"A telegram reached Washington from Fort Monroe within two hours of the explosion of the Congress, informing the War Department that the Confederates ‘indestructible ‘floating battery’ had sunk two frigates and would sink three more tomorrow before moving against the fortress itself – after which there was no telling what might happen." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Volume I, Random House, New York, 1958, by Shelby Foote at page258)
The Rebs were closing in and she couldn’t be moved. As Federal troops and navy yard personnel looked over their options for the USS Merrimack, there did not appear to be any good ones. This new powerful steam frigate was one of the newest and strongest members of the small United States Navy, and yet she always seemed to have mechanical problems. That was why she was immobilized at the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia. She had needed engine repairs and was there when the snakes of the South declared independence from the sacred union. As a consequence, she could not be moved out of harms way. There was not question of letting the Rebs get their soiled hands on this fine frigate to use for their traitorous cause. The only solution was to fire the ship and let the Rebs get nothing but ashes and charred timber. As the fire took hold everything looked fine. The masts and upper works went but then the ship settled to the bottom of the dock and the water put out the flame. Something had been left for the Rebs.
The capture of the Norfolk Navy Yard was a windfall for the Confederacy. A huge number of naval cannon, machinery, stores and other items, that would have been very time consuming and difficult to produce from scratch, instantly came into southern control. No power was more ill prepared for naval combat as was the Confederate States of America. After the first wave of states seceded, a handful of armed vessels were seized. The Confederate Navy was established February 21, 1861 and until the secession of Virginia from the Union, the CSN consisted of a total of ten vessels amassing the whopping total of 15 guns combined. The Confederacy sent agents to Europe in an effort to purchase warships but initially they were met with little success. When a Navy Department was established the Secretary of the Navy was also established and the post given to Stephen Mallory. This short, fat ex-senator from Florida certainly didn’t look the part of a warrior but he did possess intelligence. He had served as chairman of the US Naval Affairs Committee, so he came to his post with a certain degree of experience. When Virginia left the Union, the state of the Confederate Navy made a dramatic change for the better. Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk Virginia was one of the best-equipped navy yards in the United States when Virginia left and this glittering prize fell to the Confederacy. More than a 1,000 naval guns fell with the port but there was only one ship of any significant size at the yard that could not be moved. This was the big screw frigate USS Merrimack. As the Confederates took over a hulk, there were diverse opinions as how she should be restored to serve the Confederacy. Some Confederate naval officers wanted to rebuild the Merrimack as a wooden hull frigate but Mallory knew that his navy had no chance against the far more powerful and numerous USN by simply aping Union ship types. He wanted the Merrimack rebuilt as an ironclad. He finally sold his idea to the Confederate legislature by simply pointing out that rebuilding her as an ironclad would only cost a third of the price needed to rebuild her as a wooden sided frigate. The order to build her as an ironclad was issued July 11,1861.
There was no operational security and word swiftly flew north of Confederate intentions. When the federal government learned of the new ominous development, it was clear that something had to be done. The federal navy had looked at the possibility of building an ironclad but it was simply cursory window-shopping. No serious development work had been conducted. It was not that the US Navy had not tried innovations, they had. The USS Princeton had introduced the screw propeller to warship design, which was far superior to paddle wheel steam propelled designs. The concept of an armored warship had already been proven in combat with armored floating batteries used by French in the Crimean War. Of course northern builders were already aware that both the French and British had made the jump to large armored frigates. The US did not have the infrastructure or resources for ships of that size. Swedish born inventor John Ericsson had approached the Federal Navy about one of his creations, which became the name for an entire type of warships, the monitor. The name came to represent any low freeboard warship equipped with heavy guns mounted in centerline turrets.
The Monitor may not have been built as a direct response to the Merrimack but in examining legislative and specification dates and required construction times, it certainly appears to have been a direct response. After the news reached the navy that the Confederates were converting the Merrimack into an ironclad, a committee was formed to solicit Union ironclad designs. On August 3, 1861 Congress passed a Bill entitled "An Act to Provide for the Construction of One or More Armoured Ships and Floating Batteries and for Other purposes" and a committee of three officers was formed. Specifications for contract bids was published on August 7. While others submitted ironclad versions of broadside battery ships, Ericsson sent in a very different design, one with a revolving turret. Earlier, he had tried to interest the French in a turret ship without success. However, the Union was desperate for an ironclad. Even so, after a initial cursory examination of Ericsson’s design, the authorities were dubious as to its value. Ericsson was told that according to their calculations, the Monitor would not float. To overcome this rather significant objection, Ericsson agreed to insert a clause into the contract that he would have refund all sums received if the ship was not satisfactory.
The contract was signed on October 4, 1861. As it was the ship was built in the lightning fast speed of 100 days. Two other designs were also chosen be the committee, the New Ironsides and Galena, both broadside designs, which took much longer to build. Ericsson contracted various subcontracts among a number of New York companies but the ship was built was built at the Continental Iron Works of Green Point New York. The Monitor had an iron hull surmounted by a revolving turret. To prevent injury to the hull due to ramming and also to let the ship ride over waves, rather than through them, the hull was surrounded by a raft structure, which averaged 5-feet in height. The raft extended 14 feet forward of the actual bow of the hull and 32 feet to the rear of the actual stern of the hull. Construction had thick wood covered by iron plates. The maximum thickness for the plates capable of production was 1-inch, so the armor scheme for the Monitor was to provide laminated armor in the form of multiple sheets of 1-inch thick plates bolted together with huge iron rivets. The turret had a total of 8-inches of armor with an additional one-inch plate around the gun openings. Deck armor was only one-inch but it was determined that any deck strikes would just glance off the deck due to the very shallow angle of strike. The sides of the raft were given 4.5-inches of plating but the freeboard was only 14-inches. The turret was 20-feet in diameter and 9-feet high. The turret was turned on a spindle by its own steam engine located directly below the turret. The only way to get out of the hull was through a hatch underneath the turret, which was only open when the turret was trained forward. Although the turret was capable of being trained through the entire 360-degree arc, fire directly ahead or directly aft was precluded due to possible damage of the pilothouse or short stacks. Inside the turret were iron gun port covers, which could be lowered while the guns were reloaded. Although a major factor in favor of the turret was that the guns could be trained independently of the course of the ship, in practice the turret of the Monitor was under-powered. The revolution of the turret was very slow and still slight adjustments in steering the ship were needed for the final laying of the guns on target.
The Monitor was commissioned on February 25, 1862 with a picked crew of Old Navy veterans under the command of Lieutenant John Worden and after a short nine-day period of trials and training, set off south. That was on a Thursday and was a day too late to help USS Congress and USS Cumberland, which were sunk on CSS Virginia’s first sortie on Saturday March 8, while Monitor was making her way south. The ship came close to never making it to her historic encounter. On her journey south, she had run into a storm. As waves broke across her low deck, water cascaded down the blower vents and stack flues. As her hold flooded, it looked like the ship couldn’t be saved but then the storm abated and the pumps gained control. As Virginia tried to come to grips with the stranded USS Minnesota late that Saturday, the tide was ebbing. The ironclad drew too much water to get close, so contented herself with long range bombardment. At that range Virginia’s fire was far less effective, so after a little bit Jones, who had assumed command with Buchanan’s injury, decided to call it a day. In five hours of battle the Virginia had sunk two heavy blockaders and a third was meat on the table. Minnesota wasn’t going anywhere and nothing prevented Virginia from coming back the next day. Things were rosy indeed for the CSN. Virginia had lost a gun and her ram, however, several armor plates had been loosened but none were penetrated. Jones might as well go back to Norfolk and fix up the old girl before a matinee on the 9th.
As the sun was setting that Saturday Virginia was steaming south towards Norfolk. Meanwhile, twenty miles to the east USS Monitor was just rounding Cape Henry for her approach into Hampton Roads. As she drew near the scene of the days fight, the sun had gone dawn and the moon had not risen, but the water was still lit by the burning USS Congress. Worden assessed the situation and correctly anticipated that Virginia would first come back to finish the Minnesota the next morning. He anchored the Monitor on the landward side of the big steam frigate, once Virginia’s sistership. At 07:30 March 9, 1862 Virginia was spotted lumbering northward towards the stranded Minnesota. For the Confederates it looked like another victorious day. Their meat was still on the table where they had left it Saturday night. Suddenly a strange apparition came around the counter of the Minnesota and placed herself between Virginia and Minnesota. To those on Virginia it appeared to be a raft on which was placed one of the frigate’s boilers. Suddenly they saw a flash from the boiler, which they assumed was an accidental explosion. As the 166-pound 11-inch ball hit the sea, they suddenly realized that they were facing something different. "I guess she took us some type of water tank,’ one of the Monitor’s crew later said. ‘You can see surprise in a ship just as you can see it in a man, and there was surprise all over the Merrimac." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Volume I, Random House, New York, 1958, by Shelby Foote at page260)
The duel between the Monitor and Virginia could be considered a boxing match. The Virginia was slower and far more ponderous but it was much larger and carried more guns. The Monitor was much lighter, faster and far more maneuverable. She could float like a butterfly and sting like a bee as her two 11-inch Dahlgrens were much more powerful than the ordnance on Virginia. Additionally her armor was thicker. As Virginia opened fire and her shot bounced off the turret of the Monitor, her crew quickly realized that this would not be a repeat of the easy time they had the day before. For the next four hours, the point blank duel only emphatically demonstrated that the days of the tall ships were indeed over and that the smoke belching, ungainly, iron monsters would from thenceforth rule the waves. Neither ship could penetrate the armor of the other. Virginia was handicapped by the fact that most of her shells, were explosive shells rather than solid shot In other words the situation was similar to a WWII warship having mostly HE, rather than AP rounds. After all the Virginia was anticipating in demolishing wooden warships that day not in an encounter with an iron counterpart. After a while, Virginia lost interest in Monitor and decided to go after the Minnesota. Again the higher speed and maneuverability of Monitor thwarted this plan as the Federal ironclad could easily interpose herself between the lumbering Virginia and the steam frigate.
Even though neither ship had her armor penetrated, it was certainly far from rosy inside them. Every time the turret of Monitor was struck, bolt heads from the huge rivets connecting the laminated armor plates would break off and ricochet around the turret. It was just as bad inside the casemate of Virginia. After awhile the Confederate gunners were bleeding from their ears and noses due to the concussions of the Dahlgren strikes on Virginia’s armor. After two hours, Jones, inside the pilothouse of Virginia, noticed that the fire from his ship had noticeably slackened. He descended to the gun deck to discover why fire had slackened. To his question the reply from the gunnery officer was, "Why, our powder is very precious,’ he replied, ‘and after two hours’ incessant firing I find that I can do her about as much damage by snapping my thumb at her every two minutes and a half." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Volume I, Random House, New York, 1958, by Shelby Foote at page261) Monitor was running low in ready ammunition in the turret. Since more ammunition could not be brought up from the hull unless the turret was trained directly forward and Monitor couldn’t fire directly forward without damaging her own pilothouse, the Federal ironclad withdrew into shallow water where the Virginia couldn’t follow. This created a half an hour intermission in the main event during which Virginia made another ponderous turn in an effort to get back at the Minnesota but again Monitor thwarted her. Jones had realized that his guns couldn’t cope with his foes, so he tried something different. Virginia tried to ram, even though her ram had been left in the wreck of the Cumberland. At best she could only strike a glancing blow, as the Monitor was far too nimble for her and simply unloaded her Dahlgrens as Virginia passed. "The smaller ship kept circling her opponent, pounding away, one crewman said, ‘like a cooper with his hammer going round a cask." (The Civil War, A Narrative, Volume I, Random House, New York, 1958, by Shelby Foote at page261) Since he couldn’t ram, Jones came up with the desperate idea of laying the Virginia alongside and boarding Monitor. Crewmen were issued crowbars to jam the turret and vision slits. However, he could never achieve this because the Monitor evaded all attempts. It was during this phase that a Confederate shell struck the pilothouse of the Monitor. Wordon had been peering through a vision slit in the darkened interior when suddenly there was a blinding flash. His eyes were filled with burning powder and although he was not totally blinded, he no longer had the eyesight to continue to command the ship. He could make out that the interior of the pilothouse was no longer dark and that sunlight was flooding in. The shell had peeled away part of the top of the pilothouse, exposing the interior to the outside.
Wordon ordered the ship taken into shallow water where the Virginia could not follow, while the Virginia, "steamed ponderously across the deep water battle scene with the proud air of a wrestler who has just thrown his opponent out of the ring." By now the tide was falling and with Virginia drawing even more water, Jones decided to retire to Norfolk. As Virginia made the slow turn south, Monitor came scampering out of the shallow water to reengage but the battle was over. Both sides claimed victory but the fight was clearly a tactical draw. Strategically however, it was a Union victory. Virginia’s mission was to destroy the Union wooden blockading squadron and Monitor’s mission was to protect it. The Virginia failed and the Monitor succeeded. This was to be the only encounter between the two as, the Monitor was ordered to protect Fortress Monroe and other ships of the squadron. Her basic mission was to stop the Virginia from reaching open sea. On April 10 the Virginia and wooden gunboats moved out. They steamed to Craney Island where the Elizabeth River empties into the Roads to await the morning for an early attack on the Federal ships near Fortress Monroe. The only vessels sighted were three transports and the Monitor further east. The transports were captured but Monitor would not advance on Virginia. For the rest of the day the ships played a naval version of "I dare you to knock the chip off of my shoulder!" Each ship would steam up and down parallel to each other but out of gun range. The Monitor wanted to lure the Virginia into deeper water and then engage her in order to allow fast steamers converted into rams the chance to ram her. Virginia refused to participate in that game, while Monitor refused a one on one game. Finally the threat of the ogre CSS Virginia ended as the ship was destroyed when she could not be withdrawn from Norfolk.
Monitor’s end came in the first hour of the last day of 1862. Never designed for open ocean service, the Monitor was being transferred south past the barrier islands off the North Carolina coast. She was under tow rounding Cape Hatteras in heavy seas. As the green seas broke over the low-slung Monitor, sealing oakum at the turret deck juncture came lose and the ship started taking water by the bow. The water drainage system worked by using gravity to channel water from the bow to the stern where the pump was located. It was a rather short-sighted system in that it assumed that the ship would settle by the stern. As it was gravity worked against the survival of the Monitor. The water stayed forward and didn’t take long before the ship lost her stability. She flipped over and went down with four officers and 12 ratings. That the rest of the crew was saved in the cold December Atlantic is a miracle in itself. The historic USS Monitor disappeared from the world’s scene, hidden for over a century, until very recently. The wreck of this historic ship was found and parts, including most importantly the turret, have been recovered for a museum.
Flagship USS Monitor
The raft on a smaller hull design is readily apparent with the Flagship model as is the heavy, large rivets used to secure the laminated iron plates to the wooden backing of the raft edge. Deck plates are a series of rectangles without the rivets, but for the deck there was only one layer of one-inch plates, unlike the sides of the raft or turret. On the top of the deck, you’ll notice a circular plate over the anchor well and a square raised plate immediately forward of the turret. There is no locator for the pilothouse, which will be one of two variants, the original small square structure or the expanded, reinforced pyramid structure fitted after the battle. On the aft half of the hull are two more of the raised square access panels, four stack locators and a larger rectangular riveted panel at the stern. There are a series of small circles on the deck, fore and aft, which are for small glass skylights to let some sunlight into the dark hull. In the middle is a slightly recessed circle, which is obviously is for placement of the turret. There are some casting plugs to remove from the hull but otherwise the hull casting is cleanly done.
Smaller Resin Parts
White Metal Parts
Brass Photo-Etch Fret
The instructions are in the standard Flagship format with one back-printed sheet. Page one has overall plan, profile, cross-section and turret grate detail drawings, along with tips about various options open to the modeler for constructing additional levels of detail. The reverse has seven modules on sub-assemblies, along with a parts list and layout. The sub-assembly modules include railing detail, bow detail, turret detail, flags, field gun assembly, stern assembly and boat davits.
It is time to make those southern vermin pay for their wanton violation of Columbia. In response to the slow, lumbering "Colossus of Roads" in the form of the Virginia attacking the squadron at Hampton Roads, the stalwart sons of the north have the nimble, hard-punching Monitor that floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. With the Flagship Models 1:192 scale USS Monitor the Union is saved!