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U.S.S. Onondaga: 1864

1864. "James River, Virginia. Monitor U.S.S. Onondaga; soldiers in rowboat. From photographs of the Federal Navy, and seaborne expeditions against the Atlantic Coast of the Confederacy." Wet plate glass negative. View full size.

1864. "James River, Virginia. Monitor U.S.S. Onondaga; soldiers in rowboat. From photographs of the Federal Navy, and seaborne expeditions against the Atlantic Coast of the Confederacy." Wet plate glass negative. View full size.


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Upon reading ALL the comments and not finding a clue and after a thorough and painstaking research I have come to the conclusion that those three objects hanging over the side of the boat are bumpers!

Now hold down the applause. You can thank me later.

Low in the water

To answer Woodchopper's question, Monitors (originally intended for harbor defense as floating batteries) were designed to expose as little of the ship above the waterline to minimize the target available to enemy gunners. With less to see, there is less to hit.

While naval architecture changed over the years, this design is coming back into vogue with naval designers in examples like the DD(X) programs.

Re: Hangers

>Submitted by GeezerNYC on Sat, 08/01/2009 - 10:29pm.

>Does anyone know what the three objects hanging over the >side of the boat are?

They look to be bumpers. All the boats in the background have them, or some form of them, too.

Monitor design

The design of the USS Monitor and follow-on ships such as the Onondaga were revolutionary for the time. The idea of mounting one or two guns in a rotating turret versus rows of guns along the sides of a ship enabled monitors to bring more accurate firepower to bear more quickly, and most importantly, independently of the direction of the ship's travel. While some earlier ships had turreted weapons, I believe the USS Monitor was the first to rely on its turret as its only weapons station.

Monitors were low to the water to provide a smaller silhouette for the enemy gunners. Most shipboard cannons at the time would have had rather low, flat trajectories, which would have slammed into the sides of opposing ships rather than higher trajectories which would have sent plunging fire through the decks. Obviously a ship that sat lower in the water would have presented a much more difficult target for other ships--it practically didn't have sides to hit! It also made them difficult to see--in the days before submarines, these were the original stealth ships.

These ships were generally designed to work in what are now called "littoral" operations, close to shore, in bays or rivers. In those environments, heavy sea states that would cause a problem with the low freeboard design were not a major concern. Riverboat steamers had similarly low freeboards.

As for the items hanging along the gunwales of the rowboat, the look like bumpers to protect the rowboat and its mothership from bouncing off one another. Today they're a rubbery plastic, but I don't know what they would have been back then, maybe cork inside a waxed canvas bag?

From a River Far Far Away . . .

The two circular towers that have awnings on them - they remind me of Jabba the Hutt's sail barge in Return of the Jedi. I'm just saying.

Re: U.S.S. Onondaga

those little thingys are bumpers for pulling next to a stell ship with a wooden boat. This was definitly a 'Lessons Learned' device

The Answer: Fenders!

The bag-shaped objects are fenders, or as you land-lubbers would say, bumpers. You hang them over the side to save your paint job when you're tied up to the dock or to a ship. I'm guessing they're made of leather or rubber.

The Onondaga sits low in the water to decrease her vulnerability to enemy artillery fire -- by design, not by accident.

Re: Hangers, et al.

The 3 little bags visible near the oars are the Civil War-era version of fenders. They were generally filled with corncobs or sawdust and served as spacers to prevent the wooden boat from brushing against the ironclad and becoming damaged.

Of more interest is the canvas coverings over parts of the ironclad. These signify that the monitor is in Union-held waters as they would never be used where there was a risk of battle. Ironclads were just that, iron plates laid over a wooden hull and still vulnerable to fire.

three objects

"Does anyone know what the three objects hanging over the side of the boat are?"



Could be to scoop out water eh?

It's a monitor

Yes, it would be easy to swamp this ship- it was designed for inlets and calm waters; it is a double turreted descendent of the Monitor- the famous ironclad that did battle with the Merrimack/Virginia. It sits so low in the water so as to be an extremely difficult target. The turrets, along with relatively petite size allowed the monitor vessels to be extremely maneuverable and effective- although the crew had qualms with living below the waterline- which is why there are so many canopies on deck. Johan Eriksson, the designer of the original Monitor was one of the first developers of the propeller, and on his signature ship he patented hundreds of brilliant inventions from a then state-of-the-art ventilation system, to the rotating gun turret, and the first operable marine toilet.

Hangers Answer?

Ballast, or bumpers.

objects on side of boat

They look like typical boat bumpers of the small variety..

Somehow it crossed the Atlantic!

According to Wikipedia
after it was decommissioned in 1865 it was sold to the
French navy and here's a photo of it in Brest

I can't imagine it out in the Atlantic, even on a very calm day!


I took those things hanging from the gunwale of all the small boats in the photo to be fenders, used as a cushioning bumper when tied up against a dock or another hull. Modern versions:

Rubber Baby Buggy Boat Bumpers

My guess on the 3 objects hanging off the side of the rowboat (and visible on some of the other rowboats in the photo) is that they are "Boat Bumpers" a.k.a. "Dock Fenders". These prevent the side of the boat from coming in direct contact with another boat or the dock when the boat is tied up.


The Monitor-class ironclads like that in this photo were designed to offer as little a target to Confederate artillery as possible; most of their hull was kept below water, and practically the only structures above it were the chimney (those were steam-powered ships) and two revolving, armored turrets.

The most famous of these ships, the U.S.S. Monitor (which gave its name to this class of vessels) took part in the first battle between "ironclads", or ships made or covered on metal, which took place on march 9, 1862, and is known as the Battle of Hampton Road.

Quoting from an excellent article on Wikipedia: "...While the design of Monitor was well-suited for river combat, her low freeboard and heavy turret made her highly unseaworthy in rough waters. This feature probably led to the early loss of the original Monitor, which foundered during a heavy storm. Swamped by high waves while under tow by Rhode Island, she sank on December 31, 1862 in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. 16 of 62 crewmen were lost in the storm."

Re: Hangers (@GeezerNYC)

I'd think that the objects on the boat are fenders, to keep the boat from banging into docks or the ship.

Low Freeboard

Indeed, as earlier comments note, this monitor has unusually low freeboard (not sure if they all did; certainly, all monitors had relatively low freeboard compared to "normal" ships.) The function of this feature was to reduce the target area that could be hit by shellfire, both to make hits less likely and to reduce the weight of armor required to cover the vertical side. (The deck was also lightly armored, since the technology of directing long range fire made a plunging, high angle hit very unlikely; the deck armor was enough to deflect a glancing hit whose angle of fall was only a few degrees).

What was neglected in this design compromise was the fact that there was hardly any reserve buoyancy...a leak too big for the pumps to control would result in the deck edge going under and the ship sinking in a rather short time...and in fact, this happened to the Monitor herself on an open ocean passage on the last day of 1862.

The objects dangling over the rail on the boats (both the manned boat in the foreground and the empty boats tied up to the ship) are probably fenders, although they look rather small for the purpose. Needless to say, protecting the side of a small, lightly built wooden boat coming alongside a vessel armored with iron was quite important.

Built low for a reason

Wonderful photo!

One of the ideas behind the Union's ironclads (called "Monitors" after the archetype U.S.S. Monitor) was that if little sticks above the water, there is little to effectively shoot at. Hence, the only things that are exposed are the (heavily armored) revolving gun turret(s). Note that this ship has two revolving turrets, in contrast to the U.S.S. Monitor, which just had one. Needless to say, though, these monitors were not the greatest thing to be used in rough open seas -- that's how the U.S.S. Monitor was lost.

The Confederates took an entirely different approach (as with the C.S.S. Virginia, née Merrimack). Their ironclad vessels were heavily armored structures built upon traditional wooden hulls. Because most of the Confederate ship stuck out of the water, it would have to employ a lot more armor plating which added weight and made it much less manueverable and less able to be employed in shallow areas.


My best guess is they are bumpers to protect the wooden sides of the rowboat when
along side a ship or wharf.
Notice the other rowboats pictured have them as well. What I see here is the
bumpers were fitted for the average ship or dock and the ironclad, being so low
in the water, caused the scraping and damage to side of this rowboat below the

She was a river monitor

River monitors were not designed with high freeboard because it was needed. They were not supposed to put to sea, and the lower the freeboard the better because it made less of a target. HTH

The Objects

are bumpers. Coiled rope inside tarred leather to keep from scratching the boat or the ship. Much like the rubber ones we have today.


Id say these are used to draw wather from boat. Sorry for my poor enlish :/

IDing the Objects

The things hanging over the side of the boat are called bumpers, buoys, or fenders. They're to stop the sides from hitting and scraping other boats and docks.

Monitor Factoids

The "monitor" was a radical new warship design by engineer John Ericsson during the US Civll War. The standard high-sided wooden warship with its "broadside" of guns was still designed for sail power and to repel boarders. He conceived a fully mechanized ironclad "ship-killer" that presented a much smaller target and had several much larger guns housed in heavily armored rotating turrets. This proved quite deadly against wooden ships especially in breaking through blockades. Although not totally seaworthy, most waves washed harmlessly over the low deck. The concept gradually evolved to larger more seaworthy battleships with "real" armor-plated hulls, but the large, turret mounted guns became the new standard. The "canteens" alongside the rowboat are fenders to keep its hull from scraping against the sides of the ship.

On monitors and freeboards

Monitors, throughout their history (Roughly the U.S. Civil War to WWII), were built to be coastal ships. A large freeboard (which means more ship to build, and a larger target) was not necessary because the ships were never intended to leave inland waterways or shallow coasts. This also worked well with U.S. foreign policy which was more concerned with its own waters. I'm sure many people are familiar with the story of U.S.S. Monitor (the original monitor) which was swamped and sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras.

I'd rudder not bump, if you don't mind.

Following exhaustive research efforts, our crack Civil War historical artifacts team members have reached a somewhat tenuous conclusion. After sometimes heated discussions, it has been narrowly decided that the device held by the pipe smoking gentleman in the above photo should be rightfully placed under the "P.S." category of 19th century naval devices. In layman's terms the P.S. would simply designate this instrument as a "pushoff stick." Either that, or the man was an utterly misguided landlubber with a proclivity in providing great mirth to the more nautically savant.

In regard to the mysterious pouch-like objects hanging from the sides of the launch, the less than timorous artifacts team has proffered the suggestion that these would likely be called bumpers in today's parlance. Please note that our team does take all our suggestions quite lightly.


In the background, are those sunken ships forming a barrier?

Nautical Knowledge

The hanging things on the boat are fenders, aka bumpers, that prevent rubbing and damage when alongside other boats and docks. They are still required gear for boats of all sizes, though of different design.

The gent with the pipe is probably putting his stick in the water. The tiller is more likely in the hands of the soldier in the aft. The boats in the background have rudders and tillers, so this should one as well.




The objects hanging over the side of the small boat(s) are probably fenders, meant to keep the painted wood from grinding against the edge of the larger boat - which would be particularly punishing given the low iron deck of the Monitors.

I'd suspect the guy to the

I'd suspect the guy to the left of the guy smoking a pipe is the one who actually has a hand on the tiller. As far as the three objects handing over the starboard gunwale, they might be fenders, although they do seem small.

As far as the freeboard goes, it is very low in the water. The Monitors were susceptible to being swapped as evidenced by the original USS Monitor, which went down in a storm off the coast of North Carolina.

Hangers maybe

I'm thinking those are clean drinking water for the rowers.


Boat fenders, that is, is what the little bags are.

Hanging Objects

I think they are cushions, to keep the side of the boat from banging directly against the side of another vessell when boarding, disembarking etc.

Those wooden things on the

Those wooden things on the side of the boats are most likely to prevent scuffing and other damage, when the boat is moored. Unfortunately I have no idea, what is the proper English word for those. these days they are made of plastic, and resembles big, straight sausages....


They be fenders to protect the boat's planking when coming alongside I should think.

Lil' bags

Those little bags are in fact bumpers to protect the side of the row boat from damage.

Could the three objects

Could the three objects hanging over the side be fenders? That is: padding for when the bout bangs alongside the mother ship?

Freeboard or Lack Thereof...

If you look up the U.S.S. Onondaga on Google you will find that after the war it was decommissioned and then transferred to the French navy. With so little freeboard how did they get it to France?

I can understand the low freeboard patrolling the coastal rivers, but even there it probably had to enter the Atlantic to get from the northern ports to the southern ports.

How dey do dat?

Why so low?

Why were they built to ride so low?
To make a small target. Great in battle. Not so good at sea, as the original USS Monitor proved.

What is in those little bags tied next to the oars?
I was curious about that, too. I couldn't Google up an answer, but my guess is simple oarlocks. Place the oar in the slot, then flop the weighted line over the shaft.

The high-tech nature of the civil war continually surprises. Even though it was still a time of cavalry and slavery, there were also ironclads, telegraphy, balloons, Gatling guns and railroads.

Does anyone know what the three objects hanging over the side of

They are fenders.

Low Freeboard

The very low freeboard on this (and every other) monitor was designed to make the ship very hard for another ship to hit with cannon fire.

When the monitors were "cleared for action", everything but the turrets were stripped down and stored or thrown overboard. The rigging and life boats were eliminated, and the ship was steered from a small armored box only a few feet high. Even the funnel (chimney) was dismantled so that only a small stub protruded from the deck so as to present the smallest target possible.

Monitors worked fairly well in protected estuaries, bays, and navigable rivers, but monitors were notoriously poor sea-going ships. Many foundered and were lost, often with all hands, in heavy seas.

In every other nation, the monitors were regarded as a design fluke and were not widely copied. The U.S., however, continued to use monitors well into the 1880s and beyond....mostly because Congress refused to fund a modern navy.

Those hanging thingies ...

look like bumpers to me. They are all at the right height.


The bags on the longboats are probably bumpers, designed to keep the boat from being damaged when at a dock, or tied up alongside a ship with a low freeboard.

Monitors were designed by Ericsson to sit low in the water to improve stability by bringing the mass of the turret down, and to make them a far more difficult target to hit. The hull was protected by the water and it was hard to strike below the waterline. This made them maneuverable and hard to hit but could make them very unseaworthy in bad weather. Monitor - Ericsson's original "cheesebox on a raft" sank off Cape Hatteras in a 1862. Other monitors were designed to be more seaworthy. Onondaga hull was built entirely of iron rather than wood like earlier monitors.

As for Onondaga, she was sold back to her builder in 1867 and then sold to the French where she served as a coastal defense ship. She was scrapped by the French in 1904, making her the longest lived of the Civil War monitors.

Across the waves.

The Onondaga was sold to France after the war. How did they deliver it? Surely they didn't sail her!


According to Wikipedia ....

The good ship Onondaga was built in 1864, near the end of the Civil War and was sold to France after the war. She continued in service in the French Navy until 1903.

The delivery cruise to France must have been terrifying.

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