Wednesday, September 19, 2012

1864 Lithograph, Ironclad USS Onondaga

This is a lithograph entitled U.S. Iron Clad Battery Onondaga with 2 Ericsson Turrets.  Endicott and Company published the print in 1864, shortly after the Continental Iron Works launched the actual ship.  The print can be seen in the museum's gallery behind a ship model of the ironclad.  The Naval Museum has a few other Endicott prints on display, including one of the steam frigate USS Minnesota.

The print shows the double-turreted ironclad underway in brisk seas, water washing over the decks.  One officer and two sailors boldly stand against the wind outside the pilot house.  The enlisted sailor raises up four signal flags, which look like a "cornet" flag, followed by the numbers "6" and "9."  The forth flag is obstructed.  These flags may depict the Onondaga's ship number.  It is also entirely possible that the artist added random flags simply for the effect and was ignorant to any real message or meaning.  Any help in interpreting this would be most appreciated!

The depiction of the water gives the print action and motion, thus making it more appealing to a potential buyer.  Still photographs of Onondaga showed her in calm, flat water, which would probably not sell as well. The publisher also included the ship's vital statistics to add commercial appeal to the print.  The left side reads: "Hull-228 feet, Breadth, 30 feet, Depth - 13 feet." The right side reads: "4 propeller engines, 2 revolving turrets."

Wartime sketch of Onondaga by Alfred Waud
Onondaga was one of the largest "monitor"-type ironclads built for the U.S. Navy during the Civil War.  She was a late-war monitor and carried a powerful battery of two XV-inch Dahlgren smoothbores and two 150-pounder Parrot Rifles.  Though the print makes reference to "Ericson Turrets," John Ericsson (designer of the original USS Monitor) did not design Onondaga.  Ericsson rejected the idea of adding a second turret to his monitor design.  Other designers disagreed, believing the monitors needed more firepower. 

Named for the Onondaga Nation in New York, Onondaga served her entire Civil War career in the James River, protecting the Army of the Potomac's supply lines. During an 1865 Confederate attempt to raid these lines, Onondaga went into battle near Trent's Reach. The Navy eventually sold the ship to France after the war. 

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