The destructive ironclad ships of the U.S. Civil War in rare photographs, 1861-1864

For thousands of years, warships were built of wood and powered by human muscles and the wind. Gunpowder created chemical energy and machine-made materials in the first place, but successfully mounting and using cannons on ships still required a great amount of time and muscular power.

In the mid-nineteenth century, however, naval warfare changed dramatically and so was the need for innovation. This innovation came in the form of ironclad warships.

The Crimean War halted the move to mechanized warfare at sea, but not until the American Civil War led to an end-to-end campaign fought by sea machines by the Navy.

The first iron casings, developed by the French in Europe, were standard ship designs of the time, to which metal plates were added to protect against deadly artillery.

These designs leapt to the Atlantic Ocean to see use in the American Civil War, where they were refined and altered to accommodate the shallow western riverbed where many naval battles took place.

Steamboats made of metal plates saw use in combat, and Union forces eventually developed the gunship that is now synonymous with the term "ironclad".

These steam-powered ships sat somewhat low in the water and were almost entirely covered with heavy plating, making them quite impervious to standard gunfire, artillery, and even cannon fire.

At the outbreak of the war, the US Navy had no iron frigates, but most of the US Navy remained loyal to the Union. To make up for this disadvantage, the Union decided to pursue the manufacture and purchase of ironclad as a way to gain some sort of naval advantage.

In response to this effort, the union began making its own ironclad clothes. It consisted of two main styles, the ocean-going Monitor class ironclads and the city class ironclads used for river warfare.

Fleets using ironclad could eventually go toe-to-toe with armored forts, and in March 1862, at the Battle of Hampton Roads in Virginia, the world saw its first naval engagement between opposing ironclad forces.

USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (formerly the steam frigate USS Merrimack) dueled until Virginia retreated, with neither side able to inflict serious damage on the other.

The civil war saw more iron casings built by both sides, and they played an increasing role in naval warfare alongside unarmed warships, commerce bombers and blockade runners. The union built a large fleet of fifty monitors named after him.

The Confederacy built ships designed as smaller versions of Virginia, many of which saw action, but their attempts to buy ironclad overseas were frustrated as European nations confiscated ships being built for the Confederacy. - Especially in Russia, the only country that openly supported the union. Warning. Only CSS Stonewall was completed, and she came into American waters at the end of the war.

The exploits of warships on both sides undoubtedly proved that the era of wooden battleships was over. The Battle of Mobile Bay really made the point. Despite having 11 wooden ships, the Union required its Monitor class ironclad to take on a larger Unionist ironclad, CSS Tennessee.

By the end of the Civil War, the rest of the world had taken notice. Everyone was trying to bring their navies up to date as the older wooden ships became obsolete, and 1864 marked the last major naval engagement between squadrons of wooden ships.

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