The story of the USS Monitor is familiar to all students of the Civil War. A technological marvel in its day, the tale of its modern-day recovery is even more fascinating. The vessel was designed and built by John Ericsson, a Swedish inventor. In developing the ship, Ericsson obtained 240 patents for equipment, including forty-five related just to its turret. Rather than a standard ship hull, the Monitor was a large raft-like boat with a large revolving turret that supported two eleven-inch Dahlgren smoothbore guns. It weighed 987 tons. The first engagement between ironclad ships occurred on March 9, 1862, when the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (also known as the Merrimac) met at Hampton Roads, Virginia. After a four hour battle, the Virginia turned and left, giving the Monitor the tactical victory.
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On December 29, 1862, the USS Monitor left Hampton Roads to be towed to waters off the coast of Wilmington. Shortly after midnight on December 31, the ironclad sank during a storm off the coast of Cape Hatteras. Four officers and twelve crewmen were lost. The ship was found in 1973, bottom up, in about 240 feet of water. In August 1973 the Archaeology Branch of North Carolina’s Division of Archives and History participated in the identification of the remains of the USS Monitor. The United States Secretary of Commerce designated the wreck site, located sixteen miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, as the first National Marine Sanctuary in January 1975. Two years later the Division of Archives and History, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Harbor Branch Foundation co-sponsored reconnaissance and recovery operations at the Monitor Marine Sanctuary. In March 2001, the Monitor’s thirty-ton steam engine was recovered and the turret was prepared for a recovery attempt. With 150 divers assisting the effort, the turret was raised from the ocean floor on August 2002.
United States Navy, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (1991)
John L. Worden, The Monitor and the Merrimac: Both Sides of the Story (1912)
(Raleigh) News and Observer, August 6, 2002
U.S. News and World Report, July 29, 2002
Charlotte Observer, July 10, 2001
Mariners Museum website: http://www.monitorcenter.org/
Monitor National Marine Sanctuary website: http://monitor.nos.noaa.gov/