tv The Civil War USS Monitor Warship CSPAN April 22, 2018 11:03am-11:50am EDT
c-span3. to join the conversation, find us on facebook. american history tv was recently at ford's theater in washington, d.c. for the symposium held by the abraham lincoln institute and ford's theater society. anna holloway, the co-author of "our little monitor" talks about the uss monitor warship and its conception. she also describes the american public's fascination with the ironclad vessel. this is about 45 minutes. >> you may take it home and worship it remarked one of the members of the naval board which encountered john erickson's plans for the ironclad warship, the monitor for the first time. , atould not be blasphemy
least not as described in exit is 20 verse four. because the vessel looked like nothing in the heavens above or the earth beneath or the waters under the earth. anna holloway may not worship the monitor, but she has spent more time in close proximity to it than anyone since john erickson. her phd dissertation at the college avoid them and mary was written on the monitor. from 2003 to 2014, she was the curator of the uss monitor center at the mariners museum in newport news. withs now the co-author "our littlete of monitor: the greatest invention of the civil war. " published by ken state university press. she is the museum services
director for search incorporated here in washington. she oversees research into a variety of maritime project. the 50 years between waterloo and the american civil war were some of the most fast-moving. the napoleonic wars were fought at sea by lumbering wooden castles pushed along by wind and sail at top speeds of about three knots. sinking each other with thathbore naval cannon fired solid shot and depended on every vagary of wind and tide. within a decade, wooden ships were unsustainable, and with the passage of another decade, steam power made warships more maneuverable, and by the crimean
war, steam made it possible to -- feasible to cover warships in without -- iron armor without immobilizing them. by the time the first iron hold steam warship made her debut, the bulk of the world's navies were faced with little more than the choice of going into port or going to the bottom. thanks to the parsimony of congress, the u.s. navy had no iron or ironclad warships, but war concentrates the attention even of politicians. and especially the attention of invention curious of presidents abraham lincoln. pped monitor, he qui reminded him of what the girl
, said when she put her foot into the stocking. "it strikes me there's something in it." listening today to anna holloway, i think we, too, will find there is something in it. [applause] dr. holloway: well, good morning. >> good morning. dr. holloway: good to see you all here. i hope that you will find that there is something in it. we will be looking today at the uss monitor. the union ironclad is likely a vessel you are all familiar with. perhaps you discovered her in the course of your research or writing. perhaps you may have studied her intently. or maybe you came to know her in the normal fashion by building a plastic model. or her nemesis when you were younger. in any event, you know the story.
told so many times over how the monster merrimack attacked the -- ofve the power over iron over wood when she attacked the fleet, making short work of the cumberland and the striking fear into the hearts of all who saw her or even those who imagined her. how the next day a small and quirky vessel, known as a rat trap, erickson's folly, the monitor came steaming into hampton roads and naval history. though that battle itself was a draw, the import of that day reverberated around the world just as sure as the heavy and ponders pounding of the ironclad's reverberated through hampton roads. so, you know this story. so on that i need not elaborate. the story i want to tell about is the interstitial story.
old iron girlur and our president. once she captured abraham lincoln's imagination, she captured the imagination of the world. she began as an idea. a seed that the dirt -- germinated in the mind of john erickson. he had offered her to napoleon the third, but the french ruler said no thank you, i have already got one and send the consolation prize of a medal. so she lay as a concept in a box on a shelf for several years. until the coming of the american civil war. that vessel, dreamed of by stephen russell mallory and an ironcladd as
ram. newspaper reports follow the movements of the confederates and it was that knowledge that the confederates were building a secret weapon coupled with the well lobbying -- with the lobbying of well-heeled northeastern foundry and railroad owners that got the navy into action. but with the secretary of the navy first wrapping the bill before congress to authorize the construction, it was ignored. he was determined to find someone of influence who could persuade members to pass the bill and supported. negativeed fellow can -- fellow connecticut native to carry the bill to capitol hill and push it through. and the influence connecticut delegation backing, the bill passed the house and senate and was quickly signed by lincoln. this bill authorized $1.5 million.
bushnell owned a ship yard in connecticut and was more than ready to offer his services as soon as the navy require them. therefore he maintained a residence at the willard hotel in washington, d.c. throughout the summer to monitor the progress of the program. with the backing of congress the , navy department did the only logical thing to do when one wants a secret weapon. it took out ads in the newspaper. newspapers across the northeast in early august 1861 ran an added that started " the navy will receive offers from parties that can execute work of which -- of this kind of which they will furnish evidence for their offer for the construction of one or more ironclad vessels of war." hidebound instill
their tradition so these vessels were also required to be rigged to mass and to be able to navigate at sea. ads ran in the usual places, the boston daily journal , the new york times, the philadelphia bulletin and the baltimore clipper. interesting i find -- that is one i find interesting because all the more exactly friendly to the union. with the ad in the publications, all gideon welles needed was a group to review the plan. for this to be successful, he he needed a panel of people who were not -- who were familiar with warships. outboard did not find through a tweet. [laughter]
>> though extremely it. the officers, these were bluewater sailors and not experts. yet here they were. over the course of the next , they would receive 16 proposals. were intriguing, but somewhat perplexing. some proposals came with a price tag and no plan. some came with plans and no price tag. some came with no armor. and one was a rubber clad vessel. which the ironclad board could not recommend. however two plans did show promise. one was the american sons of philadelphia. that had a very attractive price tag of $275,000. the other one was designed by samuel -- but happen to be backed by cornelius bushnell of thereprice tag
$235,000. would be money left over. despite his insider knowledge and influence, the ironclad board had some questions. the main one being what it float , which is a concern if you are building an ironclad warship. so he was required to find a second opinion. bushnell was leaving the hotel one evening when he ran into another cornelius. he was the owner of iron works in manhattan who had a particular friend but the name of john erickson. he recommended that bushnell talk to erickson. who had john erickson been blamed unjustly for the explosion of the peacemaker on board the uss princeton in the 1840's. the navy had no love for him and he had no love for the navy. that is a story for another day though.
time, heead of this had envisioned a different kind of warship but agreed to look at the plans. he looked at them, proclaimed them to be good, the ship would float. then he asked if bushnell would look at something of his and he pulled a dusty box office shelf and within it laid a plan for what would become the uss monitor. bushnell was intrigued. he knew this was the future of naval warfare. but he had to get it through the ironclad board, he had to get erickson through the ironclad board. he asked if he could take it back with him and eventually made his way to the house where -- to the white house where the board and president lincoln were waiting. you heard what lincoln said. he says all i have to say is what the girl said when she slipped her foot into the stocking. it strikes me there is something in it.
he was very intrigued. knew he would have to get erickson to washington. so he had to trick him into thinking that the ironclad group dashboard loved him. -- board loved him. erickson figured out it was not quite the case, but through sheer force of will, he pushes the idea through. the monitor would be built, and she was. in 100 days more or less. her component parts being forged all over new york state in buffalo, troy, albany, manhattan. and hurt her it -- and her turret built in baltimore. she was built all over the north. assembled in brooklyn at the ironworks. with a volunteer crew assembled quickly rushed to virginia to hampton roads for the growing threat of the merrimack being
converted to the virginia port. i will not fight the battle between the two that day. march 8. the virginia comes out and decimates the union navy at hampton roads and the following day, the monitor and virginia meet and they exchange in battle that ended in a draw. you can decide who won. i will not pull you today. -- poll you today. as the battle was raging, news was not getting to the north. news was not getting to the white house. the cable that connected the telegraph from fort monroe had parted. finally though, on the afternoon of march 9, the telegraph cable was repaired in news made it north to the white house, to washington, d.c., to new york and beyond. the story of the battle of two
ironclads was electric. the headlines street the next day, desperate naval engagements at hampton roads says the new york times along with 11 other sub headlines. the initial counts of the battle were reported first fantastic way, not a lot of accuracy going on. as news reports came in, the accuracy grill. grew.uracy the northern papers were touting the victory of the monitor while the southern papers were saying otherwise. they said the cumberland sunk and numbers of yankees were shot and drowned. however both sets of newsmen new , something profound had happened. fears over ironclad attacks fed the imagination of many to the british acknowledgment that the english had been in moniz by the little monitor.
the appearance of the monitor did a lot to shore up fighting spirit in the union, particularly after the losses at bull run and in the western theater. lincoln's 90 day war had been going on for nearly a year. the victory of the rebel monster was shared equally by all in the north. the men of the monitor were celebrities, but the monitor herself became a celebrity in her own right with her own cult of personality. she was at once perfect, and yet also deeply flawed. what is interesting, i looked to see what was the first appearance of someone using the monitor as a metaphor rather than as an actual vessel, and the evening of march 10, at the commencement address at bellevue, bellevue medical college in new york, the commencement speaker says that whatever difficulties would arise, science would meet it. to thunderous applause he said,
whenever some merrimack of evil comes floating out of the waters of humanity, there is some erickson battery. some scientific monitor to beat it back. that was the very next day. use the philadelphia monitor to sell products. one ad said the monitor is a noble craft of excellent construction. she forced the merrimack to leave to save herself destruction. the monitor did fairly win the fame she has required. they used the monitor to sell clothes, to sell absolutely everything. she had become a celebrity. she was deeply flawed. 1500 proposals came in to president lincoln's mailbox
coming up with ideas of how the virginia could be conquered, some by the monitor by improving her and some by other means. one particular gentleman wrote on march 15 of 1862 to president lincoln, he said since the proved herselfk to be such a powerful agent of mischief and destruction, i have been -- some plan by way she may be sunk or destroyed. in fact, what he was planning was essentially a steam powered drill that would be placed on the monitor and the monitor would go up to the virginia and drill a hole in her hull. it looked good on paper. so by the early spring of 1862, the monitor was a tourist attraction. people would come on board where the officers were tired of
saying the same thing over and over again with some many docents in the museum. in fact, one said he wanted to produce a guidebook for the monitor and hand a copy to each visitor. just to save himself the trouble of saying the same thing over and over again. however, there was one set of visitors that arrived that i believe everyone on board the monitor would want to talk to. as the confederates withdrew through yorktown and general mcclellan turned out to be the original virginia creeper abraham lincoln arrived with the , message that he was not but he was growing impatient with his little napoleon. they arrived on board the miami on the evening of may 5. on may 7, the monitor log book says that president lincoln came aboard.
william keeler wrote home to his wife about this visit. if you will indulge me, i will read you a little about this. he says, we received a visit from president lincoln attended -- in company with the secretary of state and other dignitaries. mr. lincoln had a careworn look, in strong contrast with the gay cortage with which he was surrounded. every i saw the monitor but his own. he stood with his face averted. when he turned to us a good see his frame tremble with strong emotion and imagine the terrible drama in these waters on the eighth and ninth of march was passing in review before him. as the officers were introduced, he was very happy to find one from illinois on board the monitor. he examined everything about the vessel with care, manifesting great interest, his remarks showing he had carefully studied what he thought to be our weak
points and was well acquainted with the mechanical details. most visitors came on board filled with enthusiasm and ready like a bottle of soda water. but with mr. lincoln it was different. as he accompany us were sound, simple and practical. the points of admiration that excavation he left to his aides. before he left, the crew was mustered. he passed slowly before them, hat in hand. it gives me great pleasure to say he declined the invitation to whiskey, with a glass of ice -- but took a glass of ice water. keeler being a notorious teetotaler. as president lincoln and his fleet were leaving the vessel, the shout rang out "here comes the merrimack!" and it wasnating thought that perhaps another engagement between the two would occur. however nothing occurred that particular day.
they just glared at one another. a few shells were exchanged on the shore and president lincoln watched the engagement in hampton roads. personallyself did lead a reconnaissance party onto ,he shore later in his visit something that mcclellan had failed to do. he identified the oceanview area as a likely spot to begin the invasion of the south side of virginia. on the morning of may 10, that is what happened. norfolk, their way to the mayor greeted them and in an elaborate and long speech that allowed the confederate troops to leave. he passed the keys of the city over to the union. no one in the confederacy, however, thought to tell the captain of the merrimack she had
no home, so early in the morning, people in hampton roads heard a terrible explosion, and it was felt for miles. it was seen for miles. it was the dramatic suicide of the css virginia. the monitor boys were not happy. their nemesis was gone and they did not have a chance to beat her up. they steamed their way on into nor folk as conquering heroes. president lincoln came into nor folk and was waving at them from the steamer, bowing to the monitor. they turned around and spend the rest of the summer protecting the james river, but really it was a morale booster for everyone around. there was not much the monitor batteries,ainst
especially when she encountered the battery in may of 1862. she did have to turn around. ultimately the union did not take richmond in the spring. the monitor spent a miserable summer on the james, first supporting mcclellan's advance and then his richard reid. the morale side had not been enough but the public still wanted to know more about her. there was imagery coming out of the monitor. people were consuming imagery of the monitor. they wanted to know more. 1862, the union photographer james gibson comes on board to document the ironclad and her crew. it was also planned that his visit would coincide with president lincoln's next visit to tidewater virginia. gibson and lincoln both visited the monitor as she laid anchor
off the plantation on the james river. a.m.ln arrived at 7:45 long before the captain was awake. the president had a boat sent for admiral goldsborough to attend him on the monitor. lincoln and wells were frustrated with goldsborough's lack of action and is refusal to provide support. relievented to goldsborough of: -- of command. leading -- lincoln was there to make sure it happened. the meeting between lincoln and goldsboro was brief. both men left before the captain had ever awakened. this would be lincoln's last visit with the monitor. a photographer arrived in the afternoon. as the president left, he did take pictures of the men of the monitor. some of them seemed composed to show the men showing off the still visible battle damage.
others show the crew in a form of relaxation, reading newspapers, cooking. but there is one more photograph that shows captain jeffers, alone, very pensive sitting alone next to a chair a chair , that was waiting for president lincoln. the monitor would be sent to the navy yard for much needed repair. the cult of personality now is so huge that small boats surrounded her as she arrived on the east river. the not so secret weapon was the talk of the town and anyone who was anyone wanted to see her. the navy yard finally opened the vessel to the public, requiring no passes to the navy yard. imagine that in wartime. men crowded aboard for a view. of both the technological marvel of the monitor and the view up
ladies skirts as they ascended the latter. union supporters and confederate supporters got a look as the city celebrated her in unusual ways. perhaps my favorite one was the appearance in washington, d.c. of two brothels one called the , ironclad battery, and the other, simply the monitor. she left d.c. for orders and ultimately she would be ordered south to charleston. she did not survive that final journey. on new year's eve in the early 1862, theurs, monitoring countered a moderate off the coast of cape hatteras in the graveyard of the atlantic. may not think a
normal vessel but the monitor was anything but normal. she had 18 inches of freeboard. the navy was so bound in tradition that they readied her for her voyage in the atlantic ocean the way they would read the a wooden vessel by caulking. turret was held on the monitor by gravity. it sat on a brass ring that was watertight. but it had to be caulked. so a hemp gasket was placed on caulkedss ring and then . this is likely what to down the monitor. 16 men went down with the vessel that night, four officers and 12 crew. the rest of the complement was rescued by her escort vessel. it was a night of horrors. it took several days for the news to make it back to ,ashington, back to the press
just to make it back. telegraph office at fort monroe that sent news of the success the previous march now send more sobering news which spread quickly through the union and confederacy. the news of the sinking at first the press was wildly speculative and wrong. words of the monitor had floundered off hatteras in the early morning hours reach the major newspapers by january 4. the front-page headline screamed a dreadful disaster, floundering of the monitor and erroneously to offices in 38 men lost. the new york herald while more accurate was no less emotional. , the ironclad gunboat lost on cape avenue -- cape hatteras. as the day went on, more and more accuracy came in. the papers included sketches of where the monitor may have gone down. people were treating him as a news item.
the monitor did not leave the stage quietly, however. she was, as one reporter said, the pet of the people. losing her was akin to losing a battle. but she lived on in so many interesting ways. i thought i might recount some of them for you before i end. ,uring the war and after closing itself became patterned after the monitor. a gentleman could have a monitor checked shirt or a tie while the ladies could have a dress made to combat the very popular merrimack cloth. she could wear it with her full monitor cloak and hat. later in the century, men and women could sport monitor shoes to complete their ensemble. if you could not afford those from the store, you could make your own on a monitor selling machine. wherever the clothes came from,
they could be washed with a monitor washboard and dried by a monitor stove. to remove wrinkles you could use a monitor flat iron. you could have a meal made from monitor flour which might have been grown on monitor farms using monitor windmills and pumps. coffee ground in a monitor grinder could be heated in a monitor coffee pot. the monitor madness was ri fe. even as she sank. one thing of interest is that news about the monitor sinking did make it to the press by ,anuary 4, but by january 9 something very interesting occurred in the press. in theas a small ad
january 9 edition of the hartford daily current that starts out "the monitor sunk, but the ship of state still floats down the river of time. " that's respectful. it goes on to say more boats are coming with a few dozen hoop skirts. another ad in the providence rhode island evening press. it said still afloat, our monitor has not sunk. it was an ad for the monitor stove. though she was gone, the little monitor could still move product. so it was that the monitor spent her brief life in 1862 to inspire an entire class of vessels, and informed able design for years to calm. she would inspire art and literature music, and home , appliances. so, yes, president lincoln was right.
there had been something in it. had alsorument of war become a symbol for the union symbolimately in time, a forever bound with her nemesis, the virginia, of american ingenuity. perhaps one of my favorite instances of the monitor being used for a product was a seagram's dad from the 1930's it shows the vessels forever bound in combat with each other and touts them both as american originals. the monitor had caught the eye of a president and captured the imagination of a nation. she was the pet of the people. she has truly become and will always be our little monitor. thank you. [applause] dr. holloway: i believe we do have time for some questions.
>> would you like to tell the audience a little bit more about the president's visit to the skipper? >> you are talking about when he visited with captain morgan. during the battle on march 9, while the two ironclad pounded each other the only casualty was , really the officer of the monitor. he was looking at the pilot house. a shell from the virginia struck. it did peel back some of the iron of the pilot house and he was sprayed in the face with a shell and powder, temporarily blinded and bleeding profusely. he was carried below.
the executive officer took command. warding himself was taken off the monitor that evening and eventually taken to washington, d.c. where he was recuperating. while he was recuperating, president lincoln paid him a visit and he said the president did him a great honor and paraphrasing,i am but no, sir, you do me the great honor. lincoln believed in what the monitor was doing, believed the men that were true heroes for setting out in -- let's face it, an experimental craft that could have been their coffin. he took particular interest and took the time to visit. >> very interesting talk. i have seen pictures of other ironclads. they looked more like the merrimack then the monitor.
were the other monitor successful or did they have similar problems? dr. holloway: one thing that is interesting, the night the monitor sank, there was another monitor that was making passage around cape hatteras. passaic had similar problems in that she was taking on water drastically. failed on the passaic just as frantically as the minimum monitor, but a few different things happen. the captain of the fleet of georgia which was the escort vessel turned away from the storm, where is the rhode island ended up, i think you have heard about the cyclonic bomb we have had recently where the pressure drops over a short period and the believe is that the monitor was in one of those.
so she probably did not have a chance to matter what, but the passaic was in slightly less turbulent weather and so she makes it around. in terms of a design for seagoing vessels, the monitor class was more of a brown water vessel. that had to sometimes go to see. sea. to we are debating how many monitor class vessels made it into service during the war but around 67 were at least contracted for during the american civil war. somewere successful to extent. fleet had aronclad little bit of a problem in charleston later. they were just not as successful as a seagoing fleet. set the standard for warships really up until the
dreadnought era. >> hi. dr. holloway: hi. >> could you expand more on that, how other nations reacted? union 67, how many were and how many were confederate and how other nations reacted in the 1860's and 1870's. dr. holloway: certainly. the monitor class vessels were all union. they really inform vessels and other countries. but really what was more important was the ironclad -- the idea that ironclad warns ships whether union or , confederate, that is what really changes at least the public idea of what the worship -- warship should be. you had to debate in parliament , i thinkfter the news the news arrived in london about march 20 or thereabouts.
you had debate in parliament, well our entire navy with the exception of the hms warrior is useless. , buts not quite the case you do see ironclad building programs in other countries and after the american civil war, when there was not a need for such a huge fleet to the u.s. navy, many were sold to south america. you do see other monitor type vessels being built around the world. throughout the 19th century. the confederate ironclads, there were far fewer and most of them would be built on the design of the uss virginia with a few exceptions. virginia was probably a difficult vessel to build. built ais because they full-scale version of her forward portion and it was an engineering marvel and very time-consuming.
ironclads in the confederacy would have the same sloping sides but would not have a rounded portion. there were far fewer of them. someld say, you look at modern military technology such as the stealth bombers and you you seethe -- and echoes of the virginia in those. >> were any used in the blockade of the south? >> the monitors, yes. you had the monitors blockading charleston, monitors block -- going into mobile bay. they were used throughout, but again they were more of a brown water creation. >> im intrigued by the product advertising. the monitor belonged to the navy?
whom?oyalties paid and to dr. holloway: well -- [laughter] here is the interesting thing. when the monitor went into battle, she was not owned by the navy, technically. she was still owned by john erickson and his consortium of financiers. he was not to get final payment until she proved herself successful in battle. but there were no rules about copyright for that kind of thing. monitor was fair game, and let me tell you, i only scratch the tip of the iceberg. it is phenomenal. i guarantee you, you will go home today and you will find the monitor somewhere. because she is still informing our popular culture. the imagery alone is phenomenal.
but the music -- she has inspired music. from the 19th century there were songs coming out immediately after the battle of hampton roads. some of the doggerel verse. they were coming out, people could sing them. they could sing the battle, almost always the union won the battle, with the exception of one broadside. sold in baltimore. about 50rase, it is verses long. aboutan interesting diddy how mary todd lincoln was trying to get her husband to be more and threatened to run off with jefferson davis. [laughter] >> a very interesting thing. it did not stop in the 19th century either. because there are songs still being written today. the most recent one is by a band
called civil war. they are swedish. it is an exultation of john erickson. but they are a swedish death metal band. called uss monitor and it came out last year. you could dance to the monitor. polka-mania was big in the 19th century see the dance theme monitor polka. you could march around to the monitor march. you could dance more vigorously to the erickson gallup. she was everywhere. she sold products. part of it i think is because she was showing usual -- so unusual. she was considered small, like a david to the confederacy's goliath. had those ports and they would blink alternately of the cannons came out. comical,on an almost whimsical role. that is what helped shape the
popular culture. >> i have lived in d.c. 15 years. i was walking on the side of the potomac down from the lincoln monument and there is a small circle with a statue which i have never paid attention to because you have to go to read what it is about. i did last weekend and it turns out it is a statue honoring erickson. i had no idea who he was. it made me wonder who is this man being honored here alongside presidents and other important people. i learned he was the man behind the monitor. from what i read, he was the bill gates of the era, or something like that. i was wondering if you talk more about him or the statue, or how that came about? dr. holloway: if you have not
visited the statue you do have to take your life in your hand a little bit. there is no crosswalk. if you go down from the lincoln memorial you will see him sitting there. the word monitor carved in. i won't say he was as rich as bill gates. he did -- he was forward thinking and invested his time in using heat as a source of power, of motive power. he was interested in solar power. john erickson had quite a view -- a view really and ideas. his idea for monitor is the one that he is best known for in this nation. go visit him there, in battery park in manhattan.
you can see john erickson standing there holding the little model that lincoln investigated at the white house. so, erickson is celebrated in sweden, but we call him our own here in america. i think that was our last question. thank you so much for having me here today. [applause] >> this weekend, american history tv is featuring asheville north carolina. c-span cities tour staff recently visited many sites show getting its history. located in the blue ridge mountains, it is over 100 miles inland from the atlantic coast. learn more about asheville all weekend on american history tv. >> while in asheville, north carolina, which is a driving tour of the city