Pook Turtles "Backbone Of The River Fleet"
"Pook Turtles" was the nickname given to seven ironclad Union gunboats designed by Samuel M. Pook to operate on the Mississippi River and its tributaries. On August 7, 1861, the War Department contracted with James B. Eads to construct the vessels and have them ready for their crews in 65 days. Within two weeks, more than 4,000 people in seven states were employed in the construction of the boats, cutting trees for lumber, building 21 steam engines and 35 boilers, and rolling the iron armor. Four were built at Carondelet, near St. Louis, MO, and three in Mound City, Ill. The workers worked night and day and on October 12, 1861, the first of the gunboats, the St. Louis, was launched. By January 15, 1862, all seven were accepted by the War Department.
The gunboats, which cost $100,000 each, were all named for cities on western rivers. Besides the St. Louis, there were the Carondelet, Cincinnati, Louisville, Mound City, Cairo, and Pittsburgh. Each round-nosed, flat-bottomed vessel was 175 feet long and 51.5 feet wide and drew only 6 feet of water. Plated with 2.5 inch-thick iron, the gunboats had flat sides, with front and rear casemates sloping at a 35-degree angle, and carried 13 heavy guns each. Propelled by a stern paddle wheel that was completely covered by the rear casemate, the coal-powered Pook Turtles proved to be underpowered and cumbersome- but also very deadly.
These ironclad gunboats became the backbone of the Union river fleet. In early 1862 they were instrumental in the capture of Fort Henry on the Tennessee River, Fort Donaldson on the Cumberland River, and Island no. 10 on the Mississippi River. The Pook Turtles also participated in the successful campaigns against Fort Pillow and Memphis. On December 11, 1862, the Cairo was sunk by Confederate torpedoes (mines) in the Yazoo River while participating in operations against Vicksburg. The next year, nine days after Vicksburg surrendered, the St. Louis was also sunk in the Yazoo by torpedoes.
Fascinating Fact: Of the 512 tons each Turtle weighed, 122 tons was in the 2.5 inch-thick plate armor.
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