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Civil War Gunboats (N.Y.C. ferry conversions)
Section 2 - Photos & Data
     As mentioned earlier, there is much confusion as to the names of ferries attached to various photos. There are relatively few photos of these ferry-gunboats, so we will attempt to try to sort them out. Generally, if a private website names a boat in a specific photo, that is not enough evidence. If the site has creditability (such as navy.mil, or NARA) then the likelihood of being correctly identified goes up.

     First, let's start with the data. We can eliminate some of the names of the twenty ferry-gunboats several ways. First (and most important) is to eliminate all naves of those not in the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron and Potomac/James River Squadrons as those were likely not to have been photographed in the remote areas. We could eliminate more names because they were never identified by name with any of the photos (but let's not for now). We can eliminate several which did not fit the photos below because of size and/or layout. We will end up with the following that all served in the areas indicated with the photographs:

Owner ..........................................USN Name.........................Purch $$..Service Built..............................Disp – Hull - Pwr.....LWL X B X DH.........Arms & Builder

Williamsburg Ferries......................Commodore Perry.............$38,000....NABS .....1859 (Brooklyn) ....... 512 – W – S – P.....143 X 33 X 12 ....... 2-9” S.B., 2-32# S.B.,..Stack & Joyce

Williamsburg Ferries......................Commodore Barney ..........$38,000....NABS......1859 (Brooklyn) ....... 512 – W – S - P .....143 33 12 ............. 1-100# Rifle, 3-9” S.B. Perrine, Patterson

Union Ferry Co. ...........................Commodore Jones............$83,000....NABS .....1863? (?) ................. 542 – W – S – P.....154 X 32 X 11 .........1-9” S.B., 1-5.1” Rifle, 2-24# Howit.

Union Ferry Co. ...........................Commodore Morris ...........$42,409....NABS .....1862 (New York) ..... 532 – W – S – P.....154 X 32-1/2 X 12 ....1-9” S.B., 1-100# Rifle, 4-24# Howit.

Union Ferry Co #22095 ...............Commodore Read.............$91,000....Potomac..1857 (Brooklyn) ....... 650 – W – S – P.....179 X 33-1/2 X 13 ....2-100# Rifle, 4-24# Howit.

Staten Island & New York Ferry ...Hunchback .......................$45,000....NABS .....1852 (New York) ..... 578 – W – S – P.....179 X 29 X 10 ......... ('63) 4-9"SB; 1-200Pd;1-12Pd Rifle... S.B. Simonson

Now for some real confusion!

Photo 1
Photo 4

      Next, we go to the photographs. I grouped together the first three (1, 2, 3) as they seem to be quite similar.  The pilot houses are rectangular and squat, the recesses on the ends of the superstructure seem to look the same as do the ladders going to the upper deck. Even the position of the three guns are the same.  The relation of the offset stack and walking beams to the pilot houses says that this is the same end of the boat, if the are indeed the same boat.  
24 pounder naval howitzer

     So, what is the name of the ferry-gunboat in these photos?  It is most likely not the
Hunchback.  The known close-yp photos (below) of the Hunchback don't match the two above. It is also likely this is not the Commodore Perry (see information below next to photo 5).  If not the Perry, then probably not the Barney as it was built the same year as the Perry and for the same ferry line.  This boat has three guns on end "A" and one visual on end "B." Usually, the guns were distributed somewhat evenly on both ends.  The Perry (drawing "4" shows two + two) and Barney each had four guns.  Photo "3" seems to have five (three + two).  Commodore Read, and Commodore Morris, each had six guns.  If these boats had six guns (versus four for the others), then three on each end would seem likely, like the photos here.

     These photos not appear to be like the 24-pounder howitzer (photo, left). Both guns near the superstructure look to be the same. I hate to take a guess, but from what I see here this evidence seems to lean toward the boats in the photos 1, 2 & 3 being named the
Commodore Morris.  Another possibility is the Commodore Read, which was 25-feet longer and 118 tons heavier than the Morris.  Confusion is understandable when you realize (as indicated in the ORN reports) that the Commodore Perry, Commodore Morris, Commodore Barney, Commodore Hull, and Hunchback all operated in the same waters and on occasions, together. More research is needed here.
Photo 7     The "Warships in the Civil War" (Paul Silverstone, Navy Institute Press, 1989) list's the photo at the right photo as the Commodore Morris. The National Archives list's this at the Commodore Barney, and was photographed by Mathew Brady. Many web sites list this as the Commodore Perry and others the Hunchback. More confusion!

     Now we need to look at which end is the bow and which is the stern. Sure, they are double ended and can go in either direction. However, I believe that for consistent operations they did have a forward and aft. So, I ask...
Which end is the bow?

     First, I will identify one end as "A" (end closes to the stack) and the other as "B" (end closest to the walking beam).

     Tradition is that the ensign (national flag)is flown on the stern or other prominent place. However, check out the anchor in the photo "1" below the ensign mast. (Is "A" the stern or bow?) Also look at the photo "5." The torpedo catching boom is protruding to the right, or end "B." Photo "3" has the transoms (back) of the ships launches on the davits facing to the left, end "A." To confuse matters even more, photo "6" has the launch on the left with the transom facing the camera and the one on the right with the bow facing the same direction.

     To further confuse this issue, the National Archives identifies photo 3 as "Commodore Barney, stern quarter, on the James River." (What evidence they used other than the ensign being flown on the stern is not indicated.)

     None of the boats were photographed while moving, so the position the flags are flying in is most likely caused by the wind. Also, did these boats have a single rudder or two rudders? A note in the ORN about the USS
Hunchback needing repairs, it is stated that "One of here rudders are gone."

Commodore Perry on the James     Normally, I do not rely on sketches and drawings. However, this one is from the Library of Congress. The artist/author specifies in the text description (on the same sheet of paper) that this is the Commodore Perry on the James River:

View on the Appatomox at Port Walthall. The nearest point to Petersburg, approached by the Gun Boats the one shown in the sketch is the
Commodore Perry commanded by Captain Amos P. Foster.

     Formerly attributed to Alfred R. Waud, with the call number DRWG/US - Waud, no. 554 (A size). Published in: Harper's Weekly, July 23 1864, p. 468, attributed to William Waud.

n looking at this drawing, we see a lot of detail in common with photo 5 (below) as well as similarities to the photos above. This includes a squat, rectangular pilot houses, number of windows (ports) on the side, raised area over the side-wheels (including three small ports), and vertical armor plates on the end decks. To me, 4 and 5 are a match and indicates that these are the Commodore Perry (in conflict with photo 6 below) as they are from two independent sources.

     This photo taken on the James River has been identified as the USS Commodore Perry.  This was printed on the edge of the photo mount and looks like this was done at the time the photograph was printed. This is from the original photo up for auction by Cowan, identified as "Gunboat Com. Perry, on the James River; a torpedo on the bow of the boat, No.2684."

     Now compare this to the three photos above. Are they all the same? There are a lot of similarities but no the same. (The ferry at the left sits higher in the water, but that could be for a variety of reasons.)  One noticeable difference is the for and aft decks. 

    The top photos (1, 2, 3) seem to have elliptical decks as viewed from overhead. The photo at the left seems to have a longer, tapered, blunted end. The photos at the top show the "A" end of the superstructure, and the photo at the left is looking at the "B" end.  Even though we are looking at the opposite ends, there is a small door between the two larger recesses in the top photo that is not in photo 5. 

     It is only a assumption here, but I would think the door would be on both ends, probably from the ferry days before the war, and would lead up to the pilot house on each end. If these (deck ends and small door) are true, then photo 5 does not match 1, 2, & 3.  The Perry was built in 1859 by Stack & Joyce and the Barney in 1859 by Perrine, Patterson.  Both the Commodore Barney and Commodore Perry were built for Williamsburg Ferries and have the same dimensions and displacement. 

     There is a difference in the heavy guns mounted.  The Commodore Perry had two 9-inch smoothbores, and two 3-pounder smoothbores. The Commodore Barney had one 100-pounder rifle and three 9-inch smoothbores.

     Now lets look at the known USS Hunchback photos of the "A" end.  Notice the stack appears closer to this end, however there is only a single ladder to the upper deck and that is closer to the pilot house.  This confirms that the three photos at the top are not of the Hunchback.  Strangely enough, the Mathew Brady collection label's the lower left photo as the Agawam, which it could not be unless someone removed the big mast where the officers are sitting.

Photo 3 Photo 8

Photo 8
     Next, lets look at the photo (left) identified by the National Archives as the Commodore Barney.  Although somewhat similar to the three top photos (1, 2, 3), it is not identical.  The skylights above the doors are different as well as the windows (ports?) behind the men.  This also does not appear to be the Hunchback as well. 

     After the war (1866), the
Hunchback was sold to commercial interests in Boston and named the General Grant. It was abandoned in 1880. The East Boston Ferry Company listed General Grant as one of the its steam five steam ferries.  

Photo 6     This photo is commonly identified as the USS Commodore Perry and labeled part of the "Matthew Brady collection." However, the Brady collection (and this is one of three know photos taken at this spot, only indicates this as a gunboat on the Pamunkey River. The Civil War Sailors Museum has identified this as the USS Commodore Barney. However, "Warships in the Civil War" (Paul Silverstone, Navy Institute Press, 1989) list's this photo as the Commodore Morris.

     The National Archives list's this photo as identifier 524831 and
"Commodore Perry" - "Series:Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes, compiled 1921 - 1940, documenting the period 1860 - 1865."

     The style of this ferry-gunboat is quite different from the three top photos. The Pilot houses are round, the whole center of the superstructure is recessed, there are no raised overhead deck/roof over the side wheels, and the end appears to have a squared-off snout rather than an elliptical deck.

     The center gun appears to be a 5.1-inch or a 100-pounder rifle and the gun facing left  looks like a 9-inch smoothbore.

     Also note that the walking beam is not visible here.  They are quite tall (9-11 feet) and should be visible.  It should be between the stack and the far pilot house.  The Commodore Morris's engine was inclined so there would be no walking beam above the upper decking.

    The fold up armor plates are several feet in from the gunwales, giving the appearance of a smaller deck.

     Evidence above indicates this is the Commodore Morris, and it is in conflict with both drawing 4 & photo 5. (See the torpedoed drawing of the Commodore Barney elsewhere on this site and look at the unique rounded pilot houses.)

     Clues in this photo: Look close at the deck you see two smooth bore guns and the third gun behind the three men at the right is a howitzer pm a boat carriage. The Perry, Barney, and Hunchback did not have this type gun. Here is the armament for these three boats:

Commodore Morris: one 9” Smooth Bore one 100# Rifle; four 24-pounder Howitzers
Commodore Jones: One 9” Smooth Bore; one 5.1” Rifle, two 24-pounder Howitzers
Commodore Read: Two 100-pounder Rifles; four 24-pouunder Howitzers

     Keep in mind that Barney and Perry were kind of a matched set, and Jones and Morris were a matched set.  Read was a bigger boat and being Read had two of the same big guns and the photo above show two different big guns, the Read is out. The bores look too close in size so this leaves only the... Commodore Morris This photo is one of three (known) that Brady took.  Here are the other two (Notice the position of the men):

Extra photo 1Extra photo 2

James River 1864
     Photo 7 is only identified as being taken on the James River in 1864. No site lists any name for the gunboat.  However, one thing is peculiar about the boat in the photo: it has no pilot house on this end ("B").

     This could very well be the
Commodore Barney as Frank Leslies Illustrated (newspaper) stated that in June 1864, the USS Commodore Barney was rocked by a torpedo explosion on the James River, and lost her pilot house.


     The Commodore Barney, Commodore Perry, and Morse were considered "sister ships."  They all had 500HP vertical walking beam engines built by Novelty (NY).  The
Barney and Perry were built by Stack & Joyce and the Morse by Roosevelt.

     The USS
Commodore Barney (ex-Ethan Allen) was returned to the Williamsburg Ferry Company in 1865 and "repaired" (brought back to ferry service) having their boilers rebuilt that year.  The Commodore Barney (Ethan Allen before the war) was sold to Florida interests in 1885 and wrecked in 1901.

     The USS Commodore Perry (ex-Commodore Perry) was returned to the Williamsburg Ferry Company on July 12, 1865 and "repaired" (brought back to ferry service) having their boilers rebuilt that year.  The Commodore Perry was sold to Charleston interests in 1896 and abandoned in 1907.

     The Morse was returned to the Williamsburg Ferry Company on July 20, 1865 and "repaired" (brought back to ferry service) having their boilers rebuilt that year.

Commodore Morris was sold back the the Union Ferry Company on July 15, 1865 and completely rebuilt.


Updated: May 10, 2011/div>