An Ironclad Victory For Schenectady
Clute Brothers Foundry Helped Turn the Civil War in Favor of the North
By Don Rittner
On March 9, 1862, the most famous naval battle in American history took place almost 600 miles from the Capital District. Yet, this 143-year-old event had Schenectady and Troy stamped all over it when a small floating “cheesebox on a raft” helped turn the War of the Rebellion against the South. This is the famous storybook battle between the northern ironclad U.S.S. Monitor and its southern counterpart the C.S.S. Virginia, or (formerly U.S.S.) Merrimac during the Civil War.
On the afternoon of March 8, the Union Navy was not faring well. The clearly outnumbered sole Confederate ironclad Virginia (Merrimac) steamed its way down the Elizabeth River into Hampton Roads in Virginia and attacked the wooden-sided Northern blockading fleet anchored there. This was no small blockade. It comprised several ships armed with 204 guns and aided by land batteries. Fortress Monroe, under the command of Troy’s General John Wool, was nearby and in sight of the action.
By six o’clock, the lonely Virginia had sunk the Cumberland, burned the Congress, forced the Minnesota ashore, and forced the St. Lawrence and the Roanoke to seek shelter under the guns of Fort Monroe. The Union fleet was in shambles and the Virginia planned on returning the next day to finish them off.
However, an unexpected guest¾the Monitor¾greeted the Virginia the next morning. It had slipped in the previous night under fog. The Monitor, more heavily armored, and with a revolving gun turret (a first) was also speedier and more agile in the water due to the inventive genius of its designer John Ericsson.
While eight foundries were responsible for making the Monitor, the primary work for iron plate, castings, and fittings was contracted out to three New York rolling mills. Holdane & Co. (NYC) produced 125 tons of plate, and the Albany Ironworks and Rensselaer Ironworks of Troy manufactured hundreds of additional tons of hull plate and castings. H. Abbott & Sons of Baltimore rolled the 1-inch-thick iron plates for the turret that was then shipped to Novelty Ironworks in New York for assembly. Delmater Ironworks (NYC) and Clute Brothers Foundry of Schenectady cast and assembled most of the components of the ship’s machinery. Niagara Steam Forge of Buffalo made the Turret’s port stoppers and flaps for the cannon’s firing openings on the turret. Clute Brothers also made the gun carriages.
The ship was 124 feet long, and 34 feet broad at the top. While in water, all that was visible was the turret, for the most part; only 18 inches of the deck was visible above the water line. The ship was launched on January 30, 1861, 18 days past the 100 days Ericsson promised it would take to deliver it to the government.
The Clute Brothers Foundry, at the corner of Liberty and Wall Streets (now a parking lot), founded in 1840, already had a relationship with Ericsson as one of the builders of his famous patented Ericsson Caloric Steam Engine. They also prided themselves on producing marine engines, boilers, and scientific instruments. It was the donkey engines they fabricated that moved the gears of the turret, and naval historians agree that it was the rotating turret that changed the course of naval warfare forever. If it had not worked, the war may have had a different outcome.
According to the U.S.S. Monitor Center (Mariner’s Museum):
The most innovative feature of the Monitor and the one that became her distinguishing characteristic was her revolving turret. Though other designers had toyed with the idea of developing turrets for warships, Ericsson’s Monitor was the first warship to use the invention successfully. The turret rested amidships of the vessel and was furnished with a separate steam engine that propelled the turret in a complete rotation. It measured 20 feet in diameter and 9 feet in height, and its armored walls were made of eight layers of 1-inch armor plate. Two massive 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore cannon, capable of firing solid shot weighing 180 pounds, were installed inside the turret. Though the Monitor would go into battle with only two cannon, she had a distinct advantage even over an opponent with ten cannon. This was because the revolving turret would allow her to fire and aim her guns rapidly in any direction regardless of the direction in which the ironclad might be steaming. All other ships of her time were forced to aim their guns in part by steering the vessel into a position where the guns, mounted in broadside arrangement, could be brought to bear on the enemy.
The turret bulkhead was opened only where two gun ports for the two 11-inch Dahlgren guns were located. The open ports could be covered from within by huge iron pendulums that were swung in or out of position as needed. The flooring in the turret was four-inch thick wood, supported by an iron ring running around the inside base of the turret. The turret was rotated by two Clute Brothers-made steam engines operating a crank that rotated four gears. During battle, three officers and 16 sailors composed the gun crews and would have been in the turret, along with the massive Dahlgren guns.
Troy’s John Griswold (then Congressman) and John F. Winslow, owner of the Albany Iron Works, financed the deal, along with John Ericsson who designed the Monitor.
For about five hours the two ironclads battled it out with both ships retreating, each of their captains thinking they had won. In effect, the North did win since it halted the further destruction of the fleet and sent the Virginia running.
In the annual report of the Secretary of the Navy for 1862, the following was written about the epic battle between the Monitor and Virginia (Merrimac):
The fierce conflict between these two ironclads lasted for several hours. It was in appearance an unequal conflict, for the Merrimac was a large and noble structure, and the Monitor was in comparison almost diminutive. But the Monitor was strong in her armor, in the ingenious novelty of her construction, in the large caliber of her two guns, and the valor and skill with which she was handled. After several hours’ fighting the Merrimac found herself overmatched, and, leaving the Monitor, sought to renew the attack on the Minnesota; but the Monitor again placed herself between the two vessels and reopened her fire upon her adversary. At noon the Merrimac, seriously damaged, abandoned the contest and, with her companions, retreated toward Norfolk.
Thus terminated the most remarkable naval combat of modern times, perhaps of any age. The fiercest and most formidable naval assault upon the power of the Union which has ever been made by the insurgents was heroically repelled, and a new era was opened in the history of maritime warfare.
Ironically, it was the forces of nature that sunk the Monitor, 20 miles off Cape Hatteras, when it was being towed back on a stormy New Year’s Eve in 1862. Several sailors went down with the ship.
The Monitor rested in the deep for 111 years before it was relocated in 1973, and then designated the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. It is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The purpose of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary is to preserve the historic record of this significant vessel and to interpret her role in shaping U.S. naval history. Over the past several years NOAA has made extensive surveys of the wreck site and recovered over 250 artifacts from the Monitor.
A Navy-funded, $6.5 million project last year was the last major recovery effort of the Monitor since surveys in the mid-1990s showed that corrosion of the vessel was accelerating. The eight-inch thick iron turret still contained the two 11-inch Dahlgren cannons, many smaller artifacts, and the remains of some of the crewmen who went down with the ship - along with Seaman Francis Butts’ black cat - the mascot that was stuffed into the barrel of one of the cannons to keep it dry as the ship bounced around the rough sea. Underwater archaeologists and Navy divers recovered the 150-ton turret (the “cheesebox”), along with the remains of two crewmembers on August 5, 2002.
Today, Museum visitors can stand just feet away from the Monitor’s two 11-inch Dahlgren cannons, unique screw propeller, and the construction site for the $30 million U.S.S. Monitor Center, which is scheduled to open on March 9, 2007.
The Clute Brothers assisted in the production of parts for other ships during the war as well. For example, they built the propeller wheel for the U.S.S. Picket Boat #3, a screw steamer on March 3, 1865, for which they were paid $47.50.
Ericsson went on to build other Monitor Class warships for the army: U.S.S. Passaic (launched Aug. 30, 1862), U.S.S. Patapsco (launched Sept. 27, 1862), U.S.S. Montauk (launched Oct. 9, 1862), U.S.S. Sangamon (launched Oct. 27, 1862), U.S.S. Catskill (launched Dec. 16, 1862), U.S.S. Lehigh (launched June 17, 1863), U.S.S. Dictator (launched Dec. 26, 1863), and the U.S.S. Puritan (launched July 2, 1864). The Montauk and Patapsco were damaged or sunk by Confederate torpedoes.
The Clute Brothers Foundry and Machine Shop, also known as the Schenectady Iron Foundry and Machine Shop, was founded in the 1840s by Cadwallader C. Clute, originally as Clute & Bailey, stove makers. Clute also owned a hardware store at 142 State Street. Later he formed the Clute Brothers Steam Engine and Tool Builders at 49 & 51 Liberty Street with John B. Clute and Jethrow W. Clute.
Clute Brothers also built bridges that spanned the Erie Canal. In an 1862 Scientific American article, George Heath, the inventor and patentee of a new iron truss bridge was featured for his new improved design, which Clute built for him. Clute also built a cast iron bridge for Schenectady inventor Benjamin Severson. Finally, in later years, they built sawmills complete with boilers and water wheels of various designs.
The word “Torpedo” was first used by American inventor David Bushnell during the 18th century. Torpedo is from the animal family, genus Torpedinidae, the electric ray. The “Shock and awe” of a torpedo was aptly named.
Bushnell first used the term for a mine attached to the hull of a ship and detonated. He completed this by using a boat that he designed that was manually pedal-powered and was submerged, perhaps the first submarine. During the 18th and 19th centuries, however, all types of water bound explosive devices, i.e., floating mines, floating barrels of burning pitch (carried to the target by the water current), and spar torpedoes (approximately 60lb charge was fixed on the end of a 25 foot pole, was exploded below the waterline) were called torpedoes.
Robert Fulton developed Bushnell’s submarine into a more workable type, which he named Nautilus. With this boat he sank several ships during demonstrations, but was unable to sell his submarine to the American Navy.
Throughout the century, many attempts were made to develop torpedoes and during the Civil War, the “Spar” type was popular. This consisted of a steam launch having an explosive charge mounted at the end of a long pole projecting ahead of the boat. Unfortunately, the aggressor had to get pretty close to the enemy boat although the Confederates used it successfully.
After the war, in 1870, a “Torpedo Test Station” was set up at Rhode Island for research on spar torpedoes, but a year later the first “automobile” torpedo was tested. Instead of adopting the successful torpedoes of British inventor Robert Whitehead, the U.S. government set about building under the supervision of J. L. Lay, an officer in the U.S. Navy, a series of unusual and unreliable weapons.
Clute Brothers in Schenectady was contracted to make some of Lay’s first torpedoes from designs from M. Hubbe, a marine architect and draughtsman who worked for Lay. They were tested in the Mohawk River between two bridges at the foot of Governors Lane in the present Stockade.
On October 11, 1872, the first successful test was made with 300 onlookers, including several Navy officials at the Schenectady location. After the event, Rear Admiral A. Ludlow Case made a toast to Lay: “We congratulate him on the perfect success of his Torpedo. It moved with ease and is under perfect control, both of which are the great and essential points.”
Unfortunately, with Lay’s design, most of his weapons floated and could not strike at any depth at an enemy ship. The Lay torpedoes floated with only a few inches of hull showing and were controlled by an operator using electrical impulses sent down a wire. The power unit was a gas engine driven by compressed carbon dioxide and the steering impulses transmitted down the wire operated electromagnetic relays on the rudder. The position of the weapon was indicated by two flags or discs. A later form used liquefied carbon dioxide as the power source with the liquid warmed in pipes external to the weapon.
These weapons were unreliable and vulnerable to destruction by gunfire. In a trial carried out off the British coast for the Royal Navy, the Lay weapon heeled over badly so that the propeller was located only half under the surface.
Two Lay torpedoes were sold to the Peruvian Government for use in their war against Chile. In 1879, a Lay weapon was fired from the Peruvian ironclad Huascar at a Chilean ship. When it reached halfway to the target, the weapon turned around and headed back at 15 knots to the mother ship, despite the frantic and much-surprised knob twiddling of the operator. The ship was saved only by the quick thinking and heroic action of a ship’s officer who dove in the water and swam out to intercept the weapon and deflect it. The captain took the two weapons to a local graveyard where they were buried. Ironically, they were later exhumed by the Chilean rebels! The Lay weapon was also exported to Russia for harbor defense work, but only in small quantities. It wasn’t until 1896 that the Austrian naval officer Ludwig Obry invented the gyroscope, making the torpedo a reliably stable weapon.
Clutes and The Spuyten Duyvil
The Clute Brothers were also instrumental in building the first torpedo ship for the Navy known as the Spuyten Duyvil.
The torpedo boat Spuyten Duyvil, which in Dutch means “In Spite of the Devil,” was built in early 1865, just before the fall of Richmond. Naval constructor Samuel H. Pook designed the hull, but the torpedo-laying machinery was designed by Captain William W. W. Wood, Chief Engineer, U.S.N., and constructed by the Clute Brothers of Schenectady. The ship was constructed at Fairhaven, Connecticut, in only three months. It was completed under the name Stromboli, in October 1864, but was renamed a month later.
After the ship’s arrival at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in early December 1864, the same place as the earlier Monitor battle two years previous, Spuyten Duyvil was sent to operate on the James River. On January 23-24, 1865, it took part in the battle at Trent’s Reach, after Confederate ironclads attempted to attack federal forces on the lower James.
As the Civil War drew to a close in early April 1865, Spuyten Duyvil used its unique torpedo-placing mechanism to clear obstructions on the river, which allowed President Abraham Lincoln to go up the James River to visit Richmond, the former Confederate capital city.
The ship continued clearing the river’s obstruction even after the fighting ended, and at the end of its career was sent to the New York Navy Yard, where it was decommissioned, later used for experiments, and then sold in 1880.
The vessel was propelled by a single four-bladed screw, and the engines for working the propeller were constructed at Mystic, Connecticut, by Mallory and Co.
For working the vessel and torpedo machinery nine persons were required, the total number of the staff on board.
As retold by S. E. Schlosser (author of Spooky New York, Globe Pequot, 2005)
Once in old New Amsterdam, there was a brave trumpeter named Anthony Van Corlaer who would blow his trumpet when Peter Stuyvesant wanted to call the people together.
One night, Peter received word that the English were going to attack New Amsterdam. He sent Anthony to warn the Dutch colonists along the Hudson and to call the people to fight. A storm was brewing. When Anthony reached the tip of Manhattan Island, there was no ferry to take him across the tide water creek which connects the Harlem and Hudson Rivers at the tip of Manhattan Island. Anthony called out for the ferryman, but there was no answer. Conscious of his important mission, Anthony decided he would swim across that creek in spite of the devil (in spuyt den duyvil).
Well, the Devil heard Anthony calling for the ferryman, and when Anthony was well into the middle of the creek, the Devil caught him by the leg. Anthony pulled out his trumpet and blew a terrific blast, louder than the wind. It startled the Devil so much that he let go of Anthony’s leg. But Anthony did not have strength enough after his fight with the Devil to swim the creek, and so he drowned.
For many years after this, folks living at the northern tip of Manhattan claimed they could hear Anthony’s trumpet blowing louder than the wind on nights when it stormed. And the creek where Anthony met his fate was called Spuyten Duyvil.
Reprinted from AmericanFolklore.net with author’s permission.
The following text is from an historic marker erected in 2000 in NYC regarding the Spuyten Deyvil.
There has been much speculation concerning the origin of the name “Spuyten Duyvil.” Dutch in origin, Spuyten Duyvil can be translated in two ways, depending on the pronunciation. One translation is “Devil’s whirlpool,” and indeed, sections of the creek were sometimes turbulent during high tide. The second interpretation is “to spite the Devil.” This translation was popularized by Washington Irving’s story in which a Dutch trumpeter vowed to swim across the turbulent creek during the British attack on New Amsterdam “en spijt den Duyvil (in spite of the Devil).”
Running from the Hudson River to the Harlem River, the Spuyten Duyvil Creek marks the northernmost tip of Manhattan Island. The creek’s significance is revealed through local Native American legends, an era of Dutch settlement, and laborious years of altering its natural course for commercial purposes. Eventually renamed the Harlem River Ship Canal (also the U.S. Ship Canal), this tidal strait has splendid views, and a variety of wildlife that still thrives despite years of human-induced change.
Lenape Indians inhabited the area for thousands of years. A Lenape settlement once stood on the Bronx side of the creek, in the area above where Columbia’s huge letter C can be seen today. Columbia University rowers painted the letter C for themselves and for their school’s teams, which play at Baker Field/Wien Stadium across the creek. The Lenape Indians called the banks of the Spuyten Duyvil Shorakapok, which has commonly been translated as “the sitting down place” or “the place between the ridges.” With an abundance of oysters, fish, waterfowl, and a diversity of other creatures, this region was an ideal hunting and fishing ground for the Lenape. Additionally, they relied on the innumerable freshwater springs that meandered throughout the vast wetlands.
Written accounts of the creek first appear in the year 1609, when Henry Hudson and his crew may have briefly anchored their ship, Half Moon, in the Spuyten Duyvil. During the Colonial period, many Dutch farmers and merchants found it convenient to cross the Spuyten Duyvil rather than pay for ferry service across the Harlem River at 125th Street. In 1669, to prevent people from crossing for free, Johannes Verveelen moved his ferry to where West 231st Street and Broadway now intersect. In 1673, Frederick Philipse replaced the ferry with a toll bridge known as the King’s Bridge. Reacting to both the fee and the occasional inconvenience of using this bridge, a Dutch landowner named Jacob Dyckman raised funds to construct the Free Bridge in 1758, which was later destroyed by the Continental Army while fleeing the British during the Revolutionary War.
The present course of the Harlem River Ship Canal differs greatly from the Spuyten Duyvil Henry Hudson once visited. To make it more navigable, the Army Corps of Engineers began to modify both the creek and its adjacent land in the latter part of the 19th century. In 1876, the New York State Legislature decreed the construction of the Harlem River Shipping Canal. When completed in 1895, the canal severed Marble Hill from Manhattan, creating an island with Spuyten Duyvil Creek as its northern perimeter. The new channel effectively shortened the water route between the Hudson River and Long Island Sound by 14 miles. Soon after the canal’s completion, builders filled Spuyten Duyvil Creek, thereby connecting the island to mainland Bronx. Since the turn of the century, Marble Hill residents have successfully petitioned to remain within the governance of Manhattan; interestingly, for years telephone directories listed residents in both Manhattan and the Bronx.
Today, the Broadway Bridge, the Henry Hudson Memorial Bridge (opened on December 12, 1936, as part of Robert Moses’ controversial “West Side Improvement” project), and railroad swing bridge, used by Amtrak passenger trains, still span the waterway.
CIVIL WAR SHIPS NAMED FOR LOCAL REGIONS
Screw steamer, sloop. Built in 1862. Wrecked on Aug. 23, 1862, NE point Little Bahama Bank, Abaco, Bahama Islands, by the Man of War Cay.
Screw steamer, sloop. Built by the government Dec 3, 1864. Name changed from Contoocook to Albany, May 15, 1869. Commissioned March 14, 1868.
Sloop of War. Built by the government at Kittery, ME, launched July 26, 1842. Commissioned on Nov. 5, 1860 and June 24, 1863, at Philadelphia Navy Yard for African Squadron and South Atlantic station.
Single turret monitor. Built under contract with J. Ericsson. Launched Dec. 16, 1862 at NY. On June 15, 1869, name changed to Goliath; Aug 10, 1869, changed to Catskill; delivered to NY Navy Yard on February 19, 1863.
Light draft monitor. Built by contract by M.F. Merritt. Broken up in 1875 at NY by John Roach, paid $3,684. Name changed to Charybdix from Cohoes; Aug. 10, 1869, renamed the Cohoes.
Screw steamer, 2-masted schooner. Purchased Sept. 20, 1862, from the Philadelphia prize court by the Navy department. Sold at auction to Samuel C. Cook for $28,500 on Sept. 12, 1865. Name changed from Florida, its original name, to Hendrick Hudson. Captured April 6, 1862, by the U.S.S. Pursuit. Commissioned at Philadelphia Dec. 20, 1862; out of commission Aug. 8, 1865. Vessel had a round stern, light spar deck fore and aft, and house on top.
Screw steamer purchased on June 14, 1869 as the Caledonia, sold July 12, 1864, at Philadelphia. Name changed to Mohawk on date of purchase. Chartered in 1858 for Paraguay Expedition. Commissioned on Sept. 19, 1859, at Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Screw steamer, launched Feb. 15, 1859. Built at Navy yard at Portsmouth NH; rebuilt in 1885 at Mare Island Navy Yard, in service as a tender for torpedo fleet Asiatic station. Commissioned on Nov. 29, 1859, at Portsmouth; out of commission on Apr. 26, 1865, at Boston Navy Yard.
Ironic that the two cities that produced the first Monitor, Troy and Schenectady, didn’t have a Monitor named in their honor!