USS ROANOKE (as monitor) (1863)
Built: Converted at New York City, New York
Commissioned: Accepted in new configuration, April 1863.
Service: Hampton Roads, Virginia
Home Port: New York City, New York
Dimensions: 278' Length, 53' Beam, 24'3" Draft
Armor: 9" iron Pilothouse, 11" iron Turrets, 4.5" iron Casemate, 3" iron Hull, 2.5" iron Deck
Armament: 1x15" Smoothebore and 1x150lb Rifle in Fore Turret, 1x15" Smoothebore and 1x11" Smoohtebore in Midships Turret, 1x11" Smoothebore and 1x150lb Rifle in Aft Turret.
Engines: Single Screw
Speed: 6 Knots
Fate: In and out of service. Finally decommissioned and scrapped, 1883.
USS Roanoke began life as sister ship to USS Merrimac. Like Merrimac, she was converted to an ironclad, despite the fact that (like Merrimac) she could have been equally useful in her role as a frigate. Her conversion, at least on paper, caused her to be called the most powerful ironclad in the world at the time in several newspapers, and caused serious concern both in the Confederacy and abroad in Europe. She was the only three turreted monitor design ever laid down and commissioned by the United States Navy.
Unfortunately, Roanoke had several problems in her new configuration, problems that began with her construction. The original design called for the use of Eads or Coles turrets, but John Ericsson insisted that she should use his own turrets, which were heavier and required slightly different mounting mechanisms than the hull had initially been built for. In addition, the construction of her undercarriage was less than ideal to support the weight of the new turrets (and would have struggled under those originally designed), but was not substantively modified during her conversion.
In service, sea trials found that she was dangerously unstable away from shore, that she took on water heavily, and that she had a tendency to list heavily from the concussion of live fire, especially when firing all three turrets at once. Engineering surveys determined that it was theoretically possible, with a enough stress, for the turrets to collapse into the hull structure itself after a particularly prolonged period of firing.
As a result of these problems, Roanoke was assignedd to Harbor defense duty at Hampton Roads. Her impressive presence helped to dissuade serious Confederate attacks in the area, but rebel leadership may not have realized another unique problem for Roanoke: as a result of her large crew requirements, she was generally a prime candidate for cross-assignment to other ships, especially given her somewhat inactive role at Hampton. As a result, she did not always have the full 350 man crew present, which would have impeded her performance operationally if called for to do much more than cruise around and look menacing. Some consideration was occasionally given to using Roanoke in other operations, including as part of the James River Flotilla, but nothing ever seems to have come of this.
After the war, Roanoke was decommissioned but retained in reserve. From January 1874 to June 1875, Roanoke served in her only post-war active service, as flagship of the Port Admiral for New York City. Following this service, she was placed into the ordinary, and eventually sold for scrapping in 1883. She remains a favorite with modellers, enthusiasts, and wargamers to the present day. A particularly striking model of the ship is available in 1/600 scale from Thoroughbred Miniatures, and is excellent for miniature wargaming purposes.