Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

U.S.S. Monitor Turret Revealed

Posted in Education, Memory, Technology by Andy Hall on August 12, 2011

Via Michael Lynch at Past in the Present, there are about three weeks left to see the 120-ton turret of the Union ironclad Monitor, currently undergoing restoration at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News.The turret, recovered from the sea floor off Cape Hatteras in 2002, has been kept in a flooded tank of fresh water almost the entire time since then, allowing the salts that have penetrated the iron to gradually leach out. After a thorough cleaning, the turret will be flooded again, to to continue desalinization, a lengthy process that may take up to 15 more years. Even with the tank drained, it’s slow, painstaking work:

[Gary] Paden is an objects handler working in the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners’ Museum. He was gently nudging, hour after painstaking hour, a wrought-iron stanchion from the 9-foot-tall revolving gun turret that once sat atop the Civil War ironclad.

The stanchions rimmed the roof of the Monitor and held up a canvas awning to shelter the crew from the broiling sun. The stanchions needed to be removed so they could be separately treated for conservation.

Last week Paden strived to remove one of those stanchions from its bracket using a hydraulic jack. “I spent seven hours on it yesterday,” Paden said. “So far it’s been the most difficult one.”

Several other workers came in closer to watch, including Dave Krop, manager of the Monitor conservation project.

Paden said most of the tools used in restoring the various components of the Monitor brought up from the ocean’s floor were improvised. The hydraulic jack is an auto body tool used to fix dents.

He pressed the jack into the point where the stanchion met the bracket. A moment later, the stanchion fell from its 149-year-old position.

“Wow,” Krop said. “You got it off. Pretty awesome! That’s pretty awesome!”

Several handlers nearby paused from their snail’s-pace labors to savor the moment, beaming in Paden’s direction.

A few years ago I visited Mariners while doing research on another vessel and, after talking to one of the conservators there about my own project, was offered the chance to take a brief tour of the lab where they were working on Monitor artifacts. (That says less about me than it does about how much they wanted to show off the work they were doing there, and rightly so.) I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, but they showed me a first a life-sized color photograph of an encrusted dial from the engine room — a steam gauge, I think — and then, with a well-practiced flourish, pulled back a cloth covering the same artifact, now almost pristine, looking as new as the day the ship sailed over 140 years before. Folks like Gary Paden and Dave Krop don’t get a lot of attention, because their work is all behind-the-scenes, but it’s important to recognize what they do, that benefits every history buff and museum-goer.

Moment of nerd: the dents made to the exterior of Monitor‘s turret by the guns of C.S.S. Virginia are still visible, 149 years later, on the interior of the upside-down turret. Additional damage to the deck edge is visible at lower right.

More video via the New York Times here. The tank containing Monitor‘s turret will be drained during the week during the rest of August. I hope some of y’all can make the trip. I’m certain you won’t be disappointed. For the rest of us, there’s always the webcam.

Added: Three additional images showing the interior of the turret, all from Miller’s book (top to bottom): Contemporary illustration from Harper’s Weekly; original drawing from Ericsson’s plan; and a modern cutaway illustration by the great Alan B. Chesley.

Top color photo: “Dave Krop, who manages the Monitor conservation project, works inside the inverted turret at the Mariner’s Museum. Visitors can watch the work from viewing platforms or online.” Credit: Steve Earley, the Virginian-Pilot. Archival photo: Library of Congress. Bottom photo: Diorama of interior of Monitor‘s turret in action by Sheperd Paine, from U.S.S. Monitor: The Ship that Launched a Modern Navy by Lt. Edward M. Miller, USN.

18 Responses

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  1. Rob in CT said, on August 11, 2011 at 8:40 am

    I *love* the “moment of nerd.” That is so (nerd)cool. 🙂

  2. Woodrowfan said, on August 11, 2011 at 8:57 am

    I love it! I’ve been fascinated by the Monitor ever since I saw a story about it in “National Geographic” when I was in school. thank you for posting this….

    • Andy Hall said, on August 11, 2011 at 9:18 am

      Yeah, I got hooked on Monitor from that same NatGeo. Had a prehistoric cave painting on the cover, IIRC. Or maybe that was inside the issue. I have it somewheres and will look it up.

      The Miller book is hard to find, and consequently a “collectible,” with all that implies about price. But it’s also good for the technical drawings reproduced in it, both some of Ericsson’s and some new ones. It’s been essential in my (lagging, unfinished) efforts to model the ship.

      If anyone else knows of a good technical reference on either Monitor or Virginia, with lots of scale drawings, please put ’em here in the comments.

    • Andy Hall said, on August 11, 2011 at 10:32 pm

      • Woodrowfan said, on August 12, 2011 at 8:46 pm

        that’s the one! I wonder if I have my copy still. i suspect that I do.

  3. Martin Husk said, on August 11, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    Hey Andy,

    Great post. I too have been hooked on the Monitor since I was a youngen.

    A question for you about the “Moment of Nerd” (being one myself): Are you sure the “damage” that appears on the inside of the turret is the same as the damage that appears on the outside? Give the thickness of the turret walls, indicated by the two gun port openings, the dents appear to be less than six inches thick, not thick enough to penetrate all the way through to the inside. As you look at the turret, the dents appear on the left side of the gun port openings from the outside view, but from the inside view, they are also on the left of the openings, rather than on the right side as you’d expect. This observation is predicated on the gun ports appearing in the picture just above the workers head. If that’s not the case, then forget what I just wrote.

    Thanks and keep up the great work,
    Martin Husk

    • Andy Hall said, on August 11, 2011 at 1:44 pm

      Martin, thanks. You wrote:

      As you look at the turret, the dents appear on the left side of the gun port openings from the outside view, but from the inside view, they are also on the left of the openings, rather than on the right side as you’d expect.

      Remember that the turret in the modern picture is inverted; Krop (green shirt) is sitting on the overhead grating of the turret. The upright, coffin-shaped elements behind him are heavy, iron pendulums (pendulae?) that swing by gravity to close the gunports when the guns are withdrawn into the turret. (The right gunport is closed this way in the historic picture.) They are currently clamped in place for safety, but originally were swung inboard with block and tackle for the gun to be run out and fired. (The diorama shows one open at right but swung outboard, which I think is not correct, based on one of the original drawings in the Miller book.)

      From a different angle:,0,

      I believe they’re the same marks, but would appreciate correction if need be.

      • Martin Husk said, on August 11, 2011 at 2:32 pm

        Hey Andy,

        I missed that the turret was inverted. thanks for setting me straight. The image you link to about shows a much better view of the damage near the gun port.

        Thanks again,

        • Andy Hall said, on August 11, 2011 at 2:34 pm

          That second image looks like — maybe — some of the armor plates have been removed, leaving the outer (and heavily dented) plates in place. (IIRC, the turret armor was built-up, laminated plates.) I haven’t followed the conservation work on the turret closely enough to be sure.

          Thanks for keeping me honest.

  4. Jim Schmidt said, on August 12, 2011 at 2:45 pm

    Andy – really terrific post and additions. Some of my favorite reporting on the Monitor is from period issues of “Scientific American” magazine. What’s more, it was also a favorite source for influential officials — North and South — who read Scientific American.

    For example, on April 1, 1862, Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory wrote a letter to Flag Officer Josiah Tattnall, in which he discussed the expected renewal of engagements between Tattnall’s flagship, the CSS Virginia, with the USS Monitor. Mallory wrote, “The Scientific American, in a recent number, publishes a neat wood cut of the vessel, and gives some data of her construction,” and, based on his perception of the ship as published in the magazine, Mallory gave Tuttnall advice on strategies for assailing it.

    Mallory was almost certainly referring to the March 22, 1862 issue of Scientific American, which featured a handsome engraving of the USS Monitor as well as a long article. The editors noted: “we . . . intended to give sectional views which would fully illustrate the peculiarities of her construction, but the government does not deem it advisable to have such views published at present, and it is hardly necessary for us to say that we comply with the suggestion with the most hearty acquiescence.”

    Would a modern newspaper or magazine have those scruples? I find it interesting to ponder!

    Notes: ORN, Series I, Vol. 7, p. 754; Scientific American, March 22, 1862, pp. 177-178.

    Shameless self-promotion: There is a whole chapter on the role of “Scientific American” magazine in the Civil War in my book, “Lincoln’s Labels: America’s Best Known Brands and the Civil War” (Edinborough Press, 2008)

    • Andy Hall said, on August 12, 2011 at 5:24 pm

      Jim, thanks for the tip. The article is online here. Note that both the illustration and the text confuse the ends of the ship: “The small square tower at the stern is the wheelhouse in which the steersman stands.” Oopsie.

      Text (dodgy OCR):

      The Steam Battery Monitor.

      We present herewith a perspective view of the Ericsson steam battery, engraved from a drawing which was made by our artist while the vessel was lying at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, just before she sailed on the trial trip which has proved so full of important and exciting events.

      On page 831 of our last volume we gave a full description of this battery, but will repeat the principal dimensions. The upper section of the vessel is in the form of a fiat-bottomed scow, with sharp ends and vertical sides, 5 feet deep, 174 feet long and 41 feet 4 inches wide. The central portion of the bottom is cut out for a length of 124 feet and a width of 34 feet, to communicate with the lower section, which is attached to the bottom of the scow, and which extends down with inclined sides to a depth of 7 feet 6 inches. The lower section is built of iron, the plates being ~ inch in thickness. The upper section is built very strongly of wood and iron, the vertical sides being of solid oak 30 inches in thickness, covered by one-inch rolled iron plates to the thickness of 6 inches. The propeller and rudder, being under the projecting end of the upper section of the vessel, are securely protected from shot.

      The principal novelty of this vessel is the cylindrical revolving turret in which the guns are placed. This is formed of rolled one-inch iron plates bolted together to the thickness of 8 inches; its internal diameter is 20 feet and it is 9 feet high. It rests at its lower edge on a smooth, fiat ring of composition metal, but when in action the principal portion of its weight is sustained by a central shaft, about which it revolves; a massive wedge being driven below the step of the shaft on such occasion to raise it, and thus cause it to bear up the turret. A large spur wheel upon the shaft is connected by a train of gearing with a small steam engine, which supplies the power for turning the turret.

      Two 11-inch guns are placed within the turret in position precisely parallel with each other on smooth ways, or slides; a clamp being arranged upon the sides of the ways for adjusting the friction and taking up the recoil in such distance as may be desired.

      The turret is pierced in different places with four holes for the insertion telescopes, and just outside of the holes reflectors are fixed to bend the ray of light which comes in a direction parallel with the guns through the axis of the telescope, which is crossed by a vertical thread of spiders web through the line of collimation. The sailingmaster takes his position in the turret, with his eye to the telescope and his hand upon the wheel that governs the motion of the small engine, and turns the turret so as to keep the guns always directed with absolute precision to the object against which the fire is directed. A scale is also arranged for adjusting the elevation of the guns with similar engineering precision, and it would seem that the firing should be directed with unprecedented accuracy.

      Upon the sides of the turret that has the port holes through which the guns are discharged, the thickness is increased by an additional plating 8 inches in thickness ; making the sides of the turret which will be presented to the enemy 11 inches. No cannon shot or bolt has ever yet been driven through such a mass of wrought iron.

      We have examined this vessel inside and out and intended to give sectional views which would fully illustrate the peculiarities of her construction, but the government does not deem it advisable to have such views published at present, and it is hardly necessary for us to say that we comply with the suggestion with the most hearty acquiescence. While so many thousands of our countrymen are enduring the labors and sufferings of the campaign, and hundreds are pouring out their hearts blood for the salvation of the nation, we who stay at home should certainly do nothing to embarrass the military operations. Should the occasion for privacy, however, be soon removed we shall probably publish these views with a perspective of the interior or the turret.

      Our engraving represents the battery as ready for sea. In preparing for action, the awning over the turret is removed and the square smoke stacks as well as the shorter pipes, through which air is drawn into the vessel, are taken down. The small square tower at the stern is the wheelhouse in which the steersman stands. It is made of bars or beams of iron 9 by 12 inches interlocked at the corners.

      When iron turrets were first proposed, it was apprehended that the concussion in the interior would prove intolerable to the men who were working the buns, and experiments were made in England to test the matter. It was. found that when the turret was entirely closed, the men could not indeed bear the concussion, but on making a sufficient opening in the top, the difficulty was completely obviated. The re- sult of this investigation was known to our Navy Department before the contract was made for the Ericsson battery. After the battery was completed her 105-pounder guns were fired a few times to test the effect of the concussion on the turret and on the men within it, and no inconvenience was experienced. Capt. Ericsson informs us that he requested one of the officers to observe the effect carefully, and the gentleman says that with his hand upon the side of the turret when the gun was discharged, he could not feel the slightest jar, and that the man in the shell room directly below the turret, with the iron hatch tightly closed, actually did not know when the gun was fired!


      Earlier Sci Am article here.

  5. corkingiron said, on August 15, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Andy – those massive turnbuckles evident in the foreground of the restoration photo? I’m guessing they were used to stop the deck from sagging under the weight of the guns when the turret was lifted into action (and thus preventing binding or “pinching” on the shaft). Do you have any knowledge of their use?

    • Andy Hall said, on August 15, 2011 at 7:33 pm

      That seems right. Monitor‘s turret did not rotate smoothly or continuously — it had to be jacked up ever so slightly, rotated, then lowered again. That process, repeated over and over and over, would (I presume) cause transverse hogging in the decking structure of the turret, and (more important) torque the base ring of the turret out of plane. This transverse hogging problem was dealt with exactly the same way on Western River (i.e. Mississippi) steamboat hulls with what were termed “knuckle chains,” as they were anchored to the knuckle at the turn of the bilge:

      Image from Alan L. Bates, Western Rivers Steamboat Cyclopedium.

      Here’s a great image of the turret (again, upside-down) before the guns were removed:

  6. focusoninfinity said, on September 5, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    I believe that is one of the 3-D USS Monitor deck photos? I think another has a blurred, fluttering flag on the aft flag staff, and shows the shimmering, but action-frozen, water; with a gull ‘flying’ overhead. Frozen 3-D “action”: the flag, gull, and water action. Perhaps paired, life-size cut-outs of the 3-D part of the Monitor hull could be made (each picture slightly different from the other, to give 3-D effect) and paired so if one was looking through static, fixed position, Civil War era binoculars; they would see the hull deck and turret part of the Monitor in 3-D as originally intended, and the two officers also. A back-screen could show the action of contemporary real water slightly lapping ‘action’, with contemporary gulls flying overhead (perhaps with gull sound effects) , and a replica flag shot to be positioned as to appear fluttering on the aft flag staff. The reproduction flag, gulls, and water looks like the original, but with added background action to the foreground, historical real 3-D view. The observers view when looking threw the looking glass, could very gently sway to feel as if they are there, live, aboard the Monitor deck that day. I’ve never tried those things kids put on to hit balls and shoot the bad guys; that’s over this old sailor’s head; but there could be something better in that? I’ve heard of, but never seen; 3-D websites. Maybe this 3-D view could work with that also?

    • Andy Hall said, on September 5, 2011 at 9:46 pm

      It is a stereoview. Curously, the copy at Library of Congress has the two halves pasted on the card backwards — they don’t work in 3D. Here they are swapped, in red/cyan anaglyph format:

  7. Hello Everybody,
    Just happened across this today! It’s great to know that people are giving the Monitor so much consideration. If you have further questions about what we are discovering in the conservation process, please do let us know. Check out our blog at, we try to update our finds and research as quickly as we can.
    We also have a public email address of to which you can pose your questions. One of us will get back to you as soon as we can. On the webcams next week, we’ll be working on one of the Dahlgrens, performing some fine detail surface cleaning. FYI-The engine tank will be drained down for the annual Battle of Hampton Roads weekend March 9-11, and after that we will be working on disassembly for several months. So we will be working pretty hard throughout the spring and summer in that tank, please come by the museum to see us if you can!

  8. Robert Maresz said, on February 13, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Thank you for this great blog. I’ve been waiting for someone to point out the famous cannon-ball “ding” in a modern picture. Maybe someday we’ll get a pic of the exterior after restoration is completed! The stereo image is one of my all- time favorites, but it’s not a scan of a stereo card. The LOC scanned the original James Gibson stereo glass plate negative. We forget that camera lenses project an image upside-down and backwards onto the negative; to view it properly you have to spin it 180 and reverse the images in a left-right orientation. The LOC displays it already spun 180, but doesn’t otherwise disrupt the original scan. I hope this explanation helps.

    Do you know if the men in the picture have been identified?

    • Andy Hall said, on February 13, 2013 at 5:00 pm

      Robert, thanks for your comment. Here are the names of the men in the photo, as listed in the book, The Monitor Chronicles:

      Officers of U.S.S. Monitor, July 9, 1862. Front, l. to r.: Robinson W. Hands, Edwin V. Gager. Seated, l. to r.: Louis N. Stodder, George Frederickson, William Flye and Daniel C. Logue and Samuel Dana Greene. Standing, l. to r.: Albert B. Campbell, Mark T. Sunstrom, William F. Keeler, and L. Howard Newman of U.S.S. Galena.

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