Cover image for Civil War ironclads : the U.S. Navy and industrial mobilization


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E591 .R63 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Civil War Ironclads supplies the first comprehensive study of one of the most ambitious programs in the history of naval shipbuilding. In constructing its new fleet of ironclads, William H. Roberts explains, the U.S. Navy faced the enormous engineering challenges of a largely experimental technology. In addition, it had to manage a ship acquisition program of unprecedented size and complexity. To meet these challenges, the Navy established a "project office" that was virtually independent of the existing administrative system. The office spearheaded efforts to broaden the naval industrial base and develop a marine fleet of ironclads by granting shipbuilding contracts to inland firms. Under the intense pressure of a wartime economy, it learned to support its high-technology vessels while incorporating the lessons of combat.

But neither the broadened industrial base nor the advanced management system survived the return of peace. Cost overruns, delays, and technical blunders discredited the embryonic project office, while capital starvation and never-ending design changes crippled or ruined almost every major builder of ironclads. When Navy contracts evaporated, so did the shipyards. Contrary to widespread belief, Roberts concludes, the ironclad program set Navy shipbuilding back a generation.

Author Notes

After retiring from navy service in 1994 as a surface warfare commander, William H. Roberts earned his Ph.D. in history at the Ohio State University

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After the battle of Hampton Roads, the US Navy placed orders for over 50 ironclad warships. Previous studies have focused on individual vessels, shipbuilders, or the construction of the first three ironclads, but retired Navy commander Roberts, author of the standard study of one of those vessels, USS New Ironsides in the Civil War (1999), is the first to examine the "system" that undertook the "ironclad program." Inventor John Ericsson, assistant secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox, and chief engineer Alban C. Stimers were the key figures in the design, procurement, and construction of the vessels, and share the blame for what became the "expensive and public failure" of the entire program. Repeated design changes, labor shortages, technical errors, and inexperienced leadership so slowed production that by war's end, less than half the vessels were completed. Most of the companies formed to construct the ships went bankrupt, and lawsuits brought against the government by the company owners seeking payment for the vessels dragged on in the courts longer than any of the ironclads served in the Navy. This is an important study of institutional response to a new technology that holds lessons for today. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. J. C. Bradford Texas A&M University

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables
1 "I Have Shouldered This Fleet" - Gustavus Fox and "Monitor Mania"
2 Forging the Fleet - Alban C. Stimers and the Passaic Project
3 The Navy Looks West
4 Mobilization on the Ohio River
5 Miserable Failures - Combat Lessons and Political Engineering
6 A Million of Dollars - The Price of "Continuous Improvement"
7 Progress Retarded - The Harbor and River Monitors, 1863-1864
8 The Sudden Destruction of Bright Hopes - The Downfall of the General Inspector
9 Good for Fifty Years - Winding Down the Mobilization
10 Additions, Alterations, and Improvements - Reversing Technological Momentum
Tabular Data for Passaic- and Tippecanoe-Class Monitors
Essay on Sources