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Civil War Gunboats (N.Y.C. ferry conversions)
Section 1 - History

Twenty “double-ended” ferries were purchased in New York by the Union Navy and ended up serving in various squadrons as gunboats.  They had the ability to navigate shallow water and reverse direction without having to turn around.

This site will look at the known photos and data on the ferry-gunboats and select one that has the best potential to be modeled.

Index to Pages (select from ferry Gunboat tab above)

Section 1 -    History (this page)

Section 2 -    Photos & Data

Section 3 -    Research (the available information and sources)

Section 3A - Identifying the Photos and Drawings

Section 4 -    Drawing (selection of a specific model and creating drawings) New Nov. 19, 2017

Section 5 -    Building (model construction)

Section 6 -    Modeling the USS Fort Henry New Nov. 22, 2017

Ferry-gunboat     There are currently no drawings or plans sufficient enough to build a decent, accurate model of any of these ex-ferry "Gunboats."   What I will put forth on this web site is all of the data I can find to help the modeler (and me) decide on the best way to build a model.

     At the beginning of the Civil War, New York City did not have any large bridges to link Manhattan to New Jersey, Staten island, and Long Island (Queens and Brooklyn).  There was an abundance of ferry boats traversing the Hudson River (to New Jersey) and the East River (to Queens and Brooklyn).

     With the Civil War in progress, the U.S. Navy had to quickly increase the number of ships it had to enforce the blockade of the south.    Twenty New York City ferr-boats were purchased by the U.S. Navy.  (All of the ferry boats serving the area were owned by private interests.)  some of the ferries were in use, some newly built, and some under construction.   

     This site looks at the few photographs that were taken of the "Ferry-Gunboats" and combined with the published data and drawings of the period, try to determine the correct names of the boats in the photos.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of conflicts, even within the government sites such as the National Archives, U.S. Navy, etc.

     The close-up photos offer more creditability in the correct ship's name as the photographer was on board to take the photo(s).  However, the ones taken from the shoreline are in question.  (Did the photographer say "Hey pal, what is the name of that boat out there, the one I am photographing?"  Obviously, some made errors back then.)  There were seven ex-NYC ferry-gunboats operating on the James and nearby rivers during the Civil War.  This leaves room for error in naming the boats in the photos.

    First, I will review the history of the ferries, look at the data (names, dimensions, etc.), then try to relate photos of the same ferry along with identifying names.  There is much confusion as to which photos are what named ferry.  Many web sites use the same photos but with different names.

     Next I will look at the boat that has the most data and photos for building a model.  Then we will process that information into drawings.  Eventually, we will try to make a decent model.

Contributors are Welcome!

    If you have any information or images, or perhaps comments or corrections, please contact me (see contacts on buttons, upper right).


     Twenty New York ferryboats were purchased, not conscripted, by the U.S. Navy and served in almost every squadron, even as far away as Texas.  The first ferry was sold to the Navy in September, 1861, and the last one in August, 1863.  The displacement ranged from 226 tons (110 feet LWL) up to 892 tons (213 feet LWL).  The price the Navy paid ranged from $19,000 to $100,000.  Some of the ferries were taken out of service and sold to the Navy while a few were under construction and went directly from the builders yards to the Navy yards.  Eleven of these gunboats retained the name given to them as ferries.  Of the remaining nine, some were renamed, and the rest were new builds. 

     All of the “New York ferries” required additional work in order to serve as gunboats.  They were often stripped of civilian amenities and modified for war service.  The open ends of the “drive through” decks were enclosed to serve as quarters for the gunboat crew which was significantly larger than a normal ferry’s crew. Bulkheads were added around the perimeter of the double ends.  Some of the bulkheads were sophisticated fold down barriers while others were simply sandbags.  Naval guns were typically added to both ends. The small double-enders typically had twelve and twenty pounders.  Many of the medium and larger gunboats had thirty-two pounders or larger guns, often in combination with 8-inch or 9-inch smooth bores.  One gunboat mounted two 11-inch smooth bore guns.

     These double-ended gunboats were assigned to various divisions of the Union Navy, North Atlantic (NABS), South Atlantic (SABS), West Gulf (WGBS), and East Gulf (EGBS) Blockading Squadrons.  Several were assigned to the Potomac Flotilla (PF, part of the NABS) and were on station in the waters around Chesapeake Bay.  Five of these ferry-gunboats sailed down the east coast, around Key West and up into the Gulf of Mexico to serve in the two squadrons there.  With a shallow draft, typically six to nine feet (depending on the size of the gunboat) they had the ability fo navigate a narrow waterway without having to turn around.  The converted ferry was ideal for river and close to shore service.

The following names the twenty gunboats sorted by the squadron they served in:

North Atlantic Blockading Squadron   South Atlantic Blockading Squadron
   U.S.S. Commodore Barney      U.S.S. Commodore McDonough
   U.S.S. Commodore Jones      U.S.S. Ellen
   U.S.S. Commodore Morris    
  U.S.S. Commodore Perry   West Gulf Blockading Squadron
   U.S.S. Commodore Read     U.S.S. Clifton
   U.S.S. Commodore Hull     U.S.S. John P. Jackson
   U.S.S. Hunchback     U.S.S. Westfield
   U.S.S. Morse    
   U.S.S. Shokokon   East Gulf Blockading Squadron
   U.S.S. Southfield     U.S.S. Fort Henry
   U.S.S. Stepping Stones     U.S.S. Somerset
   U.S.S. Whitehall    
   U.S.S. Wyandank    

Updated: April 30, 2011