Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Monitor‘s Marvelous Marine Mechanics

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 9, 2012

There will be lots of blog posts today referencing the 150th anniversary of the “Battle of the Ironclads” between U.S.S. Monitor and the Confederate casemate ship C.S.S. Virginia. That’s as it should be.

Some other time I’ll talk about the ship’s compact trunk engine, designed (like the rest of the ship) by John Ericsson. In the meantime, here’s a video (above) showing the operation of a remarkable 1/16 scale model of it, built by Rich Carlstedt (Flickr images here), and (below) a video from 2010 on the conservation of the real thing:

And this little animation of the engine of U.S.S. Monadnock, very similar to that of Monitor. Note how the pistons move entirely independently of each other:

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10 Responses

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  1. focusoninfinity said, on March 9, 2012 at 12:50 am

    Is the scale model from Erickson’s U.S. Patent Office application model? Erickson filed Patents in the U.S., I think England, and even Ireland, when it had a patent office. I believe Erickson contributed some of his own money to up-grade the accommodations to the officer’s quarters. I think it was for wood paneling?

  2. corkingiron said, on March 9, 2012 at 10:36 am

    I’ve never done conservation work – but IIRC, you hang with them from time to time. so I have a question. In removing the concretions (accretions?) – he’s using a steel chisel and taking great care to avoid contacting the original castings. Why would you not use a brass chisel? In case of inadvertent contact, the softer brass will suffer the greatest damage.

    • Andy Hall said, on March 9, 2012 at 10:44 am

      I’ll ask my colleagues who’ve worked at this more directly, but a brass chisel might not do the trick — the concretions he’s knocking off are a natural form of concrete, and very hard.

  3. Reed said, on March 9, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    The model engine is remarkable. I’m reasonably handy and all, but I can’t imagine the skill and patience it takes to research and construct a working scale model like that.

    One question, though. How (where) did they put the coal into the boiler? I didn’t see anything that looked like a firebox door on the model. Did I miss it? (I assume this “working” engine model is not actually burning coal and making steam as it moves, but the original did and must have had some kind of put-the-coal-in mechanism.)

    • Andy Hall said, on March 9, 2012 at 2:21 pm

      The boilers (and the furnaces that are integral to them) are not part of this model at all. If you watch starting at about 0:40, he begins by opening the main steam line from the boilers, the large-diameter pipe opening above the control wheels. Then (about 1:00) he uses the big wheel to shift over the valves to a position to start the engine. It gets a little unclear for me after that, and I think there’s some explanatory audio that’s missing from the video. Pretty sure the very long lever is for the reversing gear.

      The model is actually powered by a carefully-concealed electric motor, probably hidden in the base, which is designed ot mimic the ironclad’s hull construction.

      Here’s a view of the actual engine in conservation — note that it’s upside-down, as originally recovered:

  4. Woodrowfan said, on March 9, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    reminds me a bit of paleontologists chipping away at stone to get to a fossil. painstaking work..

  5. focusoninfinity said, on March 9, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    If I remember correctly, when they could, firemen, coal-heavers, moved coal in wheelbarrows; but underway in rough seas, they used canvas bags.

    After the battle, I believe the Russian Naval attache wrote, requesting drafted plans of the USS Monitor; and plans were sent. But I suspect they were plans for the next monitor class (forget name). As best I can tell, in the U.S., except for some random drawings here and there, a complete set of USS Monitor constructor plans can no longer be found?

    Have Tsarist Russia naval archives been searched for American monitor class plans? Possibly a request could be placed with the current Russian naval attache in Washington? If found, wouldn’t it be wonderful, if it pleased Putin, To rivet “the cheese-box on a raft” together (but welded where not seen); float it into a US Navy, or Russian Navy landing ship to cross the Atlantic; then either in US period uniforms; either Russian crewed, or US Navy crewed, or jointly crewed; steam her up the Potomac (the USS Monitor once made that trip) to the historic Washington Navy Yard. Our Commander-in-Chief, would then look at the WWII “Lend-Lease” book, and if the Russian’s still owe a bit; Putin give the “keys” to the new, old monitor; to our C-in-C. Our C-in-C, then finally, fully cancel the books.

    OK, improbable fantasy. Putin could at least have the old Russian Tsarist naval records checked for old, once Russian requested, U.S. Navy monitor plans.

  6. Reed said, on March 10, 2012 at 1:38 am

    Thanks, Andy, that make more sense.

    Not knowing much about steam engines, I guess I assumed the engine and boilers/furnaces were all in one big unit, like on the old steam train engines I used to ponder over at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. (And I guessed the large pipe opening around 0:40 was some kind of air intake. Heh.)

    Anyway, your answer prompted me to investigate this a bit more and I found some interesting drawings and diagrams at the US Navy’s history website. You’ve probably been there already, but for interested readers the link is: http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-m/monitor.htm

    • Andy Hall said, on March 10, 2012 at 9:02 am

      Yes, those are some good images. There are a number of good technical sources on Monitor; not so much on Merrimac/Virginia.


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