The Civil War Connections Blog

Monitor Log: 3 March 1862

Yippee!  My favorite logbook entry!


On March 3rd, 1862, the Monitor was ready for her next sea trials. The logbook for that day read thus:


Remarks March 3/62

From Midnight to 4 Am. Weather light & clear wind from N

                                                                                                G Frederickson


From 4 to 8 AM. Wind & weather same                   J. Webber                                                                                                                                           

From 8 to Meridian weather thick from N.E. at 10 AM. A board of commission composed of Com. Gregory  Chief Eng Garvin

Naval Cons Hart came on board to witness the trial trip at 10:30 AM

hove up Anchor & started from yard under full head of steam & proceeded

down Harbor in Tug Boat Rapid  wind N.E.

                                                                                                Louis Stodder


From Meridian to 4 PM at 20 minutes past.

First of firing blank cartridges 2nd a stand of grape, 3rd with canister with

a full charge of powder  2:15 with 30 lbs steam making 50 Revolutions

turned with helm hard a starboard turned in 4 min 15 sec within a compass

of 3 times her length & proceeded  towards the yard against a strong ebb tide

vessel going at the maximum speed of  6&1/4 knots an hour  Greatest no of

rev’s attained 64

                                                                                                G Frederickson

From 4 to 6 PM thick rainy weather

with strong N.E. wind  Came (to) anchor

at Navy Yard with 5 fathoms water

& 20 fathoms of chain                                                           J. Webber


From 6 to 8 PM Wind and weather same

at 6 PM put L, Murray in irons                                             Louis St

From 8 to Midnight  thick rainy weather strong N.E. wind  At 9 PM released ward room steward at: 10 PM Norman McPherson & John Atkins deserted taking the ship’s cutter & left for parts unknown  

So ends this day

G. Frederickson


And what a day it was! The Monitor had been taken out for a test spin, quite literally, the morning of March 3.  Turret turning, guns working, the new crew put her through her paces,  steaming around in circles she “turned with helm hard a starboard …in 4 min 15 sec within a compass of 3 times her length,” Master’s Mate George Frederickson had written while he stood the afternoon watch. Commodore Gregory, Chief Engineer Garvin and Naval Constructor Hart had come on board to observe this experimental vessel’s trial run.  The undercurrent of this visit does not come through in the logbook entry, however.  But given the events of a week prior, one can imagine John Ericsson’s head spinning just as surely as his turret over this visit.


As you may recall, it was originally on February 26 that a defect had been found in the steering gear.


The press stood by to report on what they had now dubbed “Ericsson’s Folly” and there were some naval personnel in the Naval Yard who intimated that they would have to pull the ironclad into drydock and install a rudder that they knew would work—a steering mechanism NOT of Ericsson’s design.  But given that Ericsson still owned the vessel, Ericsson was not willing to allow this to happen and said he could have it remedied in less than three days.  The Navy observers were there to make sure that he had followed through with that boast.


But testing the new steering mechanism was not the only excitement that day. While the logbook reported that the guns were tested that afternoon, what is not reported is what actually happened during the test firing.  As previously noted, the XI-inch Dahlgrens which were installed in the Monitor’s turret each weighed approximately 9 tons, fired a 165 pound shot and were thirteen feet long.  Such a gun needs approximately twice its length for recoil room, or twenty-six feet. The turret, however, was only twenty-one feet in diameter.


The gun carriages within the turret were two of a kind, custom made for the Monitor and the Monitor alone.  Friction gears tightened with a handscrew served to stop the recoil if operated properly.  Unfortunately for Alban Stimers who was to demonstrate the working of the guns, Ericsson had not made the braking mechanisms uniform.  As Stimers turned the screw on carriage number one to the right to increase the friction did precisely the opposite and, upon firing, one massive Dahlgren leapt backwards from its carriage and smashed its cascabel into the turret bulkhead.  Assuming erroneously that the second carriage must be a mirror image of the first, Stimers reversed his action and sent the second Dahlgren crashing into the turret bulkhead.  Before she had even seen battle, the Monitor had two large dents insideher turret. Those same dents remain there to this day, and this testament to human error can be seen when the turret’s conservation tank is drained.


While all of this was occurring in the turret, the ward room steward had taken a bottle for a spin as well.  The log indicates that he was put in chains during the first dog watch that day and was released at nine that evening.  Others words are needed to fill in the story, however: Paymaster William Keeler wrote to his wife about the goings-on in his strange new home:


It was a dismal rainy day & our wet iron decks were anything but comfortable to stand upon.  We had an awning fitted over the top of the turret, running up to a point in the center like a tent & under this we managed to keep pretty dry, going down below occasionally to warm.  Commodore Gregory & other notables from the Yard were with us & arrangements were made on board to give them a dinner suited to the occasion.  The preliminaries were all right, but unfortunately we found upon seating ourselves at the table that ‘the wisest plans of mice & men gang aft aglee’….for to sum it all up in one short sentence, the Steward, upon whom it all depended, was drunk. I suppose he had been testing the brandy & Champaine before putting it upon the table.  As may be supposed it was a decided failure – the fish was brought in before we had finished the soup,  & Champaine glasses were furnished us to drink our brandy from & vice versa.”


The log reveals the name of the steward: L. Murray.  This was Lawrence Murray – a 34-year- old native New Yorker who stood 5’6” with striking blue eyes, a fair complexion, and a singularly bald head.  According to Keeler, Murray “yelled & hollowed & begged & plead….[but] was pretty well sobered before he was released & appeared a good deal humbled & mortified….” Yet he was back at the bottle the next day – and was “ironed & shut up in one of the chain lockers.”


At 10 p.m., the log entry indicates that Norman McPherson and John Atkins, two of the volunteer crewmembers, expressed their discomfort with being on an experimental vessel by stealing the ship’s boat and leaving “for parts unknown.”’ It seems that the test voyage had not inspired a great deal of confidence in some of the volunteer crew. Very little is known about Norman McPherson, but John Atkins has a bit more to his story.  He and McPherson, like many of the Monitor volunteers, had been on the receiving ship North Carolina when Lieutenant Worden had come calling for a crew.  Atkins was taller than some, nearly 5’10”, and hailed from Baltimore.  Thirty-six–years-old, hazel eyes and brown hair, he and McPherson were clearly determined to get off the Monitor by any means possible.  The New York Times reported only the successes of the day, however. The only negative comment made was that “the compass in the iron pilot-house did not work altogether satisfactorily, but no difficulty is apprehended with regard to being able to adjust it.”


And they hadn’t even left New York…….