At the time it was built during the Civil War, the well-known USS Monitor was a new breed of ship that would signal a turning point in modern-day naval warfare. The novel 120-ton, revolving turret that set the ship apart from the rest was recently retrieved from its 140-year-old resting spot in the Atlantic Ocean 20 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, N.C.
Monitor Expedition 2002 is the final phase of a multi-year effort to recover the wreck of this famous Civil War ironclad. The operation is being conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Naval Sea Systems Command, Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two, and The Mariners Museum.
The Monitors history, in part, is owed to iron manufacturer and steel pioneer John F. Winslow, who was Rensselaers fifth president. Winslow, one of the nations most dynamic industrialists during the Civil War, was one of the first to see merit in the design of ironclad war vessels. Ships at that time were typically built from wood.
The company joined forces with the Rensselaer Iron Works, headed by iron industrialist and Institute Trustee John Griswold, to become the prime contractors for the iron plates of the Monitor.
Corning, Winslow & Co. built the deck plates, the hull skirt, and the angle iron for the frame. The Rensselaer Iron Works made the rivets and the bar iron for the pilothouse.
In September 1861, Winslow and Griswold convinced President Abraham Lincoln of the potential of the Monitor, designed by Swedish-American engineer and inventor John Ericsson, who up until then had met resistance for his revolutionary design.
The Monitor was launched from Brooklyn in January 1862. Less than two months later, it faced off with its Confederate rival, the CSS Virginia (a modified version of a steam frigate originally called the USS Merrimack). The battle ended in a draw.
The Monitor sank during a storm on New Years Eve in 1862. Although short-lived, it became a symbol of modern-day warfare mainly because of its revolving turret that carried two 11-inch cannons. Unlike the Virginia, which had to be steered into position for its guns to take accurate aim, the Monitors guns could be aimed simply by adjusting the turret.
Since the ship was rediscovered in 1973, other parts of the ship and many artifacts have been recovered. The turret will be preserved and displayed at the Mariners Museum in Virginia. The full exhibition is scheduled to open in 2007.
|Rensselaer Magazine: December 2002|
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