Not everyone recognizes the name of John Ericsson, the eccentric creator of the USS Monitor but far fewer individuals can tell you what C. W. Whitney did. Whitney was originally a partner of Ericsson. Early in the American Civil War in April 1861, long before news of the conversion of the frigate USS Merrimack into the ironclad CSS Virginia reached the North, Whitney and another partner, Thomas Rowland, presented plans to the Navy Department for an armored gunboat. This design would have been 150 feet long and displace 750-tons. It would have had two fixed gun houses, each armed with a single 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore. Armor was to be 5 and a half inches, laminated in three layers. The partners guaranteed a speed of ten knots and offered to build it for the Navy in five months for $200,000. In the best bureaucratic tradition, the civilians of the Navy Department started asking for changes. The first was to replace the fixed gun towers with Coleís revolving turrets with four gun ports in each turret so if the turret machinery went out of action, the guns could still be trained to fire out of one of the four ports. The turrets would be small, only 15-feet in diameter if using breechloaders or 20-feet for muzzle loaders. The ship was to be 140-feet in length but Whitney and Rowland offered to build it in four months for $110,000. The Federal Ironclad Board said thanks but no thanks.

Rowland was discouraged and withdrew from the partnership with Whitney to throw in his lot with Ericsson in building USS Monitor. Rowland constructed Monitorís hull. Whitney was now alone and in September 1861 showed a revised Coleís turret to the Navy Board. The Ironclad Board was uninterested and told Whitney that if they were interested in buying anymore ironclads, they would let Whitney, which is basically a donít call me, Iíll call you response. After the Monitor thwarted the CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads in March 1862, The Navy was fired up to buy more ironclads, including Whitneyís.

On March 17, 1862 Whitney submitted his latest design. Gone were the Coleís turrets and in their place the fixed armored gun towers, as in the April 1861 design, reappeared. It really didnít matter what design Whitney presented, as the Navy was snapping up any type of ironclad design, regardless of merit. The USS Keokuk was 159.5-feet in length, 36-feet wide and with a draught of 8.5-feet. It displaced 677-tons and used four engines to power two shafts. Speed was nine knot. The two armored towers had an 11-inch Dahlgren gun in each tower with each tower having three gun ports. The gun was swung inside the armored tower to fire through whichever gun port wasfacing the enemy in basically a protected pivot gun arrangement. The armor arrangement had a significant flaw. The armor used four-inch thick plates but there was a one inch gap between each plate. Wood was used to fill each gap. Oops! An armored conning tower was attached to the aft face of the forward armored tower. The armored towers were opened topped with an iron grating on top of each tower, providing ventilation.

The design was unique with the fixed gun houses and the turtle back hull and because of the less than successful history of the ship, to be charitable, the design was not repeated. Whitney started with the name Moodna but this was changed to Keokuk. Whitney didnít waste time as the ship was laid down April 19, 1862, only a month after showing the design to the Navy Department. The Keokuk was launched December 6, 1862 and was in commission in February 1863. Now, it was time for action, for the fearless Keokuk to show her true mettle! The Navy knew just where to send this wonder weapon.

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As far as the North was concerned, Charleston , South Carolina , deserved a special place in hell, as it was South Carolina that led the southern states out of the Union and the actual start of the war occurring at Charleston with the fall of Fort Sumter . It also was one of the prime blockade runner ports. By 1863 the port was heavily fortified and had its own small ironclad squadron. After Monitorís success Assistant Secretary of the Navy Augustus Fox was totally enamored of the ironclad. They were wonder ships that could do anything. He would tell anyone that cared to listen, that a mere handful of these wonder ships could easily take the birthplace of the Confederacy and hotbed of treason by themselves with no help from the Army, that you very much! Admiral Samuel DuPont was the Union naval commander along the Carolinas . He had been a hero in 1861 when he seized Port Royal , South Carolina . At Charleston defenses were greatly increased, first under General Robert E. Lee until Lee was assigned a different command of some oddball organization called the Army of Northern Virginia. Lee, an engineer by training, knew how to strengthen a position. He was replaced by General P.T. Beauregard who was also skilled in engineering.

By mid-1862 Gussie Fox was haranguing DuPont to capture Charleston . DuPont would reply that he couldnít assault Charleston only from the sea. He said he had to work in conjunction with a Union land force. Fox would reply that DuPont didnít know what he was talking about. All it would take is a few monitors and the rebs would run. This was not the first time that a politician would insist that he knew better than an Admiral in tactics and operations. Nor would it be the last, since a mere 50+ years later politician Winston Churchill would insist on forcing the Dardanelles with British and French battleships by sea power alone, without a combined operation in conjunction with the Army. Admiral Jackie Fisher vehemently insisted for Army participation. Fisher resigned as First Sea Lord after the resulting debacle. In spite of Foxís big talk not many ironclads were sent to reinforce DuPont in 1862. This changed after the CSS Palmetto State and CSS Chicora attacked the wooden ships blockading Charleston on January 31, 1863. In February the ironclads started joining Dupont to add reinforcements to DuPontís USS New Ironsides.

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DuPont decided to try out the ironclad vs fort theory on any easier target than Charleston first, before taking on the tough nut. Fort McAllister, just north of the boarder with Georgia was lightly defended, so DuPont sent the monitor Montauk and four wooden gunboats under the command of Commander Worden, who had commanded the USS Monitor in the engagement with Virginia, against the lighter fort. The engagement lasted four hours and neither the fort nor the Montauk suffered much damage. For DuPont, the results confirmed his belief that the ironclads were not the decisive weapon trumpeted by Gussie Fox and reinforced his belief the only hope of success against Charleston was in conjunction with Army forces. There were two more trial attacks by monitors against Fort McAllister with equally inconclusive results before Fox had enough and urged his boss, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles to order an attack on Charleston . Welles issued the order and DuPont started planning to use every ironclad he had in attacking the port.

DuPont mustered nine ironclads for the assault. Most were the improved monitors of the Passaic Class. Seven of the nine ironclads in the assault were Passaic class but the other two were one-off designs, the large broadside New Ironsides, DuPontís flagship and the fighting Keokuk. The plan was to steam in column past Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie into the harbor so as to threaten the city. The assault came on April 7, 1863 with Weehawken in the lead. This Passaic class monitor was fitted with an Ericsson designed mine bumper designed to trigger any contact mines before they could damage the hull. The column had four Passaics in front then the New Ironsides followed by three more Passaics with tail end Charlie being the fighting Keokuk. Commander A.D. Rhind was in command of Keokuk. The attack was a botch from the start. New Ironsides was so unmaneuverable that she had to anchor twice to avoid grounding. DuPont raised the signal to disregard the movements of the flagship. The ships following New Ironsides bunched up and experienced two minor collisions. Meanwhile, the four Passaics in front experienced their own problems finding an intense field of obstructions, including mines and they turned back towards Fort Sumter . As the leading monitors steamed back towards the aft half of the column the entire formation became a jumbled mess. USS Nanhant was eighth in line and was experiencing problems, so fighting Keokuk charged into the fray, passing Nanhant and coming to a stop 600 yards from Fort Sumter to slug it out with the fort.

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For almost an hour the ironclads were subjected to a cross fire from the forts and were repeatedly hit. The monitors received from 14 hits (Montauk) to 53 hits (Weehaken). However, it was the fighting Keokuk that was target number 1. Keokuk was hit ninety times, including 19 below the water line. Since there were one-inch gaps between the iron plates, filled only with wood, as the wooden ďgap fillersĒ became broken or destroyed water started pouring into Keokukís hull. Sixteen crewmen, including Rhind, were wounded. By 4:30PM DuPont had enough. His ironclads were being repeatedly hit with no discernable results against the forts, as their rate of fire didnít abate. DuPont ordered his force to retire and Rhind was more than happy to get the hell out of Dodge. But the fighting Keokuk was a wreck. Keokuk anchored off Morris Island as soon as she was out of range of Confederate guns to enact emergency repairs to stop the flooding. At first things seemed to be going Keokukís way, as the water outside the harbor was smooth. Keokuk survived the night with the help of the tug Dandelion but by the morning of April 8th the weather had turned and the sea state started getting much rougher. It quickly became obvious to Rhind that the Keokuk was doomed. At 7:40 AM Rhind ordered his crew to leave the ship. The Keokuk settled in shallow water with only the top of her funnel above water. Union attempts to blow up the wreck were unsuccessful and once it was discovered that sand was filling the wreck no other attempts were made.

Since Rhind no longer had a ship to command, DuPont dispatched him to Washington with DuPontís battle report. The happy bureaucrats, Welles and Fox, were outraged. Welles wrote that Rhindís presentation of DuPontís reports was howling and designed to impair faith in the monitors. None of the original report nor any subsequent reports from DuPont were released to the public for political reasons. Welles and Fox didnít want the public to learn that the monitors were not invincible, as they had proclaimed. As for DuPont, he had to go. Welles high tailed it over to the White House to get the personal order from President Lincoln for DuPont to anchor within the Charleston bar. Welles then ordered Admiral Foote to replace DuPont. In the end, Charleston was only captured in conjunction with Army operations, just as DuPont had said initially. Keokuk was still of value but for the Confederates not the Union . The location of the wreck had been noted. At low tide at night, the confederates had about two hours each night to cut through the iron grates on the top of the gun towers and remove sand from inside the towers. The object was to retrieve the two 11-inch Dahlgrens to add to the Charleston defenses. After two weeks the guns were raised from Keokuk and arrived in Charleston in May.

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The Flagship USS Keokuk
By now you realize that Flagship Models produces many of the ironclads from the US Civil War. These range from the big names of USS Monitor, CSS Virginia and CSS Tennessee, to lesser known ironclads and with their latest releases, a wooden open gunboat and armed wooden tug. However, the Keokuk stands apart. Maybe it is the turtle back upper hull, or the fixed gun towers, or the beak ram or maybe just Keokukís short history, but there is something about Keokuk that commands attention. The hull is two-piece, divided at the water line. The conical fixed armored gun towers with three gun ports in each tower are so different from the cylindrical monitor turrets that the Flagship Keokuk will add something different when contrasted next to the Flagship USS Monitor or USS Passaic. Another significant difference between the cylindrical monitor turrets and the armored towers of Keokuk is in the shape of the gun towers. In addition to being conical the forward gun tower is teardrop in shape because of the raised conning tower is faired into the aft face of the tower. The conning tower itself is unusual, not only because of its position but also because of its shape. With a flat front plate and curving sides, its different from anything else. The vision ports seem somewhat over large but that just emphasizes the oddity of the design.

It is not just the major architectural features that set this kit apart, it is also found in the small features. As mentioned in the history, a critical flaw in Keokukís design was the one inch gap between each iron plate filled with wood. As with the vision slits, the gaps between the plates are over-scale but just serves to present the strangeness of the design. The plate layout is further emphasized with the large rivet heads. Unlike the monitors which had an armored deck, the Keokuk has a wooden deck, recessed below the top edge of the hull armor.  Deck planking is average with clearly delineated lines but no butt ends. In addition to the armored towers, deck planking is interrupted by three raised deck access coamings. The tops of the gun towers have a slight recess but I wish it was of greater depth. Since the armored towers were open at the top, covered only by a grate, a deeper recession would create a greater sense of depth in the superstructure.

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The lower hull casting is also different from what youíve seen with the Monitor and Passaic . With a monitor the single screw revolved partially within a well and the anchor was contained within a well. For the Keokuk it was twin screws with skegs and no anchor well as the anchors were carried on the upper hull. However, the most striking feature of the Keokuk lower hull is the very prominent beaked ram, dropping like a snout in front of the ship. To get a good fit between the upper and lower hull castings, sanding will be necessary to get a flush fit. There are twelve smaller resin parts. All will need to be removed from casting sprues or from a casting sheet. This of course requires sanding the parts after their removal from the sprue or sheet to get a good fit. The largest of these parts is the funnel with a greater diameter base than top. Here again Flagship could have provided a greater depth to the funnel opening but a modeler can easily provide the depth with a careful application of a Dremel with the right bit. The two shipís boats come with their own detail with interior framing and deck paneling. Use caution in removing the four twin bit bollard fittings as the base plates can be damaged accidentally in their removal from the resin runner. Other resin parts include the rudder, rudder brace, galley vent, lantern and shipís bell. Four white metal parts are provided, two gun muzzles and two propellers.

Flagship has provided a full relief-etched brass photo-etch for Keokuk that provides the necessary unique fittings. The grates for the armored gun towers have two different shapes because of the difference in the shape of the gun towers. Both gun towers were rigged to be able to use a canvas awning to reduce heat build up in summer. Flagship provides all of the necessary stanchions. Another significant set of brass parts are the canvas dodgers for the aft tower awning stanchions. The forward tower didnít use the dodgers because they would have blocked the line of sight of the conning tower. Another set of stanchions are provided for the deck railing. The six gun ports used clam shell shutters. These are in brass and can be used with the shutters open or closed. The anchors are folded for double thickness with brass anchor davits with block and tackle. Boat fittings include the thwarts, oars and davits. Lastly, Flagship provides a large piece of open generic grating. This is used for the three deck coamings but youíll have to cut to shape.

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With the Flagship Models
USS Keokuk the modeler gets a 1:192nd scale model of one of the more bizarre ironclad designs of the American Civil War. With a turtle back hull, fixed armored gun towers and prominent ram, no one will mistake the fighting Keokuk for a plain Jane monitor. All the parts are present in resin, white metal and relief-etched brass for a waterline or full hull version of this ill fated ironclad.