Civil War Ironclad


Civil War Ironclad USS Spuyten Duyvil in 1864From Henry Hudson’s historic voyage up the Hudson River in 1609 to the present day the Spuyten Duyvil has had a long and storied history, but did you know there was once a Civil War ironclad warship named after this peaceful body of water?

Built in 1864 by the Union Navy after suffering considerable losses to Confederate torpedoes, the U.S.S. Spuyten Duyvil was initially christened the U.S.S. Stromboli after the island of Stromboli off the Italian coast. Why the Navy changed the name of the 207 ton screw steam torpedo boat to Spuyten Duyvil is unclear, but the renamed ship was re-christened on October 19th, 1864.

United States Naval Chief Engineer Captain William W. Wood Designed by United States Naval Chief Engineer Captain William W. Wood (right), the torpedo boat was constructed in a record three months. It would be perhaps the first “stealth” ship in U.S. Naval history.

Built of timber and clad in iron plating, the Spuyten Duyvil’s state of the art weapons system consisted of ‘spar torpedoes”. The torpedoes did not have locomotive capability and were more akin to a naval mine than a modern torpedo. A mechanical boom with a torpedo attached to the end was extended to the opposing ship and then detonated once the Spuyten Duyvil had backed a safe distance away from the “torpedo.”

A true armored warship, the USS Spuyten Duyvil.

A true armored warship, the Spuyten Duyvil could be deployed for up to eight days with food and water for its nine man crew. While not quite a submarine, the ironclad would partially submerge by filling lower compartments with water until little but the gunwale showed above the surface.

Engineering plans for Civil War Ironclad the USS Spuyten Duyvil

Six days after her 1864 christening the Spuyten Duyvil fired her first two torpedoes.
By December 5, 1864 the experimental craft arrived at her home base of Norfolk, Virginia.

Engineering plans for Civil War Ironclad the USS Spuyten Duyvil 2

From Norfolk the Spuyten Duyvil was ordered up the James River to clear the waterway for General Ulysses S. Grant who was leading a campaign on the Confederate stronghold in Richmond.

As a patrol boat operating just below rebel defenses the Spuyten Duyvil saw relatively little action until the night of January 23rd, 1865 when Confederate forces launched a downstream assault on the Union squadron.

Abraham Lincoln enters Richmond. The deck stacked against the Confederacy, General Robert E. Lee evacuated Richmond and the Spuyten Duyvil became part of the Union cleanup squad; using her torpedoes to blow away obstructions blocking the waterway to the capitol city. This effort made it possible for President Lincoln to steam upriver in another ship, The Malvern, to the fallen Confederate capitol.

After the war, the Spuyten Duyvil continued her clean-up work on the James River. She was later modified and used in Naval experiments that led to a more modern understanding of torpedo technology before being dropped from the Navy list in 1880.


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  1. I would not use the word “stealth. But the stuff about the torpedos is very interesting and new to me. But what you must know is that the Confedrates didn’t think that a navy would have much of affect during the war. So they gave the Union control of the Mississipi River and had better submarines design on the coast. This made the war much shorther. The Union bombed the hell out of the Confederates on the Mississipi and gained New Orleans pretty easily. The Union won most of the subs fights on the coast. So what happened was that thye Union could compress the Confederates on both sides, if you will. I was also impressed by the designs that you have. It is interesting to compare both sides designs. Overall, I found it very interesting. Just leave it how it is or people might get confused.

    • Owen,
      I thought that might appeal to the Civil War historian in you. You might also enjoy the article on the Johnson Iron Works. They made plenty of weaponry there including the first functional Delafield cannon. -Cole


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