The Civil War Connections Blog

Float on….

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me to find out that I’ve amassed quite the collection of Monitor related material. Much of it I have donated to the Museum, but some of it the Collections Committee just looks at, shakes their heads, and then says “if we need it, we know where you live.”

So I thought I might add a few images of my own random Monitor madness.  Inspired by a blog post over at Port of Call, I thought I’d start with a parade float.

Now, the celebrated cheesebox on a raft has inspired more parade floats than you can imagine. The earliest I found was created for the July 4, 1862 parade in San Francisco. The Monitor was still active, and wallowing away in the heat of a Tidewater Virginia summer then.  But Union supporters around the country had adopted the Monitor as a national symbol just weeks after her engagement with the Virginia. Here’s what I found in the supplement to the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, July 4, 1862. The paper excitedly reported that the “Fourth of July commenced earlier than usual this year.  Instead of patiently waiting until midnight it went off half cocked on the evening of the third, as the sun sank.”  All night long  in this West Coast city, thousands of miles removed from Hampton Roads, the firecrackers continued to go off until finally at sunrise, as though the populace could not stand another moment of anticipation, the bells began tolling throughout the city—a joyous sound to all but those who had indulged too much the evening previous.

Hmm…some things never change.

Over forty thousand flags festooned the city, and finally, by 11 a.m., several divisions organized themselves and made up a parade which stretched for blocks; led first by military units, the parade also sported firemen, riggers and stevedores, several occupations and fraternal societies as well as ethnic organizations.  Wagons “loaded dangerously with brewers” followed giant milk-cans in festooned carts while costumed children, brass bands and the Sons of the Feenian Brotherhood marched loudly down the street. The fifth division of the parade appeared,  “headed by Hunnewell’s brass band, who before they get through the march may injure their lungs if they have not a care.  ‘The Union must and shall be preserved,’ is the leading motto of this part of the long yet attractive pageant….”

The piece-de-resistance in this part of the procession, though, came lumbering slowly along in the rear; “a monster model of the famous Monitor, 41 feet long and 10 feet in the beam” which was almost one quarter the size of the original, still on duty in the James River in Virginia.  To populate the ersatz ironclad with a crew, there were “any number of little jack tars” there to help man the “two big guns in the revolving turret.”  The float was well received, though its handlers found it “rather harder to handle in our streets than was its famous namesake in Hampton Roads.”  All this was followed by a parade of wagons, one of which bore the slogan “Pure Beef for friends of the Union – the points of our knives for its foes.”

Just imagine that sight. So I’ve been researching Monitor-as-parade-float ever since I found that. I will highlight such images here from time to time – but thought I would start with one from my personal collection.

It floats! But what is it?

It floats! But what is it?


Yeah. I don’t know what that is. Monitor with a maypole. There’s every chance in the world that it is a float for a newspaper of the same name, though the maypole is still strange no matter how you look at it.

In any event. There’s my favorite. More to come!