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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Aboard Several Ironclads, Joseph Clougherty

by Gordon Thorsby

Joseph Clougherty was a twenty-two year old man when he enlisted into the Navy at Boston Naval Yard on December 23, 1862. An Irishman at birth, we do not know when he arrived in America. He might not have possessed the Irish brogue but the accent would have been helpful in a town that was heavily populated by Irish immigrants.

He was given the rank and duty as Coal Heaver which meant that he had absolutely no sailing skills. This would explain why his first assigned duty was aboard the U.S.S. Ohio. The Ohio was the second American ship-of-the-line ever built by the American navy earlier in the 1800's. In early 1863, it was serving as a receiving ship in Boston Harbor for training of newly enlisted sailors. It was sail rigged so Joseph’s knowledge in hauling and heaving coal was not taught on the Ohio. The training was short as sailors were needed for the quickly expanding U.S. navy in wartime.

In February or March, he was given his first assignment aboard the crew of the U.S.S.

Minnesota, a steam frigate that was at Newport News, Virginia when Joseph was transferred aboard. It was on March 9 that the Minnesota became the third victim of the Confederate ironclad Virginia (Merrimac.) The wooden 44 gun Minnesota attempted to fight, then attempted to run when it ran aground. The monitor came the next day, the ironclads had their fight, and the Minnesota lived on to other action in the war. It was from the Minnesota he received his first discharge on December 22, 1863 in Boston.

However, Joseph apparently more of the Navy or maybe the Navy did not want anymore of Joseph because when he signed up again for the Navy and in Boston, his name was suddenly was John Conley and why it is suspected he had the Irish brogue. Where did he go? The Ohio again, of course because he may have said he had never been to sea (speculation.) Again, he gained a promotion to 2nd Class Fireman and this next time he was placed aboard the U.S.S. Canonicus.

The Canonicus a later version Passaic class monitor ironclad with 100 men and officers. Named after an Indian village, it had two 15 inch Dahlgren guns in its turret and fired 350 lb. Shells as far as 2000 yards. He was aboard her when the Canonicus was in action in the First battle of Charleston Harbor in April, 1863 where the ironclads made their photographic combat debut (above), where the U.S.S New Ironsides had its debut and where the U.S.S. Keokuk was actually sunk. John continued to serve aboard Canonicus where the ship joined the James River Squadron in May, 1864 and just as Grant began the Overland Campaign. The Squadron was utilized to assist in Butler’s Bermuda One Hundred effort. At some point, he was transferred to the U.S.S. Princeton, a 1370 ton gunboat where his fireman service continued until John was once again discharged, this time on February 28, 1865. Where he was discharged is not detailed.

However, in less than thirty days, now John Connolly enlisted in the Navy…again… and placed aboard the U.S. Vandalia, an eighteen gun sloop-of-war which in March of 1865 was none other than a training ship because that was where new recruits went. He was transferred back to his old gunboat, the Princeton for fireman duty and quickly transferred to a new ship, the USS Agamenticus, a Miantonomoh-class two turret Monitor that patrolled the northeast U.S. coast until it was sailed in and decommissioned in September. John was transferred aboard the U.S.S. Shamokin, a double ended gunboat for several months where he shipped aboard the U.S.S. Hornet after its voyage to escort the C.S.S. Stonewall back from Cuba.

Whether he was Joseph Clougherty, John Conley or even John Connolly, the young man from Ireland was able to be a part of American and U.S. Naval History. Anchors aweigh, Joseph.


Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

The Old Steam Navy: The Ironclads, 1842–1885. Canney, Donald. L. 2. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press.

NavSource Online:

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