The U.S.S. Monitor was the first ironclad warshipâor 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. An 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.