The Monitor




1. Introduction

2. Design

3. Deployment

4. Conclusion

A. Vocabulary


1. Inroduction

While testing the newly developed Underwater Object Locator (UOL) Mark IV south of Cape Hatters Light in North Carolina in August 1945, the US Navy detected a submerged object 140 feet long. Being in the region, in which the USS Monitor sunk in 1862, the Office of Naval history suspected the newly found object to be the wreck of USS Monitor.

However, due to bad weather conditions, the wreck could not be examined and accurately be identified by divers. Despite many attempts and big efforts, the exact location of the wreck of the Monitor remained a mystery until 1973, when a team of scientists located the wreck 16 miles off Cape Hatteras, lying in 240 feet of water

In January 1975, the Monitor has been designated the first US marine sanctuary under the management of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Since then, many expeditions have examined the wreck and a long range Preservation Plan has been established, leading to efforts to even recover parts of the wreck. Efforts that are still in progress today and that are of a certain interest to the public, as they’re published in the media.

Exploring information about the Monitor, facts that still make her attractive to scientists and journalists, together with the meaning to the Navy is the scope of this paper. Thus discovering a part of US living history.

It is structures into a brief description of the USS Monitor’s design, which will be followed by the review of the ships short deployment and a brief résumée.


2. Design

To understand the ships design, we have to take a short look at the ongoings in 1861, the year John Ericsson, a Swedish-American engineer, was commissioned to build the USS Monitor.

Between December 1860 and February 1861, seven states of the Deep South had seceded from the United States. They had declared themselves independent from the Union and formed a new government the Confederate States of America.

President Lincoln, determined to preserve the United States tried to weaken the Confederate States and to force them back into the union, set in force the "Anaconda Plan", designed to cut off the supply lines of the southern states. The United States Navy had to form a blockade of ships to close all the major port cities of the South, preventing them from receiving guns, food, clothing, and other supplies necessary to fight a war.


For both the North and the South, one of the most strategically important coastal regions was Hampton Roads in Virginia, where the wide mouth of the James River poured into the Chesapeake Bay. For the North, Hampton Roads was the doorway to the Confederate capital at Richmond. For the South, this was the passage to the sea and potential European allies. Fort Monroe, the massive stone fortress that guarded the inward approaches to Hampton Roads, remained solidly in Union hands, being a jumping-off place for many Union expeditions into the South, and an anchor for the blockade of the Atlantic coast.

In their struggle to break this blockade, the Confederate States build a Navy of their own, trying to use modern techniques to equal and overcome the power and the high numbers of US Navy ships.

Lacking success in buying new ships in Europe, the Confederate Congress approved the plan to convert the remainders of the former USS Merrimack into an ironclad, which soon should prove it’s overwhelming strength against the wooden US Navy frigates.

However, intelligence in Washington was aware of the Confederates efforts and realized the need for building a new type of warship.

In fall 1861 the US Navy offered John Ericsson $ 275,000 to build an ironclad for the Union and deliver it within 100 days.

Keeping the historical circumstances in mind, let’s now have a look at Monitor’s design:


The USS Monitor was quite unlike any other vessel afloat. Launched on January 30, 1862, at a cost of $275,000 to $280,000 it had more the appearance of a modern submarine than a contemporary warship. The hull was almost completely submerged, as it had only 13 inches (33 cm) of freeboard when in battle trim, and the only superstructure was a cylindrical gun turret and a small pilot house.

The ship was 173 feet long, 41 feet wide, had 987 tons displacement and 11’4’’ Draft.

It was built in two sections, the upper and lower hulls. The upper hull, with its armored deck and sides, provided a platform for the armored, revolving gun turret, which was nearly 22 feet (6.7 m) in diameter, and a small pilot house, forward. The smaller lower hull was several feet below the waterline, thus protecting the crew and machinery from enemy fire.

The Monitor's framing and lower hull were constructed of iron; however, she was not entirely an iron ship. Her main deck was composed of oak beams planked over with pine and protected by two layers of iron plate. Likewise, the "armor belt" that encircled her upper hull consisted of a thick band of oak and pine plated over with five layers of iron. Instead of a conventional "broadside" consisting of numerous cannons, Monitor's armament consisted of only two 11-inch (28 cm) Dahlgren smoothbore cannons, mounted side-by-side in her revolving turret.




173 feet long

41 feet wide

987 tons displacement

52 officers and crew

8-inch iron armor on the turret

5-inch iron armor on the armor belt

2 11-inch Dahlgren cannons






Gun ports


Deck lights, cap


Rudder hatch


Armor belt


Deck lights, glass


Blower ports


Rudder and propeller


Pilot house


Crew Hatch




Anchor well


Exhaust ports


Officers hatch





3. Deployment

The Monitor was launched at Greenpoint, Long Island in New York in January 1862. Meeting the 100-day deadline, Ericsson's success in completing the construction of the Monitor on schedule was due to the expertise of northern industry. When the Monitor's construction began, the Confederacy had been working on the Virginia for six months, and the Virginia would not be completed until February 1862, one month after the Monitor had been launched.


Following the Monitor's launching, the ship underwent several test runs and, after adjustments, set out for Hampton Roads on March 6, to reinforce the Union Blockade.

Two days later on March 8, 1862, the CSS Virginia left her dock at the Gosport Yard and steamed into the James River, where 17 ships of the United States Navy anchored, manning the blockade. The Virginia steamed directly toward two wooden ships of the Union Navy, the USS Cumberland and the USS Congress. The cannon balls fired from the US ships simply bounced off the Virginia's iron-plated casemate. The wooden ships of the blockading fleet were helpless against the Confederate ironclad. The Virginia sunk the USS Cumberland by crashing the wooden hull with its iron ram, turned towards the USS Congress, firing at close range, forcing her to surrender and left her a burning wreck. The Union counterfire having almost no harming effect on the Confederate Ship.

The USS Minnesota trying to come for help ran aground and the Virginia turned towards her. However, as the tide had already begun to ebb, she could not get close. Her weapons having no effect on distances bigger than 1000 yards, the captain of the CSS Virginia decided to return to its berthing place and renew the attack the next morning.

By the time the Monitor arrived at Hampton Roads, the Virginia had returned to her berth. She was ordered to tie to the side of the Minnesota and, if the Virginia returned, to protect the stranded ship at all costs. On the morning of March 9, 1862, the Virginia again steamed into Hampton Roads. She was returning to finish her attack on the Union fleet. As the Virginia approached the Minnesota, the Monitor steamed forward and intercepted the attacking Confederate ironclad.


Both ships opened fire and for the next four hours the two iron ships fought, often at very close distance. Surprisingly, neither ship was able to cause any serious damage to the other. Their thick iron armor repelled the cannon shots, causing no more than dents to the ships structure. But the design of the Monitor was superior to that of the Virginia. Although the latter had ten cannon compared to the Monitor's two cannon, the Monitor had a great advantage: the revolving turret. The turret could turn in a full circle. Regardless of the direction in which the ship was steering, its cannon could be turned around and fired in any direction. The Virginia's cannons were placed along the sides and ends of the ship. To aim its guns, the Virginia had to be steered so that

the cannon were pointing toward its target. The size and slow speed of the Virginia were also inferior to the Monitor. The Confederate ship was twice the size of the Monitor and moved very slowly. It required nearly 30 minutes for the Virginia to turn a full circle, and she could not float in less than 22 feet of water. Thus, being an easy target for the Monitor. The smaller, faster Monitor was a much harder target and her shallow draft of 11 feet made her perfect for action in the shallows of Hampton Roads.

However, at

the end of the battle, neither ship had sustained any real damage. The only member of either crew to be seriously injured was Lieutenant Worden, the commanding officer of the Monitor, hit in the face by a part of a shell and temporarily blinded. Soon after Worden's wounding, both ships withdrew from the battle. Although both crews would claim differently, the result of this encounter was a classical draw.

In the long run, the presence of the Monitor in Hampton Roads prevented the CSS Virginia from totally destroying the Union fleet. Thus, she saved the Union Blockade Although the Virginia occasionally tried to drag the Monitor into a fight, the latter obeyed Lincoln’s order to not be too much exposed and, did not give in into a new, maybe decisive battle.

On May 10, 1862, Union forces captured Norfolk, which meant that the Virginia had to be moved, to avoid being captured. Unfortunately, she was too large and drew too much water, to be moved up the James River. Therefore, on May 11, 1862, the crew of the Virginia set their ship on fire.

The Monitor remained on blockade duty at Hampton Roads, taking part only in few excursions, one of which was the "On to Richmond" expedition, up the James River. In the battle against Drewry’s Bluff she proved to be well protected against cannon shells (shot proof) and able to operate in shallow waters. However, unable to elevate her guns enough, to reach the top of the 90-foot bluff, she could not really contribute to the course of this battle.

In December, the Monitor was ordered to proceed to Beaufort, North Carolina. On December 29, 1862, she leaves Hampton Roads under tow by USS Rhode Island . In the night of December 31, the Monitor sinks in a severe storm off Cape Hatteras, with the loss of four officers and twelve crewmen.



4. Conclusion

Neither the Monitor nor the Virginia was the first ironclad war vessel on the seas. The idea of providing metallic armor to wooden vessels dates back to 1592, when Korean Admiral Yi Sun-Sin commanded a fleet of armored Kohbudson, or "turtle ships", against an invading Japanese fleet. However, it was not until the mid-19th century that true ironclad vessels were tested and adopted by the world's navies.

At the battle of Sinope, in 1853 the Russian Navy demonstrated the effectiveness of exploding shells against wooden ships, destroying the entire Turkish flottilla.

In 1855, the French proved the power and robustness of ironclad batteries, with the bombardment of the Russian forts at Kinburn. Afterwards, France, Russia and England focused on the development of ironclad ships, undertaking big efforts to be the leading country.

By the outbreak of the American Civil War, the French and British fleets contained formidable ironclad ships. However, the new naval technology remained untried in battle.

Thus, even being inconclusive, the battle at Hampton Roads is the first real proof of the overwhelming strength of the new technology over the old wooden vessels. At the end of the battle, the age of wooden sailing ships was over. Naval warfare would never be the same.

As the first of a new class of warships, the Monitor's bold innovations in design and technology forever changed the design of fighting ships and the course of warfare at sea.

Already during the Civil War the Union Navy built a series of ironclads based on the design of the original Monitor.

The Monitor is, in a sense, the ancestor of every ship in today's navy.



A1. Vocabulary


When a ship moves into water that is too shallow for her to float and becomes stuck on the sea bottom.


To form a line of ships in order to close a port.


The firing /shooting issued by the enemy forces.


Abbreviation for Confederate States Ship.


The depth of a ship's hull.


The flow of the tide back toward the sea.


A voyage of exploration.

Hampton Roads

The area of water where the James River, Elizabeth River, and the Chesapeake Bay meet.


The body of a ship.


To stop or interfere with the progress of something.


Originally a wooden ship that had iron plate attached to its sides to protect it from damage. The term is often used to describe any Civil War ship that was made of iron.


The outer covering of the sides of a ship.


A plan of action.

Steam Engine

A motor that gets its power from compressed steam. When a ship with a steam engine is moving it is generally said to be "steaming," or "under steam."


Abbreviation for United States Ship.


A round, fortified structure resembling a tower.


A ship.


The highest place where water touches the side of a ship.


A2. References

Information, tables and pictures are taken from following Internet sources:

+ The Mariner’s Museum: http://www.mariner.org

+ The Confederate Military History, Volume 12 and http://www.civilwarhome.com

+ http://www.brooklynonline.com/history

+ http://monitor.nos.noaa.gov

+ http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/Brad_Haugaard/homepage.htm