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Remembering USS Monitor, Her Designer, and Their Arch Rival

In October of 1862, USS Monitor was at the Washington Navy Yard for some maintenance and repairs. A commemorative inscription was stamped onto the breech of both of Monitor‘s XI-Inch Dahlgren shell guns at this time to celebrate the Battle of Hampton Roads by recognizing the important men and vessels that participated in the conflict.

The port Dahlgren was inscribed: “WORDEN. MONITOR & MERRIMAC.”

John Worden commanded Monitor during the 4-hour battle against the Confederate ironclad, was temporarily blinded by an exploding shell, and was forever beloved by his crew. His name stamped in the cast iron Dahlgren forever marks his place in ironclad history.

It is also interesting to note that the Union shipbuilders included the commonly mis-spelled name Merrimac rather than Virginia. USS Monitor never battled against the Merrimack, a Union wooden frigate that was later converted into the CSS Virginia by Confederate shipbuilders. Nonetheless, the addition of the vessels’ names was a significant way to recognize the importance of the battle and its participants and perhaps was an intentional snub of the famed Virginia.

What about the starboard Dahlgren’s inscription, you ask? Check this out:

The mighty Swedish engineer John Ericsson designed USS Monitor. His name embellishes the starboard breech in close proximity to his ironclad and MERRIMAC. Also note that the weight of the Dahlgren (15,617 lbs.) appears clearly to the left side of the engraving.

Senior Conservator Will Hoffman took this incredibly detailed photo of the badly graphitized cast iron surface of Monitor‘s starboard Dahlgren shell gun. The inscription rests on the outboard side (facing away from the center of the turret) of the gun roughly midway between the right trunnion and cascabel. We are extremely fortunate that this beautiful inscription survives to this day because the surfaces of both guns corroded severely during 140 years of exposure to the warm, salty, and oxygenated waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Stream.

We will share a photo of the port Dahlgren inscription at a later date. In the meantime, please enjoy this decorative historical footnote from USS Monitor.

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