaster, if not total annihilation.” [24] Late in the night the leading elements of the Twelfth Corps units which had went to Cemetery Ridge fought a brisk fight the rest of the night and into the morning with Steuart’s men to regain their trench lines. The fight of the 137th New York until it could be reinforced was instrumental to Union success, but “the cost was high; that night Colonel Ireland lost a third of his men.” [25] As the night wore on across the hill scattered musketry attended the night and the Confederate attacks ceased.

Eventually, Johnson had to settle for the lodgment that he made at the base of the hill and with Steuart’s occupation of the Union trenches. He hoped that the following day, reinforced he might take the hill. Reinforced by troops from Rodes’s division, Allegheny Johnson made a maximum effort in the morning despite the objections of various brigade and regimental commanders, including George Doles and Maryland Steuart. The commanding officer of the 1st Maryland Battalion exclaimed “it was nothing less than murder to send men into that slaughter pen.” [26] The attack was a disaster, Johnson’s division suffered over 2,000 casualties, the supporting units suffered over 1,000 more.

Ewell’s troops would play no further role in the battle. In the end his presence around Cemetery and Culp’s Hill diminished the resources that Lee needed to support his other assaults on the second and third day of battle. In effect it left Lee without one third of his forces. The result was the sacrifice of many troops with nothing to show for it. Ultimately Lee is to blame for not bringing Ewell’s forces back to Seminary Ridge where they and their artillery may have had a greater effect on the battle.

Ewell’s attack was a costly mistake marked by the constant inability of the Confederate commanders to coordinate their attacks. Of the Confederate commanders, only Johnson led his troops into the fight, Ewell remained well behind the lines, Early gave tactical command of the cemetery Hill assault to Hays, and Rodes demurred to the caution of Ramseur and Doles. On the Union side, the splendid work by George Greene helped undo what could have been a disaster when Williams and Geary’s divisions were sent to Cemetery Ridge. Hancock and Howard responded quickly to all danger sending in reinforcement when and where they were needed the most. The stand of the artillery on Cemetery Hill and the counter-attack of Carroll’s Gibraltar Brigade to drive off Hays’s men also were decisive.

The real hero of Culp’s Hill was Greene. But Greene in many ways is a forgotten hero, he was not given much credit in Meade’s after action report though Slocum attempted to rectify this and Meade made some minor changes to his report. But it was in later years that Greene was began to receive recognition for his actions. James Longstreet gave Greene credit for saving the Union line on the night of July 2nd and said that “there was no better officer in either army” at the dedication of the 3rd Brigade monument on Culp’s Hill in 1888. Greene died in 1899 having been officially retired from the Army in 1893 as a First Lieutenant, his highest rank in the Regular Army. A monument to Greene stands on Culp’s Hill looking east in the direction of Johnson’s assault.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p. 204

[2] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.326

[3] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.347

[4] Ibid. Greene “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” p.121

[5] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.347

[6] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command  p.430

[7] Longacre, Edward G. The Cavalry at Gettysburg: A Tactical Study of Mounted Operations during the Civil War’s Pivotal Campaign, 9 June-14 July 1863 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London 1986 p.212

[8] Ibid. Greene “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” p.123

[9] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.400

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.348

[11] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command  p.431

[12] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.348

[13] Ibid. Sears  Gettysburg p.326

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.348

[15] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p. 216

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.348

[17] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.400

[18] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command  p.431

[19] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command  p.431

[20] Jordan, David M. Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier’s Life Indian University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 1988 p.94

[21] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg pp. 159-160

[22] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.400

[23] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.262

[24] Ibid. Luvaas and Nelson The U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg p.155

[25] Ibid. Sears  Gettysburg p.328

[26] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.447

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Cemetery & Culp’s Hill Pt 3

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am traveling with my students to Gettysburg this weekend and happen to be posting my newest additions to my text, these dealing with the battles for Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill which occurred on the night of July 2nd and early morning of July 3rd 1863. I hope you enjoy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Brigadier General Alpheus William, U. S. Army

What happened next is one of the more complicated and confusing issues of the day. During the morning Meade had considered a spoiling attack against Ewell’s Second Corps using Twelfth Corps and other units on the Federal right. In order to facilitate this he allowed Henry Slocum to persist in believing that he was still an acting wing commander for the troops of Twelfth Corps in what was the Union right wing on the march up to Gettysburg, and the now cancelled Pipe Creek Circular. In the process, Slocum appointed Alpheus Williams of his First Division to head the corps. However, “Meade cancelled the attack but failed to explicitly rescind the entire order, expecting Slocum to return command of the Twelfth Corps by default. He did not. Instead, Slocum assumed that the attack had been cancelled that he still commanded the right wing.” [1] This led to a situation where Meade was unaware of who was actually commanding the corps, and created confusion about what the series of events that happened next. Without direct orders from Meade to relinquish command of the non-existent wing, Slocum chose “to cast himself in the more important role, leaving the tactical handling of the Twelfth Corps to Alpheus Williams.” [2]

In fairness “George Meade was so preoccupied with by his struggle to contain Hill’s and Longstreet’s efforts against his left flank,” [3] that he permitted this nearly catastrophic situation to develop. Longstreet’s attack on the Federal left, supported by the brigades of Rans Wright and Cadmus Wilcox forced Meade to pull troops from all along the Federal line. The Second Corps and Fifth Corps went in and as Longstreet’s attack progressed Meade ordered in reinforcements from John Sedgwick’s Sixth Corps and Slocum’s Twelfth Corps to reinforce his forces in the Peach Orchard, the Wheat Field and along the southern extension of Cemetery Ridge, “but the summons could not have come at a worse time for Slocum, who was growing convinced that Culp’s Hill was about to receive its own attack.” [4] The issue was how much of Twelfth Corps did Meade order Slocum to send to Cemetery Ridge?

Since a copy of Meade’s actual order does not exist we are left with accounts of the various commanders and staff officers. According to some accounts Meade directed Slocum to send “at least one division” to the threatened sector, an assertion also made by Meade’s son who served as his aide during the battle. Partisans of Meade and Slocum have argued about this since the battle, and historians tend to take the side of either general depending on how they interpret the numerous and often conflicting accounts of the evening.

Slocum clearly interpreted the order as a “request for his entire corps. He discussed the matter with Williams in his assumed role as commander of the Twelfth Corps. Both of them expected Meade to amend the order when made aware of the situation on Culp’s Hill.” [5] His actions support that assertion. After the war Slocum insisted that Meade had ordered his to “remove the entire 12th Corps from its position on the right, to one on the left.” [6] But Slocum did not immediately comply with Meade’s order to send the entire corps, if that indeed was what Meade had ordered. Williams later wrote that Slocum ordered him to “detach all I could spare – at least one division on Culp’s Hill.” [7] While Williams dispatched Ruger’s division to the south he retained Geary’s division on the hill.

Meanwhile, after consulting with Williams, Slocum sent an aide to Meade “to convey his opinion that at least a division should be kept on Culp’s Hill.” [8] The aide, Colonel Hiram Rodgers, returned with “Meade’s permission to keep one brigade rather than a division on the right.” [9] It was fortunate that Meade relented, and allowed Slocum to keep a brigade, but “Slocum’s appeal also demonstrates that Meade gave him no initiative, despite what some historians have alleged. Slocum tried to amend the order, Meade insisted. He clearly gave Slocum no choice in the matter.” [10] When John Geary got the order to take two brigades to the south he obeyed, leaving George Sears Greene to defend Culp’s Hill, “leaving some 1,400 men to hold a sector previous occupied by almost 10,000.” [11]

Greene was ordered by Slocum to “occupy the breastworks as thrown up by the corps.” [12] He immediately set to the task of having his brigade redeploy to meet the demands of the new situation. He had a difficult choice to make, he could extent the line to occupy as much of the fortifications that he could, which would leave the line perilously thin, or he could occupy a shorter section that would allow him to better concentrate his firepower. “Greene elected to do the latter. He filled the abandoned trenches for a distance of three regiments, kept to more back to cover his original position, and sent a fifth forward to stiffen the picket line…. Even to hold what he had selected, Greene had to take the risk of nearly doubling the front of each regiment.” [13]

While Greene adjusted his brigade to meet the new situation Geary marched his troops into deepening night following Ruger. However in another unexplainable mistake, he and his division lost their way in the dark and marched south, away from the battle and stopped halted near Rock Creek where it formed a line. Thus, two brigades of the division were out of the battle for four critical hours, leaving Greene and his brigade to make the best of the situation on Culp’s Hill. Blame can be assigned to Geary for not sending out messengers to find Slocum, and to Slocum for losing track of the division which had marched past his headquarters on Powers Hill as they moved south. Part of the reason for this might have been that Slocum assumed that Geary was operating under the orders of Williams who he had appointed to command the corps, and “some hours would pass before everyone realized that Geary had marched off the game board and needed to be recalled to Culp’s Hill.” [14] Thankfully for the Army of the Potomac the march cost nothing in a strategic or tactical sense, but it easily could have.  “Slocum referred to Geary’s march as “an unfortunate and unaccountable mistake…. And the historian of the 2d Massachusetts concluded that “it did not show much of a soldier’s instinct to take a road leading to the rear and follow it for two miles before halting.” [15]

Notes

[1] Ibid. Melton C. Sherman’s Forgotten General p.130

[2] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.395

[3] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.394

[4] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.347

[5] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.131

[6] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.194

[7] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.194

[8] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.395

[9] Ibid. Greene “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” p.114

[10] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.133

[11] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.395

[12] Greene, George Sears. The Breastworks at Culp’s Hill in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.317

[13] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage pp.395-396

[14] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.399

[15] Ibid. Greene “A Step All-Important and Essential Element of Victory” p.120

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Gettysburg: Cemetery & Culp’s Hill Pt 1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am traveling with my students to Gettysburg this weekend and happen to be posting my newest additions to my text, these dealing with the battles for Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill which occurred on the night of July 2nd and early morning of July 3rd 1863. I hope you enjoy.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

culp's hill

On the night of July 1st 1863 Dick Ewell’s Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac on Cemetery and Culp’s Hill prepared for another day of battle. Despite a significant amount of success on July 1st, Lee’s Army had failed to drive the lead elements of the Army of the Potomac off of Cemetery Hill, which Oliver Howard had wisely placed Steinwehr’s division and his artillery, and which both he and Winfield Scott Hancock recognized had to be held if the Confederates were to be defeated. As the darkness fell over the battlefield that night more Federal troops in the form of Major General Henry Slocum’s Twelfth Corps began to take up positions on Cemetery Hill as well as Culp’s Hill alongside the battered brigades of Oliver Howard’s Eleventh Corps, and Abner Doubleday’s First Corps.

At first Slocum and many of his officers seemed to “have had much apprehension that the Confederates would attempt a head-on attack on Culp’s Hill…or troubled enough by the likelihood of rebel movements to give any orders to improve their hillside positions by digging trenches or chopping down enough trees to form rough protective walls.” [1] The three brigades of Geary’s division of the Twelfth Corps entered the line to the east of the remnants of Wadsworth’s Second division of First Corps along the northern and eastern face of Culp’s Hill.

The commander of the Twelfth Corps was Major General Henry Slocum. Slocum was from upstate New York and entered West Point in 1848 at the age of twenty having already earned a teacher’s certificate at the age of seventeen. “Ability and activity had marked his whole life.” [2] One of his closest friends and roommate at West Point was Philip Sheridan who described the New Yorker as “a cadet whose education was more advanced than mine, and whose studious habits and willingness to aid others benefitted me greatly.” [3] Slocum graduated seventh in the class of 1852 which included George Crook who distinguished himself in the Civil War under the command of Sheridan, as well as Silas Casey, an engineer “whose later architectural achievements would include both the Washington Monument and the Library of Congress.” [4]

Slocum was commissioned in 1852 as a Brevet Second Lieutenant of Artillery and first served in Florida with the First Artillery, and then at Fort Moultrie in Charleston South Carolina. There he was promoted to First Lieutenant and began to study law. Slocum was an abolitionist but he was in favor of gradual abolition, and understood the mood of the South as the fires of disunion and secession over the issue of slavery smoldered. However, due to chronic illnesses that he and his wife suffered in the hot, humid, and fever-ridden climate of the Carolina Low Country, he resigned his commission and returned to New York in late 1856. There he passed the bar, went into the slat business and became relatively well off. He also became active in the Republican Party where he was elected to the State assembly in 1858. As an assemblyman he avoided the schemes that were pressed on him by other members, and maintained a well-earned reputation for honesty. During the time he also became very active in the New York State Militia where he served as a Colonel of Artillery. The governor refused Slocum’s request to raise artillery units instead desiring him to remain as his military adviser at Albany. This was not to Slocum’s liking and he earnestly sought command of an infantry regiment, which he finally obtained when he was appointed as commander of the newly raised 27th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

“Slocum was above medium height, with long, wavy brown hair that he combed behind his ears, a heavy brown mustache and sparkling brown eyes…. He seemed especially disposed to order and discipline and was attentive to details that he sought to master.” [5] As a regimental commander known as a disciplinarian, but also a commander who cared for and defended his troops, making sure that they were adequately led, trained, fed, and billeted. Sadly, the training regimen was cut short and the unit thrown into action at the Battle of Bull run where Slocum was severely wounded in the leg attempting to rally it when it was caught in the flank by Wade Hampton’s South Carolinians. While the regiment’s performance was uneven, it performed about as well as most other Federal units at Bull Run, however, “Slocum’s own conduct was solid and presaged his battlefield demeanor for the rest of the war.” [6]

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Major General Henry Slocum

After Bull Run Slocum earned rapid promotion for his performance. While he was recovering from his wound he was promoted to Brigadier General and made a brigade commander. When the Sixth Corps was formed in 1862 he was given command of its First Division. He “led that division with distinction in the maelstrom of Gaines Mill” [7] during McClellan’s mismanaged Peninsular Campaign. At the Battle of South Mountain during the Antietam Campaign, Slocum and his division distinguished themselves, in an attack that “routed the enemy and captured for battle flags.” [8]  Following that he was promoted to Major General and took command of Twelfth Corps when its commander, Joseph Mansfield was killed at Antietam. His rise had been rapid, nearly meteoric, even though his generalship style was described as similar to John Sedgewick: “competent, careful, cautious, and entirely without military imagination.” [9] He was now the second youngest officer in the army to attain that rank, despite having served just two years as a Lieutenant in the Regular Army, a few months as a Colonel of Volunteers and under two years as a General. He ranked second in the Army of the Potomac to Joe Hooker and was senior to every other corps commander including Reynolds and Meade. Like most volunteer officers he “probably had some political backing, but, if so, it was not particularly blatant according to the standards of the time.” [10]

He commanded Twelfth Corps at Chancellorsville where it was in the fighting and fought well suffering over 3,000 casualties. Slocum was highly critical of Hooker’s performance and was an early advocate for Meade assuming command of the Army of the Potomac. Slocum, who had no desire to command the army went to Lincoln himself to have Hooker removed.

At Gettysburg Slocum was served by two solid division commanders, Brigadier General Alpheus Williams, who though a volunteer officer was considered one of the best division commanders in the army, and Brigadier General Joseph Geary. Joseph Geary was another battle hardened volunteer who had fought with the Pennsylvania volunteers in Mexico and was wounded five times in the assault on Chapultepec. “After this exploit, he was named the regiment’s colonel and returned home a war hero.” [11] He went to California in 1849 was elected as the first mayor of San Francisco. A strong anti-slavery man, Geary was appointed to the unenviable position of Governor of the Kansas Territory where he had vetoed the Lecompton Constitution, earning him the enmity of President James Buchanan.

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Brigadier General George Sears Greene, U.S. Army

One of Geary’s brigades was commanded by Brigadier General George Sears Greene. Greene was “the oldest general in the army, though he was far from doddering or ineffectual. He was a hardy war-horse, a man who spent most of his time in the saddle, an officer who insisted on hard drilling and discipline in camp and hard fighting on the battlefield.” [12] He was “described as a strict disciplinarian and an officer with a rigid sense of justice,” [13] who did not win immediate affection from his troops, “but those under his command soon learned to appreciate his ability,” [14] his troops nicknaming him “pap” “pop” or “pappy.” Greene led his brigade up Culp’s Hill where it took a position next to the remnants of the Iron Brigade on the eastern face of the rugged edifice.

Greene was born in Warwick Rhode Island in 1801 and graduated from West Point second in a class of thirty five. He was commissioned as an artillery officer some six years before Robert E. Lee. He was a descendent of Revolutionary War General Nathaniel Greene.  His son Lieutenant Dana Greene United States Navy, was the Executive officer of the ironclad warship USS Monitor which fought the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads, the first battle between fully steam-powered armored warships in the history of the world. Dana Greene distinguished himself in the battle when he took command of the Monitor when its commander was wounded.

He had graduated second in his class at West Point in 1823, a full six years before Robert E. Lee, and after 13 years of garrison and instructor duty as an artillery officer, left the army in 1836 to enter civilian life as an engineer. After Greene left the army he spent most of his time overseeing the construction of railroads in the rapidly growing nation, as well as designing “sewage and water systems for Washington, Detroit, and several other cities. The Central Park reservoir in New York City was his handiwork, along with the enlarged High Bridge over the Harlem River.” [15]

Greene did not serve in the Mexican War and when the call came for volunteers in 1861 he waited to join up. In January 1862 he resigned from work on the Croatan Reservoir in New York City and was appointed to command the 60th New York Volunteer Infantry, a unit composed of men from the northern reaches of the state along the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Greene was promoted to Brigadier General in 1862 he commanded his brigade and served as an acting division commander at Antietam, where he was one of the few Federal General Officers not to fail the courage of his men in the heat of that bloody action. He commanded the division with skill, and audacity in the fierce fighting around the Dunker Church, the Cornfield and the Eastern Woods, which was “the one bright spot in the abruptly dismal Union picture.” [16] Despite his excellent performance he requited command of the Division to Geary, “who had returned to the army after being wounded at Cedar Mountain. Geary outranked Greene. (Geary’s appointment to brigadier general predated Greene’s by three days), and “Old Man Greene” went back to leading his brigade.” [17] During the battle of Chancellorsville he would again take acting command of the division when Geary was incapacitated during some of the heaviest fighting. During the fight where Twelfth Corps was attacked from multiple directions, Greene saved his brigade “by having them clear a 200-foot-wide space in front of their position and digging in with bayonets, tin cups, and canteen-halves.” [18] Following the battle he again returned to command his brigade of New Yorkers. By the time of Gettysburg the old general “was a seasoned veteran with enough battle experience at or above brigade level to allow his superiors to feel confident in his abilities.” [19]

As Greene’s brigade took their positions on Culp’s Hill, Greene had them do something that was not yet commonplace in either army. They began to construct field fortifications and breastworks. This occurred after he met Geary to discuss the defense of the hill. Geary told Greene that “he personally opposed building breastworks,” as “the men became less than stalwart in the open field. But he would leave the matter to his brigadiers.” [20] Greene replied and told Geary that “the saving of lives was more useful than such theories and that his men would build them if they had time to do so.” [21] With Geary’s blessing Greene ordered his troops to start building the types of fortifications that had helped save them at Chancellorsville.

Working through the night with the ample materials at hand they dug in, an officer wrote “Right and left the men felled the trees, and blocked them up into a close log fence. Piles of cordwood which lay near were appropriated. The sticks, set slanting on end against the outer face of the logs made excellent battening.” [22]  Likewise, “any pioneer details “which had spades and picks” set up a battening of earth over the felled logs.” [23] They linked their positions with each other such as the Iron Brigade on its left, as well as Brigadier General Thomas Kane’s brigade to Greene’s right, “which extended Greene’s line down the southeastern slope, its members imitated their comrades.” [24] The line of fortifications took advantage of the natural terrain which on its own made the ground good for the defense, but when fortified made it nearly impregnable to assault. Greene’s old regiment, the 60th New York, was particularly valuable as “it was largely composed of men accustomed to woodcraft, and they fell in to construct log breastworks with unaccustomed heartiness. All instinctively knew that a life-and-death struggle was impending, and that every help should be used.” [25] Since the Hill was actually two peaks connected by a lower “saddle” which fell at the juncture of his and Kane’s brigades, Greene felt it prudent to “take the additional precaution of having his men construct a short traverse at the lower end of their sector, providing an emergency line facing the saddle.” [26] By noon the fortifications were completed and the Federal troops rested and waited behind their creation for the coming attack. Greene described his position:

“Our position on the front were covered with a heavy growth of timber, free from undergrowth, with large ledges of rock projecting above the surface. These rocks and trees offered good cover for marksmen. The surface was very steep on our left, diminishing to a gentle slope on our right. The Second Brigade was on our right, thrown forward at a right angle to conform with the crest of the hill.” [27]

Notes

Greene’s decision to fortify the hill was emulated by the rest of the division as well as some of Wadsworth’s troops, and the Greene’s actions was fortuitous would have a profound effect on the coming struggle for Culp’s Hill.

[1] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.345

[2] Tagg, Larry The Generals of Gettysburg: The Leaders of America’s Greatest Battle Da Capo Press Cambridge MA 1998 Amazon Kindle Edition p.143

[3] Melton, Brian C. Sherman’s Forgotten General: Henry W. Slocum University of Missouri Press, Columbia and London 2007 p.14

[4] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.15

[5] Pfanz, Harry W. Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 1993 p.91

[6] Ibid. Melton Sherman’s Forgotten General p.51

[7] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg  p.143

[8] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg  p.144

[9] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.38

[10] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.91

[11] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg  p.155

[12] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg  p.162

[13] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.211

[14] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.162

[15] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.162

[16] Sears, Stephen W. Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1983 p.231

[17] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.162

[18] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.346

[19] Ibid. Tagg The Generals of Gettysburg p.162

[20] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.325

[21] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.114

[22] Ibid. Sears Gettysburg  p.325

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.346

[24] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.287

[25] Jones, Jesse H. The Breastworks at Culp’s Hill in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, The Tide Shifts Edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel Castle, Secaucus NJ p.316

[26] Ibid. Trudeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage p.287

[27] Ibid. Pfanz Gettysburg: Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill p.116

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From Monitor to Musashi: a Tale of Legendary Warships

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Musashi and Monitor

I have been thinking about two ships this past week. One of these ships was the Japanese Super-Battleship Musashi. The Musashi was one of the two largest battleships ever constructed and her wreck was discovered last week where she sank in the Sibuyan Sea. The other ship was the USS Monitor. The tiny Monitor was progenitor of all the great battleships that followed and 153 years ago Monitor helped propel naval architecture and warfare into a new era when she challenged the CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads.

The Monitor was one of three experimental designs chosen by the Navy’s Ironclad board to deal with the Virginia. Her design and construction were remarkable, especially for her day. The ship was entirely experimental, nothing like Monitor had ever been built before, but even so it was less than five months from the date she was ordered until she was commissioned and just a few days more than that before she was in action. I cannot imagine any warship ship new design ever breaking that record.

Her designer was John Ericsson, a Swede. Ericsson was the inventor of the screw propeller and designer of the first U.S. Navy Screw Frigate the USS Princeton. Ericsson had be shunned by the Navy after a rifled cannon, which was not of his design or construction exploded aboard Princeton during a gunnery demonstration which killed the Secretary of the Navy and others. Ericcson was not planning to submit a design but was persuaded to and his design, the Monitor was one of the three designs selected.

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The Officers of Monitor

The Monitor was like nothing ever seen on the ocean. Described by some as a “cheese box on a raft” the small ship had all of her machinery located below the waterline on a completely iron hull that only drew 11 feet of water. She was 179 feet long, had a beam of 41 and a half feet and displaced 987 tons. Her single vibrating lever steam engine powered by two boilers produced 340 horsepower and drove her at a top speed of six knots.

Her hull was protected by armor plate, but the most notable and innovative feature was a heavily armored revolving turret with eight inches of armor, mounted two massive 11 inch Dahlgren smoothbore guns which “could fire a 170-pound shot or 136-pound shell in any direction except straight ahead, where the pilot house sheathed in nine inches of armor was located.” Future ships remedied this defect. Ericcson’s ship was mocked around the navy and by naval designers, but he and it would prove them wrong. The Monitor’s most notable features, full steam propulsion, heavy armor and the revolving turret mounting heavy caliber guns would set the standard to which future battleships would be constructed.

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The Battle of Hampton Roads

Monitor had a brief service life, she fought the Virginia, took part in actions along the James River and sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras North Carolina on December 31st 1861. The British Royal Navy designed an improved monitor with higher freeboard and finally an ocean going turret ship, the HMS Devastation.

Soon, the navies of the world began to build battleships and in 1906 the Royal Navy built the HMS Dreadnought which like Monitor revolutionized warship construction and naval warfare. Navies around the world began building ever larger, faster and more powerful Dreadnoughts culminating the designs of the late 1930s, the German Bismarck class, the American Iowa class, the British Vanguard, and the Japanese Yamato Class. It is the last ships, the Yamato and her sister Musashi that I want to discuss here, not that the others are not interesting or important, but because of the almost mythic status that these ships maintain in the annals of naval history, as well as their tragic end.

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Emperor Hirohito on Musashi in 1943

The Yamato and Musashi were the largest and most heavily armed battleships ever built. Shrouded in secrecy by the Imperial Japanese Navy and Government the ships were designed to offset projected American numerical superiority. Their names were symbolic of Japan’s history. Yamato was named after Yamato Province, the ancestral home of the Yamato People, the dominant native ethnic group in Japan. Musashi was named after Musashi Province in which lays Tokyo Prefecture.  A third ship of the class, Shinano, was named after Shinano Province in central Japan which was the home of the prestigious Taketa Shingen family during the Senguku period.

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The Conning Tower and Bridge of Musashi

The secrecy surrounding their design and construction was unprecedented. Those charged with their design and construction were thoroughly checked out by Japan’s secret police and sworn to an oath of secrecy. The oath sworn by builders of Musashi at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Nagasaki Shipyard were sworn to the oath shown below:

I am aware that all work involving the construction of the No. 2 Battleship is vital to national security. I will make utmost effort to maintain the secrecy of the project, and swear that I will leak no information relating to the said battleship, even to relatives and close friends. In the event I violate this oath,  I will submit to the punishment determined by the company and the Navy.  

Security measures around the shipyards where Yamato and Musashi were constructed were immense. At Nagasaki where there was a large foreign business and missionary population where the shipyard was visible from most of the city at hemp screen of 75,000 square meters was constructed to shield the ship from prying eyes and spies.

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Musashi under Construction

When actual preparations for construction were taken in 1937 secret police swept the areas of foreign, especially Chinese workers. Security was increased inside and outside the shipyard, all blueprints accounted for and placed under strict guard while all shipyard workers were photographed with any having knowledge of the plans or supervising the construction sworn to the secrecy oath.

When a top secret blueprint went missing in 1938 at Nagasaki an intense investigation that included the torture of numerous suspects and the jailing of a blueprinter who accidentally swept the document into the trash was sentenced to 3 years in prison.

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Armor and Protection of Yamato Class

Few pictures exist of the ships and Japanese Naval Officers destroyed many of the records of the ships design and construction just prior to the end of the Second World War. Throughout their existence they were a mystery to the American Navy. During the war the U.S. Navy estimated them to carry nine 16” guns and displace between 40,000-57,000 tons. Even the highly regarded Jane’s Fighting Ships listed them at just 45,000 tons.

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Yamato and Musashi together in 1943

Preliminary design work began in 1934 and progressed rapidly following Japan’s withdraw from the League of Nations and renunciation of the Washington and London Naval Treaties and withdraw from the 1936 naval talks in London. The early designs varied in the caliber of guns, size and armor, propulsion systems and endurance. Gun calibers ranged from 16” to 18.1” and a combined diesel-turbine system was considered but rejected in favor of traditional steam turbines.

The final design was for a class of five ships. Each would displace 64,000 tons standard displacement and 72,000 tons at full load. They were 862 feet long with a beam of 127 feet.  They were so large that the docks they were built needed to be expanded and special extra-large launch platforms had to be built.  At Nagasaki the dock at to be expanded by cutting into the hill adjacent to it.

They were armed with nine 18.1 inch guns in triple turrets which could fire a projectile weighing over a ton. The secondary armament consisted of 12 6.1 inch guns mounted in triple turrets formerly mounted on the Mogami Class cruisers when those ships were equipped with 8” guns. Anti-aircraft defense included twelve 5” guns and twenty-four 25mm anti-aircraft guns. During the war two of the 6.1 inch turrets were removed and replaced with twelve more 5” guns and the 25mm battery was raised to 162 guns. Fire control systems were designed in such a way that the ships could engage multiple surface targets at the same time.

The ships were protected by a massive armored belt ranging from 16 inches to 8 inches with 26 inch armor on the face plates of the main gun turrets. The armor was advanced with excellent sloping but had a flaw where the upper and lower belts connected just below the waterline which exposed them to damage from torpedoes.

Photographed just prior to the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Ships are, from left to right Musashi, Yamato, a cruiser and Nagato.

Yamato and Musashi viewed beside Battleship Nagato (foreground) just before the Battle of Leyte Gulf

They were powered by 12 Kampon boilers which powered 4 steam turbines and four three bladed propellers. These developed 150,000 shp and could drive the ship at a top speed of 27 knots.

Construction of Yamato began on November 4th 1937 at Kure Naval Shipyard. Musashi on March 28th 1938. Traditionally such events were large public ceremonies but these were limited to just a few Naval Staff and Shipyard executives.  Yamato was launched on August 8th 1940 and commissioned on December 16th 1941, just 9 days after Pearl Harbor. Musashi was launched on November 8th 1940 and commissioned on August 5th 1942 just two days before the U.S. Marines invaded Guadalcanal and two months after the disaster at the Battle of Midway.

Yamato served as Admiral Yamamoto’s flagship at Midway where she saw no action. The next two years she was and Musashi alternated as fleet flagship and conducted operations with Battleship Division One in operations between Mainland Japan and the major Japanese base at Truk. On December 25th 1943 while escorting a convoy she was torpedoed by the submarine USS Skate and suffered heavy damage which flooded a magazine.  On March 29th while underway Musashi was struck near the bow by a torpedo from the USS Tunny.

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Musashi under attack at the Battle of Sibuyan Sea

Both ships participated in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and were part of Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita’s Central Force in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Musashi was sunk by U.S. Navy Carrier aircraft from the Third Fleet on October 24th 1944 during the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea. Hit by 17 bombs and 19 torpedoes she sank with the loss of nearly 1100 of her crew of almost 2400 men. The survivors were rescued by destroyers and disembarked at Corregidor. Some were sent by troop transport to Japan but one of the ships was torpedoed and sunk leaving her survivors adrift for 19 hours before rescue. Those who reached Japan were isolated from the population while about half of the survivors remained in the Philippines where 117 of 146 of those assigned to the defense of Manila were killed in action.

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Yamato or Musashi under air Attack

Yamato saw action in the surface engagement on October 25th against the Escort Carriers and Destroyers of Taffy-3 during the Battle off Samar. Her guns helped sink the Escort Carrier USS Gambier Bay but was forced away from the action by torpedo attacks from the valiant destroyers of Taffy-3.

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Yamato under Attack April 7th 1945

By April 1944 Japan’s Navy was decimated and U.S. Naval Forces were raiding Mainland Japan. When the United States landed on Okinawa the Japanese Navy and air force launched wave after wave of Kamikaze attacks on the ships in the waters around the island. Yamato, along with Light Cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers were designated the Surface Special Attack Force and loaded with a full load of ammunition but only enough fuel for a one way trip got underway on April 6th. The mission was for Yamato to reach Okinawa, beach herself and serve as an “unsinkable” gun battery until she was destroyed. The force was spotted by U.S. Navy flying boats hours after their departure and on April 7th over 400 aircraft launched from Task Groups 58.1 and 58.3. The first wave began its attack at 1230 and by 1400 the ship was mortally wounded. Stuck by at least 8 torpedoes and 11 bombs she was dead in the water and began to capsize at 1405. At 1420 she turned turtle and at 1423 exploded when her forward blew up sending up a mushroom cloud nearly 20,000 feet.  Under 300 of her crew of nearly 2400 were rescued.

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The End: Yamato Explodes

What had begun with the tiny “cheese box on a raft” had culminated in two of the largest warships ever built, designed when naval experts planned for a war where the battleship would rule and aircraft carriers play a supporting role. Instead both never faced enemy battleships in combat and both were destroyed by the weapon that the battleship admirals had discounted. It is somewhat fitting that each was commissioned shortly after the triumphs of Japanese and American Naval air power at Pearl Harbor and Midway. However they have attained an almost mythic status in naval lore and are symbols to many Japanese of the sacrifice and futility of the war. Both of the cities where the ships were constructed were destroyed by Atomic bombs. They are tragic reminders of the cost of war in human lives, suffering, economic cost and destruction.

musashi wreck

Musashi’s wreck was discovered by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. He posted the first picture of the ship taken in over seventy years, showing the Chrysanthemum seal on her bow to Twitter. As a devotee of these great ships I was amazed to see this.

In a sense their poetic names and the myth ascribed to them are a tragic requiem to the Japanese Empire and the cost of war. They and their brave sailors were sacrificed when the war was already for all intents and purposes lost. They, especially the Yamato were sacrificed for no military purpose save a convoluted sense of honor. Let us pray that it never happens again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Fight the likes the World Had Never Seen: The Clash of the Ironclads

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Today marks the 153rd anniversary of an event which changed naval warfare forever. It was a watershed event which ended the reign of the great wooden ships which plied the oceans of the world under massive fields of canvas sails. 

It took place just a few miles from my office, if it happened today I would certainly be able to watch it from the fourth floor of the Staff College. 

On that day, two very strange looking ships joined in battle. This is the story of the Battle of Hanpton Roads and the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

On the morning of March 8th 1862 the CSS Virginia steamed slowly from her base at Portsmouth Virginia into Hampton Roads at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Awaiting her was a US Navy squadron of wooden warships including the steam Frigate USS Minnesota, the Sloop of War USS Cumberland and Frigate USS Congress and a number of smaller vessels. The Virginia was an armored ram built from the salvaged remains of the large steam frigate USS Merrimack which had been burned at Gosport (Now Norfolk) Naval Shipyard. Her plans had been leaked to the US Navy which was also in the process of constructing a number of ironclad ships of different types. The first of these ships to be ready was the USS Monitor, a small ship mounting a single heavily armored turret mounting two powerful 11” Dalghren smoothbore guns was still steaming to Hampton Roads when Virginia came out for battle.

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During the ensuing fight of March 8th Virginia rammed and sank Cumberland which though fatally wounded disabled two of Virginia’s 9” in guns. She destroyed Congress by gunfire which burned and blew up and appeared to be in position to destroy Minnesota the following day as that ship had run hard aground. The losses aboard Cumberland and Congress were severe and included the Captain of the Congress and Chaplain John L. Lenhart of Cumberland, the first US Navy Chaplain to die in battle. During the battle Virginia had several men wounded including her Captain Franklin Buchanan.

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Due to the coming of darkness and a falling tide the acting commander of Virginia, Lieutenant Catsby Ap Roger Jones her executive officer took her in for the night. During the night Monitor, under the command of Lieutenant John Worden arrived and took up station to defend Minnesota.

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The next morning Virginia again ventured out and was intercepted by the Monitor. The ships fought for over three hours, with Monitor using her superior speed and maneuverability to great effect. During the battle Monitor suffered a hit on her small pilothouse near her bow blinding her Captain. Monitor’s executive officer, Lieutenant Dana Greene, the son of Union Brigadier General George Sears Greene, the hero of Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg took command. Neither side suffered much damage but the smokestack of Virginia was pierced in several places affecting her already poor engine performance.  Jones broke off the action and returned to Gosport for repairs and Monitor remained on station.

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The battle showed the world the vulnerability of wooden warships against the new ironclads. Monitor in particular revolutionized naval warfare and warship construction. Her defining mark was the use of the armored gun turret which over the succeeding decades became the standard manner for large ships guns to be mounted. Turrets like the warships they were mounted upon grew in size and power reaching their apex during the Second World War.

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Both Virginia and Monitor reached less than glorious ends. Virginia had to be destroyed by her crew to prevent her capture just over two months after the battle on May 11th 1862. Monitor survived until January 31st 1862 when she sank during a heavy storm off Cape Hatteras North Carolina with the loss of 16 of her 62 man crew. The remains of two of those men, recovered during the salvage of Monitor’s engines, turret, guns and anchor were interred at Arlington National Cemetery on March 8th 2012. The relics from Monitor and some from Virginia are displayed at the Mariners Museum in Newport News (http://www.marinersmuseum.org )while one of Virginia’s anchors resides on the lawn of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.

Those early ironclads and the brave men who served aboard them revolutionized naval warfare and their work should never be forgotten.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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