No single sea battle has had more far-reaching consequences than the one fought in the harbor at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in March 1862. Read more...
No single sea battle has had more far-reaching consequences than the one fought in the harbor at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in March 1862. The Confederacy, with no fleet of its own, built an iron fort containing ten heavy guns on the hull of a captured Union frigate named the Merrimack. The North got word of the project when it was already well along, and, in desperation, commissioned an eccentric inventor named John Ericsson to build the Monitor, an entirely revolutionary iron warship--at the time, the single most complicated machine ever made. Abraham Lincoln himself was closely involved with the ship's design. Rushed through to completion in just 100 days, it mounted only two guns, but they were housed in a shot-proof revolving turret. The ship hurried south from Brooklyn (and nearly sank twice on the voyage), only to arrive to find the Merrimack had arrived blazing that morning, destroyed half the Union fleet, and would be back to finish the job the next day. When she returned, the Monitor was there. She fought the Merrimack to a standstill, and saved the Union cause. As soon as word of the battle spread, Great Britain--the foremost sea power of the day--ceased work on all wooden ships. A thousand-year-old tradition ended, and the path to the naval future opened.
Richly illustrated with photos, maps, and engravings, Iron Dawn is the irresistible story of these incredible, intimidating war machines. Historian Richard Snow brings to vivid life the tensions of the time, explaining how wooden and ironclad ships worked, maneuvered, battled, and sank. This full account of the Merrimack and Monitor has never been told in such immediate, compelling detail.
The history-making naval battle of the Civil War
As Civil War battles go, the Battle of Hampton Roads isn’t among the most memorable. Gettysburg, Bull Run, Antietam and Fredericksburg usually take top billing. But author Richard Snow argues in Iron Dawn that Hampton Roads was among the most significant Civil War conflicts because it was the first sea battle between ironclad ships: the Merrimack and the Monitor. The battle lasted only three hours and ended in a draw. But because the two ironclads proved battleworthy, it signaled the dawn of the modern navy and the end to wooden shipbuilding. “Many naval battles . . . have bent the course of history in hours or even minutes,” Snow writes. “But none has fomented in a short day’s work a whole new kind of warfare, has in one noisy morning made an ancient tradition obsolete.”
By the time the two boats met on March 9, 1862, on Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, the Merrimack had already destroyed two wooden Union ships and had its sights set on a third. The Monitor arrived to hold the Merrimack in check. The two ironclads fired on each other for several hours, with little damage and few casualties, before they both retreated to safer waters.
The battle was evidence, Snow says, that many of the most important technologies of the Civil War came from the navy, not the army.
Iron Dawn is a worthy read not only for serious Civil War buffs, but also for those who appreciate how ingenuity forever changed the way the military does battle on the sea.