In 1861 the U.S. Navy consisted of some 90 warships. Of those, 42 were considered as being combat ready, with the majority of these ships overseas. There were in fact only 12 ships available in the event of war. The remainder of the Navy’s ships were being repaired, and it appeared that the US Navy was not ready for war. But as Craig L. Symonds points out, “… the U.S. Navy was far better prepared for war in 1861 than it had been in any previous American war.” This was in part to the innovations in both propulsion and cannons that took place prior to the Civil War.
The U.S. Navy was considered to be better prepared, as a result of modernization and build up between 1854 and 1859. Over this period, twenty-four propeller steam driven frigates had been constructed. This included the USS Merrimack, captured by the South in 1861. The USS Constellation would be the last ship built without steam power. With the concern that the U.S. Navy could not build enough ships to match Great Britain, larger batteries were mounted to provide heavier fire power than ships outside their class. ...
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...en with the logistical problems and limitations of the steam paddle boats during the war with Mexico, these ships were tactically superior to those of Britain and France. The day of the sail ended and the use of steam and the screw propeller would be the primary source of propulsion with the age of the ironclad.
The development of larger, heavier guns, also known as howitzers, began in the 1850’s as explosive shells were replacing the outdated solid shot. New methods of casting had been developed to manufacture these heavy guns that were both smooth and rifled bore. They were not categorized by the weight of cannon ball that it fired, but by the diameter of their bore. These weapons demonstrated to be more accurate with a far extended range, unlike the 32 pounder. No longer did a ship have to be within pistol range of 100 yards for their cannons to be effective.
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