The American Civil War At Sea Wiki

A period watercolor, based upon a photo of the ship in service.


Built: New York City, New York

Commissioned: November 11, 1864

Service: North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, 1864-1865. North Atlantic Fleet 1869-1871.

Home Port: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Dimensions: 312' Length, 50' Beam, 20' 6" Draft

Armor: 4" Iron, with wood backing. Turret 15" iron with wood backing. Hull 6" iron with wood backing.

Armament: 2x15" Smoothebores; 20" Smoothebores intended, but never delivered.

Engines: Single Screw

Speed: 10 Knots

Crew: 174

Fate: Decomissioned 1877. Sold and scrapped, 1883.


The largest monitor completed by the US Navy during the American Civil War, Dictator was a formidable, thickly armored ocean going design by John Ericsson. Ericsson originally intended to name the vessel "Protector," but the Undersecretary of the Navy, Gustavus Fox, asked for a more "aggressive" sounding name, and the name Dictator was chosen to describe, as Ericsson said "the new monarch of the ocean." There were numerous delays in her completion, including the inability to deliver her intended 20" Dahlgren armament in a timely fashion, which resulted in a redesign for use with 15" guns, instead.

Dictator, like most designs by Ericsson powered by his patented "vibrating lever" steam engine system, which never quite lived up to its potential. The engines designed for Dictator were among the largest of their type, requiring new engineering and design specifications which had never been attempted before; as a result, while they were powerful enough to power her through the water, the engines often seized up or broke down, a constant problem during her Civil War service, which resulted in her being pulled from service in 1865 for an extended refit after only a few short months on duty.

The Dictator never exchanged fire with Confederate warships, but she did bombard Confederate shore installations, and it had always been intended that she would spearhead the final assaults on Wilmington and Mobile Bay, among others.

In 1869, Dictator returned to service and had an active career in the Atlantic Fleet before being returned to coast defense duty and serving in that capacity until final decomissioning in 1873.