USS Monitor First Ironclad

Civil War ironclad ship designed by John Ericsson and launched on January 30, 1862. On March 9, 1862 the Monitor engaged the Confederate ironclad, Virginia, in battle at Hampton Roads, Virginia.

This battle was a pivotal event in naval history. The Monitor proved to be the supreme naval ship, and in one battle changed all subsequent naval designs and tactics. The Monitor was lost in a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina on December 31, 1862. In 1973 the wreck of the Monitor was located off the North Carolina coast.

Monitors History
The original Monitor, designed by John Ericsson and built under his supervision, was only the first of her type to serve in the U.S. Navy. Between 4 October 1861, the date that the contract for Monitor was signed, and 1937, the year in which Cheyenne (ex-Wyoming) was stricken from the Navy List, 71 monitors were ordered for the Navy, of which about 50 actually saw commissioned service. Many ships completed after the close of the Civil War in 1865-66 ran their trials and were immediately laid up at various Navy yards, never to be commissioned. For example, of the 20 ships of the Casco class only eight were commissioned, and of these, three were converted to torpedo boats before completion.

Between 1861 and 1865 the U.S. Navy made great strides in the design of turreted ironclads. The Monitor was a relatively small, single-turreted vessel mounting two 11-inch Dahlgren smooth bores as her main armament. Her size, low power and speed, and certain design defects limited her to service on protected waters such as harbors and rivers. On her second excursion into the North Atlantic, in December 1862, she foundered off Cape Hatteras. The four ships of the Kalamazoo class laid down in 1863-64, on the other hand, were to have been true ocean-going "battleships." The largest ships ordered by the Navy during the Civil War except for the casemated ironclad Dunderberg, their designed displacement being about 5,700 tons, their armament of four 15-inch Dahlgren smoothbores, would have presented a formidable challenge to any of the European ironclads built during the same period. The experiences gained from the combat operations of the earlier monitors were incorporated into the Kalamazoos in the form of an improved ventilation system heavier armor, higher speed, and improved habitability. Unfortunately for the growth and development of the Navy during the latter third of the 19th century, appropriations for the completion of this class were not forthcoming and construction was suspended to all intents and purpose in November 1865, when none of the ships had even been launched. Thus the Navy would not have an armored ship capable of matching her European counterparts until 1895 when the Maine and Texas were commissioned.

Monitors were not only built for coastal service. Nine were specifically designed for use on the Mississippi River and its tributaries, and were laid down in the Midwest during the Civil War. Of these, Neosho and Osage, and the four ships of the Milwaukee class, were built to the designs of James B. Eads under his personal supervision. The four Milwaukees, built at the Union Iron Works outside of St. Louis, each mounted a turret designed by Eads, as opposed to the Ericsson turrets of all the other Civil War monitors. The Eads turret, handled by steam machinery, was probably the most sophisticated of the period. Other monitors, particularly certain of the Casco class, were built in the Midwest but were not designed specifically for river warfare.

Post Civil War
After the Civil War, the ironclad fleet was allowed to deteriorate for want of sufficient funds to operate or adequately maintain the ships. In 1874-75, Secretary of the Navy Robes began to rebuild selected monitors under the guise of repairs. In order to finance this effort, many of the old monitors were sold and it was during this period that the entire Casco class was disposed of. The five monitors upon which reconstruction efforts were concentrated were the four ships of the Miantonomoh class and the Purtain. Although the Miantonomoh was recommissioned briefly during 18883, she was not complete, and none of the ships actually completed modernization until 1891 when Miantonomoh was commissioned. Modernized, these monitors were new steel ships with lines characteristicly of the monitors ordered during the last two decades of the 19th century.

In 1889 Monterey was laid down, to be followed in 1899 by the four monitors of the Arkanas class. However, conditions which had made the monitors so formidable during the Civil War had changed. Captain W. L. Rodgers, USN, in paper entitled "The Influence of National Policies on Ships' Design," said:
"The development was entirely suited to peculiar conditions, the outcome of a pre-existing political situation . . . The country at large and indeed the Navy . . . concluded that the ships which had given satisfaction once, necessarily would do so again . . . That very summer of the War (1898) Congress authorized the last monitors, obsolete before they were commenced."

Monitors found their final employment as submarine tenders in World War I for which their low freeboard hulls made them well-suited. It is significant to note, however, that in this humble role they were ministering to the needs of that type of craft which had logically replaced them for as originally envisaged, monitors were designed to combine heavy striking power with concealment and the presentation of a negligible target area.

Contracted to John Ericsson
Construction subcontracted to Continental Iron Works, Greenpoint, NY.
Laid down 25 October 1861
Launched 30 January 1862
Commissioned 25 February 1862

Displacement: 987 tons
Dimensions: 172 x 41.5 x 10.5 feet/52.42 x 12.64 x 3.2 meters
Propulsion: Ericsson VL engines, 2 boilers, 320 hp, 1 shaft, 6 knots
Crew: 49
Armor: Iron: 2-4.5 inch sides, 1 inch deck, 8-9 inch turret
Armament: 1 dual turret with 2x11 inch Dahlgren smoothbore

The first "monitor", and gave her name to the type. The vessel was intended as a means to counter Confederate ships attempting to challenge the blockade of southern ports; the type also saw considerable service in attacking coastal fortifications. This was the first US warship fitted with a turret.

Designed by Ericsson. Set the standard pattern for all following monitors. In addition to the general weaknesses of the type (i.e. seaworthiness), ventilation was very poor (despite the first use of mechanical ventilation in a warship), leading to terrible conditions for the crew. The originally planned armor had to be much reduced to increase freeboard; even so, freeboard was only 14 inches. The turret mechanism was imprecise and difficult to work. The anchor and hawsepipe were below the "raft", in the hull itself, dangerously close to the water. There was a small pilothouse forward, and low funnels aft.Design speed of 8 knots was not reached. Despite design flaws, this ship set the stage for future monitors and battleships.

Is best known for her engagement with CSS Virginia (a.k.a. "Merrimac") in Hampton Roads, 9 March 1862; this battle was the first ironclad-vs-ironclad encounter, and the start of the modern battleship era. Participated in actions on the James River and supported Army forces during the summer of 1862. Sank under tow off Cape Hatteras during a Force 7 gale, 31 December 1862.


Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships
Volume III, Appendix II, page 750
Superintendent of Documents
Washington, DC, 1968

Last Updated 17 November 1999

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