Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

How Crowded Was Monitor‘s Turret?

Posted in Technology by Andy Hall on April 2, 2013


Samuel Dana Greene’s account of the action with C.S.S. Virginia gives the following description:


My place was in the turret, to work and fight the guns; with me were [Third Assistant Engineer Louis Napoleon] Stodder and [Chief Eningeer Alban C.] Stimers and sixteen brawny men, eight to each gun. John Stocking, boatswain’s mate, and Thomas Lochrane [Loughran], seaman, were gun-captains.


It’s not clear to me whether the two gun captains, Stocking and Loughran, were being counted by Greene as part of the eight men assigned to their respective guns, so the total number in the turret during the action was either nineteen or twenty-one. To get a visual sense of what that looked like, I dropped nineteen figures into a model of Monitor‘s turret. This is the result:








This model doesn’t include any of the other necessary gear that would have been inside the turret, and there was additional plating on the interior surface of the turret (over the joints in the primary plating) that’s not reflected in the model. (Haven’t got to it yet.) So in reality, it was likely more cramped than shown in the model. I haven’t made any particular attempt to put crewmen in exact gun drill positions, either. Also note that the heavy, iron pendula that closed the gunports could not be opened simultaneously — there was too little space between the ports for both to swing clear toward the centerline at the same time. In practice, you would not see both guns run out at the same time.

Nonetheless, a very crowded and chaotic place.

Previous, incomplete renders of this structure are on Flickr, although those show the two hatches on the top of the turret incorrectly — the slid backwards, not inboard as specified on Eriocsson’s original plan.



U.S.S. Monitor Sailors Laid to Rest at Arlington

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 8, 2013
Diana Rambo, and her husband Lorin Rambo, from Fresno, Calif., pause at a casket of unidentified remains after services to honor two sailors from the Civil War ship, the USS Monitor, at Arlington National Cemetery, Friday, March 8, 2013 in Arlington, Va. Mrs. Rambo is related to USS Monitor crew member Jacob Nicklis. A century and a half after the Civil War ship the USS Monitor sank, two unknown crewmen found in the ironclad’s turret were buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Friday’s burial may be the last time Civil War soldiers are buried at the cemetery. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)


Over the last year or so we’ve covered the story of the two members of Monitor‘s crew that were found inside the ship’s turret after it was recovered from the floor of the Atlantic off Cape Hatteras in 2002. Officials had hoped to be able to positively identify them from among the sixteen men known to have been lost with the ship, but have so far been unable to, despite efforts through genealogical research, DNA testing and creating facial reconstructions. On Friday, those two men were buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


The burial, which included a three-gun salute [sic., three volleys] and a brass band playing “America the Beautiful,” may be the last time Civil War soldiers are buried at the cemetery overlooking Washington.
“Today is a tribute to all the men and women who have gone to sea, but especially to those who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf,” said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who spoke at a funeral service before the burial.
The Monitor made nautical history when the Union ship fought the Confederate CSS Virginia in the first battle between two ironclads on March 9, 1862. The battle was a draw.
The Monitor sank about nine months later in rough seas off North Carolina, and 16 sailors died. In 2002, the ship’s rusted turret was raised from the Atlantic Ocean floor, and the skeletons of the two crew members were found inside.
Researchers attempted to identify the remains by reconstructing the sailors’ faces using their skulls and by comparing DNA from the skeletons with living descendants of the ship’s crew and their families. They were unable to positively identify the men, though medical and Navy records narrowed the possibilities to six people.
What is known is that one of the men was between 17 and 24 years of age and the other was likely in his 30s. A genealogist who worked on the project believes the older sailor is Robert Williams, the ship’s fireman, who would have tended the Monitor’s coal-fired steam engine.


A marker dedicated to all 16 men lost with the ship will be placed over the grave site. Efforts to identify the men interred there will continue.

Additional photos of the service after the jump, by Associated Press photographer Alex Brandon.



Is That An 11-inch Dahlgren in Your Pocket. . ?

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 21, 2011

I’ll write up more about these later, but my recent post on Monitor‘s turret sent me off on an effort to sort out more of the structural detail of that unique feature. That, in turn, got me interested in the 11-inch (or XI-inch, as they were designated at the time) Dahlgren guns that served as Monitor‘s main armament. (Craig Swain has a great article on Dahlgrens here.) For now, eye aye candy:


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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.

Monitor’s Screw

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on October 10, 2010

It’s funny, and a little scary, how arbitrary the preservation of evidence of our history actually is. As a case in point is Monitor, that remarkable vessel that reportedly encompassed over a hundred new patentable inventions. No official authority bothered to preserve that ship’s construction drawings. They were preserved not by the Navy, which contracted for the ship’s construction, or by Continental Ironworks of New York, which did the actual building, or by John Ericsson himself. Rather, they were saved by Charles W. MacCord, the cantankerous Swede’s chief draftsman. MacCord later served as faculty at the Stevens Institute of Technology, where they would eventually be rediscovered decades later.

Several of these drawings are reproduced in Miller’s U.S.S. Monitor: The Ship that Launched a Modern Navy, including a scale drawing of the ship’s nine-foot, cast-iron propeller, or screw (above). Using this drawing as a guide, I’ve modeled the propeller in three dimensions, after the jump: