USS Monitor

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Monitor

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Monitor
(Monitor: t. 987; dp. 11'4"; 1. 172'; b. 41'6"; dr. 10'6";
colt 47; a. 211" D.sb. cl. Monitor)

The prime contract for construction of Monitor was awarded to her designer John Ericsson 4 October 1861. Construction of her hull was subcontracted to the Continental Iron Works at Green Point, Long Island

fabrication of her engines was delegated to Delamater & Co., New York City; and the building of her turret, composed of eight layers of 1-inch iron plates, was assigned to the Novelty Iron Works, also of New York City. The revolutionary craft was launched 30 January 1862; and commissioned 25 February, Lt. John L. Worden in command.

The ironclad departed New York Navy Yard 27 February 1862, but steering failure caused her to return. On 6 March, she again departed New York Navy Yard towed by Seth Lou, and headed for the Virginia Capes~

As Monitor approached Cape Henry on the afternoon of 8 March, CSS Virginia the former U.S. steam frigate Merrimack, now rebuilt as an ironclad ram, steamed out of the Elizabeth River into Hampton Roads and attacked the wooden hulled Union warships blockading Norfolk. Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan, the dreaded ram's commander, singled out sailing sloop Cumberland as his first victim.

She opened the engagement when less than a mile distant from Cumberland and the firing became general from blockaders and shore batteries; but most shots from the Union guns glanced harmlessly off the Confederate ironclad's slanted sides. Virginia rammed Cumberland below the waterline and she sank rapidly, "gallantly fighting her guns," Buchanan reported in tribute to a brave foe, "as long as they were above water.' Buchanan next turned Virginia's fury on Congress, hard aground, and set her ablaze with hot shot and incendiary shell. She also damaged Minnesota before retiring to Sewell's Point for the night.

Monitor's crew could hear the roar of cannon as they rounded Cape Henry into Chesapeake Bay and headed toward the scene of battle. But all was quiet when she hove to alongside Roanoke. Captain Morston directed Worden to assist battered Minnesota, hard aground off Newport News.

At dawn, Virginia again emerged and headed toward Minnesota to administer the coup de grace. Monitor steamed out of the Minnesota's shadow to intercept the Confederate ironclad ram. A Confederate offlcer on CSS Patrick Henry, one of Virginia' paddle wheel consorts described the Union challenger as "an immense shingle floating on the water with a gigantic cheese box rising from its center, no sails, no wheels, no smokestack, no guns." But the bizarre federal vessel soon won the respect of friend and foe alike. For 4 hours she fought her dreaded adversary to a standstill, in a battle which revolutionized naval warfare while protecting the Federal blockade of the southern coast from its most serious challenge.

In the weeks that followed, Monitor remained alert in Hampton Roads ready to renew the engagement, should Virginia venture forth. The southern ram did make a brief appearance at Sewell's Point 11 April, but strategic considerations on both sides prevented A return engagement between the two vessels. Early in May, while General McClellen pushed through Yorktown and up the peninsula toward Richmond, the South withdrew from Norfolk and the southern bank of the James, and retired toward the Confederate capital. Virginia, too deep of draft to reach Richmond, was set afire 11 May and blew up.

Monitor, reinforced by ironclads Galena and Nagatuck, steamed up the James to gather information for MeCIellen and to strengthen the Union Army's left flank. Hov.'ever, when they reached Drury's Bluff 8 miles below the southern capital 15 May, their progress waS stopped by obstructions across the channel. Grayelad riflemen fired on the l nion ships from both shores and heavy naval guns mounted high on the cliff shelled them from an angle which minimized the effectiveness of their armor. monitor after moving up to protect riddled Galena, was unable to elevate her guns to hit the shore batteries, so retreated downstream.

Although checked in their thrust toward Richmond, the Union ships continued to provide McClellan with invaluable support. After his defeat by General Lee in the 7 days campaign, their guns saved the Army of the Potomac from annihilation.

At midsummer, Monitor helped cover the Union Army as it retired from the peninsula to shift operations back to northern Virginia. Thereafter, she performed blockade duty in Hampton Roads until ordered on Christmas Eve to proceed to North Carolina for operations against Wilmington. Towed by Rhode Island, she departed the Virginia Capes 2n December for Beaufort. hut the historic warship foundered in a storm off Cape Hatteras shortly after midnight 31 December. Four officers and 12 men went down with Monitor. Her hulk has never been located.