Monitor v. Merrimac?

This is a discussion on Monitor v. Merrimac? within the Off Topic & Humor Discussion forums, part of the The Back Porch category; Gents, I just read on another forum that the Monitor's guns could have punched holes in the Merrimac at that historic first battle of the ...

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Thread: Monitor v. Merrimac?

  1. #1
    Senior Member Array Joshua M. Smith's Avatar
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    Monitor v. Merrimac?

    Gents,

    I just read on another forum that the Monitor's guns could have punched holes in the Merrimac at that historic first battle of the ironclads.

    Problem was, so says the guy who wrote it, that the Monitor's guns were still semi-prototype and the powers-that-be gave them a weak starting load. Further, later on in the war, the Monitor class(?) ships' guns were firing twice the load they had in the Monitor's encounter with the Merrimac.

    Is there any truth to this?

    Also, do you have sources for further reading, especially on the internet? I'm especially after schematics and such. I've always been interested in these ships and, indeed, all prototype vessels that are the first of their kind. Nothing I've found thus far teaches me anything more than I learned in HS history class. Though we had an exceptional teacher (who was later shot down after he couldn't get to his 1911 after being hit on his motorcyle by a pickup driven by the shooter, but I digress) who held an MA in history, sociology, psychology, and God only knows what else, as well as having been an intelligence officer in Vietnam with a top secret clearence, there was only so much he could teach in a semester. Now he's gone and I don't know of any other local sources.

    Soooo.... I need resources. Library's out due to the couple hundred dollars I'd have to pay for a one year library card, due to living in the country (I don't pay city taxes ya' see). Internet's the next best thing.

    But how about those main guns, gents? Any truth to what I read?

    Thanks,

    Josh <><

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  3. #2
    Senior Member Array firefighter4884's Avatar
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    Josh,

    I used to read about the two ships on a regular basis. Everything I remember about it says that you're right on the money. The guns installed on the Monitor were larger then other cannon of the era, and the commanding officer (I don't think the ships CO, i think his boss, would only let them use half powder charges). Furthermore, later tests showed that not only were the cannons in the Monitor safe on full load, but they designed even bigger cannons later in the war (so the later ships had 1 of the orginals, and one of the new ones).

    I'll try and dig out my booksm and I'll post a list of good reading, if you can find it :)

    --Jim
    Firefighter / EMT - Always Ready. Ever Willing.

    ~Never do anything that you don't want to have to explain to the paramedics...~

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    Senior Member Array firefighter4884's Avatar
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    Josh,

    More info for you, a decent reading list (I haven't read them all in years, and most of them are from earlier then that, but worth looking up if you can find them)

    The Monitor and the Merrimac by Fletcher Pratt. Printed 1951. Printed by Random House, Inc. - This book is absolutely amazing at telling the story of the two ships, and some of the other major battles of ironclads throughout the history of the War.
    Ironclads of the Civil War by Frank R. Donovan. Printed 1964 by American Heritage Publishing Co. – A truly worthwhile read, one of the books I’d return to over and over again while I was growing up.

    Ironclads and Paddlers Paintings and Text by Ian Marshall, ISBN 0-943231-62-0, Published 1993.

    Sharks of the Confederacy: The Story of the CSS Alabama by Charles M. Robinson III - ISBN: I-55750-728-7. Printed 1995

    Boats and Ships ISBN 0-590-47647-5. Printed 1995 – A Scholastic Voyages of Discovery book, mentions the ships in passing (less then one paragraph, and a small picture).

    You might also look into two non-fiction books by Clive Cussler an excellent novelist. His “Sea Hunters” Series has some stories about ironclads in them, although I can’t remember off hand if he discusses the Monitor or the Merrimac at all. The two books are titled: The Sea Hunters and The Sea Hunters II.

    Finally, Cussler started the National Underwater and Marine Agency [NUMA]. He uses proceeds from his book sales to fund expeditions to locate sunken ships and stuff. The list of his expeditions is here.

    http://www.numa.net/expeditions.html


    --Jim

    P.S. - We might be able to work something out where I'll let you borrow the books, if you're interested. Let me know.
    Firefighter / EMT - Always Ready. Ever Willing.

    ~Never do anything that you don't want to have to explain to the paramedics...~

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    Senior Member Array mark555's Avatar
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    OK, I can give you my source; “The Century War Book” (Peoples Pictorial Edition) published April 23, 1894, volumes NO. 4 and NO. 5. Part 5 is almost exclusively about the fight between the “Monitor and the “Merrimac”. The Union side is written by S. Dana Green, Executive office of the “Monitor” and the "commander of the gun turret during the battle," the next article is the Building of the “Monitor” by Captain John Ericsson, Inventor of the “Monitor” Nether article mentions a semi-prototype gun. Lt. Green does write about the “Monitor” almost sinking due to weather twice before reaching Sewell’s Point and the placement of the pilot house being in the Bow of the ship and being in the way of the two guns. The Pilot house kept the guns form firing directly forward. Lt. Green does say that during the engagement the guns were loaded with a 15lb powder charge as per “peremptory orders from the Navy Department.” The powder charge was later changed to 30lb and Lt Green had no doubt that if they had been using the 30lb charge it would have punched through the “Merrimac's” armor.
    I don’t know where you can find “The Century War Book” (Peoples Pictorial Edition) they are fantastic as they take look at an action and have a former officer from each side write about it and on most of the land battles they also give a historians overview. In this case the Confederate side was by LT John Taylor Wood CSN, Lieutenant on the “Merrimac”
    I tried to scan the articles but the pages are large and the type is very small.

    Hope this helps.
    "Hell of a thing, killin' a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have."
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    Senior Member Array firefighter4884's Avatar
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    Josh,

    The original guns in the Monitor were 11 inches at the muzzle, called Dahlgren guns (the inventor maybe). The original inventor of the Monitor designed a device for the ship to take up recoil when the guns were fired (because there wasn't enough room for the guns to roll away as was customary). The powers that be were worried about what would happen when the guns were fired in the turret with no roll away room and commanded that only half power loads were allowed.

    According to one of my books, even at half powder charges, the shot from the Monitor were enough to damage the other ship, although they did not penetrate. I guess we'll never know will we?

    The Monitor was the first of many such ships the Union built during the war, later classes of the ship had many improvements, not the least of which were 15inch guns, again designed by Dahlgren.

    Hope this was all good reading :)

    --Jim
    Firefighter / EMT - Always Ready. Ever Willing.

    ~Never do anything that you don't want to have to explain to the paramedics...~

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    Senior Member Array mark555's Avatar
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    Thanks, it was fun to read about it again. The last article in the series was by Frances B Butts, “Survivor of the Crew.” It describes the sinking of the “Monitor” during a storm. Mr. Butts said that the ships cat was going crazy during the struggle to save the ship. He said he put it in to one of the guns and shoved his jacket in after it to keep it out of the way. He also said he forgot about both the jacket and the cat during the rush to get off the ship. So guess who went down with the ship? Yup the cat.
    "Hell of a thing, killin' a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have."
    - William Munny (Clint Eastwood in the Unfrogivin)

    “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

    “My Idea of a fair fight is beating baby seals with a club”

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    VIP Member Array paramedic70002's Avatar
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    To be picky... the Southern lady in question was the CSS Virginia. Burns my hide that even VA DOT screwed up and named the bridge / tunnel that crosses the spot incorrectly.
    "Each worker carried his sword strapped to his side." Nehemiah 4:18

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    Senior Member Array Joshua M. Smith's Avatar
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    Paramedic,

    You're right, it was re-Christened the CSS Virginia. Unfortunately the victors write the history. I think she'll be remembered as the "Merrimack."

    One of the two, either the USS Monitor or CSS Virginia/Merrimack, was rushed out and had too small of a rudder to maneuver quickly. Anyone remember which this was? I'm wanting to say the Monitor, but I could very well be wrong.

    Josh <><

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    Senior Member Array firefighter4884's Avatar
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    Josh,

    My first listed source says that it was indeed the Monitor that had the problem. It also says that John Ericsson manage to fix the problem while the ship was still afloat instead of putting her into dry dock.

    --Jim
    Firefighter / EMT - Always Ready. Ever Willing.

    ~Never do anything that you don't want to have to explain to the paramedics...~

  11. #10
    Senior Member Array Joshua M. Smith's Avatar
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    Interesting.

    Thank you all. This has been very educational.

    Josh <><

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