Pook Turtle Ironclad Gunboats

Pook Turtles: The Backbone Of The Brown Water Union Fleet

What Are Pook Turtles? How Did They Get Their Name?

Building City-class ironclad Pook Turtles

Building City-class ironclad Pook Turtles

Pook Turtles were seven ironclad Union gunboats that operated in the “brown water” of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. They were called “Pook Turtles” because their appearance in the water was like that of giant mud turtles, and because they were designed by Samuel M. Pook.

Pook Turtle gunboats were also referred to as City-class or “Eads gunboats.” They were the United States’ first ironclad gunboats. The construction of the Pook Turtles was finished two months before the famous ironclad battle between the Monitor and the Virginia at Hampton Roads on March 8-9, 1862. Pook Turtles played an important part in the river waters of the Western Theatre for the Union.

Who Made The Pook Turtles?

James Buchanan Eads

James Buchanan Eads

James B. Eads was contracted by the War Department on August 7, 1861, to build the seven ironclad gunboats and to have them and their crews ready for service in sixty-five days. Four of the Pook Turtles were built at Carondolet near St. Louis, Missouri, and three were built in Mound City, Illinois. The average cost per Pook Turtle to build was $101,808.

All seven Pook Turtles were very similar in appearance. To tell them apart, their chimneys had bands painted in different colors. The round-nosed Pook Turtles were flat-bottomed and drew only 6 feet of water so they could operate in shallow waters. The Pook Turtles were 175 feet long, 51 1/2 feet wide, were plated with 2 1/2 inches of iron, had flat sides, and their rear casemates had a 35-degree slope. Each Pook Turtle weighed 512 tons, 122 tons of that weight came from their 2 1/2-inch-thick armor plating. The coal-powered Pook Turtles had a stern paddle wheel, they were weak in power, and clumsy to operate. Most significantly, their design called for 13 heavy guns on each gunboat. The heavy guns on the Pook Turtles made them formidable and deadly war machines.

The Names Of The Pook Turtles And Their Chimney Band Colors

The names of the seven Pook Turtles and the colors of their chimney bands:

  • Cairo – gray
  • Carondelet – red
  • Cincinnati – blue
  • Louisville – green
  • Mound City – orange
  • Pittsburg – brown
  • St. Louis – yellow

What Did The Pook Turtles Do?

The Pook Turtles were effective gunboats. They were the strong backbone of the Union brown water river fleet. In 1862, Pook Turtles were successfully used in the capture of Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, Fort Donaldson on the Cumberland River, and Island Number 10 on the Mississippi River.

Pook Turtles were also employed during the campaign on Fort Pillow in April of 1864. The ironclad gunboat Pook Turtles played a strong role at Memphis in June of 1862. At Memphis, Pook Turtles and Union rams outmatched Confederate ram “cottonclads,” which partially used cotton padding as armor.

What Happened To The Pook Turtles?

The St. Louis, renamed to USS Baron DeKalb

The St. Louis, renamed to USS Baron DeKalb

  • The Cairo sank in the Yazoo River after being struck by a torpedo on December 12, 1862.
  • The Carondelet was decommissioned on June 20, 1865, and sold on the following November 29th. Its hull then became a wharf-boat at Gallipolis, Ohio. Its engines were used in a towboat.
  • The Cincinnati was decommissioned on August 4, 1865, then sold on March 28, 1866. It sank at its mooring on the Cache River in 1866.
  • The Louisville was decommissioned on July 21, 1865, and then sold on November 29.
  • The Mound City was sold on November 9, 1865, and broken up in 1866.
  • The Pittsburg was sold on November 29, 1865. Its owners abandoned it in June, 1870.
  • The St. Louis was renamed the Baron De Kalb on September 8, 1862. It sunk one mile below Yazoo City on July 13, 1863, after being struck by a torpedo.

Note: A torpedo during the Civil War was a mine that exploded upon contact. It would float on the water surface or just slightly submerged below.

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The Huge Swamp Angel Bombards Charleston

The “Swamp Angel” – A Union 200-Pounder Parrott Gun.

August 22-23, 1863

The “Swamp Angel” was a Union 200-pounder Parrott Gun used on August 22-23, 1863, at Morris Island in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina to shell nearby Charleston.

Quincy A. Gillmore

Quincy A. Gillmore

On April 12, 1861, Fort Sumter was fired upon by the Confederate batteries located around the Charleston Harbor. Within thirty-four hours the fort had surrendered and a bloody Civil War was underway. From the moment of its surrender, the recapturing of Fort Sumter became one of the Union’s most important objectives. Nearly four years elapsed before Union forces were successful at retaking Fort Sumter.

By the summer of 1863, Fort Sumter had been bombarded by Federal artillery for two years, but the fort still stood and guarded Charleston. At the entrance to Charleston Harbor is Morris Island, and Union General Quincy A. Gillmore and his troops were stationed there. Gillmore wanted to construct a battery on Morris Island so he could bombard Charleston directly and force the city to surrender. Gillmore’s plan would bypass troublesome Fort Sumter and other forts in the Charleston Harbor.

A big gun with the range to reach Charleston would allow Gillmore to get to the meat of the matter… to force the rebel stronghold of Charleston to surrender. The Swamp Angel is what General Gillmore needed.

This Swamp Angel was huge. It was cast of iron at the West Point Foundry in New York, and it weighed 16,700 pounds. With an 8-inch bore, its barrel had an 11-foot bore depth. Even the construction of the battery and parapet needed for the Swamp Angel was impressive, merely getting this gun into place on the swampy, mushy, ground of Morris Island (with mud sometimes twenty-feet deep) in Charleston Harbor was a challenging engineering job. Construction of the battery and parapet began on August 2, and it included:

  • 13,000 sandbags weighing greater than 800 tons total
  • 123 pine timbers, 45-55 feet in length and 15-18 inches in diameter
  • 5,000 feet of 1-inch thick board
  • 9,500 feet of 3-inch thick planking
  • The spikes, nails, and iron required to hold it all together weighed 1,200 pounds
  • 75 fathoms (450 feet) of rope, 3 inches thick

All this would allow the Swamp Angel to use a 17-pound powder charge to fire a 200-pound projectile 7,900 yards into the heart of Charleston. To top it all off, the projectiles could be filled with an incendiary fluid called “Greek Fire” that would set Charleston ablaze. On August 17, the Swamp Angel arrived at Morris Island. An awesome weapon of war was about to go to work.

A Huge Monster Cannon

Gillmore sent a message on August 21, to General P. G. T. Beauregard demanding the evacuation of Confederate posts on Morris Island and Fort Sumter, or else shelling of Charleston would start. The Yankees had sighted the Swamp Angel in on the steeple of St. Michael’s Church. Beauregard gave no reply to Gillmore’s demands.

At 1:30 A.M. on August 22, the Swamp Angel belched and roared with its first shot at Charleston. Following the first shot, bells, whistles, and alarms from Charleston could be heard on Morris Island. Before daylight came, fifteen more shots rained down on Charleston from the Swamp Angel, twelve of these shots filled with Greek Fire.

Charleston was receiving the wrath of the Union in the form of horrible huge shells filled with fire, and shot from a huge monster of a cannon 7,900 yards away. On August 23, the Swamp Angel threw out twenty more shells onto Charleston. It looked like the Confederacy would lose Charleston to surrender as the Swamp Angel rained its hellish shells full of fire down on the city.

As the Swamp Angel fired its thirty-sixth shell on August 23, it did something cast-iron Parrott guns were known for, despite their distinctive wrought iron reinforcing bands placed around their breeches. On the thirty-sixth shot the Swamp Angel’s breech blew out and the gun’s barrel flew on top of the sandbag parapet.

Although it had suffered some damage and a few fires were set by the Swamp Angel, Charleston was now safe. The great Swamp Angel was dead. No further huge guns like the Swamp Angel were placed on the Union’s Morris Island battery.

The Swamp Angel

The Swamp Angel

The Swamp Angel

The Swamp Angel’s military career was over. The great gun was to be sold as scrap iron. However, instead of being used as scrap iron and physically lost to history, the citizens of Trenton, New Jersey bought the Swamp Angel and made it into a monument.

If you visit Trenton today, you will find the Swamp Angel at Perry and Clinton streets. Even if it could still fire and despite its might, the Civil War Swamp Angel could not reach Charleston from Trenton. People of Charleston, rest easy.

The Swamp Angel picture is courtesy of: CivilWarAlbum.com

Learn More About Civil War Artillery…

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