1862: “A New Era In Warfare”

1862_-in-their-wordsLondon, April 4, 1862

The late military successes have given us a season repose. People are changing their notions of the power of the country to meet such a trial, which is attended with quite favorable consequences to use in our position. Our diplomacy is almost in a state of profound calm. Even the favorite idea of a diversion into two states is less put forward than it was. Yet the interest with which the struggle is witnessed grows deeper and deeper. The battle between the Merrimack and our vessels has been the main talk of the town ever since the news came, in Parliament, in the clubs, in the city, among the military and naval people. The impression is that it dates the commencement of a new era in warfare, and that Great Britain must consent to begin over again. I think the effect is to diminish the confidence in the result of hostilities with us. In December we were told that we should be swept from the ocean in a moment, and all our ports would be taken. They do not talk so now. So far as this may have an effect to secure peace on both sides it is good….

We are much encouraged now by the series of successes gained, and far more by the marked indications of exhaustion and discouragement in the south. They must be suffering in every way. Never did people pay such a penalty for their madness. And the worst is yet to come. For emancipation is on its way with slow but certain pace. Well for them if it do not take them unaware.

Charles Francis Adams to his son, Charles F. Adams, Jr.

Far-Reaching Effects

The Battle of Hampton Roads with the duel of the ironclads echoed around the world. American ambassador to Britain – Charles F. Adams – observed and described that nation’s response. The inconclusive ironclad combat had three important outcomes:

First, American-British diplomatic relations calmed. A forgotten aspect of the Civil War is the international game. In 1861, the Trent Affair, coupled with lack of Union victories and Confederate overtures of friendship, edged England precariously close to joining the war. The Battle of Hampton Roads added another piece to the diplomatic puzzle, making the European nation less likely to interfere in the civil strife.

Secondly, in Britain’s eyes, the Union might have a chance at winning the war…especially with that new ironclad. Did Britain really want to ally with a possible loser (the Confederacy)? Even the idea of interfering with an invasion quieted. They would wait to see what happened next. It seemed possible that the USS Monitor, the U.S. Navy, and General McClellan’s grand army might decide the war in the Union favor…so why get involved if the conflict would be over soon?

Thirdly, the Americans had launched a ship far different than the vessels in the British Navy…

Great Britain’s Response To Naval Innovation

“Great Britain must consent to begin over again.”

For many decades, Britain celebrated their navy. “Britannia ruled the waves” as a naval power and trading empire. With colonies or outpost on most continents, Britain had to rule to the seas to maintain their international claims and territories.

With the account of the partially submerged American ironclad, the navy commanders, government officials, and people of England started to rethink their military position. Innovation was coming. The Americans were ahead. Britain would agreed to redesign their fleets and start building a modern sea force.

Historical Musings

While rejoicing in the diplomatic calm (enforced by a display of military might), Adams turned his thoughts to the Southern states. He displayed satisfaction in the Confederacy’s difficulties – viewing the defeats and “turning tide” as punishment. Thoroughly convinced that the Confederacy was struggling to a slow death, Adams might have been surprised in the coming months when the Confederates beat the odds and struck back.

The war was far from over, but – as Adams wished – emancipation would take some Southerners by surprise. Then again – it would surprise some Northerners too.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

4 thoughts on “1862: “A New Era In Warfare”

  1. Both England and France had begun building ironclad warships before the American Civil War. HMS Warrior was launched in 1860 (and is still in existence). The Monitor would have been no match for her, nor the USS New Ironsides either, probably. The USN was designed to do what it did: fight the CSA and win the ACW, not fight the British navy…or French Navy for that matter. The concept of the gun turret was a revolutionary one, and eventually had a big impact on warship design. But it took decades for navies of the world to sort out all the problems of modern warship design. My bedside reading last night was a chapter from Sir William Laird Clowe’s “History of the Royal Navy” dealing in part with this topic. Americans are much too ethnocentric when it comes to comparing the ACW to Europe. I used to read a blog on this topic from a British perspective…I am sorry I forget the title…but it was quite an eye-opener.

    • Thank you for sharing all this information. It’s great to add more to the conversation and I’m learning too. Appreciate the time you’ve taken to share these details. I’ll correct my error and add a note to my blog post for readers to see the comments for more details.
      Sarah Kay Bierle

  2. ” Ironclad Naval Reinforcements during a Trent War Scenario
    Ironclad Frigates

    At the time of the Trent Affair the British had built four ironclad frigates. More were in various stages of building but unlikely to see service in the Americas any time soon.


    Warrior was ordered to America on 14th December 1861. Before this she was taken into dry dock at Portsmouth, her bottom cleaned and 3 layers of anti-fouling paint applied. She then ran down to the Tagus (Lisbon, Portugal) where a reinforcement squadron under Rear Admiral Dacres was assembling (along with Gibraltar). Historically she arrived in the Tagus on 30th January and Dacres set off for the Americas on 1st February, arriving at Port Royal, Jamaica on 22nd February. Warrior’s movement was suspended, and she remained in the Tagus ready to go, but had the war scare not blown over she would have arrived with Dacres on 22nd February and been available to Milne before USS Monitor completed.

    Black Prince

    Was also under orders to America, and went into dry dock when Warrior left for the same reason. With the war scare over orders to America were suspended and she had a new, larger rudder installed to attempt to make her turn more tightly.

    In the event of the Trent crisis continuing she would have arrived in the Americas roughly in mid-March.


    Defence was under orders for America, which were of course suspended

    Defence left Chatham for Portsmouth with a full crew, armament and stores on 20th February 1862, although she’d been in this state for a month (the urgency of the situation had died down). Down at Portsmouth they completed trials on 13th March (occasioned by the addition of hydraulic steering) and thus Defence would probably have embarked for the Americas no later than mid-March, and joined Milne in early April. If war had broken out in the meantime she could have left with Warrior.


    Resistance was over by the RN on 5th December 1861 and taken down to Chatham to be fitted for immediate service in the Americas. She entered No. 3 dock at Chatham the week of the 5th-11th January (the report on 11th January says in the last week). She was scheduled to leave dock fully crewed, armed and stored on 18th February and to complete trials the second week of March for American service. This never happened as the crisis abated and the extra workers were laid off and experiments with her rigging etc. were ordered.

    If the crisis had continued she’d probably leave for the Americas around 20th March and arrive the mid-April.

    The Crimean Batteries

    Seven Crimean batteries still exist, and may give valuable service (especially Terror, Erebus and Thunderbolt, all iron-hulled). Terror in January 1862 is Milne’s flagship at Bermuda, and is the only ironclad in service in the western hemisphere. Trusty was in the Thames and was fitted with a prototype turret. AEtna and Thunderbolt were refitted in 1860 (shipping 16x 10″ 95 cwt in lieu of 68 pdrs) and moored in the Thames. Erebus, Glatton and Thunder are in reserve.

    If the RN decides to knock on walls then Erebus, Thunderbolt, Thunder and AEtna are in good condition and can be rapidly recommissioned. It may be Trusty and Glatton are in worse condition – Meteor has already been broken up as rotten, and in 1864 both these will be broken up, and these may not be available.

    Ironclads to the Americas

    We know for a fact that Warrior, Black Prince, Defence and Resistance were going to the Americas, because orders were given to that effect. Terror was already in the Americas. AEtna, Thunder, Thunderbolt and Erebus will likely be recommissioned to help “knocking on walls”. Trusty won’t and Glatton might not. Some of these batteries may be to Canada.

    Note: Plates

    The rate of building is limited by the fact that the 4.5″ thick plates for an armoured frigate are made into very precise shapes. Molds are taken of the hull as it’s build and the plate manufacturer supplies 4.5″ plates of exactly this shape using hot molding (vice cold pressing, see below). Warrior’s plates were 3 ft x 12 ft with a tongue and groove to obviate plate joint weakness.

    The same was not true in the Americas. The Confederacy could make 2″ thick iron bars, but Virginia’s plates were apparently only 8″ wide and 8 ft long. The two layers were laid normal to each other, but this essentially meant every single hit is at a plate join (even two) and is another factor seriously degrading the armour effectiveness vs a large plate.

    The Union was limited to only 1-inch* plates by their rolling mills, but they could make bigger plates – the Passiac’s plates were 5 ft x 5 ft in the hull and 3ft x 9 ft on the turret and bent to an even curve on a cold press. Cold pressing means the plates were not annealed, and hence would be very stressed – they would naturally want to be flat again. This is one of many detail failings that caused American iron to be inferior to British iron for resisting shot (that said, it would appear the forged plates of New Ironsides were equal to the forged plates of the 1854-5 ironclads, but both those were inferior to rolled plates). Harper’s magazine contained a description of how the monitor turrets were built.

    The result was that the US and CS foundries could produce an armour plate for use quicker (although note the UK had a lot more foundries with much higher capacity), but it was inferior, even assuming the same grade of iron and simple metallurgical content. However the RN was perfectly happy with simple plates for armoured batteries, and the warplans of September 1862 on file in the National Archives (box WO 33/11) include putting out contracts for “90 day” floating batteries on the Meteor/Aetna/Thunderbolt pattern to be delivered in 90 days at a fixed contract cost of 60,000 pounds.

    *As an aside, US “one inch” plates were usually 40 lb plates, which equals 15/16ths of an inch (yes, Monitor’s 8-inch turret was only actually 7.5 inches). The two mistakes that Stimers made when building the light draft monitors were (a) to calculate weight based on seasoned wood when green wood (25% heavier) was used and (b) to insist that all plates used be the “whole inch” whilst calculating on a 40 lb plate (lead to a 10% increase in weight of iron).

    Note: The French

    English speaking sources get the dates the French vessels came into service quite wrong (compare the English and French wikipedia entries for the Couronne). The in-service dates for the French armoured frigates were:

    Gloire: April 1860
    Invincible: March 1862
    Normandie: 13th May 1862

    Couronne: 2nd December 1862
    Magenta: 2nd January 1863
    Solferino: 17th March 1863

    Provence: 1st February 1865
    Flandre: May 1865
    Heroine: 7th June 1865
    Magnanime: 1st November 1865
    Savoie: 9th November 1866
    Valeureuse: 25th March 1867
    Revanche: 12th August 1867
    Surveillante: 21st October 1867
    Guyenne: 6th November 1867
    Gauloise: 5th December 1867

    This needs considering in some arguments.” (http://67thtigers.blogspot.jp/2016/05/ironclad-naval-reinforcements-during.html?view=magazine)

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