Q5. The Mexican-American War was primarily a
land war. However, the Navy provided what
service during this war?
THE U.S. NAVY FROM THE CIVIL WAR
TO THE 20TH CENTURY
Learning Objective: When you finish this chapter, you
will be able to
Recognize the roles and responsibilities of the
Navy from the Civil War to the 20th century to
include the Civil War and the Spanish-American
The last half of the 19th century was a time of
change for the United States. Marked by two wars and
the first assassination of a United States President, it
was a time of rapid change for the country and its Navy.
THE CIVIL WAR
This bloody struggle between the States was the
stage for many events in U.S. naval history. Both Union
and Confederate navies engaged in shipbuilding
programs. These programs brought the ironclad era into
being. Launched by the Union in 1862, USS New
Ironsides, a powerful ironclad, had the armor that
allowed it to survive 50 hits in one battle.
The Civil War saw the development of two famed
ironcladsthe USS Merrimack (renamed the CSS
Virginia by the Confederacy) and the Unions USS
Monitor (which sported a turret). The USS Monitor was
ungainly, called a cheese box on a raft; however, it and
its Confederate counterpart began the ironclad era. The
battle of the ships was indecisive; both sides claimed
Also appearing on the scene were riverboats, rams,
and gunboats. Probably more changes and advances
were made in ship designs during the 4 years of the Civil
War (1861 - 1865) than during any period since our
Navy had its start in 1775.
The Confederate Navy took the next steps forward
in the development of the submarine. The USS Hunley
was built with funds provided by Captain H. L. Hunley,
a man blessed with imagination but lacking in
practicality. The ends of this 25-foot craft were loaded
with ballast tanks that could be filled for descent but had
to be hand pumped for ascent. Power was supplied by a
propeller fitted to a camshaft that ran the length of the
ship and was turned by as many as eight men.
The CSS Hunley was a jinx to the Confederate
Navy. On its first voyage, it nosed into the mud and
refused to surface, killing its seven crew members. It
was hauled up and moored at James Island, where a
passing steamer swamped it and six more crewmen
were lost. It was hauled up once more and manned with
another crew, but was swept over by another steamer
and another three men were killed.
A young Confederate lieutenant, George Dixon,
was convinced that the boat could be useful to the South.
The CSS Hunley was moored off Charlestons Sullivan
Island, just a few hundred yards from the USS
Housatonic. In the first true submarine attack in naval
history, Dixon cast off toward the large warship. The
CSS Hunely attacked the USS Housatonic in calm
waters in the dark of night. The submarine was sighted
by lookouts on the USS Housatonic; however, it didnt
have the time or the opportunity to strike back or set sail.
The CSS Hunley hit the USS Housatonic driving its
shaft deep into the ships hull. The heavy charge of
gunpowder the submergible was carrying went off
prematurely, and the CSS Hunley never had a chance to
escape. It and all of its crew went down. The USS
Housatonic had the same fate. It was hit on the starboard
side and went down in just 4 minutes. Another northern
vessel moved to its rescue, and only a few of its seamen
were lost. Even though he lost his life, Lieutenant Dixon
had demonstrated that submarines could be useful
weapons of war.