The Civil War Connections Blog

From those who were there……


John Bankhead, Captain, USS Monitor

Samuel Dana Greene, Executive Officer, USS Monitor

William Keeler, Acting Assistant Paymaster, USS Monitor

Grenville Weeks, Acting Assistant Surgeon, USS Monitor

Joseph Watters, Second Asst. Engineer, USS Monitor

George Geer, Fireman, USS Monitor

David Ellis, Paymaster’s Steward, USS Monitor

Francis Butts, Landsman, USS Monitor

Stephen D. Trenchard, Commander, USS Rhode Island

Gilbert Webber, surgeon, USS Rhode Island

Rhode Island Log


29 December 1862


Rhode Island Log: At anchor off Fortress Monroe.   From 4 to 8 a.m. received on board two boats from the U.S.S. Monitor.  From 8 to meridian took a hawser to the Monitor.


2:30 p.m.


John Bankhead: The Monitor left Hampton Roads in tow of the U.S.S. Rhode Island…, wind light at S.W., weather clear and pleasant, and every prospect of its continuation.


Rhode Island Log: At 2:30 p.m. got underway and steamed down the harbor, Monitor in tow, in charge of John H. Bean, pilot.


Gilbert Webber, surgeon, USS Rhode Island: Monday Dec. 29th. My dear Nannie. We are at last under weigh. We have just left Hampton Roads…I wanted to say a few words more & let you know that we have started. In my next will tell you how many vessels accompany us & tho’ I suppose you may learn it from the papers even before you receive this. As to where we are going not even the papers know.


George Geer: We started from Hampton Roads on Monday, about 2 oclock PM in Tow of the side wheel Steamer Rhode Island.  We ware secured to her by two Hawsers, one them about as large as your legg and the other very little smaller.  I was told by Mr. Green, the first Left, and the Chief Engineer to put the Hatches on, and if poseable get them tight.  I put them on with Red Lead putty, and and the Port Holes I made Rubber Gaskets one inch thick and in fat had every thing about the ship in the way of an opening water tight.  Around and under the Tower the Captain had Oakum put, but did not put any Pitch over it and the sea soon washed the Oakum out and the Water came under the Tower and down on the Berth Deck in Torents.  But our pumps were sufficent to keep the ship free without using any of the extra or large Pumps.


William Keeler: We left Hampton Roads Monday afternoon at 2 o’clock in tow of the side wheel gun boat Rhode Island.  We were attached to her by means of two large hawsers, one 11 inches, the other 15 inches in circumference and from 250 to 300 feet in length.  Everything passed quietly & pleasantly that afternoon & evening; a smooth sea & clear skies seemed to promise a successful termination of our trip & an opportunity of once more trying our metal against rebel works & making the “Little Monitor” once again a household word.


Grenville Weeks: The turret and sight-holes were calked, and every possible, entrance for water made secure, only the smallest openings being left in the turret-top, and the blower-stacks, through which the ship was ventilated. On the afternoon of December 29, 1862, she put on steam, and, in tow of the Rhode Island, passed the fort, and out to sea under sealed orders.


David Ellis:  On the afternoon of December 29th –  the Monitor left the Roads, in tow of the Rhode Island, bound for Beaufort, N.C.  A light southwest wind, was blowing when we passed out to sea, and the weather was clear and pleasant, many of us lying out on the deck.


Rhode Island Log: At 5:40 p.m. Cape Henry bore W., distance 4 miles.


6:00 p.m.


John Bankhead: Passed Cape Henry at 6 p.m., water smooth and everything working well.



30 December 1862


5:00 a.m.


John Bankhead: We began to experience a swell from the southward with a slight increase of the wind from the S.W., the sea breaking over the pilot house forward and striking the base of the tower, but not with sufficient force to break over it.  Found that the packing of oakum under and around the base of the tower had loosened somewhat from the working of the tower as the vessel pitched and rolled.  Speed at this time about 5 knots; ascertained from the engineer of the watch that the bilge pumps kept her perfectly free, occasionally sucking.  Felt no apprehension at the time.


Rhode Island Log: At 6:40 a.m. the Monitor made signal to stop.  Stopped the engine for them to pass anew our hawser.  Sounded in 20 fathoms.  At 7:30 a.m. proceeded on our course.


12 noon


William Keeler: Tuesday morning cloud banks were seen rising in the South & West & they gradually increased till the sun was obscured by their cold grey mantle.  The wind which in the morning was quite light continued to increase till the middle of the afternoon when it blew quite heavy, the sea rolling with violence across our deck rendering it impossible to remain on it without danger of being swept off.

We amused ourselves for an hour or more by watching two or three large sharks who glided quietly along by our sides observing us apparently with a curious eye as if in anticipation of a feast.  We made no water of consequence; a little trickled down about the pilot house & some began to find its way under the turret rendering it wet & cheerless below.


George Geer: Every thing went along finely untill Thursday, about noon, when it commenced to Cloud up and looked as though we would have a rough time before long.  Soon the sea commenced to break over us and wash up against the Tower with a fearfull rush, and the sea was white with foam, but I was satisfide she would stand it out unless the storm should increase.


Francis Butts: … at noon, …the wind shifted to the south-south-west and increased to a gale. At twelve o’clock it was my trick at the lee wheel, and being a good hand I was kept there.


Grenville Weeks: As the afternoon advanced, the freshening wind, the thickening clouds, and the increasing roll of the sea gave those most accustomed to ordinary ship-life some new experiences. The little vessel plunged through the rising waves, instead of riding them, and, as they increased in violence, lay, as it were, under their crests, which washed over her continually, so that, even when we considered ourselves safe, the appearance was that of a vessel sinking.


“I’d rather go to sea in a diving-bell!” said one, as the waves dashed over the pilot-house, and the little craft seemed buried in water.


“Give me an oyster-scow!” cried another,–“anything!–only let it be wood, and something that will float over, instead of under the water!”


David Ellis:  Thus the morning and afternoon passed quietly – as I said most of us spending our time on the deck on account of the vitiated air below.  Towards evening however, a swell set in from the southward, and the sea, sweeping over the pilot-house, struck the base of the turret, but not with sufficient force to break over it.  A little later it was found that water was making its way into our little vessel, though for some time the bilge pumps kept her free.


Stephen Trenchard, Commander, USS Rhode Island: At 1 p.m. of the 30th made Cape Hatteras light house, bearing W.S.W., 14 miles distant.



George Geer: About 4 oclock we were in sight of Hatras Light House and I thought as soon as we got past the cape it would clear up.


Rhode Island Log: At 4:30 p.m. Cape Hatteras bore N.W. by W., distant 16 miles.


William Keeler: At 5 o’clock p.m. we sat down to dinner, every one cheerful & happy & though the sea was rolling & foaming over our heads the laugh & jest passed freely ‘ round; all rejoicing that at last our monotonous, inactive life had ended & the “gallant little Monitor” would soon add fresh laurels to her name.


Trenchard: At sunset, when 17 miles S.E. of Cape Hatteras, made the steamer State of Georgia, with the Passaic in tow, to the northward and eastward of us, the wind being light at the time from southward and westward, with indications of good weather.




6:00 p.m.


John Bankhead: Toward evening the swell somewhat decreased, the bilge pumps being found amply sufficient to keep her clear of the water that penetrated through the sight holes of the pilot house, hawse hole, and base of tower (all of which had been well calked previous to leaving).


David Ellis: Our convoy, the Rhode Island, a powerful side-wheel steamer, was a much speedier vessel than the Monitor, which, therefore ploughed the sea with her bow out of water, and subject to such constant and heavy pounding from the waves that in the end the upper and lower hulls of the vessel were forced apart and her doom sealed.  Be this as it may we now plunged after the Rhode Island through the gathering darkness of the December night, and soon after six o’clock made Cape Hatteras though twenty miles from shore.


William Keeler: It was dark when I returned to the top of the turret. We were now off Hatteras, the Cape Horn of our Atlantic coast.  The wind was blowing violently; the heavy seas rolled over our bows dashing against the pilot house & surging aft, would strike the solid turret with a force to make it tremble, sending off on either side a boiling, foaming torrent of water.


George Geer: But no, it commenced to blow harder, and by 6 oclock I was satisfide we could not save her, as every time she rased on a sea she would come down very heavy on her over-reaching sides and her bottom would shiver like a leaf, and I made up my mind she would not stand that long before her bottom would give away.


Grenville Weeks: Still she plunged on, and about six thirty P.M. we made Cape Hatteras; in half an hour we had rounded the point, and many on board expressed regret that the Monitor should not have been before the Passaic in doing so. Our spy-glasses were in constant use; we saw several vessels in the distance, and about seven P.M. discovered the Passaic four or five miles astern_ to the north of us, in tow of the steamer State of Georgia.

A general hurrah went up,–“Hurrah for the first iron-clad that ever rounded Cape Hatteras! Hurrah for the little boat that is first in everything!” The distance between ourselves and the Passaic widened, and we gradually lost sight of her.


At half-past seven a heavy shower fell, lasting about twenty minutes. At this time the gale increased; black, heavy clouds covered the sky, through which the moon glimmered fitfully, allowing us to see in the distance a long line of white, plunging foam, rushing towards us,–sure indication, to a sailor’s eye, of a stormy time.


A gloom overhung everything; the banks of cloud seemed to settle around us; the moan of the ocean grew louder and more fearful. Still our little boat pushed doggedly on: victorious through all, we thought that here, too, she would conquer, though the beating waves sent shudders through her whole frame. Bearing still the marks of one of the fiercest battles of the war, we had grown to think her invulnerable to any assault of man or element, and as she breasted these huge waves, plunging through one only to meet another more mighty, we thought,–“She is stanch! she will weather it!”


Francis Butts: At dark we were about seventy miles at sea, and directly off Cape Hatteras. The sea rolled high and pitched together in the peculiar manner only seen at Hatteras. The Rhode Island steamed slowly and steadily ahead. The sea rolled over us as if our vessel were a rock in the ocean only a few inches above the water, and men who stood abaft on the deck of the Rhode Island have told me that several times we were thought to have gone down. It seemed that for minutes we were out of sight, as the heavy seas entirely submerged the vessel. The wheel had been temporarily rigged on top of the turret, where all the officers, except those on duty in the engine-room, now were. I heard their remarks, and watched closely the movements of the vessel, so that I exactly understood our condition. The vessel was making very heavy weather, riding one huge wave, plunging through the next as if shooting straight for the bottom of the ocean, and splashing down upon another with such force that her hull would tremble, and with a shock that would sometimes take us off our feet, while a fourth would leap upon us and break far above the turret, so that if we had not been protected by a rifle-armor that was securely fastened and rose to the height of a man’s chest, we should have been washed away.



7:30 p.m.


John Bankhead: The wind hauled more to the south, increasing in strength and causing the sea to rise; computed position at this time about 15 miles south of Cape Hatteras Shoals.  Found the vessel towed badly, yawing very much, and with the increased motion making somewhat more water around the base of the tower.  Ordered engineer to put on the Worthington pump and bilge injection and get the centrifugal pump ready and report to me immediately if he perceived any increase of the water.


William Keeler: Word came from the engine room that we were making water, more than the ordinary pumps (which had been kept working) would throw out; it sounded ominously.

Orders were given to start the Worthington pump, which for a time kept the water down, but again the report, “the water is gaining on us, Sir.”

As a last resort the large centrifugal pump, of a capacity of three thousand gallons per minute, was started & once more the water diminished, but it was of short duration.


Grenville Weeks: An hour passed; the air below, which had all day been increasing in closeness, was now almost stifling, but our men lost no courage. Some sang as they worked, and the cadence of the voices, mingling with the roar of waters, sounded like a defiance to Ocean.


Some stationed themselves on top of the turret, and a general enthusiasm filled all breasts, as huge waves, twenty feet high, rose up on all sides, hung suspended for a moment like jaws open to devour, and then, breaking, gnashed over in foam from side to side. Those of us new to the sea, and not appreciating our peril, hurrahed for the largest wave; but the captain and one or two others, old sailors, knowing its power, grew momentarily more and more anxious, feeling, with a dread instinctive to the sailor, that, in case of extremity, no wreck yet known to ocean could be so hopeless as this. Solid iron from keelson to turret-top, clinging to anything for safety, if the Monitor should go down, would only insure a share in her fate. No mast, no spar, no floating thing, to meet the outstretched hand in the last moment.


8:00 p.m.

John Bankhead: The sea about this time commenced to rise very rapidly, causing the vessel to plunge heavily, completely submerging the pilot house and washing over and into the turret and at times into the blower pipes.  Observed that when she rose to the swell, the flat under surface of the projecting armor would come down with great force, causing a considerable shock to the vessel and turret, thereby loosening still more the packing around its base.


William Keeler: The opening through which the water was rushing was rapidly enlarged by the constant beating of the sea, which was now at times rolling over the top of the turret.  Again came the report that the water was gaining & had risen above the engine room floor.

It was the death knell of the Monitor.  The storm continued to increase in fury.


David Ellis:  By eight o’clock the wind, cutting like a knife, was blowing heavily, causing our vessel to plunge deeply, the sea washing over and into the turret and at times into the hawse-pipes.


Francis Butts: About eight o’clock, while I was taking a message from the captain to the engineer, I saw the water pouring in through the coal-bunkers in sudden volumes as it swept over the deck. About that time the engineer reported that the coal was too wet to keep up steam, which had run down from its usual pressure of eighty pounds to twenty. The water in the vessel was gaining rapidly over the small pumps, and I heard the captain order the chief engineer to start the main pump, a very powerful one of new invention. This was done, and I saw a stream of water eight inches in diameter spouting up from beneath the waves.


Trenchard: Between 8 and 9 p.m. the wind freshened, hauling more to the southward, and attended with rainy and squally weather.


William Keeler: As we were unable to carry our boats at sea they had been sent on board the Rhode Island & nothing whatever remained to support us in the water, were we obliged to trust ourselves to the treacherous element.

But our brave little craft struggled long & well.  Now her bow would rise on a huge billow & before she could sink into the intervening hollow, the succeeding wave would strike her under her heavy armour with a report like thunder & a violence that threatened to tear apart the thin sheet iron bottom & the heavy armour which it supported.

Then she would slide down a watery mountain into the hollow beyond & plunging her bow into the black rolling billow would go down, down, down, under the surging wave till naught could be seen but the top of the black “cheese box” isolated in a sea of hissing, seething foam, extending as far as we could see around us.  Then as she rose slowly & sullently under the accumulated weight of waters, the foam pouring in broad sheets off the iron deck, a wave would roll over the bow & strike the pilot house with a force that would send the water in torrents on to the top of the turret, where our little company were gathered.


Rhode Island Log: At 8:45 p.m. Cape Hatteras light bore N.W., distant 20 miles.


William Keeler: About this time too it was found our smaller hawser had parted; a disaster which no human agency could remedy; as well might one stand under Niagara, as to attempt to breast the waves which were rolling over our decks.

It was with the greatest reluctance that our Captain now gave the order to make the signal for assistance.

Every pump was at work & gangs of men had been organized to bail, more however with the design of keeping them employed & preventing a panic, than with the hope of any good result.  The water was already a foot deep on the engine room floor & was fast deepening in the Ward Room.  From its rapid influx it was very evident that but a short time would elapse before it would reach the fires & then the iron heart of the Monitor would cease to beat.


John Bankhead: Signalized several times to the Rhode Island to stop, in order that I might ascertain if by so doing she would ride easier or decrease the influx of water, but could perceive no difference, the vessel falling off immediately into the trough of the sea and rolling heavily.. The engineer at this time reported that it would be necessary to start the centrifugal pump, as the others failed to keep the water under.  Ordered him to do so immediately and report to me the effect.


Sea continued to rise, the vessel striking heavily forward.  The engineer reported that the pumps were all working well, but produced no effect upon the water, which, by this time, had risen several inches above the level of the engine-room floor.


Grenville Weeks: The sea, like the old-world giant, gathered force from each attack. Thick and fast came the blows on the iron mail of the Monitor, and still the brave little vessel held her own, until, at half-past eight, the engineer, Waters, faithful to the end, reported a leak. The pumps were instantly set in motion, and we watched their progress with an intense interest. She had seemed to us like an old-time knight in armor, battling against fearful odds, but still holding his ground. We who watched, when the blow came which made the strong man reel and the life-blood spout, felt our hearts faint within us; then again ground was gained, and the fight went on, the water lowering somewhat under the laboring pumps.


Francis Butts:  About half-past eight the first signals of distress to the Rhode Island were burned. She lay to, and we rode the sea more comfortably than when we were being towed. The Rhode Island was obliged to turn slowly ahead to keep from drifting upon us and to prevent the tow-lines from being caught in her wheels. At one time, when she drifted close alongside, our captain shouted through his trumpet that we were sinking, and asking the steamer to send us her boats. The Monitor steamed ahead again with renewed difficulties, and I was ordered to leave the wheel and was kept employed as messenger by the captain. The chief engineer reported that the coal was so wet that he could not keep up the steam, and I heard the captain order him to slow down and put all steam that could be spared upon the pumps.


David Ellis:  To make matters worse, Acting Chief Engineer Waters now reported a leak in the fire room.  The pumps were at once set in motion and for a time the water gave way before them.


Trenchard:  At 9 p.m. the Monitor made signals to stop.  We stopped the engines, starting them again soon after.  During the interval the Monitor appeared to be lying in the trough of the sea, laboring heavily, the sea making a complete breach over her.  The steamer was then brought head to wind and sea, under easy steam, and the Monitor rode much easier and made better weather.


Rhode Island Log: At 9 p.m. the Monitor made signal to stop.  At 9:15 p.m. proceeded slow.


George Geer: About 9 oclock I went to Mr. Hands, the Engineer, and asked him if I had not bettor get the Large steam Pump ready in cse we should need it, but he thought we would not need it.  But Mr. Waters, our Chief (who took Mr. Campbell’s place when we sent him to the Hospital) stood by and herd our Conversation and told me to go and get it ready.  It took 15 or 20 moments to get the Hose attached, and Waters stood by untill I had it ready to start. He then told me to take charge of it and stay all the time if I had orders to start it.  I then went and looked in t the Bilge and saw she was making water faster than the Pumps on the Engine discharged it, so I went on top of the Tower and reported it to the Captain. He told me to go down and start the big Steam Pump.  I done so, and the Pump threw a stream as large as your body, and for about one hour the Water did not gain.  Nor did we gain on it much…


Grenville Weeks: At ten the engineer had reported the leak as gaining on us; at half-past ten, with several pumps in constant motion, one of which threw out three thousand gallons a minute, the water was rising rapidly, and nearing the fires. When these were reached, the vessel’s doom was sealed; for with their extinction the pumps must cease, and all hope of keeping the Monitor above water more than an hour or two expire. Our knight had received his death-blow, and lay struggling and helpless under the power of a stronger than he.

David Ellis:  From nine to ten it kept pace with them.  At ten, however, with the wind steadily increasing in violence, Waters reported the leak as gaining on us.  Half an hour later, with several pumps in constant motion, one of which threw out 3,000 gallons a minute, the water was found to be rising rapidly and nearing the fires; then we knew that the end was approaching.  Our condition was desperate, the crew nearly panic stricken, several men rushed out to the deck in terror and were swept off to be seen no more.


10:30 p.m.


John Bankhead: Having given the pumps a fair trial and finding the water gaining rapidly upon us, I determined to make the preconcerted signal of distress, which was immediately answered by the Rhode Island.  I ranged up close to her and reported that the water was gaining rapidly upon us, and requested her commander to send boats to take off the crew.


David Ellis:  We had no boats of our own, and Lieutenant Bankhead in command decided to signal the Rhode Island for assistance.  Accordingly, Coston signals were thrown up, these were huge lanterns with just one letter on each lantern.  “We are sinking.  Send help.”  Commander Trenchard ordered three boats sent out for relief from the Rhode Island.


Trenchard: About two hours afterwards (11 p.m.), when about 20 miles S.S.W. of Cape Hatteras, Commander Bankhead made signals for assistance, and upon hailing we learned the Monitor was in a sinking condition.  We lowered our launch and first cutter without delay, and commenced getting her crew on board.


Rhode Island Log: At 11 p.m. she made signal of distress.  Stopped and hailed her, and was informed that she was in a sinking condition.  Called all hands and cleared away the boats.  Lowered launch and first cutter.


William Keeler: At the order our signal flashed upon the darkness, lighting up the tumultuous sea for miles around.  Our consort stopped & attempted to come alongside, but with the two vessels connected with the hawser it was found impossible.


John Bankhead: Finding that the heavy stream cable used to tow the Monitor rendered the vessel unmanageable while hanging slack to her bow, and being under the absolute necessity of working the engines to keep the pumps going, I ordered it to be cut, and ran down close under the lee of the Rhode Island, and times almost touching her.  Water continued to gain upon the pumps and was now above the ash pits.


Francis Butts:  About half-past ten o’clock our anchor was let go with all the cable, and struck bottom in about sixty fathoms of water; this brought us out of the trough of the sea, and we rode it more comfortably. The fires could no longer be kept up with the wet coal. The small pumps were choked up with water, or, as the engineer reported, were drowned, and the main pump had almost stopped working from lack of power. This was reported to the captain, and he ordered me to see if there was any water in the ward-room. This was the first time I had been below the berth-deck. I went forward and saw the water running in through the hawse-pipe, an eight-inch hole, in full force, as in dropping the anchor the cable had torn away the packing that had kept this place tight. I reported my observations, and at the same time heard the chief engineer report that the water had reached the ash-pits and was gaining very rapidly. The captain ordered him to stop the main engine and turn all steam on the pumps, which I noticed soon worked again.



Grenville Weeks: The Monitor had been attached to the Rhode Island by two hawsers, one of which had parted at about seven P.M. The other remained firm, but now it was necessary it should be cut. How was that possible, when every wave washed clean over her deck? what man could reach it alive? “Who’ll cut the hawser?” shouted Captain Bankhead. Acting-Master Stodder volunteered, and was followed by another. Holding by one hand to the ropes at her side, they cut through, by many blows of the hatchet, the immense rope which united the vessels. Stodder returned in safety, but his brave companion was washed over and went down.


Francis Butts:  As there was danger of being towed under by our consort, the tow-lines were ordered to be cut, and I saw James Fenwick, quarter-gunner, swept from the deck and carried by a heavy sea lee-ward and out of sight in attempting to obey the order. Our daring boatswain’s mate, John Stocking, then succeeded in reaching the bows of the vessel, and I saw him swept by a heavy sea far away into the darkness.


William Keeler: At the call for a volunteer to go forward & cut it [the hawser] (a task involving almost certain destruction), one of our officers seized a hatchet & going cautiously forward holing on the life line, which was stretched around the deck, with a few blows severed the connection while the waves were rolling high over his head & returned in safety to the turret.

We hailed our consort as soon as sufficiently near, “Send your boats immediately, we are sinking.”


David Ellis:  Meanwhile things were getting worse and worse, and it was decided after a consultation of officers, to cut the hawser which attached us to our convoy.  A man named Stodder and myself, each with hatchet in hand made our way to the bow end by repeated blows from the hatchets which we carried severed the wire rope uniting the two vessels.  Three volunteers who had followed us to the deck were washed away and drowned, but we managed, when our task was completed to get safely back (though I confess I know not how) to the turret where the officers were assembled.  But for cutting the hawser the Monitor would have foundered before assistance reached us.


Grenville Weeks: A consultation was held, and, not without a conflict of feeling, it was decided that signals of distress should be made. Ocean claimed our little vessel, and her trembling frame and failing fire proved she would soon answer his call; yet a pang went through us, as we thought of the first iron-clad lying alone at the bottom of this stormy sea, her guns silenced, herself a useless mass of metal. Each quiver of her strong frame seemed to plead with us not to abandon her. The work she had done, the work she was to do, rose before us; might there not be a possibility of saving her yet?–her time could not have come so soon. We seemed to hear a voice from her saying,–“Save me, for once I have saved you! My frame is stanch still; my guns may again silence the roar of Rebel batteries. The night will pass, and calm come to us once more. Save me!” The roar of Ocean drowned her voice, and we who descended for a moment to the cabin knew, by the rising water through which we waded, that the end was near.



John Bankhead: Two boats reached us from the Rhode Island, when I ordered Lieutenant Greene to put as many men into them as they would safely carry.  While getting the men into the boats (a very dangerous operation caused by the heavy sea breaking entirely over the deck), the vessels touched slightly, nearly crushing the boat and endangering the Rhode Island herself, as our sharp bow and sides would undoubtedly have stove her near the water’s edge had she struck upon us heavily.


George Geer: about 11oclock the Water rose very fast and I was satisfide it was all up with her.  I staid by the Pump untill the water was up to my knees and the Cylinders to the Pumping Engines were under Water and stoped.  She was so full of Water and roled and pitched so bad I was fearfull she would role under and forget to come up again.  There was not over 15 of us below at this time, and I went on top of the Tower and found that the boats from the R.I. was taking us off.


I can tell you , it looked rather serious to attempt to get in the Boat, but I knew I mint as well be drowned trying to reach the Boats as to go down in the Monitor, so I jumped off the Tower and made for the Boat.  A wave struck me and washed me acrost the Deck.  I caught the Ridge roap, but some body side of me was swep over board and drowned.  I started again as soon as the Wave had passed over, and this time reached the Boat and was Saved, and I can tell you I would not like to try it over again.  It is as clost as I care to risking my life.


Trenchard: While so engaged the Monitor ranged upon our port quarter, staving in the launch, and to prevent a serious collision, by which the Rhode Island would have been badly injured, it was necessary to forge the steamer ahead a little.  While under our quarter ropes were thrown on board the Monitor, but so reluctant did the crew appear to leave their vessel that they did not take advantage of this opportunity to save themselves.


Rhode Island Log: Launch was badly stove by being caught between the  Monitor and Rhode Island, but succeeded in bringing off one load of men.  Started with her the second time, but she became unmanageable, being half full of water, and was forced to return.  The first cutter made two trips, bringing off about twenty more.  The port hawser parted and the starboard was cut on board of the Monitor.


Francis Butts: The weather was clear, but the sea did not cease rolling in the least, and the Rhode Island with the two lines wound up in her wheel, was tossing at the mercy of the sea, and came drifting against our sides. A boat that had been lowered was caught between the vessels and crushed and lost. Some of our seamen bravely leaped down on deck to guard our sides, and lines were thrown to them from the deck of the Rhode Island, which now lay her whole length against us, floating off astern; but not a man would be the first to leave his ship, although the captain gave orders to do so. I was again sent to examine the water in the ward-room, which I found to be more than two feet above the deck; and I think I was the last person who saw Engineer S.A. Lewis as he lay seasick in his bunk, apparently watching the water as it grew deeper and deeper, and aware what his fate must be. He called me as I passed his door, and asked if the pumps were working. I replied that they were. “Is there any hope?” he asked; and feeling a little moved at the scene, and knowing certainly what must be his end, and the darkness that stared at us all, I replied, “As long as there is life there is hope.” “Hope and hang on when you are wrecked,” is an old saying among sailors. I left the ward-room, and learned that the water had gained so as to choke up the main pump. As I was crossing the berth-deck I saw our ensign, Mr. Fredrickson, hand a watch to Master’s Mate Williams, saying, “Here, this is yours; I may be lost.” The watch and chain were both of unusual value. Williams received them into his hand, then with a hesitating glance at the time-piece said, “This thing may be the means of sinking me,” and threw it upon the deck. There were three or four cabin-boys pale and prostrate with seasickness, and the cabin cook, an old African negro, under great excitement, was scolding them most profanely.


John Bankhead: The Rhode Island steamed slightly ahead and the vessels separated a short distance.


Trenchard: The vessels now being separated, a third boat was then lowered to assist the others in getting the crew on board.


11:30 p.m.


John Bankhead: My engines working slowly, and all the pumps in full play, but water gaining rapidly, sea very heavy and breaking entirely over the vessel, rendering it extremely hazardous to leave the turret in fact, several men were supposed to have been washed overboard at this time.  While waiting for the boats to return, the engineer reported that the engines had ceased to work, and shortly after all the pumps stopped; also, the water putting out the fires and leaving no pressure of steam.


Joseph Watters, Second Asst. Engineer: …the amount of water in the ship increased, until it reached the fires and gradually extinguished them.  The pressure of steam in the boilers at that time was 5 pounds per square inch, and the main engines stopped, the Worthington and centrifugal pumps still working slowly, but finally stopped.  I reported the circumstances to Captain Bankhead.  A few minutes later I received an order to leave the engine room and proceed to get in the boats.  It was then between the hours of 12 p.m. and 1 a.m., and the fires nearly extinguished.


31 December 1862


John Bankhead: A bailing party had been preciously organized, not so much with any hope of diminishing the water, but more as an occupation for the men.  The engine being stopped, and no longer able to keep the vessel head to sea, she having fallen off into the trough and rolling so heavily as to render it impossible for boats to approach us, I ordered the anchor to be let go and all the chain given her, in hopes that it might bring her up.  Fortunately it did so, and she once more swung round head to the wind.  By this time, finding the vessel filling rapidly and the deck on a level with the water, I ordered all the men left on board to leave the turret and endeavor to get into the two boats which were then approaching us.  I think, at that time , there were about twenty-five or thirty men on board.  The boats approached very cautiously, as the sea was breaking upon our now submerged deck with great violence, washing several men overboard, one of whom was afterwards picked up by the boats.  I secured the painter of one of the boats (which by the use of its oars was prevented from striking the side) and made as many get into her as she would safely hold in the heavy sea that was running.  There were several men still left upon and in the turret who, either stupefied by fear or fearful of being washed overboard in the attempt to reach the boats, would not come down and are supposed to have gone down in the vessel.  Feeling that I had done everything in my power to save the vessel and crew, I jumped into the already deeply laden boat and left the Monitor, whose heavy, sluggish motion gave evidence that she could float but a short time longer.


Francis Butts:  The clouds now began to separate, a moon of about half size beamed out upon the sea, and the Rhode Island, now a mile away, became visible. Signals were being exchanged, and I felt that the Monitor would be saved, or at least that the captain would not leave his ship until there was no hope of saving her. I was sent below again to see how the water stood in the ward-room. I went forward to the cabin and found the water just above the soles of my shoes, which indicated that there must be more than a foot in the vessel. I reported this to the captain, and all hands were set to baling, -baling out the ocean, as it seemed, – but the object was to employ the men, as there now seemed to be danger of excitement among them. I kept employed most of the time taking the buckets from through the hatchway on top of the turret. They seldom would have more than a pint of water in them, however, the balance having been spilled out in passing from one man to another.



David Ellis:  …Lieutenant Bankhead gave orders to let go an anchor in hopes that it might bring the vessel’s head to the wind, and that the chain would hold until the crew could be taken off.  The idea proved correct, and the Monitor came head-to when the cable brought her up.

Soon after this one boat dispatched from the Rhode Island came along side.  Lieutenant Bankhead no ordered Lieutenant Green to get as many of the men as he could – a task which proved both difficult and dangerous, for the boat sometimes held her place by the Monitor’s side, to be dashed hopelessly out of reach an instant later.  A sailor would spring from the deck to reach her, be seen for a moment in mid-air, and as she rose, fall into her.  So she was gradually filled up – not, however, without the loss of seven lives – and finally pulled off, meeting on the way a second boat which was sent to our assistance.


William Keeler: Upon the order from Capt. B. to “lead the men to the boats,” I divested myself of the greater portion of my clothing to afford me greater facilities for swimming in case of necessity & attempted to descend the ladder leading down the outside of the turret, but found it full of men hesitating but desiring to make the perilous passage of the deck.

I found a rope hanging from one of the awning stanchions over my head & slid down it to the deck.  A huge wave passed over me tearing me from my footing & bearing me along with it, rolling, tumbling & tossing like the merest speck.

I was carried as near as I could judge ten or twelve yards from the vessel when I came to the surface & the back-set of the wave threw me against the vessel’s side near one of the iron stanchions which supported the life line this I grasped with all the energy of desperation & drawing myself on deck worked my way along the life line & was hauled into the boat, into which the men were jumping one by one as they could venture across the deck.


Francis Butts:  As I ascended the turret ladder the sea broke over the ship, and came pouring down the hatchway with so much force that it took me off my feet; and at the same time the steam broke from the boiler-room, as the water had reached the fires, and for an instant I seemed to realize that we had gone down. Our fires were out, and I heard the water blowing out of the boilers. I reported my observations to the captain, and at the same time saw a boat alongside. The captain again gave orders for the men to leave the ship, and fifteen, all of whom were seamen and men whom I had placed my confidence upon, were the ones who crowded the first boat to leave the ship. I was disgusted at witnessing the scramble, and not feeling in the least alarmed about myself, resolved that I, an “old haymaker,” as landsmen are called, would stick to the ship as long as my officers. I saw three of these men swept from the deck and carried leeward on the swift current.


David Ellis:  The Monitor was still filling rapidly, the deck had settled so that it was even with the surface of the water, and all of the men left on the turret were ordered by the commander to make the deck, when a chance offered and spring for the relief boat as soon as it approached.  At the same time Lieutenant Greene asked me to go below and see if there was any one left in the ward room.  Going down the ladder which led to the ward room as hastily as possible, lest I should be too late for the second relief boat, I found myself in water knee deep.  I waded around a few moments, moments which seemed like hours, I came across Assistant Engineer Lewis lying seasick in his hammock.  I shook him and told him the ship was sinking, urged him to get into the turret as quickly as possible, but he made no reply.  I dare say that his bones are still in that same position to this very day, since he was in an unconscious condition when I came upon him.  I now made my way back to the ladder, to find two large Negroes ahead of me on the ladder.  Swinging in the turret and despairing, I found all had deserted the vessel.  I watched these two darkies carefully.  They climbed up the ladder to the trap door in the top, I following closely.  They stepped out through the door to the exterior and separately were swept to sea.  I profited by the misfortune of those poor fellows, for in place of leaving go my hold on the vessel I held to the top rung of the ladder while the sea passed over me, then getting out on the top of the turret while the ship was righting itself I made my way to the deck and pilot house, where to my surprise I found Lieutenants Bankhead and Greene, Stimes, Stodder, Mooney and White clinging to the railing along the deck and allowing the sea to pass over them every few minutes.  The second relief boat made its appearance and came alongside, Stodder, Mooney, Stimers and myself were the first in the boat, with Lieutenants Greene and Bankhead to follow.  White, from Harrisburg, Pa., would have stayed but at the command of Bankhead to jump for his life, he leaped into the sea after our boat.  With difficulty we succeeded in rescuing him, though when we picked him up he was in an unconscious condition.  We all arrived safely and boarded the Rhode Island probably several miles from the disaster.  We watched from the latter vessel the red and white lights from the pennant staff above the turret of the Monitor.  About one o’clock on the morning of Wednesday, December 31st, she sank in sixty fathoms of water and we saw our little craft no more.  She is still there to this very day.  Sixteen men were lost out of a crew of forty-five men, four of whom were commissioned officers.


Francis Butts: Bailing was now resumed. I occupied the turret all alone, and passed buckets from the lower hatchway to the man on the top of the turret. I took off my coat – one that I had received from home only a few days before (I could not feel that our noble little ship was yet lost) – and rolling it up with my boots, drew the tampion from one of the guns, placed them inside, and replaced the tampion. A black cat was sitting on the breech of one of the guns, howling one of those hoarse and solemn tunes which no one can appreciate who is not filled with the superstitions which I had been taught by the sailors, who are always afraid to kill a cat. I would almost as soon have touched a ghost, but I caught her, and placing her in another gun, replaced the wad and tampion; but I could still hear that distressing yowl. As I raised my last bucket to the upper hatchway no one was there to take it. I scrambled up the ladder and found that we below had been deserted. I shouted to those on the berth-deck, “Come up; the officers have left the ship and a boat is alongside.”


Grenville Weeks: …the captain said,–“It is madness to remain here longer; let each man save himself.” For a moment he descended to the cabin for a coat, and his faithful servant followed to secure a jewel-box, containing the accumulated treasure of years. A sad, sorry sight it was. In the heavy air the lamps burned dimly, and the water, waist-deep, splashed sullenly against the wardroom’s sides. One lingering look, and he left the Monitor’s cabin forever.

Time was precious; he hastened to the deck, where, in the midst of a terrible sea, Lieutenant Greene nobly held his post. He seized the rope from the whale-boat, wound it about an iron stanchion, and then around his wrists, for days afterward swollen and useless from the strain. His black body-servant stood near him.


“Can you swim, William?” he asked.


“No,” replied the man.


“Then keep by me, and I’ll save you.”


One by one, watching their time between the waves, the men filled in, the captain helping the poor black to a place, and at last, after all effort for others and none for themselves, Captain Bankhead and Lieutenant Greene took their places in the boat. Two or three still remained, clinging to the turret; the captain had begged them to come down, but, paralyzed with fear, they sat immovable, and the gallant Brown, promising to return for them, pushed off, and soon had his boat-load safe upon the Rhode Island’s deck.


Francis Butts: As I reached the top of the turret I saw a boat made fast on the weather quarter filled with men. Three others were standing on deck trying to get on board. One man was floating leeward, shouting in vain for help; another, who hurriedly passed me and jumped down from the turret, was swept off by a breaking wave and never rose. I was excited, feeling that it was the only chance to be saved. I made a loose line fast to one of the stanchions, and let myself down from the turret, the ladder having been washed away. The moment I struck the deck the sea broke over it and swept me as I had seen it sweep my shipmates. I grasped one of the smoke-stack braces and, hand-over-hand, ascended to keep my head above water. It required all my strength to keep the sea from tearing me away. As it swept from the vessel I found myself dangling in the air nearly at the top of the smoke-stack. I let myself fall, and succeeded in reaching a life-line that encircled the deck by means of short stanchions, and to which the boat was attached. The sea again broke over us, lifting me feet upward as I still clung to the life-line. I thought I had nearly measured the depth of the ocean, when I felt the turn, and as my head rose above the water I was somewhat dazed from being so nearly drowned, and spouted up, it seemed, more than a gallon of water that had found its way into my lungs. I was then about twenty feet from the other men, whom I found to be the captain and one seaman, the other had been washed overboard and was now struggling in the water. The men in the boat were pushing back on their oars to keep the boat from being washed on to the Monitor‘s deck, so that the boat had to be hauled in by the painter about ten or twelve feet. The first lieutenant, S. D. Greene, and other officers in the boat, were shouting, “Is the captain on board?” and, with severe struggles to have our voices heard above the roar of the wind and sea, we were shouting “No,” and trying to haul in the boat, which we at last succeeded in doing. The captain, ever caring for his men, requested us to get in, but we both, in the same voice, told him to get in first. The moment he was over the bows of the boat Lieutenant Greene cried, “Cut the painter! Cut the painter!” I thought, “Now or lost,” and in less time than I can explain it, exerting my strength beyond imagination, I hauled in the boat, sprang, caught on the gunwale, was pulled into the boat with a boar-hook in the hands of one of the men, and took my seat with one of the oarsmen. The other man, named Thomas Joice, managed to get into the boat in some way, I cannot tell how, and he was the last man saved from that ill-fated ship. As we were cut loose I saw several men standing on top of the turret, apparently afraid to venture down upon deck, and it may have been that they were deterred by seeing others washed overboard while I was getting into the boat.


Rhode Island Log: Midnight to 4 a.m.: Lowered Scorpion, succeeded in getting the crew off except sixteen men and officers.  Sent first cutter in charge of Mr. Browne for them.


Francis Butts:  After a fearful and dangerous passage over the frantic seas, we reached the Rhode Island, which still had the tow-line caught in her wheel and had drifted perhaps two miles to leeward. We came alongside under the lee bows, where the first boat, that had left the Monitor nearly an hour before, had just discharged its men; but we found that getting on board the Rhode Island was a harder task than getting from the Monitor. We were carried by the sea from stem to stern, for to have made fast would have been fatal; the boat was bounding against the ship’s sides; sometimes it was below the wheel, and then, on the summit of a huge wave, far above the decks; then the two boats would crash together; and once, while Surgeon Weeks was holding on to the rail, he lost his fingers by a collision which swamped the other boat. Lines were thrown to us from the deck of the Rhode Island, which were of no assistance, for not one of us could climb a small rope; and besides, the men who threw them would immediately let go their holds, in their excitement, to throw another – which I found to be the case when I kept hauling in rope instead of climbing.

It must be understood that two vessels lying side by side, when there is any motion to the sea, move alternately; or in other words, one is constantly passing the other up or down. At one time, when our boat was near the bows of the steamer, we would rise upon the sea until we could touch her rail; then in an instant, by a very rapid descent, we could touch her keel. While we were thus rising and falling upon the sea, I caught a rope, and rising with the boat managed to reach within a foot or two of the rail, when a man, if there had been one, could easily have hauled me on board. But they had all followed after the boat, which at that instant was washed astern and I hung dangling in the air over the bow of the Rhode Island, with Ensign Norman Atwater hanging to the cat-head, three or four feet from me, like myself, with both hands clinching a rope and shouting for some one to save him. Our hands grew painful and all the time weaker, until I saw his strength give way. He slipped a foot, caught again, and with his last prayer, “O God!” I saw him fall and sink, to rise no more. The ship rolled, and rose upon the sea, sometimes with her keel out of water, so that I was hanging thirty feet above the sea, and with the fate in view that had befallen our much-beloved companion, which no one had witnessed but myself. I still clung to the rope with aching hands, calling in vain for help. But I could not be heard, for the wind shrieked far above my voice. My heart here, for the only time in my life, gave up hope, and home and friends were most tenderly thought of. While I was in this state, within a few seconds of giving up, the sea rolled forward, bringing with it the boat, and when I would have fallen into the sea, it was there. I can only recollect hearing an old sailor say, as I fell into the bottom of the boat, “Where in —- did he come from?”

When I became aware of what was going on, no one had succeeded in getting out of the boat, which then lay just forward of the wheel-house. Our captain ordered them to throw bowlines, which was immediately done. The second one I caught, and, placing myself within the loop, was hauled on board. I assisted in helping the others out of the boat, when it again went back to the Monitor; it did not reach it, however, and after drifting about on the ocean several days it was picked up by a passing vessel and carried to Philadelphia.


Samuel Dana Greene:  Between 11 P. M., and midnight … the Monitor went down in a gale, a few miles south of Cape Hatteras. Four officers and twelve men were drowned, forty-nine people being saved by the boats of the steamer. It was impossible to keep the vessel free of water and we presumed that the upper and lower hulls thumped themselves apart.


William Keeler: Other boats soon came alongside bringing the remainder of our officers & crew & a little before one o’clock on the morning of the 31st the Monitor disappeared beneath the surface.


Trenchard: Acting Master’s Mate Browne, the officer in charge of the first cutter, deserves special credit for the skillful manner in which he managed his boat, having made two trips to the Monitor and rescued a number of her men.  Encouraged by the success attending them, Mr. Browne started on another trip, and soon after was hailed and directed to lie on his oars, or drop astern and be towed up, as the Rhode Island would steam for the Monitor, as soon as the men could be got on board from the boats alongside and the boats hoisted up.  Mr. Browne, perhaps, not understanding the order, proceeded on in the direction of the Monitor whose red light from her turret was still visible, but by the tie the steamer was ready to turn her wheels, the light had unfortunately disappeared (1:30 a.m., 31st ultimo).


Rhode Island Log: At 1:30 a.m. lost sight of the Monitor’s light, we being unable to turn our wheels on account of the boats discharging the crew of the Monitor.


John Bankhead: Shortly after we reached the Rhode Island she disappeared.


Grenville Weeks: For an hour or more we watched from the deck of the Rhode Island the lonely light upon the Monitor’s turret; a hundred times we thought it gone forever,–a hundred times it reappeared, till at last, about two o’clock, Wednesday morning, it sank, and we saw it no more.


Francis Butts:  It was half-past twelve, the night of the thirty-first of December, 1862, when I stood on the forecastle of the Rhode Island, watching the red and white lights that hung from the pennant-staff above the turret, and which now and then were seen as we would perhaps both rise on the sea together, until at last, just as the moon had passed below the horizon, they were lost, and the Monitor, whose history is familiar to us all, was seen no more.

Trenchard: The steamer proceeded slowly in the direction in which the Monitor bore when last seen, and endeavored to keep her position as near it s possible throughout the night, burning Coston’s night signals at intervals.


Rhode Island Log: Hoisted up Scorpion and launch and proceeded to windward in search of the first cutter and monitor, but not finding them steamed to windward to hold our position until daylight.  Burned Coston’s signals every half hour.


Francis Butts:  The Rhode Island cruised about the scene of the disaster the remainder of the night and the next forenoon in hope of finding the boat that had been lost; then she returned direct to Fort Monroe, where we arrived the next day with our melancholy news.


William Keeler: Another chapter has been added to my eventful life.  The Monitor is no more.  What the fire of the enemy failed to do, the elements have accomplished.


Rhode Island log:

Date  Hour  Wind
 Force *
 Weather  Air
Dec 29   6 p.m.  S. by W.  1  b c  58  —  30.11
29  8 p.m.  S. by W.  2  b c  50  —  30.12
29  12 midnight  S.W. by S.  2  b c  53  —  30.11
30  4 a. m.  S.S.W  1  —  56  50  30.12
30  8 a.m.  S.S.W.  1  b c  57  52  —
30  12 m  S.W. by W.  1  b c  65  —  —
30  4 p.m.  S.W. by W.  2  —  68  69
30  8 p.m.  S.W. by S.  4  o  70  74  29.95
30  12 m  S.W. by S.  6  r q  —  —  29.90
31  4 a.m.  S.W.  7  —  —  29.40
31  8 a.m.  S.W.  7  o  64  68  29.92
31  12 m  N.N.W.  6  —  50  68  29.99
31  4 p.m.  N.N.W.  6  —  52 —  —
31  8 p.m.  N.N.W.  5  b c  55  70  30.18
31  12 m  N.N.W.  —  —  —  —  30.20