Iron Dawn

Iron Dawn

The Monitor and the Merrimack

By:  Richard Snow

A Book Review:

By:  Garland Davis

No single sea battle has had more far-reaching consequences than the one fought in the harbor at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in March 1862. The Confederacy, with no fleet of its own, built an iron fort containing ten heavy guns on the hull of a captured Union frigate named the Merrimack. The North got word of the project when it was already well along, and, in desperation, commissioned an eccentric inventor named John Ericsson to build the Monitor, an entirely revolutionary iron warship—at the time, the single most complicated machine ever made. Abraham Lincoln himself was closely involved with the ship’s design. Rushed through to completion in just 100 days, it mounted only two guns, but they were housed in a shot-proof revolving turret. The ship hurried south from Brooklyn (and nearly sank twice on the voyage), only to arrive to find the Merrimack had arrived blazing that morning, destroyed half the Union fleet, and would be back to finish the job the next day. When she returned, the Monitor was there. She fought the Merrimack to a standstill and saved the Union cause. As soon as word of the battle spread, Great Britain—the foremost sea power of the day—ceased work on all wooden ships. A thousand-year-old tradition ended, and the path to the naval future opened.

I found mention of this book while doing research for a Blog post.  I ordered the book from Amazon (Kindle).  The author tells the story using the writings and statements from the people directly involved in the design, planning, building, and fighting of the two ships.  An enjoyable and informative read.  Highly recommend it to those interested in Naval history.


3 thoughts on “Iron Dawn

  1. John Croix MMCS(SW) 1961-1988 says:

    I find that you have described something that never happened. There was never a battle between a ship called Monitor and a ship called Merrimack.
    The ship called Merrimack was captured when the Southern Army captured the Naval Shipyard at Gosport Navy Yard (Now Norfolk Naval Shipyard). When the Union Army realized that they were going to lose the shipyard they tried to destroy the USS Merrimack by burning her. She was burned to the waterline and sunk. That was the end of the USS Merrimack. Southern forces raised and salvaged the hull and took it into the only graving dock (now drydock #1 at NNSY). At that time the hull was rebuilt and clad with iron and commissioned the CSS Virginia.
    CSS Virginia did great damage to the Union Fleet in the Battle of Hampton Roads. The following day she engaged the USS Monitor in a battle that lasted all day and ended in a draw. USS Monitor withdrew to shallow water where CSS Virginia could not pursue and withdrew to Gosport Shipyard. For several days CSS Virginia ventured into Hampton Roads trying to draw the USS Monitor into a battle but Monitor refused to fight and neither would the remainder of the union fleet. After a month of trying to block the blockade which had been reinforced by more union ships and after losing Gosport Shipyard to the Union forces she was blown up and sunk near Craney Island to prevent her capture by union forces.
    You can win lots of beers by asking “Where was the Battle of Monitor and Merrimack” and then proving there never was any such battle.


  2. boatright54 says:

    Garland – good review, so I’ll seek out and read the book. It’s interesting to note, though, that the thousand year tradition you mention is actually a lot longer than that – the Greek warships, the Egyptians and Phoenicians before them – all used wooden warships. Their construction and employment is more than passing interest to me (which began when I served in one of our wooden minesweepers!).


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