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The turning point of the Civil War Naval War
CONSTRUCTION OF THE MONITOR
Launch of USS Monitor, 1862
Commodore Joseph Smith, Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, sent Ericsson formal notice of the acceptance of his proposal on 21 September 1861. Six days later, Ericsson signed a contract with Bushnell, John F. Winslow and John A. Griswold which stated that the four partners would equally share in the profits or the losses incurred by the construction of the ironclad. There was one major delay, however, over the signing of the actual contract with the government.Welles insisted that if Monitor didn't prove to be a "complete success", the builders would have to refund every cent to the government. Winslow balked at this draconian provision and had to be persuaded by his partners to sign after the Navy rejected his attempt to amend the contract. The contract was finally signed on 4 October for a price of $275,000 to be paid in installments as work progressed.
PLANS FOR THE MONITOR
Preliminary work had begun well before that date, however, and Ericsson's consortium contracted with Thomas R. Rowland of the Continental Iron Works at Greenpoint, Brooklyn on 25 October for construction of Monitor's hull, with her keel being laid on that same day. The turret was built and assembled at the Novelty Iron Works in Manhattan, disassembled and shipped to Greenpoint where it was reassembled. The ship's steam engines and machinery were constructed at the DeLamater Iron Works, also in Manhattan. Chief Engineer Alban C. Stimers, who once served aboard Merrimack, was appointed Superintendent of the ship while she was undergoing construction. Although never formally assigned to the crew, he remained aboard her as an inspector during her maiden voyage and battle.
Construction progressed in fits and starts, plagued by a number of short delays in the delivery of iron and occasional shortages of cash, but they did not significantly delay the ship's progress by more than a few weeks. The hundred days allotted for her construction passed on 12 January, but the Navy chose not to penalize the consortium. The name "Monitor", meaning "one who admonishes and corrects wrongdoers", was proposed by Ericsson on 20 January 1862 and approved by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Fox. While Ericsson stood on its deck in defiance of all his critics who thought she would never float, Monitor was launched on 30 January 1862 to the cheers of the watching crowd, even those who had bet that the ship would sink straight to the bottom, and commissioned on 25 February.
Even before Monitor was commissioned, she ran an unsuccessful set of sea trials on 19 February. Valve problems with the main engine and one of the fan engines prevented her from reaching the Brooklyn Navy Yard from Greenpoint and she had to be towed there the next day. These issues were easily fixed and Monitor was ordered to sail for Hampton Roads on 26 February, but her departure had to be delayed one day to load ammunition. On the morning of 27 February the ship entered the East River preparatory to leaving New York, but proved to be all but un-steerable and had to be towed back to the navy yard. Upon examination, the steering gear controlling the rudder had been improperly installed and Rowland offered to realign the rudder, which he estimated to take only a day. Ericsson, however, preferred to revise the steering gear by adding an extra set of pulleys as he believed it would take less time. His modification proved to be successful during trials on 4 March. Gunnery trials were successfully performed the previous day, although Stimers twice nearly caused disasters as he did not understand how the recoil mechanism worked on Ericsson's carriage for the 11-inch guns. Instead of tightening them to reduce the recoil upon firing, he loosened them so that both guns struck the back of the turret, fortunately without hurting anybody or damaging the guns.
Ericsson's revolutionary turret, although not without flaws, was a unique concept in gun mounting that was soon adapted and used on naval ships around the world. His Monitor design employed over forty patented inventions and was completely different from any other naval warship at the time. Because Monitor was an experimental craft, urgently needed, hurriedly constructed and almost immediately put to sea, a number of problems were discovered during her maiden voyage to Hampton Roads and during the battle there. Yet Monitor was still able to challenge Virginia and prevent her from further destroying the remaining ships in the Union flotilla blockading Hampton Roads.
During the "boom time" of the Civil War, Ericsson could have made a fortune with his inventions used in Monitor, but instead gave the U.S. government all his Monitor patent rights saying it was his "contribution to the glorious Union cause".
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