Show Summary Details

Quick Reference

A low-freeboard, shallow-draft ship mounting one or two large guns for coastal bombardment. The name comes from the original ship built for that purpose, an ironclad designed during the American Civil War (1861–5) for the US Navy by a Swedish engineer, John Ericsson (1803–89). Ericsson, who had already designed the first warship with a propeller, had the Monitor constructed to counter the Confederate States Navy ironclad CSS Virginia, the former USS Merrimac, as well as Confederate shore batteries. She was significant in the history of warships for being the first vessel to be built with an armoured revolving turret. On 9 March 1862, soon after her launch, she encountered the Virginia at Hampton Roads, but the battle proved inconclusive. By then she had already proved herself unseaworthy, and she foundered off Cape Hatteras on 31 December 1862. Her remains were found in 1973 by an American research ship and in 1975 became the USA's first marine sanctuary. They are protected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which examined the hull but found it too fragile to be recoverable. However, the turret was salvaged in 2003 and is now on display at the Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia.

The name monitor was chosen from a phrase in a letter from Ericsson to the secretary of the navy about the design: ‘The impregnable and aggressive character of the structure will admonish the leaders of the Southern Rebellion that the batteries on the banks of their rivers will no long present barriers to the entrance of the Union forces. The ironclad intruder will thus prove a severe monitor to those leaders … Downing Street [a reference to the British Prime Minister and his government], in fact, will hardly view with indifference this last Yankee notion, this monitor.’

Britain, in fact, viewed the Monitor with complete indifference, having two years earlier launched the Warrior, which could have blown 50 monitors out of the water. Nevertheless, Britain built monitors in large numbers during the First World War (1914–18) and also used them in the Second World War (1939–45).

Subjects: Maritime History.

Reference entries

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.