USS Monitor

Thomas' Legion
INTRODUCTION
American Civil War HOMEPAGE
American Civil War
Causes of the Civil War : What Caused the Civil War
Organization of Union and Confederate Armies: Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery
Civil War Navy: Union Navy and Confederate Navy
American Civil War: The Soldier's Life
Civil War Turning Points
American Civil War: Casualties, Battles and Battlefields
Civil War Casualties, Fatalities & Statistics
Civil War Generals
American Civil War Desertion and Deserters: Union and Confederate
Civil War Prisoner of War: Union and Confederate Prison History
Civil War Reconstruction Era and Aftermath
American Civil War Genealogy and Research
Civil War
American Civil War Pictures - Photographs
African Americans and American Civil War History
American Civil War Store
American Civil War Polls
NORTH CAROLINA HISTORY
North Carolina Civil War History
North Carolina American Civil War Statistics, Battles, History
North Carolina Civil War History and Battles
North Carolina Civil War Regiments and Battles
North Carolina Coast: American Civil War
HISTORY OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA
Western North Carolina and the American Civil War
Western North Carolina: Civil War Troops, Regiments, Units
North Carolina: American Civil War Photos
Cherokee Chief William Holland Thomas
HISTORY OF THE CHEROKEE INDIANS
Cherokee Indian Heritage, History, Culture, Customs, Ceremonies, and Religion
Cherokee Indians: American Civil War
History of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Nation
Cherokee War Rituals, Culture, Festivals, Government, and Beliefs
Researching your Cherokee Heritage
Civil War Diary, Memoirs, Letters, and Newspapers
American Civil War Store: Books, DVDs, etc.

USS Monitor

Monitor: A person or thing that warns or instructs. Ericsson suggested the name hoping that his novel warship would admonish both the South and Great Britain which was then sympathetic to the Confederacy.

USS Monitor (1862-62)
USS Monitor.jpg
Courtesy of Dr. Oscar Parkes, 1936 (U.S. Naval Historical Center)

Monitor: tonnage 987; displacement 11'4"; length 172'; beam 41'6"; draft 10'6"; complement 47; armament 2 11" Dahlgren smoothbore; class Monitor.

The prime contract for construction of Monitor (USS Monitor: Homepage) was awarded to her designer John Ericsson on 4 October 1861. Construction of her hull was subcontracted to the Continental Iron Works at Green Point, Long Island; fabrication of her engines was delegated to Delamater & Co., New York City; and the building of her turret, composed of eight layers of 1-inch iron plates, was assigned to Novelty Iron Works, also of New York City. The unusual warship-the first ironclad in the U.S. Navy-was launched 30 January 1862; and commissioned 25 February, Lt. John L. Worden in command.

The ironclad departed New York Navy Yard 27 February 1862, but a steering failure caused her to return to port. On 6 March, she again departed the New York Navy Yard, though this time she was under tow by Seth Low, and headed for the Virginia Capes.

As Monitor approached Cape Henry on the afternoon of 8 March, CSS Virginia, the former U.S. steam frigate Merrimack-now rebuilt as an ironclad ram-steamed out of the Elizabeth River into Hampton Roads and attacked the wooden hulled Union warships blockading Norfolk (see CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack): Homepage). Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan, the Confederate commander, singled out sailing sloop Cumberland as his first victim.

She opened the engagement when less than a mile distant from Cumberland and the firing became general from blockaders and shore batteries; but most shots from the Union guns glanced harmlessly off the Confederate ironclad's slanted sides. Virginia rammed Cumberland below the waterline and she sank rapidly. Buchanan later reported the Union sailors remained "gallantly fighting her guns as long as they were above water." Buchanan next turned Virginia's attention on the frigate Congress, which had run hard aground while attempting to close, and the set her ablaze with hot shot and incendiary shell. She also damaged Minnesota before retiring to Sewell's Point for the night.

Monitor's crew could hear the roar of cannon as they rounded Cape Henry into Chesapeake Bay and headed toward the scene of battle. But all was quiet when she hove to alongside Roanoke. Captain Marston directed Worden to assist battered Minnesota, hard aground off Newport News.

At dawn, Virginia again emerged and headed toward Minnesota to administer the coup de grace. Monitor steamed out of the Minnesota's shadow to intercept the Confederate ironclad ram. A Confederate officer on CSS Patrick Henry, one of Virginia's paddle wheel consorts, described the Union challenger as "an immense shingle floating on the water with a gigantic cheese box rising from its center; no sails, no wheels, no smokestack, no guns." But the unusual federal vessel soon won the respect of friend and foe alike, fighting the Confederate ironclad to a standstill in an exhausting four-hour duel. With both warships damaged and running low on shot, Virginia retired to Sewell's point after failing to break the Federal blockade.

USS Monitor (1862) with Officers
USS Monitor.jpg
U.S. Naval Historical Center

(Photo) USS Monitor in 1862: View on deck looking forward on the starboard side, while the ship was in the James River, Virginia, 9 July 1862. The turret, with the muzzle of one of Monitor's two XI-inch Dahlgren smoothbore guns showing, is at left. Note the dents in turret armor from hits by Confederate heavy guns. Crewmembers are also atop the turret (see In The USS Monitor Turret). Officers at right are (left to right): Third Assistant Engineer Robinson W. Hands, Acting Master Louis N. Stodder, Second Assistant Engineer Albert B. Campbell (seated) and Acting Volunteer Lieutenant William Flye (with binoculars). U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

In the weeks that followed, Monitor remained alert in Hampton Roads ready to renew the engagement should Virginia venture forth. The southern ram did make a brief appearance off Sewell's Point on 11 April, but strategic considerations on both sides prevented a return engagement between the two vessels. Early in May, while General McClellan pushed through Yorktown and up the peninsula toward Richmond, the South withdrew from Norfolk and the southern bank of the James River, retiring toward the Confederate capital. Virginia, with too deep a draft to reach Richmond, was set afire 11 May and blew up soon thereafter.

Monitor, reinforced by ironclads Galena and Naugatuck, steamed up the James to gather information for McClellan and to strengthen the Union Army's left flank. On 15 May, however, when they reached Drury's Bluff some eight miles below the southern capital, their progress was stopped by obstructions across the channel. Confederate riflemen fired on the Union ships from both shores and heavy naval guns mounted high on the cliff shelled them from an angle which minimized the effectiveness of their armor. Although Monitor moved up to protect the heavily damaged Galena, her crew was unable to elevate her guns to hit the shore batteries, and so the ironclads retreated downstream.

Although checked in their thrust toward Richmond, the Union ships continued to provide McClellan with invaluable support. After his defeat by General Lee in the Seven days campaign, their guns helped save the Army of the Potomac from annihilation.

At midsummer, Monitor helped cover the Union Army as it retired from the peninsula to shift operations back to northern Virginia. Thereafter, she performed blockade duty in Hampton Roads until ordered on Christmas Eve to proceed to North Carolina for operations against Wilmington. Towed by Rhode Island, she departed the Virginia Capes 29 December for Beaufort, but the historic warship foundered in a storm off Cape Hatteras shortly after midnight 31 December. Four officers and 12 men went down with Monitor.

The wreckage of the ironclad was discovered in 1973 by a team of scientists from Duke University, the State of North Carolina, and the Massachusetts Institute Technology. As part of a series of marine sanctuary laws passed by the U.S. Congress, the site of the wreck was designated a National Marine Sanctuary on 30 January 1975 and placed under the protection of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Owing to deterioration of the wreck from storm and other damage, some artifacts-such as the propeller shaft and hull plates-were later recovered for historic preservation. Starting in March 2001, a five month long expedition involving NOAA, U.S. Navy and other personnel, raised the ironclad's innovative steam engine and other parts recovered at the site. These artifacts were transferred to the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Va., for historic preservation.

Reference: Department of the Navy, Naval History & Heritage Command, 805 Kidder Breese SE, Washington Navy Yard, Washington D.C., 20374-5060

Recommended Reading: War, Technology, and Experience aboard the USS Monitor. Description: In a familiar story, the USS Monitor battled the CSS Virginia (the armored and refitted USS Merrimack) at Hampton Roads in March of 1862. In War, Technology, and Experience aboard the USS Monitor, David A. Mindell adds a new perspective to the story as he explores how mariners -- fighting "blindly" below the waterline -- lived and coped with the metal monster they called the "iron coffin." Mindell shows how the iron warship emerged as an idea and became practicable, how building it drew upon and forced changes in contemporary manufacturing technology, and how the vessel captured the nineteenth-century American popular and literary imaginations. Continued below…

Combining technical, personal, administrative, and literary analysis, Mindell examines the experience of the men aboard the Monitor and their reactions to the thrills and dangers that accompanied the new machine. The invention surrounded men with iron and threatened their heroism, their self-image as warriors, even their lives. Mindell also examines responses to this strange new warship by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, who prophetically saw in the Civil War a portent of the mechanized warfare of the future. The story of the Monitor shows how technology changes not only the tools but also the very experience of combat, generating effects that are still felt today in the era of "smart bombs" and push-button wars. "We find new significance in the otherwise well-known history of the Monitor. It is no longer the story of the heroic inventor and his impenetrable weapon thrusting themselves upon a doubtful and conservative bureaucracy... It is no longer the story of a heroic battle and the machine's epic loss soon after. Rather it is a story of people experiencing new machinery, attempting to make sense of its thrills, constrictions, and politics, and sensing its power and impotence -- both in glory and frustration." -- from War, Technology, and Experience aboard the USS Monitor. About the Author: David A. Mindell is Dibner Associate Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at MIT. He has degrees in Electrical Engineering and Literature from Yale University and a Ph.D. in the History of Technology from MIT. His research interests include the history of military technology, the history of electronics and computing, and archaeology in the deep ocean. He is currently working on a history of feedback, control, and computing in the twentieth century, and on locating and imaging ancient shipwrecks and settlements in the deep regions of the Black Sea.

Site search Web search

Recommended Reading: Ironclad, by Paul Clancy (Hardcover). Description: The true story of the Civil War ironclad that saved the Union Navy only to sink in a storm--and its remarkable salvage 140 years later. Ironclad tells the saga of the warship USS Monitor and its salvage, one of the most complex and dangerous in history. The Monitor is followed through its maiden voyage from New York to Hampton Roads, its battle with the Merrimack, and its loss off Cape Hatteras. At the same time, author Paul Clancy takes readers behind the scenes of an improbable collaboration between navy divers and cautious archaeologists working 240 feet deep. Clancy creates a memorable, fascinating read, including fresh insights into the sinking of the Union ship and giving the answer to an intriguing forensic mystery: the identities of the two sailors whose bones were found in the Monitor's recovered turret. Continued below…

Its one great battle in the spring of 1862 marked the obsolescence of wooden fighting ships and may have saved the Union. Its terrible end in a winter storm off Cape Hatteras condemned sixteen sailors to a watery grave. And the recovery of its 200-ton turret in August 2002 capped the largest, most complex and hazardous ocean salvage operation in history. In Ironclad, Paul Clancy interweaves these stories so skillfully that the cries of drowning Union sailors sound a ghostly undertone to the cough of diesel generators and the clanging of compression-chamber doors on a huge recovery barge. The din and screech of cannonballs on iron plating echo beneath the hum of electronic monitors and the garbled voices of Navy divers working at the edge of human technology and endurance in water 240 feet deep.

Clancy studied the letters and diaries of the Monitor's long-ago sailors, and he moved among the salvage divers and archaeologists in the summer of 2002. John L. Worden, captain of the Monitor, strides from these pages no less vividly than the remarkable Bobbie Scholley, the woman commander of 160 Navy divers on an extreme mission. Clancy writes history as it really happens, the improbable conjunction of personalities, ideas, circumstances, and chance. The Union navy desperately needed an answer to the Confederacy's ironclad dreadnought, and the brilliantly eccentric Swedish engineer John Ericsson had one. And 140 years later, when marine archaeologists despaired of recovering any part of the Monitor before it disintegrated, a few visionaries in the U.S. Navy saw an opportunity to resurrect their deep-water saturation diving program. From the breakneck pace of Monitor's conception, birth, and brief career, to the years of careful planning and perilous labor involved in her recovery, Ironclad tells a compelling tale of technological revolution, wartime heroism, undersea adventure, and forensic science. This book is must-reading for anyone interested in Civil War and naval history, diving and underwater salvage, or adventures at sea.

 

Recommended Reading: Union Monitor 1861-65. Description: The first seagoing ironclad was the USS Monitor, and its profile has made it one of the most easily recognized warships of all time. Following her inconclusive battle with the Confederate ironclad Virginia on March 9, 1862, the production of Union monitors was accelerated. By the end of the year, a powerful squadron of monitor vessels protected the blockading squadrons off the Southern coastline and was able to challenge Confederate control of her ports and estuaries. Continued below...

Further technological advancements were included in subsequent monitor designs, and by the end of the war the US Navy possessed a modern coastal fleet carrying the most powerful artillery afloat. This book covers the design, development and operational history of the Union’s Monitor fleet.
 

Recommended Reading: Civil War Ironclads: The U.S. Navy and Industrial Mobilization (Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology). Description: "In this impressively researched and broadly conceived study, William Roberts offers the first comprehensive study of one of the most ambitious programs in the history of naval shipbuilding, the Union's ironclad program during the Civil War. Continued below...

Perhaps more importantly, Roberts also provides an invaluable framework for understanding and analyzing military-industrial relations, an insightful commentary on the military acquisition process, and a cautionary tale on the perils of the pursuit of perfection and personal recognition." - Robert Angevine, Journal of Military History "Roberts's study, illuminating on many fronts, is a welcome addition to our understanding of the Union's industrial mobilization during the Civil War and its inadvertent effects on the postwar U.S. Navy." - William M. McBride, Technology and Culture"
 

Recommended Reading: Confederate Ironclad vs Union Ironclad: Hampton Roads 1862 (Duel). Description: The Ironclad was a revolutionary weapon of war. Although iron was used for protection in the Far East during the 16th century, it was the 19th century and the American Civil War that heralded the first modern armored self-propelled warships. With the parallel pressures of civil war and the industrial revolution, technology advanced at a breakneck speed. It was the South who first utilized ironclads as they attempted to protect their ports from the Northern blockade. Impressed with their superior resistance to fire and their ability to ram vulnerable wooden ships, the North began to develop its own rival fleet of ironclads. Eventually these two products of this first modern arms race dueled at the battle of Hampton Roads in a clash that would change the face of naval warfare. Continued below…

Fully illustrated with cutting-edge digital artwork, rare photographs and first-person perspective gun sight views, this book allows the reader to discover the revolutionary and radically different designs of the two rival Ironclads - the CSS Virginia and USS Monitor - through an analysis of each ship's weaponry, ammunition and steerage. Compare the contrasting training of the crews and re-live the horrors of the battle at sea in a war which split a nation, communities and even families. About the Author: Ron Field is Head of History at the Cotswold School in Bourton-on-the-Water. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in 1982 and taught history at Piedmont High School in California from 1982 to 1983. He was associate editor of the Confederate Historical Society of Great Britain, from 1983 to 1992. He is an internationally acknowledged expert on US Civil War military history, and was elected a Fellow of the Company of Military Historians, based in Washington, DC, in 2005. The author lives in Cheltenham, UK.

 

Recommended Reading: Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy. From Publishers Weekly: Starred Review. Toll, a former financial analyst and political speechwriter, makes an auspicious debut with this rousing, exhaustively researched history of the founding of the U.S. Navy. The author chronicles the late 18th- and early 19th-century process of building a fleet that could project American power beyond her shores. The ragtag Continental Navy created during the Revolution was promptly dismantled after the war, and it wasn't until 1794—in the face of threats to U.S. shipping from England, France and the Barbary states of North Africa—that Congress authorized the construction of six frigates and laid the foundation for a permanent navy. Continued below…

 

Recommended Reading: A History of Ironclads: The Power of Iron over Wood. Description: This landmark book documents the dramatic history of Civil War ironclads and reveals how ironclad warships revolutionized naval warfare. Author John V. Quarstein explores in depth the impact of ironclads during the Civil War and their colossal effect on naval history. The Battle of Hampton Roads was one of history's greatest naval engagements. Over the course of two days in March 1862, this Civil War conflict decided the fate of all the world's navies. It was the first battle between ironclad warships, and the 25,000 sailors, soldiers and civilians who witnessed the battle vividly understood what history would soon confirm: wars waged on the seas would never be the same. Continued below…

About the Author: John V. Quarstein is an award-winning author and historian. He is director of the Virginia War Museum in Newport News and chief historical advisor for The Mariners' Museum's new USS Monitor Center (opened March 2007). Quarstein has authored eleven books and dozens of articles on American, military and Civil War history, and has appeared in documentaries for PBS, BBC, The History Channel and Discovery Channel.

Return to American Civil War Homepage

Best viewed with Google Chrome

Google Safe.jpg