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Keokuk I (Ironclad Steamer)

(IrcStr: t. 677; l. 159'6"; b. 36'; dr. 8'6"; s. 9 k.; cpl. 92; a. 2 11"

A town in Iowa named for a leader of the Sauk Indians born in Illinois about 1780. His name has been translated as "one who moves about alert" and as "Running Fox." His career was distinguished by opposition to Sauk participation in the Black Hawk War and by skillful diplomacy in negotiations with agents of the Federal Government and leaders of other tribes. He died in 1848 in Kansas.


Laid down as Moodna, the first Keokuk was launched at New York by Charles W. Whitney 6 December 1862; sponsored by Mrs. C. W. Whitney, wife of the builder; and commissioned March 1863; Comdr. Alexander C. Rhind in command.

The experimental ironclad steamer embodied some unusual concepts: her two stationary, cylindrical gun towers, each pierced with three gun ports, which often caused her to be mistaken for a double-turreted monitor; and her armor of horizontal iron bars alternating with strips of wood.

The new ironclad departed New York 11 March and steamed south to join the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron for the attack on Charleston and arrived Newport News 2 days later. She got underway again on the 17th but returned to Hampton Roads for repairs when her port propeller fouled a buoy. She stood out of Hampton Roads again 22 March and arrived Port Royal, S.C., the 26th.

As the day of attack on Charleston approached, Keokuk and Bibb were busy laying buoys to guide Rear Admiral Du Font's ironclad flotilla into the strongly fortified Confederate harbor. The Union ships crossed the Stono Bar 6 April but were prevented from attacking that day by hazy weather which obscured targets and blinded pilots.

The advance began at noon on the 7th, but difficulties in clearing torpedoes from the path of Du Font's ironclads slowed their progress. Shortly after three, they came within range of Forts Moultrie and Sumter; and the battle began. Southern obstruction and a strong flood tide made the ironclad virtually unmanageable, while accurate fire from the forts played upon them at will. With the Union formation scrambled, Keokuk was compelled to run ahead of crippled Nahant to avoid fouling her in the narrow channel. This brought her less than 600 yards from Fort Sumter, where she remained for half an hour receiving the "undivided attention" of the Confederate guns.

The game ironclad was riddled by 90 hits, one-fifth of which pierced her at or below the waterline. She was withdrawn from the action and anchored overnight beyond range of the forts while her crew struggled to keep her afloat. Next day, 8 April, when a breeze came up, Keokuk took on more water; filled rapidly; and sank off Morris Island.

Published: Tue Jul 28 11:15:17 EDT 2015