Ho Hum: Bursting Shell Cracks Gun


Telegram to Secretary of Navy from Adm. Lee, July 14, 1863, Thomas T. Eckert Papers, mssEC 04, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Ft Monroe July 14 / 63
Maj Eckert DC
From off Newport News to Anthon
a shell burst in the Lehighs
fifteen inch saxon & has cracked
it Longitudinally three feet signed S
P Lee A R Admirable Florence Cobb

One doesn’t need the plaintext to understand the seriousness of this message. Clearly a shell exploded in the barrel of a gun causing a three foot crack. Fortunately the gun did not explode, but it must have been quite the moment on board when this occurred. The USS Lehigh was a Passiac Class monitor, with two guns in the turret, the XV (15) inch Dahlgren smoothbore that cracked, and an XI (11) inch Dahlgren smoothbore, both muzzle loading. It was built by Reaney, Son, & Archibold, Chester, Pa., and launched January 17, 1863, and was commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard April 15, 1863.

The Lehigh’s history mentions her combat in June and July 1863, when Union forces in the James River area were ordered to threaten Richmond. This was to provide a diversion that might weaken Gen. Robert E. Lee’s offensive in the north. There is no mention of any gun incident during this operation, although on the morning of 23 July the Lehigh was towed by the supply ship Circassian back to New York to undergo repairs.

The image above shows the Lehigh’s crew on the deck of the monitor,  taken while on the James River. One holds a cat, while another holds a rooster.

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