USS Monitor , a 987-ton armored turret gunboat, was built at New York to the design of John Ericsson . She was the first of what became a large number of "monitors" in the United States and other navies. Commissioned on 25 February 1862, she soon was underway for Hampton Roads, Virginia. Monitor arrived there on 9 March, and was immediately sent into action against the Confederate ironclad Virginia , which had sunk two U.S. Navy ships the previous day . The resulting battle , the first between iron-armored warships, was a tactical draw. However, USS Monitor prevented the CSS Virginia from gaining control of Hampton Roads and thus preserved the Federal blockade of the Norfolk area.
Following this historic action, Monitor remained in the Hampton Roads area and, in mid-1862 was actively employed along the James River in support of the Army's Peninsular Campaign. In late December 1862, Monitor was ordered south for further operations. Caught in a storm off Cape Hatteras, she foundered on 31 December. Her wreck was discovered in 1974 and is now a marine sanctuary.
USS Monitor 's
construction resulted from a study of ironclad warships mandated by the Congress in July 1861, as the Civil War moved rapidly from crisis to serious armed conflict. During August and September the study board's members, Commodores Joseph Smith and Hiram Paulding and Commander Charles H. Davis, reviewed seventeen proposals and selected three for construction. Two were relatively conventional designs and became USS New Ironsides and USS Galena . The third, unconventional in virtually every way, became the Monitor .
Swedish engineer John Ericsson was personally responsible for Monitor 's conception and the details of her design. Perhaps with Scandanavian coastal defense conditions in mind, he had been developing the concept on paper for several decades. What emerged was well-suited for the Civil War's inshore fighting: a relatively shallow-draft iron hull, topped by an armored raft that provided good protection against ramming and cannon fire. Freeboard was less than two feet, sufficient for coastal requirements, though a real problem when the ship went to sea. Engine power was modest, but again sufficient to the need, and a Navy requirement for masts and sails was quite appropriately ignored.
The most stunning innovation, on a ship whose design was dominated by innovations, was the method of carrying her guns: a thickly-armored round turret, twenty-feet in diameter, rotated by steam power to permit nearly all-around fire from a pair of eleven-inch Dahlgren smoothbore shell guns, the heaviest weapons then available.
Iron fabrication began even before the Monitor 's contract was issued in early October. Rapid construction was a necessity, as the Confederates were known to be pushing work on their own ironclad, which became CSS Virginia . The new ship's hull was built by the Continental Iron Works, at Greenpoint, Long Island, with iron stock, machinery and much equipment furnished by other firms. Launched on 30 January 1862, she was outfitted over the next month and placed in commission on 25 February, under the command of Lieutenant John L. Worden .
After trials and modifications, Monitor left New York on 6 March. The next day, she encountered stormy weather, which abundantly demonstrated both the inherent seakeeping problems of the design and some more-easily correctable technical difficulties. Late on 8 March, just a few hours after CSS Virginia had spread terror among the Union fleet , the weather-beaten Monitor arrived off Hampton Roads, where her exhausted crew spent a long night urgently preparing their ship for action.
Union Monitor 1861-65
The first seagoing ironclad was the USS Monitor, and its profile has made it one of the most easily recognised warships of all time. Following her inconclusive battle with the Confederate ironclad Virginia on March 9, 1862, the production of Union monitors was accelerated. By the end of the year a powerful squadron of monitor vessels protected the blockading squadrons off the Southern coastline, and were able to challenge Confederate control of her ports and estuaries
Year on a Monitor and the Destruction of Fort Sumter
Personal view of the Civil War Navy. The monitor saw action in several significant naval assaults by the Union's Squadron. It took part in the failed Federal attack on Sumter in April 1863. The "Nahant" also participated in the capture of the Confederate Ram "Atlanta," and in the assault on Fort Wagner