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USS MONITOR | Ironclad of the US Civil War

Updated on March 26, 2014

USS Monitor

USS Monitor was the first ironclad warship commissioned by the United States Navy. She is most famous for her participation in the first-ever naval battle between two ironclad warships, the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862 during the American Civil War, in which Monitor fought the ironclad CSS Virginia of the Confederate States Navy. The Monitor was the first in a long line of Monitor-class U.S. warships and the term "monitor" describes a broad class of European harbor defense craft.

USS Monitor

Ironclads of the Civil War

The USS Monitor was innovative in construction technique as well as design. Parts were forged in nine foundries and brought together to build the ship; the whole process took less than 120 days. In addition to the "cheesebox", its rotating turret, Monitor was also fitted with Ericsson's novel marine screw, whose efficiency and reliability allowed the warship to be one of the first to rely exclusively upon steam propulsion. Ericsson anticipated some aspects of modern submarine design by placing all of Monitor's features except the turret and pilothouse underwater, making it the first semi-submersible ship. In contrast, CSS Virginia was a conventional wooden vessel covered with iron plates and bearing fixed weapons.

Iron Afloat: The Story of the Confederate Armorclads

by William N. Still

Everyone knows the story of the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack. But how many people know the story behind the Confederacy's attempt to build a fleet of armorclad vessels of war? Built from converted steam ships, built on riverbeds and cornfields. Learn how the Confederacy built a fleet of ironclads that were more than a match for anything from the Northern invaders.

USS Monitor

USS Monitor
USS Monitor

USS Monitor

Cheesebox on a Raft

Designed by the Swedish engineer John Ericsson, the USS Monitor was described as a "cheesebox on a raft," consisting of a heavy round revolving iron gun turret on the deck, housing two large (11 inch) Dahlgren guns, paired side by side. The original design of the ship used a system of heavy metal shutters to protect the gun ports while reloading. However, the operation of the shutters proved to be so cumbersome that the crews operating the guns adopted the procedure of simply rotating the turret away from potential hostile fire to reload the guns. Further, the inertia of the rotating turret proved to be so great, that a system for stopping turret to fire the guns was only implemented on later models of ships in the Monitor class. The crew of the USS Monitor solved the turret inertia problem by firing the guns on the fly while the turret rotated past the target. While this procedure resulted in a substantial loss of accuracy, given the close range at which the USS Monitor operated, the loss of accuracy was not critical.

The Monitor Boys: The Crew of the Union's First Ironclad

The first ironclad built by the US Navy, the USS Monitor. No sooner was it finished than it went into battle at Hampton Roads, Virginia on March 9, 1862. You've read about the battle, now learn about the men who served on this historic ship, that was like no other ship before it. "The Monitor Boys" as they called themselves. This crew of about 100 men and officers lived and worked together during battles, storms, boredom and finally disaster.

USS Monitor on Amazon

USS Monitor Limited Edition, 21" Long Civil War Ship - Model Ship Wood Replica - Not a Model Kit

This is a Limited Edition model of the famous USS Monitor, the north's first ironclad ship. Made famous in the battle at Hampton Roads, Virginia in 1862. This museum quality model is 21 inchs long by 5 inches wide and 7 inches high, 1/98 scale. Made from wood, with brass details.

The CSS Virginia: Sink Before Surrender

The CSS Virginia: Sink Before Surrender Published by The History Press

by John V. Quarstein

The morning the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack) slowly steamed down the Elizabeth River toward Hampton Roads on March 8, 1862, naval warfare changed forever. Wooden sailing ships became obsolete, armored, steam-powered vessels where the new dreadnaughts. Little did the ironclad's crew realize that their makeshift warship would achieve the greatest Confederate naval victory. The trip was thought by most of the crew to be a trial cruise. Instead, the Virginia's aggressive commander, Franklin Buchanan, transformed the voyage into a test by fire that forever proved the supreme power of iron over wood.

The Virginia's ability to beat the odds to become the first ironclad to enter Hampton Roads stands as a testament to her designers, builders, officers and crew. Virtually everything about the Virginia s design was an improvisation or an adaptation, characteristic of the Confederacy's efforts to wage a modern war with limited industrial resources. Noted historian John V. Quarstein recounts the compelling story of this ironclad underdog, providing detailed appendices, including crew member biographies and a complete chronology of the ship and crew.

USS Monitor

USS Monitor
USS Monitor

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What Do You Know About the USS Monitor?

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    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 5 years ago

      Hi! I didn't know that USS Monitor was the first ironclad warship, so I learn a lot from your lenses

    • Redneck Lady Luck profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 5 years ago from Canada

      Well thank you for enlightening me as to what a USS Monitor Ironclad is. I didn't have a clue.