The Artwork of
Henry E. Kidd

Fine Virginia Artist
& Author


War Between the States

War Between the States B&W Drawings





Circle of Iron

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Circle of Iron
The USS Monitor, March 9, 1862

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.

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 armored deck was barely above the waterline. Aside from a small boxy pilothouse, a detachable smokestack and a few fittings, the bulk of the ship was below the waterline to prevent damage from cannon fire. The turret comprised 8 bolted together layers of 1" plate with an additional ninth plate inside to act as a sound shield. A steam donkey engine turned the turret. The heavily armored deck extended beyond the waterproof hull which was only 5/8" thick. Thus the vulnerable parts of the ship were completely protected. Monitor's hull was built at the Continental Iron Works in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, New York, and the ship was launched there on January 30, 1862.

At the Battle of Hampton Roads Virginia attacked the Union blockading squadron in Hampton Roads, Virginia, on March 8, 1862, destroying USS Cumberland and Congress and forcing Minnesota aground before withdrawing. That night, Monitor, under command of Lt. John L. Worden, arrived under tow from Brooklyn. When Virginia returned the next day, March 9, 1862, to finish off Minnesota and the rest of the U.S. fleet, Monitor sailed forth to stop her. The ironclads fought for about four hours, neither one sinking or seriously damaging the other. Tactically, the battle was a draw--neither ironclad did significant damage to the other. However, it was a strategic victory for Monitor. Virginia's mission was to break the Union blockade; that mission failed; Monitor's mission was to defend the U.S. fleet, which it did. The Virginia did however occupy the 'battlefield' after the strategic retreat of the USS Monitor, after the captain was hit in the eyes with gunpowder. The two ironclads never again fought each other, although Virginia occasionally steamed out to Hampton Roads in an unanswered challenge to the Monitor.

While the design of Monitor was well-suited for river combat, her low freeboard and heavy turret made her highly unseaworthy in rough waters. This feature probably led to the early loss of the original Monitor, which foundered during a heavy storm. Swamped by high waves while under tow by Rhode Island, she sank on December 31, 1862 in the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. 16 of 62 crewmen were lost in the storm.

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