What is Pelham's Connection to the Civil War Ironclad USS Monitor that Fought in the First Battle of Ironclads?
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On March 9, 1862, as the Civil War raged, the Union quietly moved a top secret weapon into the waters off Virginia. The weapon was an oddly-shaped craft that looked like a "tin can on a shingle." It motored into Hampton Roads Bay where the James River meets the Chesapeake Bay near Newport News and Hampton, Virginia.
The weapon had been hastily designed and constructed to address a specific threat: the Confederate ironclad known as the CSS Virginia that had been built from the lower hull and engines of the scuttled steam frigate USS Merrimack. The Union's top secret weapon was the USS Monitor, its first ironclad designed to be impervious to cannon shot, shells, and small arms fire.
History credits Captain John Ericsson with designing and "superintending" the construction of the USS Monitor. History also records, however, that the USS Monitor could not have been built without the involvement of an illustrious Pelham Manor inventor who was among the early founders of the settlement that became today's Village of Pelham Manor. His name was George Huntington Reynolds. Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog details Reynolds' involvement with the USS Monitor and provides much detail about his celebrated life.
I have written before about George H. Reynolds and his involvement with the USS Monitor. See Tuesday, Apr. 12, 2005: Pelham and the Civil War Ironclad USS Monitor.
The day before the USS Monitor slipped into the waters of Hampton Roads Bay, Captain Franklin Buchanan of the CSS Virginia had sailed the southern ironclad into the same bay to attack the wooden Union ships blockading the harbor. The little ironclad ran the USS Congress aground and destroyed it. It rammed the USS Cumberland and sank it. The remaining Union ships blockading the harbor watched helplessly as their shot bounced harmlessly off the seemingly invulnerable Confederate ironclad until they had to withdraw from engagement.
The following day, March 9, Confederate Lieutenant Catesby Jones captained the CSS Virginia as it prowled the waters of the Bay. Unbeknownst to Lt. Jones, the USS Monitor, famed "tin can on a shingle," had hustled down the coast from New York during a stormy and precarious voyage.
The Captain of the Union ironclad on March 9 was Lieutenant John L. Worden. According to a report on the voyage and subsequent battle prepared by the Chief Engineer of the Monitor dated March 9, 1862, the Monitor showed its mettle on the "stormy passage" and "proved . . . to be the finest seaboat I was ever in". See Letter from Chief Engineer Stimers, USS Monitor, to Captain John Ericsson, Giving an Account of the Engagement, Mar. 9, 1862, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol. 7, p. 25 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office 1898).
The First Battle Between Ironclads
The USS Monitor intercepted the CSS Virginia in Hampton Roads Bay where the ships fought history's first battle between ironclads. The engagement was significant. The Virginia had been built to break the Union's blockade of southern port cities. The Union Navy developed the Monitor specifically to destroy the Virginia. For more than three hours the two ironclads battled each other at close range, but neither was able to best the other.
Official reports of the engagement show how the new ironclad technology withstood the old technology of shot and shell. The report of the Chief Engineer of the Union ironclad Monitor stated in part: "[W]e fought the Merrimack [i.e., the CSS Virginia] for more more than three hours this forenoon and sent her back to Norfolk in a sinking condition. Ironclad against ironclad. We maneuvered about the bay here and went at each other with mutual fierceness. I consider that both ships were well fought. We were struck 22 times -- pilot house twice, turret 9 times, side armor 8 times, deck 3 times. The only vulnerable point was the pilot house. One of [the] great logs (9 by 12 inches thick) is broken in two. The shot struck just outside of where the captain had his eye, and it has disabled him by destroying his left eye and temporarily blinding the other. The log is not quite in two, but is broken and pressed inward . . . . She tried to run us down and sink us, as she did the Cumberland yesterday, but she got the worst of it. Her bow passed over our deck and our sharp upper edged side cut through the light iron shoe upon her stern and well into her oak. She will not try that again. She gave us a tremendous thump, but did not injure us in the least. . . . "You are very correct in your estimate of the effect of shot upon the man on the inside of the turret when it struck near him. Three men were knocked down, of whom I was one; the other two had to be carried below, but I was not disabled at all and the others recovered before the battle was over. . . ." Id.
The Connection to Pelham
It was not very long ago that nearly every American schoolchild knew the story of the battle between the ironclads Monitor and the Merrimack (the CSS Virginia) on March 9, 1862. But, what does this seminal event in military history have to do with Pelham, New York?
Pelham Manor resident George Huntington Reynolds, it turns out, played a critically important role in the design and construction of the steam engine that powered the Monitor. According to one account:
"While [John] Ericsson was rushing work on the Monitor he was also trying to complete an engine of his own device. The Government was pushing him to the extent of the speed limit in getting the Monitor under steam. He finished the boat in time, but not the engine. His friend Reynolds had one of his own engines at the Delemater [Iron] Works and finally induced Ericsson to permit the Monitor to be equipped with it. This was done, and the Monitor proceeded on her way to victory. If Ericsson had held out, as he stubbornly did for a long time, the Monitor would not have reached Hampton Roads in time to interrupt the leisurely destructiveness of the Merrimac; nor, perhaps, to have prevented her from bombarding Northern coast cities. Ericsson deserves the greater credit -- he built the Monitor; but George Reynolds should be remembered at the same time, for it was an engine of his invention that he himself put into the little insides of the Monitor which gave her the life impulse that enabled her to be on the job at a critical time in the history of the United States."
Source: Credit For The Monitor - Part is Claimed for George Reynolds, Engine Builder, N.Y. Times, Aug. 6, 1924, p. 12. See also Credit For Monitor - Others Besides Ericsson Who Should Be Remembered, N.Y. Times, Aug. 22, 1924, p. 12; To The Editor of The New York Times, N.Y. Times, Aug. 22, 1924, p. 12; [Obituary of] G. O. Reynolds Jr., Insurance Man, 71, N.Y. Times, Jun. 4, 1956, p. 29 ("He was the son of the late George Osmar and Mable Winchester Reynolds of Pelham Manor, N. Y. His grandfather, George Huntington Reynolds, was one of the heads of the engineering staff of John Ericsson, building of the Monitor.").
Reynolds likely was for the job of designing and installing a steam engine in the USS Monitor because he recently had gained fame as a steam engineer. Only six years before, in 1856, Reynolds exhibited a steam engine of his own design at the American Institute Fair, held at the famed Crystal Palace in New York City, for which he received a gold medal. Due in part to this success, the following year Reynolds was made superintendent of the American Institute Fair. Additionally, in 1862, Reynolds became general manager of the Mystic Iron Works, Mystic Bridge, Conn., a shipbuilding yard during the Civil war.
George H. Reynolds lived with his family in Pelham Manor for many years. He was an active member of the Pelham Manor Protective Club and served as President of the local school board for eight years. He built a palatial home in the Manor that no longer stands. He was one of the nation's preeminent mechanical engineers and was involved in many projects that are stories in and of themselves. Late in life he moved to Connecticut, but various of his children and grandchildren remained in Pelham and surrounding areas for many years.
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Below is the text of several resources that shed interesting light on the life of engineer and inventor George Huntington Reynolds, a founder of Pelham Manor. Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.
"GEORGE H. REYNOLDS, who resides at Spring Manor, his handsome country home near Mansfield, Tolland county, is one of the noted mechanical engineers of this country, and he has a high reputation both as a man and a student of practical affairs.
The Reynolds ancestry is traced to William Reynolds who came from Plymouth, Mass., to Providence, R. I., in 1637, one year after Roger Williams, banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony, had located there. He was one of the original purchasers of the land from the Narragansett Indians, the sum paid for this land, which is now of vast value, being about $26. William Reynolds was arrested and confined in prison at Hartford, Conn., for his refusal to pay taxes to the Dutch; and again because he refused to pay taxes to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, after they had learned of the existence of Roger Williams, whom they had thought dead. Mr. Reynolds was married to Alice Kitson in the Open Court in Massachusetts.
James Reynolds, son of William, died in Kingston, R. I., in 1700. He settled at Newport, R. I., and after the birth of a child his wife was ordered by a council at Plymouth to appear before them in the month of February to give account of her faith. She made the trip in midwinter, on foot, carrying her babe in arms, and accompanied by a maid. Her answers to the questions of the council were not regarded as satisfactory, and she was stripped to the waist, and given ten lashes on the bare back. Her maid received the same treatment for "being in bad company." Joseph Reynolds, son of James, was born Nov. 27, 1652, and died in 1722, in North Kingston, R. I. His wife’s name was Susannah.
Samuel Reynolds, son of Joseph, was married Dec. 31, 1732, to Ann, daughter of Samuel Gardiner.
Thomas Reynolds, son of Samuel, and great-grandfather of George H., was married Sept. 22, 1749, to Elizabeth Hopkins, who was born Sept. 22, 1729, a daughter of William and Mary (Tibbitts) Hopkins.
Samuel Reynolds, son of Thomas, was born Feb. 12, 1752, and lived in Frenchtown, R. I., and later migrated to the western part of New York, near Buffalo, where he died. On Dec. 4, 1777, he married Amy Weaver, who was born Nov. 18, 1759, and who died near Buffalo. Their children were: (1) Sally married Andrew Moredock, a farmer, who died in Killingly; she died in Coventry, Conn. (2) Thomas was a seafaring man in early life, and died in Kingston, R. I. (3) Betsey. (4) Peleg married Mary Wells, and died in Mansfield, Conn. (5) Selah. (6) Christopher is mentioned below. (7) Samuel, a farmer and merchant, was the first agent of the old Norwich & Worchester railroad, and was killed by the cars. (8) Jonathan was a farmer and resided in Ashford, Conn., where he died. (9) John was a tailor, and died in Beloit, Wis. (10) Eleanor and (11) William were twins. (12) Eunice completes the family.
Christopher Reynolds, son of Samuel, was born July 11, 1790, in Frenchtown, R.I., where his boyhood days were spent. In 1810 he located at Mansfield, where he was employed as a farm hand by a Mr. Tillinghast, who made his home on the Steven C. Gardiner farm. He planted the large maple tree, still standing in the yard. It was one of three, but one of the others was killed by lightening [sic], and the other by the heat of a burning barn. During the War of 1812 Mr. Reynolds was a member of the Mansfield militia, and was one of the few men drafted from the company to go to New London to assist the threatened descent of the British. After his marriage Mr. Reynolds entered the fulling mill, then located a short distance south of the Tillinghast farm, on land now owned by his son Edwin. The old dam is still there, but the mill has since been torn down. Here Mr. Reynolds was engaged in cloth dressing, and also in farming a small tract of land, which he had bought. On this place ten of his twelve children were born. Until it ceased to be profitable on account of the close competition of the larger mills, he continued at the cloth business. Then for a time Mr. Reynolds employed his spare time in such labor as he could secure, and, moving to Eagleville, he assisted in building the first dam across the Willimantic river at that point. While the dam was being constructed large salmon, while endeavoring to get over it, were killed by musket shot. His former farm was purchased by his two sons, George H. and Edwin, who assumed a large indebtedness, and the parents removed to the farm, where they spent their declining years, and where they died, the husband and father July 21, 1871, from the infirmities of age, and the wife and mother, Sept. 24, 1860. They were interred in the old cemetery, a mile east of their first home in Mansfield.
Not withstanding [sic] a severe illness from inflammatory rheumatism, Christopher Reynolds was always a hard-working and industrious man, bravely contending against pain and suffering, until the latter years of his life, when he was almost entirely confined to his chamber. In early life he was a Democrat, but later became a Republican. Though not a church member he was a man of high character, honest moral and upright, and he reared a family of which any father might well be proud.
On Sept. 26, 1813, Christopher Reynolds was married, in Mansfield, to Clarissa Huntington, who was born in that town March 5, 1794, daughter of Jonas and Rhoda (Baldwin) Huntington. The Huntingtons and Baldwins were among the old and honored families of Mansfield, at one time numerously represented throughout that section. To this union were born: (1) Adaline, born May 2, 1814, married May 2, 1837, Jacob S. Eaton, a woolen manufacturer of Ludlow, Mass., and died in Indian Orchard, Mass. (2) Melissa, born March 14, 1816, married Sept. 26, 1842, Charles Shumway, for many years a watchman in the Corliss Engine Works at Providence, R. I., and died in Mansfield. (3) Elizabeth, was born March 14,1818, was married (first) March 26, 1854, to Rev. Asa Sanders; her second husband Benajah Gurnsey Roots, a civil engineer, who assisted in the building of the Illinois Central railroad, and later was prominent in State school matters in Illinois. She was killed in a runaway accident. (4) Sarah H., born Jan 31, 1820, was married Sept. 21, 1841, to Fayette Barrows, a farmer, and died in Mansfield. (5) Julia H., Born Oct. 8, 1821, was married Oct 24, 1842, to Leander Derby, a comb manufacturer, who died in San Andreas, Cal.; she now resides in Brooklyn, N. Y. (6) Glenn H., born Nov. 25, 1823, was married May 19, 1846, to Elizabeth F. Eaton. He remained at home engaged in farming until of age, when he went to Providence, R. I., where he was employed in various mercantile lines until 1856. He then spent ten years at Danielson, after which he managed a store at Cranston, R. I., for the A. & W. Sprague Manufacturing Company. In 1868 he set up the mill supply business at Providence, where he remained until 1886, when he returned to Mansfield, in a few years removing to Danielson, where he now resides. (7) Jane, born July 9, 1826, died Aug. 8, 1827. (8) John D., born July 28, 1827, was married April 6, 1854 to Martha Slater, and after her death, to Mrs. White. For many years he was a school teacher, and is now postmaster at Andover, N. J. (9) George Huntington is next in the order of birth. (10) Edwin, born March 23, 1831, is mentioned at length elsewhere in this volume. (11) Benjamin Franklin, born Jan. 29, 1833, married April 27, 1857, Amanda Hawkins. He has been Chief Engineer of the Omaha Water Works for the past seventeen years, and resides at Florence, Neb. (12) Albert W., was born Dec. 11, 1835, married Jan. 15, 1857, Rebecca Runion; he was a mechanical engineer of great promise, and died in New York, from overwork, in testing machinery.
George Huntington Reynolds was born Feb. 8, 1829, in Mansfield, and like his brothers, early became responsible for his own support. When quite young he showed signs of that genius that has placed him in the front rank of the calling he is pursuing at the present time. As a mere boy he and his brothers would erect bridges, make wagons, sled, and other play things with a touch of genuine skill. The bridges which they erected across the small streams on the family homestead, they used in hauling stone and wood, often overloading their wagons so as to break down the bridges, that they might build them up in better form. At the age of eleven years George H. was employed on the farm of Mr. Tillinghast, who had given his father employment thirty years before. Three months’ schooling was allowed him each year; the first year he had $9, out of which he bought his clothing for the year; the second year, $11; the third, $13; and the fourth, $16. Work began at daylight and lasted until long after dark. By trapping game, picking nuts, and other side labors, the boy managed to earn enough extra money with which to buy paper, pencils and ink, for use in drawing bridges, vessels, houses and other things in spare moments. The children of today can hardly comprehend the amount of work a farm boy at that time was expected to accomplish. During his third year with Mr. Tillinghast, Mr. Reynolds picked sixteen bushels of hazel nuts, which sold for a dollar a bushel, thus netting his employer three dollars more than his year’s wages. As it is said to take sixteen bushels of nuts in the bur to make one bushel of nuts, the lad must have picked 256 bushels of burs. These nuts were picked on land now owned by Mr. Reynolds, and also on land then and now owned by the Merrows. During these years of hard work with Mr. Tillinghast, Mr. Reynolds was never sick a day, and never lost a days time. Up to this time his schooling had consisted of attendance during the winter months. When he was fifteen he engaged with Chauncey Dunham, of Mansfield, for $6 a month. Mr. Dunham lived in the house now owned by Mr. Edwin Reynolds as a summer home, and the brick house still standing was made from clay hauled by our subject’ s father when he was eighteen years old.
Soon after this George H. Reynolds attended a select school in August, September and October, taught by a Mr. Dimock, a student from Yale, who was a thorough instructor, and gave Mr. Reynolds more insight into his studies than he had secured from all his previous schooling, particularly in mathematics, in which he was quite bright. After leaving Mr. Dimock’s school Mr. Reynolds was employed as a spinner in woolen mills in Ludlow, Mass. And at Broad Brook, Wilsonville and Merrow, Conn. He was a master of the trade, and at Merrow he could do his work in half the time his predecessor had needed. It was at Merrow that his first mechanical construction work was done. The mill owners were putting in new machinery, and the boss machinist (sent from Harvard to take charge of the work) selected as his assistant Mr. Reynolds, who showed such an aptitude for the work that the "jealousy of the "boss" was aroused, lest his place might be lost. As a result Mr. Reynolds left the spinning trade and devoted himself to mechanical work. Going to Leominster, Mass., he began work on steam machinery, which has been his work to the present day. In 1856 he exhibited a steam engine of his own designing, and a decided improvement on what had gone before to the American Institute Fair, held at the Crystal Palace, New York, for which he was awarded the golden medal of the Institute, and was made superintendent of the Fair the following year.
In 1859, Mr. Reynolds became chief draughtsman of the Delamater Iron Works, and in 1862 he was made superintendent and general manager of Mystic Iron Works, of Mystic Bridge, Conn. These works were established for the purpose of building ships and engines for the Government during the Civil war, and when the war was over Mr. Reynolds returned to the Delamater works to assume the position of superintendent, which he held until 1884, when he resigned to take a similar position with the Crane Elevator Company of Chicago. He has done more to improve and perfect the passenger elevator, perhaps, than any other one man living, and is still engaged in the study of it’s problems. His services in this connection are much sought after by builders of elevators, not only in this country but in Europe as well. The dynamite gun greatly interests him, and all the guns so far constructed have been made under his patents. He is consulting engineer of the Pneumatic Dynamite Gun Company of New York, and superintended the gun construction of the dynamite cruiser "Vesuvius." He has also built guns for Italy and England. When the Crane Elevator Company was absorbed by the Otis Elevator Company, Mr. Reynolds was still continued as engineer for the combination. The Locomobile Company of America has engaged him as it’s engineer. He is one of the foremost engineers of this generation, and has taken out more than a hundred patents in his line of work. For many years Mr. Reynolds had his home in Pelham Manor, N. Y. In 1885 he built a handsome and attractive home on land in Mansfield, which he has reclaimed from it’s primitive condition of forest and boulder, and with the aid of the landscape gardener, has made it one of the most picturesque and charming places in the town. This romantic spot has received the name of Spring Manor, from the many springs of clear cold water that well up on the grounds. The entire estate consists of about a thousand acres of land, on which, as a boy, he spent years of hard work for Mr. Tillinghast, as noted above. Personally Mr. Reynolds is genial and social, and he is an interesting talker, with splendid memory, and a large fund of general information. His disposition is hospitable, and his manners democratic. He has traveled widely, and his impressions of the countries he has seen are vivid and impressive. A staunch Republican, Mr. Reynolds has never sought office, though while living in Pelham Manor, he served eight years as president of the school board.
On Nov. 1, 1853, Mr. Reynolds was married to Abby F., daughter of James Brown, of Westfield, Vt. To them have come children as follows; (1) Nellie J., born Sept. 2, 1854, died in young womanhood. (2) George Osmar, born Dec. 9, 1856, graduated from the Friends’ School at Providence, R. I., entered the service of New York manufacturing firm and is now one of the firm of Hitchcock, Dermandy & Co., manufacturers of hatters’ furs. He is married and has two children, George Osmar Jr. (who shows much ability as an artist) and Grace. (3) Irving H., born April 13, 1862, took up mechanical work in 1879 as a marine engineer, and in 1884, entered the employ of the Edward P. Allis Company of Milwaukee. He has been identified particularly in the development of the Modern High Duty Water Works pumping engine, notable examples of his work being in the city water works of Boston, Pittsburgh, Detroit, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, Omaha, etc., many of these engines holding the world’s records for economy. At the present time (1903) he is chief engineer of the Allis-Chalmers company, manufacturers of engines, mining and milling machinery, and employing upwards of six thousand men. He married Bertha Barker, of Milwaukee, in 1889. (4) Grace C., born July 10, 1870, died in infancy."
Source: Commemorative Biographical Record of Tolland and Windham Counties Connecticut Containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens And Of Many Of The Early Settled Families -- Illustrated, pp. 188-91 (Chicago, IL: J. H. Beers & Co., 1903).
"Report of the Necrologist
BY CELIA MARY REYNOLDS
GEORGE HUNTINGTON REYNOLDS passed away January 3, after a painful illness, at his beautiful home at Mansfield Depot, Conn. Mr. Reynolds was a descendant of James Reynolds of North Kingstown, R. I. He was born at Mansfield, February 8, 1829. Being one of a family of twelve children he was early thrown upon his own resources. Working on a farm in his boyhood, and later as a spinner in a factory, he employed his spare moments studying and practicing mechanical drawing. As a result he gradually worked his way up to the position of chief draughtsman of the Delamater Iron Works, and, after the civil war, became superintendent of the same. He held the latter position until 1884, when he resigned to take a like position with the Crane Elevator Co., of Chicago. His work in that capacity resulted in great improvement in the passenger elevator service. He was also an inventor and builder of dynamite guns and locomobiles. In 1853 Mr. Reynolds married Abby E. Brown, of Westfield, Vt. Four children were born to them, two of whom are living -- George Osmar Reynolds and Irving H. Reynolds."
Source: Reynolds, Celia Mary, "Report of the Necrologist" in SEVENTEENTH ANNUAL REUNION OF THE Reynolds Family Association HELD AT Mohican Hotel, New London, Conn. THURSDAY, AUGUST 20TH, 1908, pp. 12-13 (Middletown, CT: Press of Pelton and King, 1908).
"George H. Reynolds
George Huntington Reynolds, the well known mechanical engineer, died at his home, Spring Manor, Mansfield Depot, Conn., Jan. 3, 1908, aged 79.
He was born in Mansfield and when quite young showed signs of mechanical genius which later on placed him in the front rank in his calling. He began active work as a spinner in woolen mills. While employed in this capacity at Merrow, Conn., his first mechanical work was done. As a result he left Morrow and went to Leominster, Mass., where he devoted his time to steam engineering. In 1856 he exhibited a steam engine of his own design at the American Institute Fair, held at Crystal Palace, New York, for which he received a gold medal and the following year was made superintendent of the fair. In 1859 he became chief draftsman of the Delamater Iron Works and three years later was made superintendent and general manager of the Mystic Iron Works, Mystic Bridge, Conn., a shipbuilding yard during the Civil war.
After the war he returned to the Delamater works as superintendent, which position he held until 1884, when he resigned to assume a similar position with the Crane Elevator Company, of Chicago.
As consulting engineer of the Pneumatic Dynamite Gun Company, of New York, he superintended the construction of the dynamite cruiser 'Vesuvius' and the dynamite guns built for various governments. As an inventor he was very successful, having taken out over a hundred patents for various mechanical devices."
Source: "George H. Reynolds" in American Machinist, Jan. 16, 1908, p. 107.
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