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“this Filthy Ironpot”
Civil War ironclads were dirty, hot, cramped, and dangerously unseaworthy. An officer’s diary describes life aboard during the crucial Battle of Mobile Bay
Februrary 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 2
One of our officers has been having a tent made, which he has pitched over his berth as a kind of roof to shed the water, lie not being sufficiently nautical in his tastes to admire the dripping of salt water on his person during his moments of repose. The wardroom is quite uncomfortable with streams of water trickling, down from the deck above in all directions. One eccentric little timber drops directly on my head while seated at the table, thereby counteracting the great heat which I would otherwise experience, the thermometer being 90° F ht . I think the government ought to furnish the officers of ironclads with a suit of storm clothes suitable to wear at “all times,” a water cooler, and the most amiable disposition imaginable.
All our officers seem to bear their discomforts most philosophically, taking them as a matter of course and making speculations as to what will be the surest way to save their best suits of clothes if we should sink. Every evening we all take oft every article of dress except our underclothing and abandon ourselves to a most luxurious “perspire.”
July 1 —The day has been so excessively hot that I am almost melted. The thermometer in the wardroom stands at 90°, while on deck the weather is very pleasant, a fair breeze blowing from the East. Everything is dirty, everything smells bad, everybody is demoralixed. How are you. Ironclad? A man who would stay in an ironclad from choice is a candidate for the insane asylum, and he who stays from compulsion is an object of pity. Fresh leaks are breaking out every day … it is the result of stopping up some of the old ones. The Doctor and Paymaster have been chasing one leak backward and forward from one of their rooms to the other for several days. At one time 1 hear the Doctor complaining of it, the carpenter is called, the leak is stopped, and in a few hours I hear the Paymaster growling at the Doctor for driving it into his room, and vice versa.
July 2 —This day has been worse than yesterday. It was absolutely insupportable and this evening we have shipped the ventilator in spite of the wind or sea. Tin’s makes it possible for us to “exist” below. I can’t imagine how the firemen and coalheavers stand it. The thermometer in the fheroom stands at 135° to 138°. The Chief Engineer goes in there semi-occasionally to superintend the work and comes out again wringing wet, [cursing] all the ironclad fleet.
We have been passing beacons and lighthouses all day and expect to put into Key West some time tomorrow morning. I suppose we will soon be at our journey’s end and then lor a try with the Tennessee . I understand that it is a powerful vessel and will probably stand a good deal of punishment.
I hope we will finish here in quick order and leave for some other port where we can make a better match of it. While we are obliged to lay out in the open roadstead, we will probably be obliged to keep our hatches battened down and be absolutely roasted alive. Three months’ service in an ironclad ought to insure a man’s promotion to a brigadier general.
July 3 —This morning at 6 o’clock we arrived at Key West, not a very promising looking place. The most remarkable feature from the sea view is Fort Taylor. … There is a Naval Club established here of which our first lieutenant is a member. Sonic of the other members have been on board today. They gave a very lively description of the state of society here. … Among the ladies, naval officers are in such high repute that whenever one dies in their station at least one lady on the island goes into mourning for him, asserting that she was his amanced bride, and that Death alone has separated them.
The yellow fever is raging here to a fearful extent. The Admiral of the Squadron is at present very low with this fearful disease. We will take in a little coal here and then leave for parts unknown. …
July 4 —This day I spent without much of the excitement attendant upon the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. I got up at 4 A.M. and prepared to take in coal and was hard at work until 8 A.M. , getting the ship ready for sea and putting the coal aboard. At 10 we got under weigh and bid Key West a fond adieu, bound for the Dry Tortugas, a distance of 60 miles. We expect to arrive there about 8 this evening, remain there a few hours, then oft for Pensacola. It is now a certain tiling that Mobile is our place of destination. …
The wardroom today is quite comfortable, the thermometer standing at 68°. I was foolish enough to put ou a pair of white pants this morning. Before the work had stopped they were all the colors of the rainbow, iionrust and green being predominant. … At 8 we made Tortugas Light.