USS Monitor

USS Monitor

USS "Monitor" was the first ironclad warship commissioned by the United States Navy. She is most famous for her participation in the first-ever naval battle between two ironclad warships, the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862 during the American Civil War, in which "Monitor" fought the ironclad CSS "Virginia" of the Confederate States Navy. ‘‘Monitor’’ was the first in a long line of "Monitor"-class U.S. warships and the term "monitor" describes a broad class of European harbor defense craft.

Ironclads were only a recent innovation, started with the 1859 French battleship "La Gloire". Afterwards, the design of ships and the nature of naval warfare changed dramatically.


"Monitor" was one of three ironclad warships ordered by the U.S. Navy, after "Galena" and "New Ironsides".Designed by the Swedish engineer John Ericsson, "Monitor" was described as a "cheesebox on a raft," [The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Civil War,M1] consisting of a heavy round revolving iron gun turret on the deck, housing two 11 in (28 cm) Dahlgren guns, paired side by side. The original design used a system of heavy metal shutters to protect the gun ports while reloading. However, the operation of the shutters proved so cumbersome, the gun crews simply rotated the turret away from potential hostile fire to reload. Further, the inertia of the rotating turret proved to be so great, a system for stopping the turret to fire the guns was only implemented on later models of ships in the "Monitor" class. The crew of "Monitor" solved the turret inertia problem by firing the guns on the fly while the turret rotated past the target. While this procedure resulted in a substantial loss of accuracy, given the close range at which "Monitor" operated, the loss of accuracy was not critical.

The armored deck was barely above the waterline. Aside from a small boxy pilothouse, a detachable smokestack and a few fittings, the bulk of the ship was below the waterline to prevent damage from cannon fire. The turret comprised 8 layers of 1" (2.5 cm) plate, bolted together, with a ninth plate inside to act as a sound shield. A steam donkey engine turned the turret. The heavily armored deck extended beyond the waterproof hull, only 5/8" (16 mm) thick. The vulnerable parts of the ship were completely protected. "Monitor"'s hull was built at the Continental Iron Works in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, New York, and the ship was launched there on January 30, 1862. There is a statue in Monsignor McGolrick park in Greenpoint, facing Monitor Street, commemorating the ship.

"Monitor" was innovative in construction technique as well as design. Parts were forged in nine foundries and brought together to build the ship; the whole process took less than 120 days. Portions of the heavy iron armor plating for the vessel were made at a forge in Clintonville, New York. In addition to the "cheesebox", its rotating turret, "Monitor" was also fitted with Ericsson's novel marine screw, whose efficiency and reliability allowed the warship to be one of the first to rely exclusively upon steam propulsion. Ericsson anticipated some aspects of modern submarine design by placing all of "Monitor"'s features except the turret and pilothouse underwater, making it the first semi-submersible ship. In contrast, "Virginia" was a conventional wooden vessel covered with iron plates and bearing fixed weapons.

Although John Ericsson was the designer of the ship itself, Saratoga Springs resident Theodore Timby is credited with the design of the revolving gun turret. [Invented in Saratoga County] After showing his 21 foot model to officials at the White House, a naval commission recommended Ericsson's ironclad be built with Timby's turret. Timby was paid a $13,500 commission for his contribution. [Brooklyn "Daily Eagle"]

Battle of Hampton Roads

:"See main article" Battle of Hampton Roads

At the Battle of Hampton Roads "Virginia" attacked the Union blockading squadron in Hampton Roads, Virginia, on March 8, 1862, destroying USS "Cumberland" and "Congress" and forcing "Minnesota" aground before withdrawing. That night, "Monitor", under command of Lt. John L. Worden, arrived under tow from Brooklyn. When "Virginia" returned the next day, March 9, 1862, to finish off "Minnesota" and the rest of the U.S. fleet, "Monitor" sailed forth to stop her. The ironclads fought for about four hours, neither one sinking or seriously damaging the other. Tactically, the battle was a draw—neither ironclad did significant damage to the other. However, it was a strategic victory for "Monitor". "Virginia"'s mission was to break the Union blockade; that mission failed. "Monitor"'s mission was to defend the U.S. fleet, which it did. "Virginia" did however occupy the 'battlefield' following the strategic retreat of "Monitor", after the captain was hit in the eyes with gunpowder. The two ironclads never again fought each other, although "Virginia" occasionally steamed out to Hampton Roads in an unanswered challenge to "Monitor".

The Monitor-class warship

"Monitor" became the prototype for the monitor class of warship. Many more were built, including river monitors and deep-sea monitors, and they played key roles in Civil War battles on the Mississippi and James rivers. Some had two or even three turrets, and later monitors had improved seaworthiness.

Just three months after the famous Battle of Hampton Roads, the design was offered to Sweden, and in 1865 the first Swedish monitor was being built at Motala Wharf in Norrköping; she was named "John Ericsson" in honor of the engineer. She was followed by 14 more monitors. One of them, "Sölve", is still preserved at the marine museum in Gothenburg.

The last U.S. Navy monitor-class warship was struck from the Navy List in 1937; however, the term remains in use as a generic term to describe an armored river patrol vessel.

Loss at sea

While the design of "Monitor" was well-suited for river combat, her low freeboard and heavy turret made her highly unseaworthy in rough waters. This feature probably led to the early loss of the original "Monitor", which foundered during a heavy storm. Swamped by high waves while under tow by "Rhode Island", she sank on December 31, 1862 in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. 16 of 62 crewmen were lost in the storm.

The name "Monitor" was given to the troop carrier USS "Monitor" (LSV-5), commissioned late in World War II. She served primarily in the Pacific theater, and was later scrapped.


In 1973, the wreck of the ironclad "Monitor" was located on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean about 16 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The wreck site was designated as the United States' first marine sanctuary. Monitor National Marine Sanctuary is the only one of the thirteen national marine sanctuaries created to protect a cultural resource, rather than a natural resource.

In 1986, "Monitor" was designated a National Historic Landmark. It is one of only three accessible monitor wrecks in the world, the others being the Australian vessel HMVS "Cerberus", and the Norwegian KNM "Thor", which lies at about 25 feet off Verdens Ende in Vestfold county, Norway.

In 1998 the warship's propeller was raised to the surface. On 16 July 2001, divers from the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary brought to the surface the 30-tonne steam engine. In August 2002, after 41 days of work, the revolutionary revolving gun turret was recovered by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a team of U.S. Navy divers. Before removing the turret, divers discovered the remains of two trapped crew members. The remains of these sailors, who died while on duty, are at the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, awaiting positive identification.

The site is now under the supervision of NOAA. Many artifacts from "Monitor", including her turret, propeller, anchor, engine and some personal effects of the crew, have been conserved and are on display at the Mariners' Museum of Newport News, Virginia. Artifact recovery from the site has become paramount, as the wreck has become unstable and will decay over the next several decades; this fate also awaits many other commonly-dove wrecks of iron and steel ships, such as "Titanic".

Campaign to honor "Monitor"

The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable is mounting a grassroots campaign to persuade the United States Congress and the Navy to name a "Virginia" class submarine after "Monitor." Despite the enduring fame of the original, innovative ironclad, there has not been a warship named "Monitor" listed in the Naval Vessel Register since 1961.


* "Military Heritage" magazine did a feature on the USS "Merrimack" (CSS "Virginia"), the USS "Monitor", and the Battle at Hampton Roads (Keith Milton, Military Heritage, December 2001, Volume 3, No. 3, pp.38 to 45 and p. 97).
* Gott, Kendall D., "Where the South Lost the War: An Analysis of the Fort Henry—Fort Donelson Campaign, February 1862", Stackpole books, 2003, ISBN 0-8117-0049-6.
* [ Saratoga County History: Invented in Saratoga County]
* The "Brooklyn Daily Eagle", various issues, 1902


* Bennett, "The Monitor and the Navy under Steam" (Boston, 1900)
* Johnson and C. C. Buel (editors), "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War" volume i, (New York, 1887)
* Wilson, "Ironclads in Action" (London, 1896)
* Hill, "Twenty-six Historic Ships" (New York, 1903)

ee also

* Jefferson Furnace, where much of the iron used for the ship was produced.

External links

* [ The "Monitor" Center] at the [ Mariners' Museum] , Newport News, Virginia
* [ HNSA Ship Page: USS Monitor]
* [ SF Gate describing the Monitor and depth charging]
* [ Seattle Pilot mentioning the depth charging of the Monitor]
* [ USS Monitor (1862-1862) -- Construction]
* [ Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA official website]
* [ U.S. Naval History Center]
* [ "Monitor" in the news – "Monitor" turret raised from ocean"]
* [ Online exhibition about "Monitor"]
* [ Hampton Roads Naval Museum]
* [ Roads to the Future – I-664 Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel]
* [ High resolution photo taken on deck of USS Monitor]
* [ Video of wreck site from the 2008 USS Monitor expedition .wmv download]

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