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A History of the Ironclad Pook Turtle

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An Arts Major and Published Indie Author who writes on various subjects pertaining to Humanities.

Photograph of an USS Cairo ironclad gunboat with sailors onboard. Two smaller rowboats are in the foreground with more sailors in them. In the background are other riverboats whose smoke stacks are visible.

Photograph of an USS Cairo ironclad gunboat with sailors onboard. Two smaller rowboats are in the foreground with more sailors in them. In the background are other riverboats whose smoke stacks are visible.

At the onset of the Civil War, James Buchanan Eads, a civil engineer, shipbuilder, and sunken vessel salvager, offered the Union Army a salvageable submarine for restructuring into a serviceable warship. Eads mentioned one crucial fact - because of a multiple watertight division within the hull of his ship, the vessel could sustain significant damage without sinking.

Little did he know this crucial piece of information destined he and war ship designer Samuel Pook to a fulfilling contract, supplying the Union Army with a fleet of ironclad ships, which would play an essential role in the eventual defeat of the Confederate Army.

James Buchanan Eads. Library of Congress description: "Eads, Hon. James B. of MO. (Built the St.Louis Bridge)" between 1865 and 1880

James Buchanan Eads. Library of Congress description: "Eads, Hon. James B. of MO. (Built the St.Louis Bridge)" between 1865 and 1880

The United States has never been afraid of a challenge. In times of crisis, it is American innovation and ingenuity that has forged the path to progress and prosperity.

— Diana DeGette

The Union Agenda

At the start of the Civil War, the Union Army put a fleet of ironclad ships into service along the Mississippi River. These city-class gunboats known as “Eads gunboats” or “Pook Turtles” engineered and placed at major Southern ports and used by the federal war department in their try to remove any source of income or supplies from enemy territory.

By confiscating income and supplies, and blockading entry points, the Lincoln Administration could starve the enemy, isolate the western sympathizing states, and cinch its grasp on Confederate fortifications.

Hailed as a brilliant strategy, the Anaconda Plan met its first challenge by recruiting civil engineer and salvager, James Buchanan Eads and warship designer, James Pook who worked for the war department.

With five sawmills, iron rolling mills and factories, the designing pair could build a city-class fleet of warships. Named after major cities along western rivers, and costing over $100,000 each, the squadron was sound and later recognized as top-notch maritime feats.

Superior Ingenuity

The ironclad warships of the Mississippi River tread enemy waters equipped with a superior armament. Every vessel had its own identity. However, because of uniformity, the ship operated recognized by individual color bands on the smokestacks.

Each gunboat weighed 512 tons and mantled with 2.5-inch-thick plated iron armor walls. At 175 feet long and 51.5 feet wide, these large round-nosed, flat-bottomed vessels maneuvered by a stern paddle wheel and powered by coal.

Chronology of Gunboat Engagements

Charts of Ironclad Engagements

Charts of Ironclad Engagements

Union ironclad USS Carondelet (1861) circa 1862, U.S. Naval Historical Center

Union ironclad USS Carondelet (1861) circa 1862, U.S. Naval Historical Center

Operation Pook Turtle

Early during the war, the Federal government used the ironclad gunboats in capturing Fort Henry, Fort Donaldson, and Fort Pillow, Memphis, and Vicksburg.

The first ironclad warship clashed in battle was on October 12, 1861. During the Battle of the Head Passes, the Confederate gunboat, the Manassas operated off the shore of the Mississippi River as part of a small river defense fleet, which launched a surprise attack on the New Orleans blockade defenses.

In the years to come, the Union followed suit in their similar operations. The Pook Turtle remained successful. However, there were a few backlashes. On December 11th, 1862, during the blockade of Vicksburg, the Cairo met its end when it sunk by enemy mines, and a year later, the St. Louis sunk because of a torpedo attack.

Naval Station at Mound City where the unlucky Carondelet was repaired after injuries at Fort Donelson. The force of shipwrights, carpenters, mechanics, and engineers kept at work, often day and night until repaired.

Naval Station at Mound City where the unlucky Carondelet was repaired after injuries at Fort Donelson. The force of shipwrights, carpenters, mechanics, and engineers kept at work, often day and night until repaired.

The War’s Long-Term Contribution

Both the Union and Confederate Navies helped to change the course of naval warfare. Gone were the days of the wooden ships of yore, and thus, the iron-plated behemoths took over and set the standard for future design. By as late as 1864, the last of the wooden-ship designs became obsolete, and soon the world would follow in its demised wake.

Cited Sources & Works

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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