This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Palmetto Navy: Ironclad Construction and the Naval Defense of Charleston During the Civil War




Wexler, Charles

Type of Degree





This dissertation traces the creation and operation of the Charleston Naval Squadron in the Civil War through a look at the different ships and construction strategies implemented within Charleston Harbor. Under the direction of Stephen Mallory, the Confederate Navy pursued armored warships to defend local ports. Charleston shipyards completed four ironclads and started two others. The Confederate Navy did not enjoy a monopoly on maritime procurement, however. Navy shipwrights, army engineers, South Carolina government officials, the Charleston Daily Courier, independent contractors, and private citizens all participated in the shipbuilding process. These different entities promoted differing designs and concepts that included shot-proof steamers, lightly armored torpedo boats, and the submersible Hunley. Confederate naval construction in Charleston ultimately suffered from two critical problems: a congested procurement pipeline and an increasing resource scarcity, particularly of iron plate. The return of Gen. Pierre G. T. Beauregard in September 1862 contributed towards both problems when he championed an army-designed torpedo boat at the expense of additional ironclads. Regardless of what local shipwrights produced the sailors of the Charleston Squadron provided the best hope for success against the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Regular training provided sailors experience handling any ship within the harbor and helped them succeed despite durability issues amongst the finished vessels. The Charleston Squadron overcame policy disagreements and procurement problems to successfully defend Charleston Harbor until the final months of the war. The final analysis posits the city needed both ironclads and torpedo boats so that the Charleston Squadron had the necessary tools to protect her home port but naval procurement should have been streamlined under the sole jurisdiction of the Confederate Navy and their local naval squadron.