Monday, August 23, 2010

The Camanche Under Steam -- August 23, 2010

From the 12-July-1896 San Francisco Call. WA Coulter did many maritime drawings for the newspaper. The Camanche (that's how the Navy spelled it) was a Civil War monitor with an unusual history. After being built, she was disassembled and loaded into the hold of a sailing ship, the Aquila, which carried her around the horn. Aquila sank in her berth in San Francisco. After being salvaged, Camanche was assembled and launched in late 1864. Monadnock was an example of the New Navy monitors. She was able to cross the Pacific during the Spanish-American war. Phildelphia was Cruiser Number 4 of the New Navy. Click on the images to see larger versions.


After a Sleep of Twenty Years the Old Craft Awakes.


And the Two Fifteen-Inch Guns Frowned at the Monadnock


Lieutenant Beecher Puts the Men of the Reserve Through an Ordnance Drill.

The monitor Camanche after twenty years of sleep aroused herself Rip Van-Winkle-like yesterday and took a look around her. The old ship saw that many changes had taken place while she lay at her moorings. Fleets in evolution had sailed by her, and not even the swell of their motion had disturbed her deep rest. Steam has taken the place of sail and wooden hulls have turned to steel while her own has gathered the shell-clad barnacle and the saline vegetation of the sea.

Yesterday her long stationary turret wheeled on its pivot and her guns saw out through their narrow ports the Monadnock lying near. As she was closing her eyes twenty years ago at Mare Island they were riveting the new monitor's great metal ribs in place, and then she slumbered while her young sister was growing beam by beam and plate by plate. When the Camanche awoke she saw the noble white structure frowning at her from off the starboard beam. And the two great 15-inch guns ran their smooth muzzles out of the turret and returned the frown. The spirit of the fiery '60's lives in the ancient marine yet.

It was Assistant Engineer Read of the Monadnock, with a fireman and a coal heaver, that stirred up the old fighter yesterday. They turned some bay water into an empty boiler, shoveled a couple of tons of coal into three furnaces, and soon the steam was hissing in the auxiliary engine and the great black funnel was smoking like a blockade runner. Then Lieutenant J. M. Roper of the Monadnock took his place in the turret and threw back the revolving lever. There was an ominous movement in tbe cylinders, a trembling down in the machinery, a groaning of the great steel central abaft on which the heavy mass turns, and the iron structure which the Confederate tars on the Merrimac called a cheese-box when they first sighted the original monitor coming at them, swung around.

The motion was slow on the first revolution, but after the machinery got limbered up it whirled easily and swiftly with its own great weight and that of tne two big 15-inchers.

Lieutenant Roper trained the guns on the Philadelphia and then on his own vessel and seemed to enjoy handling the old-fashioned war toy.

"Turn on the steam again, Read," he yelled to his brother officer after a short pause, "and let us give her another whirl. I haven't had so much fun for years. It's good as a 'merry-go-round.' Get aboard and let's have another ride."

So Engineer Reed opened the throttle again and the lieutenant swung the turret, himself and his passenger through all the points of the compass.

Later in the afternoon Lieutenant-Commander Turner and a number of the officers and men of the Naval Reserve came aboard. They were formed into crews for the two great guns and instructed in ordnance by Lieutenant A. M. Beecher of the Monadnock. The young fellows went through the drill of loading, running out the pieces, firing, sponging, reloading and training the guns of the revolving turret with all the serious "make believe" of battle.

Down in the wardroom Lieutenant Turner entertained the officers and newspaper men at lunch and questioned Lieutenant Roper upon the remaining warlike possibilities of the old monitor.

"Keeping the men aboard of the vessel as much as possible," said the lieutenant, "will make them thoroughly acquainted with the monitor and their general ship duties. I was talking with your signal quartermaster when I first came aboard and I found that he knew more about the Camancbe than I did and gave me a deal of information. This craft is not by any means a useless old hulk, for her machinery is in good condition and she affords an excellent drilling-place for the battalion. Those two guns could be used at close range with considerable efficiency.

"To fire a shell charge from them would rip up the old deck planking under the muzzles of the guns, but powder charges could be fired in saluting easily and safely."

Engineer Read stated that the boilers and engines were in splendid condition, and a comparatively small amount of coal would drive her through the waters at a fair speed.

Later in the evening the fires were drawn, the steam died down and the old craft was left to rest from her spurt with only the anchor watch walking the deck.

The old and new style of the Monitor were brought sharply into contrast. The Monadnock that took twenty-one years to build is nevertheless a modern ship in every detail, but the Camanche that was built in 1862 is now obsolete. These two warships and the cruiser Philadelphia form an object lesson. The latter shows speed in every line, while the Monadnock is the symbol of strength. The Camanche shows old age and decrepitude in every part, but nevertheless she is built of the material that will stand repairing, and at a pinch the old boat could be fixed up and put in condition to fire another gun for her country. Yesterday the three warships presented a remarkably handsome appearance as the boats carrying the members of the Naval Battalion passed to and from the Camanche.

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