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"Is the Casemate design inferior to the Monitor?" Topic

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Comments or corrections?

Captain Jack Flack24 Oct 2005 10:06 a.m. PST

My understanding of ACW ironclads (which is, I admit, limited) is that, after the first battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack/Virginia, the powder charges in the Monitor's guns were upgraded, and, from that point forward, a casemate designed ship never beat a monitor.

Is this the case? If so, is it necessarily the case?

It seems to me that a casemate has much more area to armor than a monitor, and thus could carry less armor before it hit the point that it would sink under its own weight.


Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian24 Oct 2005 10:13 a.m. PST

But remember that a Monitor's turret has vertical armor, while a casemate has sloped armor.

Captain Jack Flack24 Oct 2005 10:16 a.m. PST

Yeah, but, in the end, what matters is who's suckin' seaweed.

evil grin

doc mcb24 Oct 2005 10:16 a.m. PST

The only disadvantage to the monitors was a low rate of fire, in part because the rounds had to be brought up from below. The Confederate ironclads had less armor and blind spots, so I'd agree the monitor design was superior. OTOH, the NEW IRONSIDES was the most powerful USN ironclad and not a monitor. And the strongest casement ic's were quite formidable, particularly with rams and spar torpedoes. Had the CSN had more resources their ships, e.g., would have been less underpowered. There's a lot of factors deciding victory, and a superior monitor design was only one.

Personal logo Dan Cyr Supporting Member of TMP24 Oct 2005 11:47 a.m. PST

I'd suggest that the weak point of the monitor design was its low rate of fire due to the weapons used by the USN. The very large smoothbore weapons took forever (not really, but several minutes each round) to load and fire. While very powerful within a short range, the ability to penetrate armor fell off rapidly as range increased. A quicker to load and fire weapon, as well as one with increased penetration range would have helped. The slow speed and inability to go outside coastal waters was a huge handicap also.

As it was, the monitors were designed for a very specific task; river and coastal warfare to fight very close range combats against armored ships. They were very good at what they were designed for, but unable to do much more (like venture out on the seas, bombard a land target, etc.).

The Confederate ships' main problem was not the actual design, armor or weapons, but their engines. Given a decent engine, speed and ability to turn, and they'd have been more able to defeat a monitor (1:1). As far as the Confederate guns go I'm not aware that any monitor had its turret pierced in a gun exchange, so I'm not sure that they'd have been able to 'defeat' a monitor unless they could run it down and either ram or torpedo it.

doc mcb24 Oct 2005 12:21 p.m. PST

I've gamed DuPont's assault on Charleston with NEW IRONSIDES and KEOKUK and (I think) eight monitors. If one assumes that DuPont had pressed the attack — he was wise not to, showing moral courage in retreating, knowing it would lead to his removal — he might have gotten most of his monitors into Charleston harbor. They'd have been able to defeat CHICORA and PALMETTO STATE, perhaps, though the Confederate ships would have had good opportunities for rams as the monitors came into the harbor past the obstructions. But Beauregard and the CS Army had also prepared a number of small boats with spar torpedoes and such and intended a night assault on the monitors. Given the low rate of fire, and one presumes very limited ammunition other than shot or shell, neither very useful up close, I think the monitors would have been vulnerable to a determined small boat attack. Visibility on a monitor must have been pretty minimal also.

thosmoss24 Oct 2005 1:02 p.m. PST

A huge advantage to the Monitor design was the limited profile to shoot at. You pity the captain peering out the pilot house vision slits when it got hit by a shell, but it almost seems bound to happen eventually.

But the Monitor was a huge percentage of new technology, a lot of it patented (and unproven) while the ship was being built. The USN wouldn't reimburse Erickson for the Monitor until it has proven itself. Had it sunk while being towed to Hampton Roads, which it almost did during a storm, the USN could have happily shrugged and stuck with good old reliable casemates.

I highly recommend the book "Monitor" by James Tertius deKay. It's a much more exciting read than I expected.

SBminisguy24 Oct 2005 1:52 p.m. PST

"But Beauregard and the CS Army had also prepared a number of small boats with spar torpedoes and such and intended a night assault on the monitors."

I have seen photos of Monitors with gatling guns and/or light field pieces placed on the deck while at anchor or in rivering operations to provide some extra defensive firepower. Presumably this could have been done to counter Beauregard's night attack to some extent.

Personal logo Dan Cyr Supporting Member of TMP24 Oct 2005 2:02 p.m. PST

Since the deck of a monitor was nearly right on the water, and the turret guns would fire only a foot or two above the desk line, one wonders where the light guns and gatling guns with their crews would have been placed to protect the ship?

The monitors were great at what they were designed for, and a failure at everything else. Wise admirals use the tools they have, and don't push their luck too much.

The number of guns surrounding the harbor would have pounded the monitors to pieces over time and the monitors could not fire enough rounds fast enough to defeat the land defences (assuming that they could carry enough ammunition).

See first and second attack on Fort Fisher for examples.

The G Dog Fezian24 Oct 2005 5:42 p.m. PST

I still believe that if New Ironsides had been finished before Monitor, following Hampton Roads the US Navy would have embarked on a massive casemate construction campaign.

The Navy was looking for an armored solution – Monitor presented and proved itself first. But what if…

…A squadron of New Ironside class ironclads steam into Charleston harbor. Now THAT is the game I want to see.


KSmyth24 Oct 2005 5:50 p.m. PST

Nearly all the monitors that attacked Charleston under DuPont suffered some damage. In his book "Gate of Hell" Stephen Wise cites the following figures:

The monitors (plus the turtleback ironclad Keokuk) fired 154 rounds in the two and half hour duel between the Union ships and the Confederate forts. The Confederate guns, and there were many more, fired 2,209 rounds. Keokuk was left to sink the next day, and five monitors were not in a condition to continue the attack.

The Union guns were fine, not necessarily armor piercers, but armor crushers that required several hits to really damage a piece of armor.


squirmydad24 Oct 2005 6:18 p.m. PST

There's an Ironclads board?!?! I had no idea…"Civil War Ironclads" by MacBride, published by Chilton, has some great in-depth analysis of all of the ironclad vessels involved in the ACW.

None of the ships were very fast, the CS casemates had good armor but couldn't maneuver to bring their guns to bear and they still relied on broadside attacks for maximum damage. Monitors were always able to bring their guns to bear with their turrets and were able to use steam pressure to help revolve the turret and lift ammo out of the lower hull.

The US navy did develop a fleet of casemates for the Mississippi-see Cairo class and the Essex, which were much bigger than the CS vessels.

Yes, fort guns probably would have destroyed the Monitor squadrons if they had tried a harbor assault, but the same could be said of casemate ironclads attempting a harbor assault. Both types were very purpose built ships.

I haven't seen many cases reported of actual armor breaches on either side, jammed shutters, broken rudders, cracked boilers, and crew being shredded by slivers from timbers inside the hull exploding from the force of a shot hitting the outer armor but not penetrating…I saw a lot of those in my reading. Too many CS ships were just burned at their moorings so wouldn't be captured, which is too bad because then it's hard to say how they would have fared in a conflict. The account of the Tennessee in the battle of Mobile bay is a good read of a ship going down fighting, without going down though. Admiral Buchanan surrendured because his crew was demoralized from the pounding they'd recieved, but the ship was mostly intact.

Between the two styles, I like the look of the casemate ironclads more than I do the Monitors, despite the success of the design.


Muah ha ha24 Oct 2005 7:47 p.m. PST

To answer the original question, I never heard of a casemate beating a monitor, but my information is only anecdotal stuff.

Darby E25 Oct 2005 8:49 a.m. PST

A few years agon I saw a picture of a "puckle gun" on a pintal mount on the top parapet of a monitors turret. I don't recall which ship it was, but the "puckle gun" sttod out in my memory. It must have been for either harbor guard, or anti-small boat while steaming use.

I believe that having a wood backing, and no way to stop th ewood splinters, was teh major drawback of the casement design. It perhaps would have been wiser to put a 1/2" or 1" iron panel behind the wood. It would then keep the splinters form coming in while also acring as a "back brace". I understand that the CSS experimented with a variation on this theme, but left it because of the lack of available iron.
Another weakness of many casement designs was that their decks were wood, which made them vulnerable to plunging fire. I believe that is why some of the ships that attacked Fort Donolson (sp?) were damaged so badly.


KSmyth25 Oct 2005 4:42 p.m. PST

Honestly, getting back to the question, it is a difficult call on which was a better design, monitor or casemate ironclad. It all comes down to which design had most success in combat. How many monitors were sunk by Confederate ironclads? Exactly none. How many Confederate ironclads were sunk by Union monitors? Exactly none. Few even suffered dangerous or crippling hits.

Although nearly every Confederate ironclad, or the rumor of every Confederate ironclad bred incredible concern local Union commanders, with only two exceptions that I can recall, all of them were destroyed by the Confederates themselvesin order to preven their capture by land forces. . The two exceptions were the Atlanta and Tennessee, both captured after actions with the Union Navy, and served out the rest of their lives under the stars and stripes. The self destruction of the Confederate ironclad force—scattered across a plethora of locations throughout the South, prompted a famous exchange:

Jefferson Davis's young sister-in law Maggie Howell was visiting the James River flotilla, when her guide said that he had shown all there was to see. Ms. Howell riposted, "Everything but one. . . the place where you blow them up.

There's been some great recent histories that recount the damage suffered by Confederate ironclads before taking a dangerous penetration. I would recommend Luraghi's "History of the Confederate Navy," and John Coski's wonderful "Capital Navy."


squirmydad28 Oct 2005 4:27 p.m. PST

Hmmm, just finished reading some letters from two US rear-admirals and a commodore, who all seemed of the opinion that monitors were a superior design (despite shortcomings in maneuverability, swamping, habitability, plunging fire) because a centrally located rotating turret made up for poor maneuverability and allowed for significantly more powerful guns and greater armor. They all grumbled a bit about having to change their tactics, didn't like the slower rate of fire, missed broadsides and maneuverability, but loved the bigger guns and the apparent immunity to destruction that the greater armor afforded.

These letters were written prior to the use of the steam engines to provide power for lifting ammo out of the hold to the turret to address the slow reload problems.

They were very purpose-built and couldn't survive the open sea, but that wasn't their purpose.


Freebooter10 Dec 2005 7:29 a.m. PST

Hello Eric,
Buchanon did not surrender the CSS Tennessee because of any demorilization of his crew. I have heard of no such info and I don't think they were demorilized at all. Perhaps shook up some from taking such a beating while surrounded and sitting still.

I thought it was common knowledge that he surrendered mainly because his rudder chains were shot away and he could not manouver. An inherent flaw of the Tennesse's design was that it had exposed rudder chains. They had no time to correct this so they tried to cover them with boiler iron but in the battle that was shot away and the chains severed. The Tennessee became a sitting duck, unable to manouver or turn as the Union ships closed in and began to pound her. The monitors closed in from one side and the Hartford and others from the other side/s. They pounded the Tennessee at point blank range incessantly, she unable to move. Naturally she took some damage. A monitor's 15 inch guns, from mere feet and yards away, more or less piereced the casemate (one account from a member of the Tennessee's crew said they saw daylight where there used to be five inches of iron over two feet of wood).

It is at that time, unable to move or manouver and knowing that the Yankee invaders would pound her to pieces in such a situation, that Buchannon surrendered.

I think that the Tennessee, and the three or four small gunboats with her, sailing out and attacking/engaging something like 18 powerful, Union war ships, showed true gallantry, courage, and above all else dedication to their cause.

If ever I win a large lottery, I am going to have an exact full sized repro of the Tennessee rebuilt and put in Alabama's waters once more. It would be neat to see it cruusing up the Alabama river and around Mobile bay once more. If something like that were ever built I would be among the first to go tour her, or pay for a ride or work as a crew member. It could be another tourist attraction at Mobile bay next to the WWII battle ship and sub, the USS Alabama and the USS Drum.

Take care,
Millbrook, Al.

Pyrate Captain31 Dec 2018 10:41 a.m. PST

Monitor designs had limitations in turret rotation, in that a separate steam engine would need to be reversed, the turret gear disengaged to do so and a limited opportunity to pass ammunition and charges as the turret rotated to align hatches. Sea keeping ability in all but still water was another limitation.

The Virginia was a first as was the Monitor, but in later casemate designs, IMHO, casemate had an advantage.

john snelling31 Dec 2018 10:35 p.m. PST

Most Confederate ironclads where not built by shipwrights but by carpenters. The iron used was mostly inferior railroad tees. It was a single hit from a 15" round from the USS Manhattan that disabled the CSS Tennessee. 11" and 150 pdr. rounds did not penetrate her armor.

So to answer the question Confederate casemates were inferior to Union monitors.

Makes for a fun game though!

Lion in the Stars31 Dec 2018 10:35 p.m. PST

Neither design really had great seakeeping.

For river battles, I think the casemates had an advantage. More guns, better rate of fire.

The Monitor definitely had a bigger effect on subsequent warship design, though!

Master Caster Sponsoring Member of TMP03 Jan 2019 6:10 a.m. PST

Sounds like a draw,,,,,just like the first M v. M. fight.
Enjoyed the discussion and can only add the following: years ago I did some volunteer work for the Monitor Sanctuary and Dina Hill the former Education Specialist there found letters from Monitor's chief engineer – Stimers I think was the name. He related that during the first fight they could only run out Monitor's guns one at a time and that the lower turret hatch had to be aligned with the hatch into the lower hull in order to pass ammo (someone alluded to that above). The letters went on to report that after the first big fight – and in preparation for the next – they were able to reconfigure the gun carriages to run both out at the same time. The plan for the next fight with Merrimack/Virginia was to run both guns out at the same time and fire full charges (newly authorized to fire such) simultaneously into one spot on the casemate armor. They never got the chance as both sides were ordered not to become seriously engaged again. If I recall correctly, the armor on both CSS Atlanta and Tennessee were was "broken" or sheered away by 15" rounds. Both were unmaneuverable and any repeat hits in the same spot would have been devastating, thus both wisely hauled down their colors and surrendered. (Keokuk's light armor was penetrated in several places but it still took her several hours to sink once she was pulled away from action.) The immediate vulnerabilities of both casemated ironclads and monitor designs were their lower hulls. CSS Albemarle and USS Tecumseh both lost in action due to mines.
Toby Barrett

tsofian Sponsoring Member of TMP07 Jan 2019 5:33 a.m. PST

CSS Albamarle was sunk by a torpedo boat attack, not by the Confederates.

Twin turret monitors had a 4 gun broadside, which was very close to a broadside of a CSS casemate vessel. In addition they fired far greater weight of iron, so their weight of broadside was equal if not greater.

New Ironsides would have had even less effect if she fought at Hampton Roads, because her original armament was 9 inch guns, not the 11 inch ones carried by Monitor. These were swapped out for 11s after the poor showing of the 9 inch guns against CSS Virginia.

Also, Monitor was far more nimble then either of the bigger ships and drew less water. She also had nearly double the thickness of plate compared to New Ironsides.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2019 12:43 p.m. PST

"The Monitor definitely had a bigger effect on subsequent warship design, though!"

Not really. The monitor not copied after about 1870 because of the problems with sea-keeping.

The Ericsson turret was a similar dead end. Turrets developed from the superior Coles design in Europe and the from the barbettes in the 1880s.

The casemate ironclad with sloping armour was certainly gone by the 1870s, some were built in South America. If you take the principle of "belt and battery" armour layout it remains until about 1880.

Lion in the Stars11 Jan 2019 4:29 p.m. PST

I meant in terms of 'main battery in a turret'.

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