During the period between the Second Mexican War and the Great War, tensions between the United States and Canada were high. Canada had been used as an invasion route into the US during the Second Mexican War; British troops under Charles George Gordon were repulsed in Montana territory, and a British invasion seized a portion of northern Maine. Moreover, Royal Navy ironclads were able to steam up the St. Lawrence River and shell Buffalo.
These three actions persuaded the US that it needed to make much greater efforts to secure its northern border as part of its Remembrance program to strengthen itself against joint Anglo-Confederate attacks. One of the greatest investments in this part of the program was the construction of the Great Lakes Battleships. These ships were designed to ensure US naval dominance on the Great Lakes, protecting US cities and threatening Anglo-Canadian positions and cities. The Canadians commissioned a similar fleet of ships.
Despite their name, the Great Lakes Battleships were significantly weaker than a fully modern dreadnought-class battleship of the Great War era. They were similar to the "coast defense" battleships employed by many minor navies and to certain pre-dreadnought designs.
The Great Lakes Battleships proved a wasted investment during the Great War, as one of the first actions both powers took after the onset of hostilities was to mine the Great Lakes heavily, and to deploy submersibles. The mines and submersibles so restricted surface operations on the Lakes that the battleships were effectively trapped in port for the duration of the war. Late in the war, US Army Air Force units began launching air attacks against the Canadians' Great Lakes battleships; these attacks proved highly dangerous and largely ineffective due to the heavy concentration of AA defenses on the battleships and the inability of Great War aircraft to carry weapons capable of decisively damaging capital ships.
After the war, the US occupation of Canada obviated the need for a fleet of (already obsolete) battleships on the Great Lakes, and the ships were scrapped.
In the late 1920s the Confederate States Navy had four Coastal Defense Battleships in their arsenal. Because of the peace treaty these ships were the biggest warships the CSN were allowed to have. Sam Carsten likened these ships to the Great Lakes Battleships because of their size, limited big guns and range.