Civil War Saturday: Double-turreted monitor U.S.S. Onondaga

1864. \"James River, Virginia. Double-turreted monitor U.S.S. Onondaga; soldiers in rowboat.\" From photographs of the Federal Navy and seaborne expeditions against the Atlantic Coast of the Confederacy, 1861-1865.

1864. James River, Virginia. Double-turreted monitor U.S.S. Onondaga; soldiers in rowboat. From photographs of the Federal Navy and seaborne expeditions against the Atlantic Coast of the Confederacy, 1861-1865.


  1. Monitors always remind me of a ship sitting on the bottom in water too shallow to completely cover the superstructure.

  2. One of the things I love most about these photos is that the exposure time is so long, the subjects had to sit motionless for a little bit. Some elements in the backgrounds that were not meant to be focal points are still moving. The flag gently rolls in a slight breeze, a crewman walks across the deck, etc. It helps to break out of the posed elements and show that much more was going on there at that particular instant.

  3. I met a girl at the Jersey shore once with turrets that size.

    So, I aimed for her quarterdeck and sent a torpedo into her bow.

    Didn’t sink her, but she rose out of the water about 3-feet!

  4. You will note the enlisted men in the boat are wearing caps and coats, rather than Navy uniforms. These guys are Army, assigned to the Navy’s river patrol forces to supplement crew.

    A little-known fact is that the majority of men manning the ironclads in the western theatre were Army. The Navy couldn’t recruit fast enough to man all of it’s vessels being added to the fleet, especially the river craft, so they asked the Army for volunteers.

    Apparently, the Army used this opportunity to rid itself of malcontents and shirkers, etc, by “volunteering” them for the Navy.

    In the records of the 3rd Maine Infantry, held in the State Archives in Augusta, Maine, is a letter regarding this situation. I do not have a copy, but have read the original and will paraphrase it. It is addressed to Colonel Moses Lakeman, and is from an gentleman enquiring about his nephew. Seems the kid hadn’t been heard from in a few months, and so the family was concerned and asked for any information the Colonel might provide.

    Lakeman responded by stating that he couldn’t say what the kid’s status was, as he had volunteered for gunboat duty out west. The good Colonel then says that about 40 men from the regiment had so volunteered, and he was glad of it, as the lot, including the nephew, were malingerers who hadn’t done an honest day’s work since enlisting, and had jumped at the chance to join the Navy, thinking it to be easier duty. Recently, apparently, the “gang of 40” had sent a letter to Lakeman, requesting to be transferred back to the 3rd, as the Gunboat Duty proved to be much more arduous then they had believed. The Colonel denied the request. 🙂

    As to Onandaga, note too as, in earlier images, the ship has many white duck sunshades rigged to help deal with the heat, as well as having her upper surfaces painted in grey paint.


  5. Hmm, I wonder what’s in the background behind the bow(port quarter?)? Looks like some sort of wreck and maybe another ship? Eh, probably never will know.

  6. The stern is facing us, not the bow. Notice the flag?

    In the big blown-up pic the wreckage in the far distance looks like half a ship aground.

  7. Ohhh SNAP! My mistake, the flag should have been a give away but I.. well.. no excuse I suppose. Good correction.

  8. i grew up in onondaga county, new york, and find interest in this original namesake us navy vessel. i have worked on military and commercial vessels in the past and can’t believe this thing had a crew of 150 men. i’d surely not want to be on this cutting edge vessel in the north atlantic, or any place that had any kind of swells. somebody drove this thing to france at seven knots or so, i don’t know if steam pressure relief valves were invented yet.

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