The U.S.S. Monitor was the first ironclad warship—or ship with an iron hull– commissioned by the U.S. Navy. The Monitor was built in the shipyards in Brooklyn in only 101 days and was commissioned following news of the commission of the C.S.S. Virginia, a Confederate ironclad ship. A Union ironclad was the only possible response to maintain the blockades that protected the Union, including Washington D.C.
As the Monitor rushed to Hampton Roads to support the blockade, the C.S.S. Virginia had already destroyed the U.S.S. Cumberland and U.S.S. Congress, and the steam frigate, the U.S.S. Minnesota had run aground. The U.S. government significantly feared the possibility of ironclad attacks on New York and other cities. By midnight on March 8, 1862, the Monitor had quietly pulled up behind the Minnesota, waiting for daylight to engage the Virginia. The battle on the morning of March 9 did not have a clear winner, but it did maintain the Union blockade. When Confederate forces abandoned Norfolk on May 11, 1862, they destroyed the C.S.S. Virginia. The Monitor went on to play a key role in the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff in May 1862.
On December 24, 1862, the U.S.S. Monitor was ordered to Charleston, North Carolina to join the blockade there. The crew objected, stating that the vessel was not an effective sea-going ship. In fact, the Monitor was best suited for river use. The ironclad departed after spending Christmas on the ship, on December 29, 1862. The ship, under tow, encountered a heavy storm near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. The ship began to take on water, and even with significant efforts from the crew and an attempt at rescue from the tow ship, it sank. In total, 47 men were rescued, and sixteen died on the U.S.S. Monitor.
The wreck of the U.S.S. Monitor was definitively located in 1973. Portions of the Monitor, including the turrets, guns, and propeller have been brought to the surface. Human remains found in the shipwreck have been interred in Arlington National Cemetery.
The success of the U.S.S. Monitor led to the creation of a fleet of ironclad ships, called, in honor of the first, monitors. These ships formed a key part of the Union strategy and defense for the remainder of the Civil War.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading
Naval History & Heritage Command – USS Arizona During the Attack
National Geographic Channel – Was There a Cover-Up After the Sinking of the ‘Lusitania’?
Mental Floss – 12 Facts About the R.M.S. Lusitania
History Extra – Charles Spencer On The White Ship Disaster, “The Most Disastrous Moment In British Maritime History”
Medievalist – Was The White Ship Disaster Mass Murder?
History UK – 9 Facts About ‘The Anarchy’: England’s Dark Period Of Lawlessness And War
Owlcation – El Cazador—How a Shipwreck Changed America’s Landscape
How Stuff Works – How Did A Shipwreck Double The Size Of The United States?
QAR Online – Blackbeard: History of the Dreaded Pirate
History – U.S.S. Monitor battles C.S.S. Virginia
Business Insider – The First Battle Between Ironclad Warships Was A Dud, But It Changed Naval Warfare Forever
History Collection – The Shipwreck of the Batavia: A Tale of Mutiny and Murder
History Collection – Eight Famous Shipwrecks That Have Yet to Be Found
History Collection – This Disastrous Shipwreck Forced Survivors into Cannibalism and Inspired the Tale of Moby Dick