A Brief History Of The USS Monitor Ironclad

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The importance of this battle can only be measured by understanding the telegraph message sent by a British admiral who was observing the battle from land. His cable to the British Admiralty read “All the Navies of the world are obsolete as of today”. There was nothing in the British fleet (which ruled the seas) that could withstand the forces encountered in this famous battle. The Monitor went on to fight other battles against the Confederate forces until New Year’s eve of 1862, when she sank in a storm about 12 miles out from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The design and concept of the Monitor was so strikingly effective that the Federal Navy ordered 10 more ships to the design of the Monitor, but none were exact copies and even the steam engine was modified from the original form outlined in these pages.

The US S Monitor was found in 1974 and portions of the ship including the steam engine, propeller, and turret were recovered 25 years later and the Mariners Museum in Newport News Virginia was designated as the final site for these items.
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During the Civil War, the idea of the USS Monitor was born amidst a nation in turmoil. After discovering the Confederate Navy was constructing an impenetrable ironclad in Hampton Roads, Va., President Lincoln called for a naval board to propose construction of an ironclad vessel to lead the Union Navy. John Ericsson, a Swedish-American inventor, introduced a plan, which caught their attention. Complete with a rotating gun turret, low draft, sleek profile and Ericsson's claim as an "Impregnable Battery," the board was convinced to order swift production on what would become the USS Monitor. Construction immediately began at the Continental Ironworks in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, N.Y. Almost 100 days later, on January 30, 1862, the USS Monitor was launched into the East River.

The design of the Monitor was completely unique and was the forerunner of modern surface battleships. There were perhaps 40 inventions used in its creation, and included such things as a stealth design and a iron armored ship that would completely protect the crew from the enemy gunfire, and this protection included the ships steam propulsion unit. The engine used on the ship was all of Ericsson’s creation and was a derivation of his 1858 invention of a Vibrating Lever Steam Engine ( Patent Number 20,782) . The engine used in the Monitor is properly called a Vibrating Lever – Half Trunk – Back Acting Engine. The engine was unique because of its compact size and approximately 400 hp output which was needed to propel a 980 ton steel ship.

The CSS Virginia had a mission to break they blockade that Lincoln’s Navy had established to choke off the Confederacy. On March 8, 1862, the Virginia attacked the Federal Navy at Hampton Roads and decimated the three top frigates in the federal Navy. On March 9 they returned to Hampton Roads to engage the balance of the federal blockade and were met instead with the USS Monitor. The two ships battled each other for five hours before retiring no major damage was inflicted on either craft but the blockade persisted with the Monitors help. The Confederates had failed their objective and a few months later scuttled the Virginia.