USS Galena: Heroism on Board an Ironclad
By Daryl Watson
Nearly everyone has heard of the Civil War ironclad warships. They changed forever the history of naval warfare, especially the Union USS Monitor. But who has heard of the Monitor’s sister ship the Galena, launched from the Maxson Fish & Co. shipyard at West Mystic, Connecticut on February 14, 1862? It was one of three new ironclads commissioned by the U.S. government in 1861 to meet the threat of the Confederate’s new CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimac). Ironclad technology was still in its infancy and not everyone was convinced it would work.
But things changed when the Confederates in 1861 stormed the Gosport Navy Yard across the river from Norfolk, Virginia. They snatched one of the U.S. Navy’s latest steam frigates, the USS Merrimac. In a bold and daring move their Secretary of Navy, Stephan Mallory, authorized the conversion of the ship into an ironclad.Suddenly the Confederates would have a ship that could sink anything in the Union Navy. Gideon Welles, the Union Secretary of Navy, immediately recognized the danger. He knew the Union had to get their own ironclads and there was no time to spare. He lobbied hard and on July 19, 1861 a bill was introduced for ironclad ship construction. Convinced of the need, President Lincoln signed the bill into law only two weeks later.
The bill set up an “Ironclad Board,” made up of shipbuilding experts. Because no one could agree on the best design, board members approved three designs, all different. John Ericsson, designer of the Navy’s first steam-powered vessel in 1844, would oversee construction of the Monitor in New York. Merrick & Sons would build the New Ironsides in Philadelphia, and railroad magnate Cornelius Bushnell would supervise building of the Galena in Mystic, Connecticut. more...