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St. Louis, Missouri — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)
 

Eads' Ironclads

A State Divided: The Civil War in Missouri

 

Missouri Department of Natural Resources

 
Eads' Ironclads Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, September 14, 2019
1. Eads' Ironclads Marker
Inscription.  
Carondelet and the Eads Ironclads

On Oct. 12, 1851, the USS Carondelet slid down the ways at James Eads' Union Iron Works in the village of Carondelet, south of St. Louis. It was the first ironclad warship built by the United States, launched more than three months before the famed USS Monitor. During the course of the Civil War, Eads' Union Iron Works would furnish the Union with more ironclad warships than any other boatyard in the West.

"The Key to the Whole Situation"

Early in the war, Confederate forts and bateries blocked the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River, President Abraham Lincoln declared, "is the backbone of the Rebellion; it is the key to the whole situation." Reopening the river would split the South and provide a highway of invasion into the Confederate heartland. To deal with the formidable Confederate forts, Lincoln sought advice from one of the most knowledgeable rivermen on the Mississippi — James Buchanan Eads of St. Louis.

Eads, a self-taught engineer, advised to attack the forts at close range and overwhelm them with point-blank
Eads' Ironclads Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, September 14, 2019
2. Eads' Ironclads Marker
fire. Lincoln was enthusiastic and had government engineer Samuel Pook develop a design for a river ironclad. In August 1861 Eads won a construction contract for seven gunboats with the low bid of $89,600 per boat. He agreed to complete all seven in a little over two months, and to forfeit $250 per boat for each day late.

Eads Builds Pook's Turtles

Eads faced a daunting task. The blockade of the Mississippi had forced Northern mills, machine shops and foundries to close. Eads began telegraphing contract for iron, lumber, boat stores and machinery to suppliers throughout the region. Business soon reopened and new ones were established; 13 sawmills in seven states began preparing timber for the gunboats, three of which were to be built at Mound City, Ill., and four at Carondelet.

In Carondelet, Eads leased the construction yards of the Carondelet Marine Railway, a facility that featured a rail system for moving boats in and out of the water. He renamed it the Union Iron Works, and within two weeks employed 500 men. Work went on around the clock, but problem slowed construction: suitable iron was difficult to find; threats of sabotage caused security to be increased; workmen threatened to strike; and weaknesses in Pook's design required last-minute alterations. Eads' main problem, however, was financial. He had exhausted his personal fortune
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to begin the project and the government failed to pay when stipulated. Eads borrowed from banks and friends to complete the contract, but did not receive full payment until the following year.

In spite of setbacks, he launched the first gunboat, USS Carondelet, on Oct. 12, 1861; only two days past deadline. It was soon followed by the St. Louis, Louisville, and Pittsburgh, then by the boats built at Mound City — the Cincinnati, Mound City and Cairo. Newspapers dubbed the odd-looking crafts, which were dubbed "Pook's Turtles."

The seven ironclads first saw action in the spring of 1862 when the Union captured Forts Henry and Donelson, New Madrid and Island No. 10. Fort Pillow fell on June 4, and two days later the Confederate river fleet was destroyed in a naval battle off Memphis. Vicksburg, the final obstacle, surrendered in July 1863, leaving the Mississippi open to its mouth. The Eads ironclads contributed a great deal to the success of those campaigns.

"Give Me the Ironclads Built by Mr. Eads"

Despite his difficulty receiving payment, Eads continued to win contracts and build ironclads. His Carondelet boatyard became the most complete facility of its kind in the country. Its 20 acres boasted a gas plant, engine shops, sawmills, 70 forges, and machinery for shaping armor plate. Shelters protected the workmen from sun and
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rain and torches lighted their work at night.

Eads paid well, giving cash bonuses for overtime, but by 1864 war-weariness and inflation led to labor unrest throughout the North. In St. Louis, machinists, blacksmiths, tailors and shoemakers struck for higher wages and to end the hiring of less-experienced workers for lower pay. The government intervened, and in April placed the workers of St. Louis under martial law. Picketing was banned and unions were outlawed; infantry stood ready to enforce the order. The strikers had no choice but to return to their jobs.

Work continued at the Carondelet yards, which produced 10 ironclads during the course of the war — the four Pook gunboats; the Essex (converted from a ferry boat); the Neosho and Osage (shallow-draft, single-turret river monitors); and the Winnebago, Kickapoo and Milwaukee (large, propeller-driven monitors with twin turrets). In addition, the yards built 38 mortar boats (armored rafts mounting a 13-inch mortar) and converted numerous steamboats into "tinclads" (lightly armored patrol vessels). Other boatyards in St. Louis also produced ironclads and tinclads. In all, the Union deployed 22 ironclad warships on Western waters — more than half built at Carondelet or St. Louis.

Eads worked constantly to improve his vessels. For his monitors he designed a steam-powered turret, superior to the manually powered turret of the original Monitor. It allowed a faster rate of fire and required fewer crew. The Navy, however, insisted on the manual turret, but allowed Eads to equip two of his twin-turret monitors with one of his own turrets. He was to replace them at his own expense if they proved unacceptable. On Aug. 5, 1864, two of Eads' twin-turret monitors fought their way into Mobile Bay with the fleet of Adm. David Farragut and proved the superiority of the Eads turret. "Only give me the ironclads built by Mr. Eads," Farragut proclaimed, "and I will find out how far Providence is with us."

Eads fell ill in 1864. His doctors believed he was beyond recovery, but he improved, and took his family overseas for a rest. Not one to be idle, Eads, on behalf of the government, visited the navies of Europe, where he was hailed for his innovative work in naval engineering.

[Captions:]
The Pook Ironclads

Engineer Samuel Pook designed the first seven ironclads. They looked like nothing else in the Navy; each was flat-bottomed, 175 feet long by 51 feet wide and drew no more than 6 feet of water. Atop the deck stood a low deck house, or casemate, with sloping sides. The casemate was armored in front and amidships with 2 1/2 inches of iron over 26 inches of oak. Thirteen heavy guns were mounted in the casemate — three firing forward, four to each side and two aft. Each boat was operated by a crew of about 160 officers and men. One gunboat sailor described the vessels as "of the mud-turtle school of architecture, with just a dash of pollywog treatment." But, he added grimly, "they struck terror into every guilty soul."

Three of Pook's Ironclads, the St. Louis, Cincinnati and Mound City, are shown anchored off the Union naval base at Cairo, Ill. (Courtesy Naval Historical Center)

Eads' Carondelet boatyard is shown as the Gunboat Yard between the Iron Mountain Rail Road and the Mississippi River on this map. The Steamboat Ways was the rail system used for moving the boats in and out of the water. (Courtesy National Archives)

James Buchanan Eads

James Eads was among the most important engineers and inventors of the 19th century. Born May 23, 1820, in Lawrenceburg, Ind., he came to St. Louis with his family in 1833. Self-taught in mathematics and engineering, he learned about the Mississippi River while clerking on a steamboat. At age 22, he invented a diving bell and entered the marine salvage business.

By 1857, he had earned a fortune, but too-rapid decompression while diving crippled his health, forcing him into early retirement. He recovered, and helped the Union win the Civil War by designing and building innovative ironclad warships. His greatest triumphs were the 1874 completion of the Eads Bridge in St. Louis — the first bridge to span the Mississippi — and a jetty system to project the Mississippi's mouth from silting over. He died on March 8, 1887.

Eads' Union Iron Works was featured in Harper's Weekly on Oct. 5, 1861. Today, the site still functions as a loading site for barge traffic, but the original ways were removed in 1933 and nothing remains of Ead's facility.

 
Erected by Missouri State Parks - a division of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
 
Marker series. This marker is included in the A State Divided: The Civil War in Missouri marker series.
 
Location. 38° 32.776′ N, 90° 15.568′ W. Marker is in St. Louis, Missouri. Marker is on South Broadway just north of Courtois Street, on the left when traveling north. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 104 Courtois Street, Saint Louis MO 63111, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Dedicated to James B. Eads (here, next to this marker); Susan Blow (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Volunteer Fire Dept. (approx. 0.3 miles away); Carondelet Hotel (approx. 0.4 miles away); Iron Mountain Railroad (approx. 0.4 miles away); Carondelet Drum Corps (approx. 0.6 miles away); Carondelet (approx. 1.4 miles away); Carondelet Boat Yards (approx. 1.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in St. Louis.
 
Categories. Industry & CommerceLabor UnionsWar, US CivilWaterways & Vessels
 

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Credits. This page was last revised on September 18, 2019. This page originally submitted on September 18, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 70 times since then. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on September 18, 2019, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.
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