Monday, March 18, 2013

1864 Print of USS Weehawken in a Storm

This is an 1864 lithograph currently in the museum's collection.  Prominent maritime artist Charles Parsons fabricated the original artwork, with Endicott and Company publishing and marketing the print.  The print shows the Passiac-class monitor USS Weehawken with her escort, the steam sloop USS Iroquois, fighting gale force winds off the coast of Chincoteague Island, January 1863. The museum has several Endicott prints both in storage and on display, most notably the print of USS Minnesota.   The museum also has several of Parsons' works, most notably a print of the James River Squadron at the Battle of Malvern Hill.

While print shops tended to embellish the sea state its subject ships were traveling through (rougher weather showed more action and thus, better chance of the print being sold), this particular print was drawn from actual events.  In fact, Endicott asked Captain John Rodgers to personally endorse the accuracy of the print.  In the lower left corner are the words, "Sir, In response to your note, we have to say, we do not think the gale is overdone, and the vessels seem to us, very truthfully given. -Rodgers."  An additional endorsement for this came from the ship's sailing master, who wrote, "To the Honorable Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, this print, is by permission dedicated by his obedient servant E Brown, jr."

The "gale" to which Rodgers referred almost sank his ship.  The squadron was travelling from Jersey City, New Jersey, to Port Royal, South Carolina, in preparation for an assault on Charleston.  The winds picked up, as the ships steamed past Cape May and the Delaware Capes.  Iroquois elected to seek shelter and turned back.  Rodgers, however, decided to press on. 

Weehawken in calmer waters (Harper's Weekly engraving)
Given that the original USS Monitor had been taken under by a similar storm just two weeks earlier,  Rodgers' decision may have seemed somewhat reckless.  But Weehawken and her sister ships of the Passiac-class had improved sea-keeping capabilities.  Specifically, the lower hull was now more in line with the upper hull, making the ship more stable.  Rodgers and Weehawken made it through the storm, though Rodgers decided to make port in Hampton Roads for repairs. 

Ironically, Weehawken sank at anchor off the coast of South Carolina just a few months later, taking thirty-one sailors and officers to their deaths.  After participating in the capture of CSS Atlanta and several assaults on Confederate forts, the ship foundered after more gale force winds pushed water into the ship's interitor.  A post-accident investigation discovered that the ship's ammunition had been improperly stored, causing the vessel to be unbalanced. 

No comments: