By Patrick McSherry 


This vessel illustrates the major problem that was facing the United States Navy in the years leading up to the Spanish American War. The USS TERROR, a "monitor", was a vessel that represented the state of the art of United States naval design as it essentially existed at the end of the American Civil War in 1865. In the interim between the end of the American Civil War and the 1890's, the U.S. Navy went from being a strong, current force into a technologically outdated entity. The new ships being constructed, such as the USS MAINE, USS TEXAS and USS BROOKLYN show the contrast between the new and old technologies, both of which were used in the War.


The first USS TERROR was originally launched in 1863 as the AGAMENTICUS. The double-turreted ironclad served during the American Civil War along the coast, being decommissioned at the end of the war. Renamed USS TERROR, she was recommissioned and operated in the Caribbean. She took part in the funeral services for philanthropist George Peabody in 1870. The funeral was superintended by Admiral Farragut as his last official duty. By 1874, she was suffering severely from dry rot. The USS TERROR was taken to Philadelphia and totally rebuilt by William Cramp and Sons into a new AMPHITRITE class vessel, also to be named the USS TERROR.

Construction of the new USS TERROR was done in fits and starts and was not completed until 1896, the vessel being commissioned on April 15. The reasons for the twenty-two year construction period are many-fold, however two main reasons were as follows.

First, the design of the ships of this class were constantly changed to unsuccessfully attempt to keep up with new technology. Also, the authorization bill funding the ship required that all parts be made in the United States, but the United States had no manufacturer capable of producing the armor for the vessel. Bethlehem Iron and steel eventually became the first domestic producer of this material as a result of the domestic materials stipulation in the authorization bill.

During the Spanish American War, the USS TERROR took part in the blockading of Cuba, where she captured three unarmed merchant ships, the Spanish vessels AMBROSIO BOLIVAR, and GUIDO, and the Cuban vessel ALMANSA during the first three days of blockading duty.

The USS TERROR took part in Admiral Sampson's abortive foray to locate the Spanish Fleet at Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, the USS TERROR suffered from repeated breakdowns, and was towed part of the way by the NEW YORK. She took part in the bombardment of San Juan, scoring some direct hits on the fortifications. She had fired thirty-one rounds.

After the War, the USS TERROR was decommissioned, but recommissioned in 1901 as a training vessel at the United States Naval Academy. She was decommissioned a final time on May 8, 1906. She was then used as a test hulk at the Naval Proving Grounds before being sold for scrap in 1921.

The USS TERROR was still afloat, unscrapped, into the 1920's, when she sunk near Shooter's Island, New York. She was apparently raised and scrapped in the early 1930's.


The monitor type vessels were favored by politicians and some navy officials because they relatively inexpensive to build, but enough of a threat to arrest the concerns of seacoast cities in which they were stationed of attack by outside forces. The design of this type of vessel called for a ship with little freeboard, and negligible superstructure. This low profile created a small target for enemy vessels to aim at, and minimized the amount of iron plating necessary.

Vessels such as the USS TERROR had many drawbacks in their design. First, because of their low freeboard, monitors such as the USS TERROR were not particularly seaworthy.Their design did not have much reserve buoyancy - only about twenty percent in comparison with a about eighty percent for a "standard" vessel. This limitation meant that monitors were often used for harbor defense, not for sea warfare.

The design of the ship also resulted in excessive rolling, which made it very difficult, if not impossible, to aim the guns on a target unless in smooth waters. Again, this made monitors mainly effective in harbor defense, not at sea.


Keel Laid: 1874 (rebuilt earlier vessel)
Comissioned: April 15, 1896
Rig: One military mast
Armament: Four 10" Rifles
Two 6-pounders
Two 3-pounders
Two Hotchkiss 1.65" rifles
Two 1-pounders
Two Gatling guns (for landing parties)
One field gun (for landing parties)
Contractor: William Cramp & Sons, Philadelphia, PA.
Length: 259 feet, 6 inches
Beam: 55 feet, 6 inches
Mean draft: 14 feet, 6 inches
Max. draft fully loaded: 15 feet, 4 inches
Displacement: 3,990 tons
Complement: 26 officers and 151 men, under the
command of Captain Nicoll Ludlow.
Engine type: Inclined compound engine generating 1600 hp. Twin screw.
Boiler type: 6 single ended cylindrical boilers.
Speed: 10.5 knots
Coal bunker capacity: 260 tons
Normal coal supply: 250 tons
Coal endurance at 10 knots: 1,300 nautical miles
Armor: 7" on sides, 1-3/4" on deck, 11-1/2" on turrets.
Cost: One of five ships that were to be completed from
their various states of repair for $3,178,046.


Clerk of Joint Comittee on Printing, "The Abridgement of Message from the President of the United States to the Two Houses of Congress", Washington: Government Printing Office, 1899. 4 vols. (all are documents relating to the war).

Harris, Lt. Cmdr. Brayton, The Age of the Battleship, New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1965.

Naval History Department, Navy Department, "Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships", Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1959.

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