"A Formidable Looking Pile of Iron Boilers and Machinery": Reconstructing the Civil War Gunboat USS Westfield
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This dissertation reconstructs the former Union Navy Gunboat USS Westfield. Westfield belonged to an unusual class of civilian vessels that the Navy converted during wartime to serve in the Union's blockade of Confederate southern ports. Originally built and operated as a double-ended ferryboat, the vessel was purchased by the Navy from the New York Staten Island ferry service. Westfield served in operations on the Mississippi River as part of a mortar flotilla before leading another flotilla of ships from the West Gulf Blockading Squadron to interdict Confederate shipping along the Texas Coast. The vessel last saw action in 1863 at the Battle of Galveston where it ran aground and was blown up by its crew to keep the vessel out of Confederate hands. In 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) orchestrated Westfield's recovery in advance of their operations to deepen the Texas City Channel. Archaeologists recovered approximately 8000 artifacts during the salvage operation. The USACE sent these artifacts to the Conservation Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University where the artifacts underwent conservation and study. Westfield’s wooden hull completely disintegrated over the last one hundred and forty-six years leaving little evidence of the vessel's design. Therefore, this dissertation reconstructs Westfield's plan using other methods. The document first introduces Westfield with a brief history of the vessel before investigating the vessel's design using historical documentation. The discussion continues with an analyses of artifacts recovered from the wreck site and focuses on Westfield's construction and steam machinery. The resulting reconstruction proves that even the most scant archaeological remains can be a resource if properly utilized. The collection presents a unique opportunity to examine a rare vessel class, early American steam machinery, and to answer questions about how the components individually operated.
Parkoff, Justin Alan (2016). "A Formidable Looking Pile of Iron Boilers and Machinery": Reconstructing the Civil War Gunboat USS Westfield. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from