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The turning point of the Civil War Naval War
HOW THEY WERE BUILT, THE PROBLEMS IN SUCH A QUI0CK DEADLINE, FIGHTING NEGATIVE OPINIONS
USS Monitor (1862-1862) -- Construction
IRONCLAD COMMITTEE SELECTS TWO IRONCLAD DESIGNS
MONITOR IS UNCONVENTIONAL
USS Monitor's construction resulted from a study of ironclad warships mandated by the Congress in July 1861, as the Civil War moved rapidly from crisis to serious armed conflict. During August and September the study board's members, Commodores Joseph Smith and Hiram Paulding and Commander Charles H. Davis, reviewed seventeen proposals and selected three for construction. Two were relatively conventional designs and became USS New Ironsides and USS Galena. The third, unconventional in virtually every way, became the Monitor.
JOHN ERICSSON DESIGNS THE UNCONVENTIONAL MONITOR
Swedish engineer John Ericsson was personally responsible for Monitor's conception and the details of her design. Perhaps with Scandinavian coastal defense conditions in mind, he had been developing the concept on paper for several decades. What emerged was well-suited for the Civil War's inshore fighting: a relatively shallow-draft iron hull, topped by an armored raft that provided good protection against ramming and cannon fire. Freeboard was less than two feet, sufficient for coastal requirements, though a real problem when the ship went to sea. Engine power was modest, but again sufficient to the need, and a Navy requirement for masts and sails was quite appropriately ignored.
TURRET DOMINATES MONITOR DESIGN
The most stunning innovation, on a ship whose design was dominated by innovations, was the method of carrying her guns: a thickly-armored round turret, twenty-feet in diameter, rotated by steam power to permit nearly all-around fire from a pair of eleven-inch Dahlgren smoothbore shell guns, the heaviest weapons then available.
MONITOR BUILT QUICKLY
Iron fabrication began even before the Monitor's contract was issued in early October. Rapid construction was a necessity, as the Confederates were known to be pushing work on their own ironclad, which became CSS Virginia. The new ship's hull was built by the Continental Iron Works, at Greenpoint, Long Island, with iron stock, machinery and much equipment furnished by other firms. Launched on 30 January 1862, she was outfitted over the next month and placed in commission on 25 February, under the command of Lieutenant John L. Worden.
TRIALS AND MODIFICATIONS MADE
After trials and modifications, Monitor left New York on 6 March. The next day, she encountered stormy weather, which abundantly demonstrated both the inherent sea-keeping problems of the design and some more-easily correctable technical difficulties. Late on 8 March, just a few hours after
CSS Virginia had spread terror among the Union fleet, the weather-beaten Monitor arrived off Hampton Roads, where her exhausted crew spent a long night urgently preparing their ship for action.