This site offers an overview of the development and career of the USS Monitor from her conception by John Ericsson, through her short career as a warship of the United States Navy, to her loss off Cape Hatteras in December 1862 and her subsequent discovery and recovery.
On March 9, 1862, the Civil War battle of Hampton Roads between the ironclads USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack) heralded the beginning of a new era in naval warfare. Though indecisive, the battle marked the change from wood and sail to iron and steam.
Today, the remains of the Monitor rest on the ocean floor off North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where the ship sank in a storm on December 31, 1862. Discovered in 1973, the Monitor wreck site was designated the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary (MNMS) and is managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The purpose of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary is to preserve the historic record of this significant vessel and to interpret her role in shaping US naval history. Over the past several years NOAA has made extensive surveys of the wreck site and recovered a number of artifacts from the Monitor.
The Monitor’s artifacts are housed at the USS Monitor Center in an extraordinary exhibition and conservation facility that let you experience the fear, the awe, and the excitement that surrounded this extraordinary time in our nation’s history.
At the heart of the USS Monitor Center is the award-winning exhibition—Ironclad Revolution—a melding of artifacts, original documents, paintings, personal accounts, interactives and environments that will pique all five senses. The strategies, people, technology, and science behind the historic circumstances surrounding this story are displayed in a way the public has never before seen.
The efforts by the Confederates to construct an ironclad in Hampton Roads were well known to the Federal authorities. Throughout the summer of 1861, newspaper reporters as well as the general public visited the Gosport Yard to observe the work on the Virginia. Newspapers throughout the South carried regular updates on the progress of the conversion. Similar stories were also reported in Northern papers. As the work proceeded, it became evident to the North that if the Confederacy succeeded in launching an armored vessel, there was not a Union ship that could challenge her.
It was the need to offset this potential Confederate naval superiority that moved the United States Navy Department to appoint an Ironclad Board of naval officers to seek and evaluate plans for the construction of ironclad vessels for Federal service. On August 3, 1861, Union Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles published an announcement calling on designers to submit plans for ironclad warships to the Navy Department. This was not the first time that the United States had toyed with the idea of building ironclad vessels. Since the late 1840s, the navy had considered plans for designing and testing ironclads. In 1842, Robert L. Stevens won a contract to construct a floating iron battery for the navy. However, the Stevens battery was never completed.
The first successful launching of ironclad vessels for United States service occurred during the summer of 1861, not under the direction of the navy, but rather the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps. The War Department ordered the building of ironclad gunboats on the Mississippi under the direction of Samuel Pook and James Eads. These ironclad river steamers known as “Pook Turtles” or “Eads’ Gunboats” would be used throughout the war on the western rivers. Still, the command of the Union Navy remained conservative and cautious in approaching iron shipbuilding.
Following Welles’s call for plans, a number of designers presented proposals to the Ironclad Board for consideration. Among the designers who submitted proposals was Cornelius Bushnell. Bushnell controlled several railroads in Connecticut, and now ventured to enter the world of naval architecture. With the help of naval constructor Samuel Pook, Bushnell developed a plan for an ironclad steamer. Bushnell’s ship, to be called the Galena, was a conventional ship with armor constructed of iron bars laying over iron rails. To verify the seaworthiness of his ship, Bushnell sought out the advice of the renowned engineer John Ericsson. According to Bushnell, after Ericsson had confirmed that the Galena’s design was sound, Ericsson produced a model of an “impregnable iron battery” that he had proposed to French Emperor Napoleon III in 1854. The model showed a ship with an almost submerged hull and a single revolving turret fixed to the deck containing a single cannon. Though Napoleon had not accepted the plan, Ericsson emphasized to Bushnell that the battery’s design was viable and that the ship could be built very quickly.
Bushnell was so impressed with Ericsson’s model that he took it to Secretary Welles, who agreed that the design had “extraordinary and valuable features” and that it should be submitted to the Ironclad Board for consideration. Bushnell presented Ericsson’s model to the Board, but it was rejected as too outlandish for consideration. Bushnell then persuaded Ericsson himself to appear before the Board to defend the design.
Ericsson’s defense of his design was obviously successful. When the Ironclad Board submitted its final report to Secretary Welles, Ericsson’s was one of three designs recommended for approval. The contract offered to Ericsson was in the amount of $275,000, but it stipulated that the ship must be completed in one hundred days, and that it must prove successful in every way or payment would be withheld.
John Ericsson was born in the province of Vermland, Sweden, on July 31, 1803. The son of a mining engineer, Ericsson showed an early interest in mechanics. By the age of ten, he had designed and constructed a miniature sawmill. At the age of 13, as a cadet in the Swedish navy, he was appointed supervisor of more than 600 men on a major ship canal project. At the age of 17 he entered the Swedish army, joining as an ensign in the 23rd. The 23rd Corps served in part as a specialized engineering unit for the army, and while assigned there, Ericsson had extensive opportunities to sharpen his mechanical and engineering skills. The army also introduced him to the use and design of artillery. While serving in the army, Ericsson became interested in steam engines and developed the theory for his caloric engine, which operated on the principle that air heated to very high temperature could be used to drive engines.
In 1826 Ericsson published a paper on his work to develop a caloric engine. That year he traveled to England to demonstrate his invention to the British Society of Civil Engineers. Sadly, the engine failed in the demonstration, and Ericsson, now penniless and with a tarnished reputation as an engineer, was stranded in England. Fortunately for Ericsson, present at the demonstration was an English engineer named John Braithwaite. Though Braithwaite had witnessed the failure of Ericsson’s engine, he was impressed with the young Swede’s determination and offered him a position as a partner in his firm. The partnership was to prove particularly fruitful. In the ten years that Braithwaite and Ericsson worked together they developed some 30 new inventions, including an evaporator, a depth finder, a series of improved engines, and a steam engine with a surface condenser.
Taking part in a contest to develop a train locomotive for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, in 1829 Ericsson developed an improved steam locomotive. Named the Novelty, Ericsson’s steam locomotive weighed only two tons. During trials the Novelty covered a mile in 53 seconds, and exceeded 20 miles per hour while pulling three time its own weight. Despite the Novelty’s success, the railroad granted the contract to a competing firm.
Ericsson Propeller In 1826 Ericsson published a paper on his work to develop a caloric engine. That year he traveled to England to demonstrate his invention to the British Society of Civil Engineers. Sadly, the engine failed in the demonstration, and Ericsson, now penniless and with a tarnished reputation as an engineer, was stranded in England. Fortunately for Ericsson, present at the demonstration was an English engineer named John Braithwaite. Though Braithwaite had witnessed the failure of Ericsson’s engine, he was impressed with the young Swede’s determination and offered him a position as a partner in his firm. The partnership was to prove particularly fruitful. In the ten years that Braithwaite and Ericsson worked together they developed some 30 new inventions, including an evaporator, a depth finder, a series of improved engines, and a steam engine with a surface condenser.
Taking part in a contest to develop a train locomotive for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, in 1829 Ericsson developed an improved steam locomotive. Named the Novelty, Ericsson’s steam locomotive weighed only two tons. During trials the Novelty covered a mile in 53 seconds, and exceeded 20 miles per hour while pulling three time its own weight. Despite the Novelty’s success, the railroad granted the contract to a competing firm.
Though the British navy rejected the idea of using screw propellers on warships, an American naval officer, Robert Stockton, was impressed with what he had seen Ericsson produce. Stockton persuaded Ericsson to immigrate to the United States. In 1839, with Stockton’s influence, Ericsson was awarded a contract to build a screw-propelled warship for the United States Navy. Launched in 1843, the USS Princeton was the first warship in naval history to be designed and built as a screw-powered ship.
Though the Princeton proved to be a successful design, she placed a black mark on Ericsson’s reputation. In 1844, while steaming on a demonstration cruise with a party of guests including President John Tyler, the secretaries of state and the navy, and two senators, one of the Princeton’s guns exploded, killing five people (including both secretaries) and wounding 17 others. Although the gun that exploded was not of Ericsson’s design, he was blamed for the disaster. A congressional investigation eventually cleared Ericsson of any responsibility for the accident aboard the Princeton, but the damage to his reputation had been done. Ericsson developed an animosity for the United States Navy that was to last for nearly 20 years.
After the explosion on the Princeton, Ericsson continued his work as an engineer and designer. In 1854, during the time when the French navy was experimenting with ironclad ships, Ericsson submitted to Napoleon III a design for a floating battery. Ericsson’s design called for a battery that was steam powered and completely armored with iron plate. The profile of the battery was radically new. The entire engine space and living areas of the crew were below the water line. Only a flat armored gun platform supporting a revolving gun turret could be seen above the water. “Ericsson’s Impregnable Battery and Revolving Cupola” was revolutionary in its design and construction. In fact, it was perhaps too radical, for Napoleon III did not contract for the construction of any of Ericsson’s batteries.
The undersigned, constituting a board appointed by your order of the 8th ultimo, proceeded to the duty assigned to them, in accordance with the first section of an act of Congress, approved 3d of August 1861, directing the Secretary of the Navy “to appoint a board of three skillful naval officers to investigate the plans and specifications that may be submitted for the construction or completing of iron-clad steamships or steam batteries to be built; and there is hereby appropriated, out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated, the sum of one million five hundred thousand dollars.”
Distrustful of our ability to discharge this duty, which the law requires should be performed by three skillful naval officers, we approach the subject with diffidence, having no experience and but scanty knowledge in this branch of naval architecture.
Application was made to the department for a naval constructor, to be placed under our orders, with whom we might consult; but it appears that they are all so employed on The construction of iron-clad steamships of war is now zealously claiming the attention of foreign naval powers. France led off; England followed, and is now somewhat extensively engaged in the system; and other powers seem to emulate their example, though on a smaller scale.
Opinions differ amongst naval and scientific men as to the policy of adopting iron armature for ships-of-war. For coast and harbor defense they are undoubtedly formidable adjuncts to fortifications on land. As cruising vessels, however, we are sceptical as to their advantages and ultimate adoption. But whilst other nations are endeavoring to perfect them, we must not remain idle.
The enormous load of iron, as so much additional weight to the vessel; the great breadth of beam necessary to give her stability; the short supply of coal she will be able to stow in bunkers; the greater power required to propel her and the largely increased cost of construction, are objections to this class of vessels as cruisers which we believe it is difficult successfully to overcome. For river and harbor service we consider iron-clad vessels of light draught, or floating batteries thus shielded as very important; and we feel at this moment the necessity of them on some or our rivers and inlets to enforce obedience to the laws. We, however, do not hesitate to express the opinion, notwithstanding all we have heard or seen written on the subject, that no ship or floating battery, however heavily she may be plated, can cope successfully with a properly constructed fortification of masonry. The one is fixed and immovable, and though constructed of a material which may be battered by shot, can be covered, if need be, by the same or much heavier armor than a floating vessel can bear, whilst the other is subject to disturbances by winds and waves, and to the powerful effects of tides and currents.
Armored ships or batteries may be employed advantageously to pass fortifications on land for ulterior objects of attack, or run a blockade, or to reduce temporary batteries on the shores of rivers and the approaches to our harbors.
From what we know of the comparative advantages and disadvantages of ships constructed of wood over those of iron, we are clearly of opinion that no iron-clad vessel of equal displacement can be made to obtain the same speed as one not thus encumbered, because her form would be better adapted to speed. Her form and dimensions, the unyielding nature of the shield, detract materially in a heavy sea from the life, buoyancy, and spring which a ship built of wood possesses.
Wooden ships may be said to be but coffins for their crews when brought in conflict with iron-clad vessels; but the speed of the former, we take for granted, being greater than that of the latter, they can readily choose their position, and keep out of harm’s way entirely.
Recent improvements in the form and preparation of projectiles, and their increased capacity for destruction, have elicited a large amount of ingenuity and skill to devise means for resisting them in their construction of ships-of-war. As yet we know of nothing superior to the large and heavy spherical shot in its destructive effects on vessels, whether plated or not.
Rifled guns have greater range, but the conical shot does not produce the crushing effect of spherical shot.
It is assumed that 4 inch plates are the heaviest armor a sea going vessel can safely carry. These plates should be of tough iron, and rolled in large long pieces. This thickness of armor, it is believed, will resist all projectiles now in general use at a distance of 500 yards, especially if the ship’s sides are angular.
Plates hammered in large masses are less fibrous and tough than when rolled. The question whether wooden backing, or any elastic substance behind the iron plating will tend to relieve at all the frame of the ships from the crushing effect of a heavy projectile, is not yet decided. Major Barnard says “to put an elastic material behind iron is to insure its destruction.” With all difference to such elastic substance (soft wood, perhaps, is best) might relieve the frame of the ship somewhat from the terrible shock of a heavy projectile, though the plate should be fractured.
With respect to a comparison between ships of iron and those of wood, without plating, high authorities in England differ as to which is best. The tops of ships built of iron, we are told, wear out three bottoms; whilst the bottoms of those built of wood will outwear three tops. In deciding upon the relative merits of iron and wooden-framed vessels, for each of which we have offers, the board is of opinion that it would be well to try a specimen of each as both have distinguished advocates. One strong objection to iron vessels which, so far as we know, has not yet been overcome, is the oxidation or rust in salt water, and their liability of becoming foul under water by the attachment of sea grass and animalcules to their bottoms. The best preventative we know of is a coating of pure zinc paint, which, so long as it lasts, is believed to be an antidote to this cause of evil.
After these brief remarks on the subject generally, we proceed to notice the plans and offers referred to us for construction of plated vessels and floating batteries.
It has long been suggested that the most ready mode of obtaining an iron-clad ship-of-war would be to contract with responsible parties in England for its complete construction; and we are assured that parties there are ready to engage in such an enterprise on terms more reasonable, perhaps, than such a vessels could be built in this country, having greater experience and facilities than we possess. Indeed, we are informed there are no mills and machinery in this country capable of rolling iron 4 inches thick, though plates might be hammered to that thickness in many of our workshops. As before observed, rolled iron is considered much the best, and the difficulty of rolling it increases rapidly with the increase of thickness. It has, however, occurred to us that a difficulty might arise with the British government, in case we should undertake to construct ships-of-war in that country, which might complicate their delivery; and moreover, we are of opinion that every people or nation who can maintain a navy should be capable of constructing it themselves.
Our immediate demands seem to require, first, so far as practicable, vessels invulnerable to shot, of light draught of water, to penetrate our shoal harbors, rivers and bayous. We, therefore, favor the construction of this class of vessels before going into a more perfect system of large iron-clad sea-going vessels of war. We are here met with the difficulty of encumbering small vessels with armor, which, from their size, they are unable to bear. We, nevertheless, recommend that contracts be made with responsible parties for the construction of one or more iron-clad vessels or batteries of as light a draught of water as practicable consistent with their weight of armor. Meanwhile, availing of the experience thus obtained, and the improvements which we believe are yet to be made by other naval powers in building iron-clad ships, we would advise the construction, in our own dock-yards, of one or more of these vessels upon a large and more perfect scale, when Congress shall see fit to authorize it. The amount now appropriated is not sufficient to build both classes of vessels to any great extent.
We have made a synopsis of the propositions and specifications submitted, which we annex, and now proceed to state, in brief, the results of our decisions upon the offers presented to us.
J. Ericsson, New York, page 19 – This plan of a floating battery is novel, but seems to be based upon a plan which will render the battery shot and shell proof. We are somewhat apprehensive that her properties for sea are not such as a sea-going vessel should possess. But she may be moved from one place to another on the coast in smooth weather. We recommend that an experiment be made with one battery of this description on the terms proposed, with a guarantee and forfeiture in case of failure in any of the properties and points of the vessel as proposed.
Price, $275,000; length of vessel, 172 feet; breadth of beam, 41 feet; depth of hold, 11 feet; time, 100 days; draught of water, 10 feet; displacement 1,255 tons; speed per hour, nine statute miles.
John W. Nystrom, Philadelphia, 1216 Chestnut Street, page 1 – The plan of (quadruple) guns is not known, and cannot be considered. The dimensions would not float the vessel without guards, which we are not satisfied would repel shot. We do not recommend this plan.
Price, about $175,000; length of vessel, 175 feet; breadth of beam, 27 feet; depth of hold, 13 feet; time, four months; draught of water, 10 feet; displacement, 875 tons; speed per hour, 12 knots.
William Perine, New York, 2777 post office box, presents three plans. The specifications and drawings are not full. The last proposal (No. 3, page 2) for the heavy plating is the only one we have considered; but there is neither drawing nor model, and the capacity of the vessel, we think, will not bear the armor and armament proposed.
Price, $621,000; length of vessel, 225 feet; breadth of beam, 45 feet; depth of hold, 15 feet; time, 9 months, draught of water, 13 feet; displacement, 2,454 tons; speed per hour, 10 knots.
John C. Ferre, Boston, page 9 – Description deficient. Not recommended. Sent a model, but neither price, time, nor dimensions stated.
E. S. Renwick, New York, 335 Broadway, presents drawings, specification, and model of an iron-clad vessel of large capacity and powerful engines, with great speed, capable of carrying a heavy battery, and stated to be shotproof and a good sea-boat. The form and manner of construction and proportions of this vessel are novel, and will attract the attention of scientific and practical men. She is of very light draught of water, and on the question whether she will prove to be a safe and convertible sea-boat we do not express a decided opinion. Vessels of somewhat similar form, in that part of vessel which is immersed, of light draught of water on our western lakes, have, we believe, proved entirely satisfactory in all weathers. To contract the effect of waves, when disturbed by the winds, by producing a jerk, or sudden rolling motion of flat, shoal vessels, it is proposed to carry a sufficient weight above the center of gravity to counterpoise the heavy weight below, which is done in this ship by the immense iron armor. If, after a full discussion and examination by experts on this plan, it should be decided that she is a safe vessel for sea service, we would recommend the construction upon it of one ship at one of our dock yards.
The estimate cost of this ship, $1,500,000, precludes action upon the plan until further appropriations shall be made by Congress for such objects.
Time not stated; length of vessel, 400 feet; breadth of beam 60 feet; depth of hold, 33 feet; draught of water, 16 feet; displacement, 6,520 tons; speed per hour, at least 18 miles.
Whitney & Rowland, Brooklyn, Greenpoint, page 13, propose an iron gunboat, armor of bars of iron and thin plate over it. No price stated. Dimensions of vessel, we think, will not bear the weight and possess stability. Time, 5 months. Not recommended.
Length of vessel, 140 feet; breadth of beam, 28 feet; depth of hold, 13 feet; draught of water, 8 feet.
Donald McKay, Boston, page 16 – Vessel, in general dimensions and armor, approved. The speed estimated slow. The cost precludes the consideration of construction by the board.
Price, k$1,000,000; length of vessel, 227 feet; breadth of beam, 50 feet; depth of hold, 26 feet; time, 9 to 10 months; draught of water, 13 feet; displacement, 1,215 tons; speed, not stated.
William H. Wood, Jersey City, N.J., page 14 – Dimensions will not float the guns high enough; not recommended.
Price, $225,000; length of vessel, 160 feet; breadth, 34 feet; depth of hold, 22 feet; time, 4 months; draught of water, 13 feet; displacement, 1,215 tons; speed, not stated.
Merrick and Sons, Philadelphia, pages 7 and 8. – Vessel of wood and iron combined. This proposition we consider the most practicable one for heavy armor. We recommend that a contract be made with that party, under the guarantee, with forfeiture in case of failure to comply with specifications; and that the contract require the plates to be 15 feet long and 36 inches wide, with a reservation of some modifications, which may occur as the work progresses, not to affect the cost.
Price, $225,000; length of vessel, 220 feet; breadth of beam, 60 feet; depth of hold 23 feet; time, 9 months; draught of water, 13 feet; displacement, 3,296 tons; speed per hour, 9 knots.
Benjamin Rathburn,_____________, page 20. We do not recommend the plan for adoption.
Price not stated; length of vessel not stated; breadth of beam, 80 feet; depth of hold, 74 feet; time not stated; draught of water, 25 feet; displacement, 15,000 tons; speed not stated. Specifications incomplete.
Henry R. Dunham, New York, page 11. – Vessel too costly for the appropriation; no drawings or specifications; not recommended.
Price, $1,200,000; length of vessel, 325 feet; breadth of beam 60 feet; depth of hold not stated; time, 15 to 18 months; draught of water, 16 feet; displacement not stated; speed per hour, 12 miles.
C.S. Bushnell, & Co., New Haven, Conn., page 121, propose a vessel to be iron-clad, on the rail and plate principal, and to obtain high speed. The objection to this vessel is the fear that she will not float her armor and load sufficiently high, and have stability enough for a sea vessel. With a guarantee that she shall do these, we recommend on that basis a contract.
Price, $235,250; length of vessel, 180 feet; breadth of beam,_____feet; depth of hold, 12 2/3 feet; time, 4 months; draught of water, 10 feet; displacement,________tons; speed per hour, 12 knots.
John Westwood, Cincinnati, Ohio, page 17. – Vessel of wood, with iron armor; plan good enough, but the breath not enough to bear armor. No detailed specification; no price or time stated; only a general drawing. Not recommended.
Neafie & Levy, Philadelphia, page 5. – No plans or drawings, therefore not considered. Neither price nor time stated. Length of vessel, 200 feet; breadth of beam, 40 feet; depth of hold, 15 feet; draught of water, 13 feet; displacement, 1,748 tons; speed per hour, 10 knots.
Wm. Norris, New York, 26 Cedar Street, page 6. – Iron boat without armor. Too small, and not received.
Price, $32,000; length of vessel, 83 feet; breadth of beam, 25 feet; depth of hold, 14 feet; time, 60 to 75 days; draught of water, 3 feet; displacement, 90 tons; speed not stated.
Wm. Kingsley, Washington, D.C., page 10. – proposes a rubber-clad vessel, which we cannot recommend. No price or dimension stated.
A. Beebe, New York, 82 Broadway, page 18. – Specification and sketch defective. Plan not approved.
Price, $50,000; length of vessel, 120 feet; breadth of beam, 55 feet; depth not stated; time, 100 days; draught of water, 6 feet; displacement, 1,000 tons; speed per hour, 8 knots.
These three propositions recommended, viz: Bushnell & Co., New Haven, Connecticut; Merrick & Sons, Philadelphia; and J. Ericsson, New York, will absorb $1,290,250 of the appropriation of $1,500,00, leaving $209,750 yet unexpended.
The board recommends that armor with heavy guns be placed on one of our river craft, or, if none will bear it, to construct a scow, which will answer to plate and shield the guns, for the river service on the Potomac, to be constructed or prepared by the government at the navy yard here for immediate use.
We would further recommend that the department ask of Congress, at its next session, an appropriation, for experimenting on iron plates of different kinds, of $10,000.
All of which is respectfully submitted.
I. H. DAVIS
Hon. Gideon Welles,
Secretary of the Navy Ironsides
To meet the deadline set by the government, Ericsson subcontracted the construction and fabrication of his ironclad to eight foundries In a particularly ambitious plan, each subcontractor supplied various components of the ship at separate locations, then shipped the parts to a central location for assembly. Delamater Iron Works of New York City constructed the engines and boilers. Novelty Iron Works of New York City rolled the iron plates for the turret and oversaw its assembly, and Clute Brothers and Company of Schenectady produced the donkey engine to power the turret. Meanwhile, Holdane and Company of New York City, Albany Iron Works of Troy, and H. Abbot and Son of Baltimore rolled additional iron plate for the turret, as well as bars and rivets. Two iron port stoppers were furnished by the Niagara Steam Forge of Buffalo. As these parts were produced, they were shipped to Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, New York, where the hull was laid and the final assembly was performed.
The most innovative feature of the Monitor and the one that became her distinguishing characteristic was her revolving turret. Though other designers had toyed with the idea of developing turrets for warships, Ericsson’s Monitor was the first warship to use the invention successfully. The turret rested amidships of the vessel and was furnished with a separate steam engine that propelled the turret in a complete rotation. It measured 20 feet in diameter and 9 feet in height, and its armored walls were made of eight layers of 1-inch armor plate. Two massive XI-inch Dahlgren smooth-bore guns, capable of firing solid shot weighing 180 pounds, were installed inside the turret. Though the Monitor would go into battle with only two guns, she had a distinct advantage even over an opponent with ten cannon. This was because the revolving turret would allow her to fire and aim her guns rapidly in any direction regardless of the direction in which the ironclad might be steaming. All other ships of her time were forced to aim their guns in part by steering the vessel into a position where the guns, mounted in broadside arrangement, could be brought to bear on the enemy.
A further innovation of Ericsson’s design was the Monitor’s extremely low profile: only 18 inches of the deck was visible above the water line. Essentially the only target an enemy had when firing on the Monitor was her heavily armored turret and the low iron pilot house on the forward section of the deck. Enemy gunners would be hard pressed in the heat of battle to score many hits on such a meager target. The assembly of Ericsson’s battery was in itself an amazing engineering feat. Eight foundries, working independently and perhaps with no clear idea of what the final product would look like, successfully produced a ship of revolutionary design.
Ericsson was not only a genius of engineering, but a genius of organization and efficiency. When the ship was launched on January 30, 1862, Ericsson had missed his one hundred-day deadline by 18 days, but no one seemed to notice. The navy had its Monitor to check the South’s Virginia.
This Contract in two parts, made and entered into this Fourth day of October, Anno Domini One Thousand Eight hundred and Sixty-one, between J. Ericsson of the City of New York as principal, and John F. Winslow, John A. Griswold and C.S. Bushnell as sureties on the first part, and Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy for and in behalf of the United States on the second part, WITNESSETH:
That in consideration of the payments hereinafter provided for, the party of the first pat hereby contracts and agrees to construct an Iron Clad Shot-Proof Steam Battery of iron and wood combined on Ericsson’s plan; the lower vessel to be wholly of iron and the upper vessel of wood; the length to be one hundred and seventy-nine (179) feet, extreme breadth forty-one (41) feet, and depth five (5) feet or larger if the party of the first part shall think it necessary to carry the armament and stores required, the vessel to be constructed of the best materials and workmanship throughout, according to the plan and specifications hereunto annexed forming a part of this contract; and in addition to said specifications the party of the first part hereby agree to furnish Masts, Spars, Sails and Rigging of sufficient dimensions to drive the vessel at the rate of six knots per hour in a fair breeze of wind; and the party of the first part will also furnish in addition to the said specifications a Condenser for making fresh water for the boilers on the most approved plan.
And the party of the first part further contracts and engages that the said vessel shall have proper accommodations for her stores of all kinds including provisions for one hundred persons for ninety days, and shall carry 2500 gallons of water in tanks; that the vessel shall have a speed of eight sea miles or knots per hour under steam for twelve consecutive hours, and carry fuel for her engines for eight days consumption at that speed; the deck of the vessel when loaded to be eighteen inches above load line amidships; that she shall possess sufficient stability with her armament, stores and crew on board for safe sea-service in traversing the coast of the United States; that her crew shall be properly accommodated and that the apparatus for working the Battery shall prove successful and safe for the purpose intended, and that the vessel machinery and appointments in all their parts hall work to the entire satisfaction of the party of the second part.
And the party of the second part hereby agrees to pay for the vessel complete as aforesaid after trial and satisfactory test, the sum of Two hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars in coin or Treasury notes at the option of the party of the second part in the following manner, to wit: When the work shall have progressed to the amount of Fifty thousand dollars in the estimation of the Superintendent of the vessel on the part of the United States, that sum shall be paid to the party of the first part on certificate of said Superintendent, and thereafter similar payments according to the certificates of said Superintendent, deducting, reserving and retaining from each and every payment Twenty-five per centum, which reservation shall be retained until after the completion and satisfactory trial of the vessel, not to exceed ninety days after she shall be ready for sea.
And it is further agreed between the said parties that the said vessel shall be complete in all her parts and appointments for service, and any omission in these specifications shall be supplied to make her thus complete; and in case the said vessel shall fail in performance of speed for sea service as before stated, or in the security or successful working of the turret and guns with safety to the vessel and the men in the turret, or in her buoyancy to float and carry her battery as aforesaid, then and in that case the party of the first part hereby bind themselves, their heirs, executors, administrators and assigns by these presents to refund to the United States the amount of money advanced to them on said vessel within thirty days after such failure shall have been declared by the party of the second part, and the party of the first part acknowledge themselves indebted to the United States in liquidated damages to the full amount of money advanced as aforesaid. And it is further agreed that the vessel shall be held by the United States as collateral security until said amount of money advanced as aforesaid shall be refunded.
And the party of the first part does further engage and contract that no member of Congress, officer of the Navy , or any person holding any office or appointment under the Navy Department shall be admitted to any share or part of this contract or agreement, or to any benefit to arise thereupon. And it is hereby expressly provided, and this contract is upon this express condition that if any such member of Congress, officer of the Navy, or other person above named shall be admitted to any share or part of this contract, or to any benefit to arise under it, or in case of the party of the first part shall in any respect fail to perform this contract on their part, the same may be, at the option of the United States, declared null and void, without affecting their right to recover for defaults which may have occurred.
It is further agreed between the said parties that said vessel and equipment in all respects shall be completed and ready for sea in on hundred days from the date of this Indenture,
J. ERICSSON, [L.S.]
JOHN F. WINSLOW, [L.S.]
JOHN A. GRISWOLD, [L.S.]
C.S. BUSHNELL, [L.S.]
Secretary of the Navy.
Signed, sealed and delivered
In the presence of
W.L. BARNES, to the signatures J. Ericsson, John F. Winslow, John A. Griswold, C.S. Bushnell.
JOS. SMITH as to signature of G. Welles.
Century, December 1885
In accordance with your request, I now submit for your approbation a name for the floating battery at Greenpoint. The impregnable and aggressive character of this structure will admonish the leaders of the Southern Rebellion that the batteries on the banks of their rivers will no longer present barriers to the entrance of the Union forces. The iron-clad intruder will thus prove a severe monitor to those leaders. But there are other leaders who will also be startled and admonished by the booming of the guns from the impregnable iron turret. “Downing Street” will hardly view with indifference this last “Yankee Notion,” this monitor. To the Lords of the admiralty the new craft will be a monitor, suggesting doubts as to the propriety of completing those four steel clad ships at three and a half million apiece. On these and many similar grounds, I propose to name the new battery “Monitor.”
Your obedient servant,
Gustavus V. Fox
Assistant Secretary of the Navy
The first real object of interest which presented itself was the Monitor lying off Fortress Monroe. It reminded me of what I once heard a man say to his neighbor about his wife; said he, “Neighbor, you might worship your wife without breaking either of the ten commandments.” “How is that↓” asked the man; “Because she is not the likeness of anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth.” So thought I of the Monitor.
There she sat upon the water a glorious impregnable battery, the wonder of the age, the terror of rebels, and the pride of the North. The Monitor is so novel in structure that a minute description will be necessary to convey an accurate idea of her character.
She has two hulls. The lower one is of iron, five-eighths of an inch thick. The bottom is flat, and six feet six inches in depth – sharp at both ends, the cut-water retreating at an angle of about thirty degrees. The sides, instead of having the ordinary bulge, incline at an angle of about fifty-one degrees. This hull is one hundred and twenty-four feet long, and thirty-four feet broad at the top. Resting on this is the upper hull, flat-bottomed, and both longer and wider than the lower hull, so that it projects over in every direction, like the guards of a steamboat. It is one hundred and seventy-four feet long, forty-one feet four inches wide, and five feet deep. These sides constitute the armor of the vessel. In the first place is an inner guard of iron, half an inch thick. To this is fastened a wall of white oak, placed endways, [sic] and thirty inches thick, to which are bolted six plates of iron, each an inch thick, thus making a solid wall of thirty-six and a half inches of wood and iron. This hull is fastened upon the lower hull, so that the latter is entirely submerged, and the upper one sinks down three feet into the water. Thus but two feet of hull are exposed to a shot. The under hull is so guarded by the projecting upper hull, that a ball, to strike it, would have to pass through twenty-five feet of water. The upper hull is also pointed at both ends.
The deck comes flush with the top of the hull, and is made bomb-proof. No railing or bulwark rises above the deck. The projecting ends serve as a protection to the propeller, rudder and anchor, which cannot be struck. Neither the anchor or chain is ever exposed. The anchor is peculiar, being very short, but heavy. It is hoisted into a place fitted for it, outside of the lower hull, but within the impenetrable shield of the upper one. On the deck are but two structures rising above the surface, the pilot-house and turret. The pilot-house is forward, made of plates of iron, the whole about ten inches in thickness, and shot-proof. Small slits and holes are cut through, to enable the pilot to see his course. The turret, which is apparently the main feature of the battery, is a round cylinder, twenty feet in interior diameter, and nine feet high. It is built entirely of iron plates, one inch in thickness, eight of them securely bolted together, one over another. Within this is a lining of one-inch iron, acting as a damper to deaden the effects of a concussion when struck by a ball – thus there is a shield of nine inches of iron.
The turret rests on a bed-plate, or ring, of composition, which is fastened to the deck. To help support the weight, which is about a hundred tons, a vertical shaft, ten inches in diameter, is attached and fastened to the bulk-head. The top is made shot-proof by huge iron beams, and perforated to allow of ventilation. It has two circular port-holes, both on one side of the turret.
Three feet above the deck, and just large enough for the muzzle of the gun to be run out. The turret is made to revolve, being turned by a special engine. The operator within, by a rod connected with the engine, is enabled to turn it at pleasure. It can be made to revolve at the rate of sixty revolutions a minute, and can be regulated to stop within half a degree of a given point. When the guns are drawn in to lad, the port-hole is stopped by a huge iron pendulum, which falls to its place, and makes that part as secure as any, and can be quickly hoisted to one side. The armanent [sic] consists of two eleven-inch Dahlgren guns. Various improvements in the gun-carriage enable the gunner to secure almost perfect aim.
The engine is not of great power, as the vessel was designed as a battery, and not for swift sailing. It being almost entirely under water, the ventilation is secured by blowers, drawing the air in forward, and discharging it aft. A separate engine moves the blowers and fans the fires. There is no chimney, so the draft must by entirely artificial. The smoke passes out of gratings in the deck. Many suppose the Monitor to be merely an iron-clad vessel, with a turret; but there are, in fact, between thirty and forty patentable [sic] inventions upon her, and the turret is by no means the most important one. Very properly, what these inventions are is not proclaimed to the public.
Written by Anna Gibson Holloway, former curator of the USS Monitor Center
In early March 1862, construction crews in Brooklyn, New York and Portsmouth, Virginia were rushing to complete two vessels of radically different designs. In Brooklyn, the Union ironclad Monitor was completing her sea trials before heading south to Hampton Roads to counter the threat of the Confederate ironclad Virginia (formerly Merrimack). The Virginia‘s first mission was to break the Union blockade of Hampton Roads and protect the waterways to Richmond from Union advances. Yet Stephen Russell Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate Navy, had even grander plans for the ironclad. He hoped that the Virginia could then continue on and ravage the coastal cities of the Union. Washington, New York, and Boston were desired targets. In contrast, the Monitor’s mission was very focused; destroy the Virginia at her moorings if possible, but more importantly, protect the fleet at Hampton Roads as well as the city of Washington D.C. from attack by the “rebel monster.”
Both ironclads achieved certain elements of their objectives. The Virginia destroyed key Union vessels in Hampton Roads and kept the James River closed to Union advances for a time. The Monitor saved the fleet from further destruction and kept the Virginia trapped in Hampton Roads. However, the significance of March 8 and 9, 1862 went far beyond the immediate needs in Hampton Roads. The Virginia demonstrated the power of iron over wood on March 8, and the Monitor and Virginia showed the world’s navies the future of warship construction when the two clashed on March 9. This first meeting of two ironclad warships in battle forever changed naval architecture, battle tactics, and the very psychology of the men who served within them.
Saturday, March 8, 1862 was laundry day for the crews of the Union’s North Atlantic Blockading Squadron in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The rigging of the wooden vessels was festooned with blue and white clothing, drying in the late winter sun. Shortly after noon, the quartermaster of the USS Congress, which was anchored off Newport News Point, saw something strange through his telescope. He turned to the ship’s surgeon and said, “I wish you would take the glass and have a look over there, Sir. I believe that thing is a’comin’ down at last.”
That “thing” was the CSS Virginia. The Confederates had been converting the burnt-out hull of the steam screw frigate Merrimack into a casemated ironclad ram at Gosport Navy Yard on the Elizabeth River. It had taken nine months for the conversion, and Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan, was impatient to strike at the blockading fleet. March 8, 1862 would be the Virginia’s sea trial, as well as her trial by fire.
The men of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, who had grown weary of waiting for the Virginia to come out, now scrambled to prepare for battle. In the panic of the moment, and with the tide at ebb, several vessels ran aground, including the USS Congress and the USS Minnesota.
The USS Cumberland was Buchanan’s first target. With his guns firing at the wooden ship, Buchanan rammed the Cumberland on her starboard side. The hole below her waterline was large, and the ship immediately began to sink, nearly taking the Virginia with her. Scores of Union sailors from the Cumberland died at their guns, or went down with their ship; guns still firing and flags still defiantly flying.
The Virginia broke free, and steamed slowly into the James River. The men on the stranded Congress began to cheer, thinking they had been spared the same horrific fate. That cheer was cut short, however, when they saw that the Virginia had made her ponderous turn.
The Virginia’s withering firepower tore into the USS Congress for nearly two hours. With most of the crew dead or wounded, including the commanding officer, the remaining men of the Congress surrendered. Enraged at Union shore batteries which continued to fire upon the white flag, Buchanan ordered the Congress to be set afire, and then began personally firing back at the shore with a rifle. He quickly became a target on the exposed top deck of the Virginia. Wounded, he turned command over to his Executive Officer, Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones, who returned the Virginia to her moorings that evening. Falling darkness and a receding tide had saved the steam frigate USS Minnesota from the same fate as the Congress and Cumberland.
The mood in Hampton Roads was one of disbelief and for some, resignation. The hope of the Union navy—the USS Monitor—had been too late to sink the Virginia at her moorings. The Monitor, a radical vessel designed by Swedish-American genius John Ericsson, had been built in just a little over 100 days, thanks to the combined muscle of the Northern iron industry. Launched in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, this strange little ship had only two guns—XI-inch Dahlgrens—housed in her most distinctive feature: a revolving gun turret which sat upon her flat deck. Commanded by Lieutenant John Lorimer Worden, the Monitor and crew had left New York bound for Hampton Roads on March 6, 1862. A storm very nearly sank her before they arrived at their destination on the evening of March 8.
The distant sound of booming guns greeted the Monitor as she approached the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Nearing Fortress Monroe as darkness fell, the Monitor’s Acting Paymaster, William Keeler, recalled that as the Monitor drew closer to the scene, civilian vessels “were leaving like a covey of frightened quails & their lights danced over the water in all directions.”
Worden immediately received orders to protect the grounded Minnesota, still trapped on Hampton Flats. The burning Congress provided an eerie backdrop to the fevered activities in Hampton Roads, along with the “considerable noise” floating across the water from Confederate celebrations at Sewell’s Point. Union crews struggled in vain to tow the Minnesota to safety. Exploding munitions from the Congress pelted the Minnesota throughout the evening.
After midnight, the flames of the Congress reached the ship’s powder magazine and the whole of Hampton Roads was treated to a horrific fireworks display. Despite being over two miles from the dying vessel, the explosion was so intense it “seemed almost to lift us out of the water,” William Keeler wrote. It was felt for miles around.
Just after dawn on March 9, the men of the Virginia tucked into a hearty breakfast made all the more festive by two jiggers of whiskey for each man. In contrast, the Monitor’s exhausted crew sat together on the berth deck eating hardtack and canned roast beef, washing it down with coffee. Many of them had been awake for well over 24 hours.
Intense fog early that morning delayed the Virginia‘s assault upon the stranded Minnesota, so it was not until 8:00 a.m. that the Virginia was able to approach her prey. The Virginia‘s crew saw what appeared to be “a shingle floating in the water, with a gigantic cheesebox rising from its center” sitting alongside the frigate. Confederates who had been following the Northern newspapers knew that this cheesebox must be the anticipated Union ironclad. The Virginia‘s first shot went through the Minnesota’s rigging shortly before 8:30 a.m. while the Monitor&rquo;s crew braced for battle inside of their untested, experimental vessel.
Worden moved the Monitor directly towards the Virginia, placing his ship between the Virginia and her prey. Within yards of the Virginia, Worden called all stop to the engines and sent the command to the crew in the turret to “Commence firing!” The “cheesebox” had found her voice.
A “rattling broadside” which could have easily as come from the Minnesota as the Virginia soon slammed into the turret. The gunners quickly realized that both they and the turret were unharmed. They also found that while the turret turned well, it proved difficult to stop revolving once in motion. Eventually, they let it continue to revolve, firing “on the fly” when the enemy target came in sight.
The conventions applied to traditional naval tactics soon went by the wayside as well. Though the men had carefully marked the stationary portion of the deck beneath the turret with chalk marks to indicate starboard and port bearings, and bow and stern, the marks were soon obliterated by sweat, which fell from the gunners “like rain.” Worden, who was stationary in the pilothouse continued to give commands in the traditional way. When asked, “How does the Merrimac bear?” Worden’s reply of “on the starboard beam” was of little use to the turret crew.
For over four hours, both vessels circled one another, testing each other’s armor and looking for vulnerabilities. Finally, just after noon, the Virginia‘s rifled stern gun fired directly into the Monitor’s pilothouse at a range of ten yards, just as Worden was peering out. Stunned and temporarily blinded, Worden gave the order to “shear off” temporarily. He turned command over to his Executive Officer, Samuel Dana Greene, and told his officers, “to [s]ave the Minnesota if you can.” Returning to the damaged pilothouse, Greene observed that the Virginia appeared to be in retreat and abandoned the chase in order to protect the Minnesota. On the Virginia, Catesby Jones interpreted Greene’s action as retreat and believed the Monitor had broken off the fight. With the tide receding, Jones made a course for Gosport in order to repair the damage done to his vessel.
Both sides claimed victory.
Though the March 9 battle itself was largely uneventful, the long-term effect of the action was significant. The Monitor’s timely arrival on the evening of March 8 insured that the Virginia would be unable to break the blockade in Hampton Roads. The Monitor saved the Minnesota outright (so much so that one Minnesota crew member had his tombstone designed to look like the Monitor—the ship that saved his life), and helped keep the Virginia forever trapped in Hampton Roads until the Confederate vessel was destroyed by her own crew on May 11, 1862, following the fall of Norfolk to Union forces.
The long-term impact of the battle was more profound, however. Both the Monitor and the Virginia served as prototypes for classes of vessels that drew upon their innovative designs. The ironclad rams of the Confederacy and the turreted monitors of the Union saw action in the Atlantic, Gulf, and Western rivers. The monitor design continued as the principal coastal and riverine warship in North and South America as well as Europe until the turn of the century. While ironclads had certainly existed before the Monitor and Virginia, their meeting on March 9, 1862 ushered in the next phase of naval warfare, where machine and armament become paramount and the graceful wooden sailing ships of the age of fighting sail became forlorn relics of the past.
The author Herman Melville summed it up rather gloomily:
Yet this was battle, and intense —
Beyond the strife of fleets heroic;
Deadlier, closer, calm ‘mid storm;
No passion; all went on by crank,
Pivot, and screw,
And calculations of caloric.
He ends with the pronouncement that “War shall yet be, but warriors/Are now but operatives….”
In this way, the first battle of ironclads marked a shift in warfare that would be manifested in ship design, battle tactics, and the very psychology of the men involved. “There isn’t enough danger to give us glory,” lamented William Keeler, Paymaster of the USS Monitor, to his wife. A Confederate officer of a later ironclad simply said that “the poetry of the profession is gone.” Life in the ironclad age would be very different indeed.
Lieutenant John Lorimer Worden became the toast of the nation after the battle of the Ironclads, March 9, 1862. He was the commander of USS Monitor, a “cheesebox on top of a raft,” during its iconic fight with the CSS Virginia. He was wounded in the battle, but that did not keep him from becoming one of the most beloved heroes of the time. He was honored by the state of New York with a Tiffany’s ceremonial sword for his role in the battle of Hampton Roads.
This battle, a victory for neither the Union nor Confederacy, was seen as a turning point in the Civil War. Monitor could protect the Union from Confederate ironclads, like the Virginia. Worden and the ship’s designer, John Ericsson, were seen as the saviors of the Union for keeping the Virginia from destroying the Union fleet at Hampton Roads. Because of the battle and the roles Worden and Ericsson played in it, each was honored by having their names engraved in the side of one of the two Dahlgren guns to represent their significance to the ship’s success. Worden’s naval career continued until 1886 when he retired as a rear admiral. He died 11 years later.
Since his death in 1897, the U.S. Navy has named four ships, as well as the parade field at the U.S. Naval Academy and Fort Worden, Port Townsend, Washington, in Worden’s honor. Worden was an influential player in the technological advances of the Civil War and was well beloved by the men who served under him, as well as by the nation he protected. He leaves us with valuable lessons in leadership, innovations in technology, and courage.
Thomas Selfridge, Jr. was born on February 6, 1836, in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the son of Captain Thomas O. Selfridge, Sr., a distinguished naval officer. An 1854 graduate of the Naval Academy, he was assigned to the Independence.
At the beginning of the Civil War, Selfridge was stationed on the Cumberland, and participated in the battle against the Virginia on March 8, 1862. Selfridge was given command of the Monitor by Secretary of the Navy Welles, relieving Lieutenant Greene on March 10, 1862. His command lasted only four days after it was found that Commodore Goldsborough had already passed the command of the Monitor to Lieutenant William Jeffers. In his short command, Selfridge ordered that a new pilot house be built to replace the one destroyed in battle. On March 13, 1862, Lt. Jeffers took command of the Monitor.
For the remainder of the war, Selfridge saw almost constant action aboard several ships. He is best remembered for his command of the Union gunboat Cairo, which was lost to a Confederate torpedo on the Yazoo.
Selfridge retired from the Navy in 1898. He died in 1924.
William Jeffers was born on October 16, 1824, in Swedesboro, New Jersey. The son of a lawyer and part of a maritime family, he decided in 1840 on a naval career. As a midshipman, he sailed around the Horn on the United States, one of the oldest ships in the fleet. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1846. Early in his career, Jeffers took particular interest in gunnery and published a manual on the subject.
On March 12, 1862, he took command of the Monitor. After commanding the Monitor for a month, Jeffers wrote his analysis of the ship, noting especially its gunnery faults. He proposed many improvements to the ship, all of them well argued and factual; however, the Navy Department ignored his suggestions.
In May, the Monitor was ordered up the James River to Richmond with the ironclad USS Galena and three wooden ships. The ships arrived at Drewry’s Bluff on May 15, 1862. At a narrow, blocked point in the river, the Union flotilla came under the Confederates’ guns on Drewry’s Bluff. The Monitor moved forward to help, but could not raise her guns to fire up toward the bluff. After nearly four hours of shelling, the Union gunboats withdrew. The Galena was badly damaged, but the Monitor remained unharmed.
Following the battle at Drewry’s Bluff, Jeffers was ordered to return the Monitor to Hampton Roads, where she remained throughout the summer on blockade duty. In August 1862, Jeffers was relieved of command of the Monitor.
Jeffers’s service record reports that due to poor health, he was not given further sea duty. Instead, he was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance in Philadelphia and later in Washington. Following the war, Jeffers was again assigned to sea duty, this time in command of the Swatara. In this capacity he returned John Surrat, one of the conspirators in the Lincoln assassination, to the United States from Italy to stand trial.
Having attained the rank of commodore, Jeffers died in 1883 of kidney disease.
Thomas Stevens was born on May 27, 1819, in Middletown, Connecticut, the son of distinguished naval officer Thomas H. Stevens, Jr. On December 14, 1836, he enlisted as a midshipman in the US Navy. His first appointment was to the frigate Independence. After graduating from the Naval Academy, Stevens spent much of his service assigned to the Pacific Squadron and he distinguished himself during the war with Mexico.
On March 25, 1862, Stevens was ordered to the Maratanza, a double-ended wooden steamer. The ship was stationed in Hampton Roads with engagements in both the York and James Rivers. On May 18, 1862, the Maratanza and the Monitor engaged a small Confederate force near City Point on the James River. The action resulted in the capture of the CSS Teaser.
On August 9, 1862, Stevens was took command of the Monitor, replacing Jeffers. He was in command for less than two months, and during his command the Monitor saw almost no action.
Having previously gained the attention of Commodore Charles Wilkes, Stevens was reassigned at Wilkes’s request to command the new 955-ton gunboat Sonoma. Stevens joined Wilkes’s West Indies Squadron. Wilkes’s command was specially organized to track the Confederate commerce raiders Florida and Alabama, then operating in the Caribbean.
Stevens later served aboard other monitors, commanding both the Patapsco off Fort Sumter in 1863 and the Winnebago at Mobile Bay in 1864. He retired from the Navy in 1896, and died in 1898.
John Bankhead was born on August 3, 1821, at Fort Johnston, South Carolina. His father was General James Bankhead, a brigadier general who distinguished himself in the Mexican War. Bankhead entered the Navy in August 1838 at the age of 17. His first ship was the frigate Macedonian. In 1844, he graduated second in his class from the Naval School in Philadelphia and served in the Coast Survey. While in Vera Cruz during the Mexican War, Bankhead served under his father.
During the Civil War, Bankhead was stationed on the Pembina and was sent to Charleston, South Carolina, for blockade duty. In the middle of August the Pembina was ordered to New York for repairs. Flag Officer DuPont wrote a letter on Bankhead’s behalf to Captain Gustavus Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, requesting that he be transferred to an iron vessel. Bankhead was given the Monitor and took command from Thomas Stevens on September 10, 1862.
Shortly after Bankhead arrived on the Monitor, the boilers and engines were condemned, and on October 3, 1862, the ironclad arrived at the Washington Navy Yard for repairs. By November the ship’ repairs were complete and it returned to Hampton Roads.
Orders were issued on December 24, 1862, for the Monitor to move to Beaufort, North Carolina. There the ship would join the blockade off Charleston. On Christmas Day the Monitor was ready for sea, but bad weather delayed departure until December 29. On December 31, 1862, a storm hit the seas off Hatteras, and the Monitor, under tow by the USS Rhode Island, foundered and sank, taking 16 men with it. Bankhead himself was saved, but suffered from exposure. After his recovery he was given command of the side-wheeler Florida and participated in blockade duty off Fort Fisher, North Carolina. In 1864, Bankhead was transferred to the Otsego, but was eventually relieved of command due to poor health. Bankhead ended the war in command of the Wyoming, which was stationed in the Pacific searching for the CSS Shenandoah.
The Wyoming was transferred to the Asiatic Squadron, and Bankhead remained in command until 1867 when, due to poor health, he requested to be relieved of duty. He died that same year on his way home to the United States.
Samuel Dana Greene was born on February 1, 1840, in Cumberland, Maryland. Greene entered the Navy as an acting midshipman on September 21, 1855. After graduating from the US Naval Academy in 1859, he was stationed on the steam sloop Hartford, which was sent to China and cruised the seas of the Far East. When the Civil War broke out, the ship was ordered to return home. Greene arrived in Philadelphia on December 2, 1861. After a short leave, he volunteered for duty on the Monitor.
The shortage of junior officers gave Greene, at the age of 20, the chance to serve as executive officer on the Monitor, under the command of Lt. John L. Worden. Greene’s responsibilities included the assigning of crew to their watches and quarters, and as gunnery officer, he trained the crew on the two Dahlgrens in the turret. During the battle between the Monitor and the Virginia on March 9, 1862, Greene had command of the turret and personally fired each shot directed at the Virginia.
After Lieutenant Worden was wounded during the battle, Greene assumed command of the Monitor. Uncertain of the damage done to the Monitor’s steering gear, he ordered a break in action and had Monitor steer into shallow water. He determined that the ship was able to continue the battle and ordered the Monitor to again pursue the Virginia. But by the time the Monitor returned to action, the Virginia was already steaming toward Norfolk. Seeing the Confederates in apparent retreat, Greene did not pursue them, but returned to protect the USS Minnesota.
Greene remained in command of the Monitor from the time of commanding officer Worden‘s injury until Thomas Selfridge took command the next day. He then returned to the duties of executive officer until the Monitor was lost at sea. At that time he was ordered to be the Florida‘s executive officer and was later transferred to the Iroquois, where he finished the war in the Pacific, unsuccessfully tracking the CSS Shenandoah.
Greene remained in the Navy, serving as an instructor at the Naval Academy and seeing limited sea duty. His career came to a tragic end in 1884 when, in the depth of “anxiety,” he shot himself while on duty in New Hampshire.
Born October 25, 1814, William P. Flye lived in Lincoln County, Maine, and married Mary Elizabeth Perkins, with whom he had two children. He was a sailor by trade and was described as 5’7″ tall with brown hair, blue eyes, and a light complexion. He was appointed Professor of Mathematics in the US Navy on December 7, 1841. He spent time on the USS John Adams, USS Jamestown, and at the Naval Observatory before he resigned on March 7, 1857. He was promoted to acting volunteer lieutenant on December 1, 1861, and stationed on the US receiving ship North Carolina. He was onboard the USS Roanoke on March 8, 1862, when the CSS Virginia wreaked havoc on the Union fleet. He was transferred to the USS Monitor on March 9. He left the crew of the Monitor in October because he was transferred to the USS Underwriter. He spent time on the USS Kensington, at the Naval Yard in Memphis, Tennessee; on the USS Osage, the USS Benton, and the USS Lexington before he was discharged on December 24, 1865, at the age of 51. Partially disabled due to deafness incurred during the war, Flye lived until 1898.
Born in 1833, in Dutchess County, New York, Edwin Velie Gager was a sailor by trade. He married twice, had no children with his first wife, and sired five children with his second. He was described as 5’7″ tall, with gray eyes, dark hair, and a fair complexion. He enlisted in Brooklyn, New York, in April of 1861. He was assigned as acting master of the USS Monticello, until March 10, 1862, when he was assigned to the USS Monitor. He resigned from the ship in July and moved to Newark, New Jersey. He died in 1914.
Louis Napoleon Stodder was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1837. He married Watie Howland Alderich and had two children. Although these two were never divorced, they did separate, and Stodder remarried Rose B. Champlin and had one child with her. He was a sailor by occupation and was appointed acting master in the US Navy on December 26, 1861.
In late January he joined the Monitor’s crew. During the battle of Hampton Roads, Stodder was stationed at the wheel which turned the turret. He was knocked unconscious when a shell struck the turret as he was leaning against it. He recovered several hours later.
During the sinking of the Monitor, Stodder cut the hawser line connecting the Monitor to the USS , a task which had already claimed two lives. For this, commanding officer John P. Bankhead gave him a commendation. He was transferred to the crew of the USS Rhode Island as acting volunteer lieutenant. He went on to command USS Release and USS Adela before he was transferred to the USS Niphon and USS Calypso.
After the war, he was assigned to the Potomac Flotilla protecting Washington, D.C. following President Lincoln’s assassination. He went on to join the US Revenue Cutter Service and became a captain. He died of a stroke and pulmonary edema following a nervous breakdown in October 1911.
Described as 5’5″ tall, with light blue eyes, light brown hair, and a light complexion, Frederickson was born on the Island of Møn, Denmark, circa 1834. He married and had two children. At the beginning of the Civil War, he and his family were living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He enlisted December 4, 1861, in New York as acting master’s mate for the USS Monitor. During the sinking of the Monitor, Fredrickson was seen giving Peter Williams a watch and overheard saying, “Here, this is yours; I may be lost.” These are the last words Fredrickson is known to have said, as he was lost with the Monitor and 15 other crew members when the ship went down off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on December 31, 1862.
Born June 5, 1827, Alban Crocker Stimers was appointed as 3rd assistant engineer on the USS Water Witch in April of 1849. After a series of ships and several promotions, he was named the superintendent for the Ericsson’s Battery Project on October 4, 1861, where he oversaw the construction, launch, and early career of the USS Monitor because of this. He was a “technical passenger” during the ship’s trial trip from New York to Hampton Roads, Virginia, and he was present for the battle between the Monitor and the CSS Virginia on March 9, 1862. He operated the crank that turned the turret, which could not be stopped during the battle because of malfunction. He was thrown to the floor during the battle, when a shell hit the turret as he was leaning his hand against it.
He left the Monitor in April and collaborated with the Monitor’s designer, John Ericsson, to build the next class of ironclads. He was on the Passaic during the attack on Fort McAllister, South Carolina, March 5, 1863. He observed and reported on monitors in action at Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 7, 1863. Between May and August 1863 he was tried and acquitted by a Court of Inquiry for spreading falsehoods and conduct unbecoming an officer. He was in charge of the failed project to construct light-draft Casco-class monitors and he was assigned to the USS Tunxis, Wabash, and Powhattan. He resigned from the US Navy on August 3, 1865, and continued working as a civil engineer. He died of smallpox in 1876.
Born in New York City, Isaac Newton, Jr. had a degree in civil engineering and was working as a pilot/engineer/boat builder/machinist/mechanic before the Civil War. He served on an ocean liner in 1857-58, worked on his Engineers’ Certificate in 1859, and received a commission as the 1st assistant engineer on the USS Roanoke in June of 1861. He was transferred to the USS Monitor on February 7, 1862; was again transferred to be superintendent of construction for the Office of the General Inspector of Ironclads in August of that year; and spent the rest of the war working on ironclad construction. He resigned in February 1865 and went on to become chief engineer for Croton Aqueduct, Public Works, City of New York. He slit his own throat because of depression caused by poor health on September 25, 1884.
Albert Bogart Campbell enlisted in New York on August 26, 1859, as a 3rd Assistant Engineer. He was promoted to 2nd assistant engineer in 1861. He joined the crew of the Monitor on February 7, 1862, and was transferred to the USS Saranac in June of the same year. He took a leave of absence from the US Navy in January of 1863, possibly due to illness, and resigned May 5, 1863. Not much else is known about Campbell.
Born circa 1835 in Baltimore, Maryland, Robinson Woollen Hands, a mechanical engineering student before the war, joined the US Navy as a 3rd assistant engineer on February 1, 1862. He was assigned to the USS Monitor soon after, serving on the ship for much of its life. He was killed in action when the ship sank with 15 other crew members on December 31, 1862.
Mark Trueman Sunstrom was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1844. He was a bookkeeper before the war, but was commissioned as 3rd assistant engineer on February 1, 1862. He was soon assigned to the USS Monitor and stayed on the ship through the battle of Hampton Roads and through the sinking. He survived and was eventually promoted to 2nd assistant engineer. He resigned from the US Navy, because of an injury incurred during service, on November 10, 1865. He went back to Baltimore where he worked as a clerk. He died of consumption of the throat in 1875.
Joseph Watters was born circa 1837, in Bordentown, New Jersey. A machinist, he married Caroline Kelly and had two children. He joined the US Navy as a 3rd assistant engineer on October 22, 1860. He was assigned to the USS Crusader and Winona before he was promoted to 2nd assistant engineer in December of 1862. He spent a short time on the USS Ossipee, Seneca, Mingoe, Chippewa, and Chattanooga before he was transferred to the USS Monitor to replace the injured Acting Chief Engineer Albert Campbell on December 28, 1862. He was only on the Monitor three days before the ship sank. He survived the sinking and was transferred to the twin-turreted ironclad USS Kickapoo. He died in service on this ship in September 1866 from yellow fever.
William Keeler was born on June 9, 1821, in Utica, New York. He was the oldest son of a successful businessman, Roswell Keeler, and Mary Plant. In 1846, he married Anna Dutton and moved to La Salle, Illinois.
On December 17, 1861, at the age of 40, Keeler obtained a naval appointment through Congressman Owen Lovejoy. He was given the position of acting assistant paymaster and clerk and was sent to New York. The exact date he was assigned to the Monitor is not known, but it is believed to have been some time in January 1862. While serving as the paymaster aboard the Monitor, Keeler sent many letters home to his wife. These letters reveal details of life aboard the ironclad and Keeler’s opinions of the crew. He survived the sinking of the Monitor on December 31, 1862. He was not transferred to another ship immediately after the sinking; instead, he spent about a month settling the Monitor’s accounts. On February 7, 1863, Keeler was stationed on the Florida, where he remained until the end of the war.
Keeler then moved his family from Illinois to Mayport, Florida. Keeler worked as a customs collector, elections inspector, and railroad paymaster until his death in 1886.
Daniel Logue was born in Otisville, New York, on August, 27 1832. Before the war, he was a physician and lived with his wife and two children in New York City. He was commissioned as an acting assistant surgeon in the US Navy on January, 25, 1862, and was assigned to the Monitor in February.
Logue was one of the first men to test one of Monitor’s new, below-the-waterline, flushing toilets. He accidentally operated the valves incorrectly and was blown off the head by a jet of water. He was the medical officer on board through the battle of Hampton Roads until his resignation in October 1862. Even though the ironclad withstood 22 shots, during the battle, Logue had five injured men to treat after the fight: Moses Stearns (hernia), Alban Stimers (slight concussion), Louis Stodder (concussion), Peter Truscott (severe concussion), and John L. Worden (facial burns, eye injury, and concussion).
He resigned from the Navy on October 7, 1862. After the war, he resided in Long Island, New York, where he worked as a surgeon. In 1905, he was described as 5’7″ with blue eyes, brown hair, and a blonde complexion. He died in 1914.
Francis Banister Butts was born January 27, 1844, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was a farmer in Cranston, Rhode Island, until he enlisted on August 16, 1861, as a corporal in Battery E, 1st Regiment, Rhode Island Light Artillery. He was described as 5’9-1/2″ tall with blue eyes, auburn hair, and a florid complexion. He enlisted in the Navy on October 3, 1862, for a one-year term as a landsman. He served on the US receiving ship North Carolina and in the Washington Navy Yard before his assignment on the USS Monitor. He survived that ship’s sinking and was transferred to the USS Brandywine, later serving on the USS Stepping Stones and USS Flag. He was discharged from his Navy post as paymaster’s clerk on April 23, 1865. After the war he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he was married. Butts wrote an account of the Monitor’s sinking in 1883 that exaggerated many details of the ship’s demise. He died in 1905.
Siah Hulett was born on October 4, 1839, to John and Molly Hulett, who were both slaves of Shirley Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia. Siah worked as a carpenter on Colonel Hill Carter’s plantation until the night of May 18, 1862, when he rowed out to the Monitor which was moored off of City Point in the James River.
The armed guards on deck yelled, “Boat, ahoy,” and shot at the approaching boat.
Captain Jeffers yelled to his crew, “Boarders!” calling every available crewmen to the deck to ready to fight.
But, instead, they found “a poor trembling contraband – begging not to be shot…” Siah was described as 5’6-1/2″ to 5’8-1/2″ tall with brown eyes, black hair, and a dark complexion. He enlisted in the US Navy for a three-year term as a ship’s boy the next day using his master’s name as his own– Siah Hulett Carter. He was the first contraband to join the Monitor’s crew. He told the other men that Hill Carter had warned the slaves not to join the Union Navy because, “the Yankees would carry them out to sea…& throw them overboard.”
He survived the sinking of the Monitor on Dec. 31, 1862, and went on to serve on the USS Brandywine, Florida, Belmont, Wabash, and Commodore Barney. While onboard the last of these, he suffered from frost bite and was discharged on May 19, 1865. He lived in St. Mary, Maryland and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after the war, where he worked as a laborer. He married Eliza Tarrow and they had 13 children. He died in 1892.
Born in Austria in 1836, Wilhelm Durst immigrated to America in November of 1861. He was a porter for the few months leading to his enlistment in the Navy on February 14, 1862, for a three-year term. He was assigned as a coal heaver on the USRS North Carolina for a short while, but was transferred to the USS Monitor 11 days later. He deserted in November 1862, but re-enlisted in February 1863 as a second-class fireman under the alias “Walter David” claiming he was 32 years old and a machinist.
Durst was described as 5’6″ tall, with hazel eyes, brown hair, a dark complexion, with a “WD” tattoo on his right wrist. He subsequently served on USRS North Carolina, USS Catskill, and USS Princeton.
After the war, he married Ester Walensteine and had two children. He later married again, Anna Neuman and had four more children. His desertion charges were dropped in 1906 and he worked in Philadelphia as a jewelry peddler. Durst died of pneumonia in 1916.
On April 19, 1945, Andrew Fenton died in Vineland, New Jersey. The 101-year-old man claimed to be the last surviving crew member of the USS Monitor. Born circa 1844, Fenton married and had one child. While he is purported to have served on the Monitor, no records of naval service have been found.
Born in Scotland circa 1838, James R. Fenwick enlisted in Boston as an ordinary seaman for a two-year term on August 22, 1861. He was described as 5’5″ tall, with blue eyes, auburn hair, a light complexion, and “J.R.F. Dundee” tattooed on his right forearm. He served on the USS Ohio and Sabine; while on furlough, he married Mary Ann Duffy in October 1862. He was transferred to the USS Monitor on November 7, 1862, and was promoted to quarter gunner soon after. He was arrested for fighting with a fellow crewman during his time onboard.
During the ship’s sinking on December 31, 1862, Fenwick and one other sailor volunteered to cross the storm washed deck in order to cut the remaining hawser line connecting the USS Monitor and the USS Rhode Island. This task cost him his life, as he was swept off the deck, never to be seen again. He left behind a pregnant wife.
George Spencer Geer was born on May 17, 1836, in Troy, New York. He was a machinist who worked in the shop that built the USS Monitor’s boiler. He married Martha Clark Hamilton and had six children. Geer enlisted in the US Navy in New York on February 16, 1862, as a first-class fireman. Described as 5’7-1/2″ tall, with blue eyes, brown hair, and a fair complexion, he often wrote letters to his father and wife in his spare time. He was transferred from the USRS North Carolina to the USS Monitor in February 1862 and was promoted to engineer yeoman in May of that year. He survived the sinking of the Monitor and was assigned as acting 3rd assistant engineer on the USS Galena on January 19, 1863. He served on the USS Vermont and Philadelphia until the war’s end. He was honorably discharged in December of 1865 and went on to work as an engineer. He died of swamp fever in 1892 in Charleston, South Carolina.
Born in Ireland, circa 1826, Patrick Hannan was a machinist by trade. Hannan enlisted in New York as a first-class fireman for a three-year term in February 1862 and was transferred to the USS Monitor that same month. He survived the ship’s sinking and was transferred to the USS Brandywine and North Carolina before he was assigned to the USS Keokuk. He participated in DuPont’s attack on Charleston until the Keokuk foundered off Morris Island. He was then transferred to the USS Vermont and Ohio. He was discharged May 1863 and worked as an engineer until he died of pneumonia in 1892.
Born in Ireland, circa 1834, James Malone was a chandler, or a supplier of materials for ships, who enlisted for a one-year term in New York as a landsman. Malone was only 4’4-1/2″ tall, making him the shortest USS Monitor crew member. He had hazel eyes, black hair, and a dark complexion. He served on the Monitor from the beginning of November 1862 until the sinking on December 31, 1862. He survived and was transferred to the USS Brandywine.
Lawrence Murray was born in New York City, circa 1828. A cook, he enlisted in the US Navy for a three-year term as a landsman in February 1862. He was described as 5’6″ tall, with blue eyes, a bald head, and a fair complexion. He was transferred to the USS Monitor on March 6, 1862, to serve as a wardroom steward.
One day, while on shore leave, Murray got drunk, came back to the ship, took an axe and attacked another crew member. He was placed in double-irons. He managed to get to the side of the ship and jumped overboard, but because he was in irons, he drowned. His body was found three days later. “Geer noted that no one would lament his loss, as all Lawrence Murray did was drink and gamble his time and money away without sending support to his wife and child in California.”
Jacob Nicklis was born circa 1841 in Buffalo, New York. He was a sailor by occupation and re-enlisted in Buffalo on October 13, 1862, for a one-year term as an ordinary seaman. He was described as 5’7-1/2″ tall, with gray eyes, light hair, and a ruddy complexion. He was assigned to New York Navy Yard and Washington Navy Yard, before he was transferred to the USS Monitor on November 7, 1862. During his short time on the Monitor he wrote letters to his father, which give us insight into his life onboard. He drowned with the ship on December 31, 1862.
Daniel Toffey was born in Pawling, New York, on December 22, 1837. Married with three children, Toffey worked as a clerk before the war. He was also the nephew of Monitor’s first commanding officer, Lt. John L. Worden, and thus served as captain’s clerk for his uncle. He acted as a messenger during the battle of Hampton Roads, relaying messages from the pilot house to the turret. He was wounded during this battle on March 9, 1862, when a shot hit the pilothouse injuring the Captain (his uncle), too. On April 17, 1862, Congress presented Toffey with a gold medal for his service.
He worked as a cattle broker after the war, and later became an alderman in Jersey City, New Jersey. He died in 1893.