05 August 2017

History for the day: 2002: Divers recover turret of the Monitor

History.com has this for 5 August:

On 5 August 2002, the rusty iron gun turret of the USS Monitor (video, above) broke from the water and into the daylight for the first time in a hundred and forty years. The ironclad was raised from the floor of the Atlantic, where it had rested since it went down in a storm off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Divers had been working for six weeks to bring it to the surface.
Nine months before sinking into its watery grave, the Monitor had been part of a revolution in naval warfare. On 9 March 1862, it dueled to a standstill with the CSS Virginia (originally the USS Merrimack) in one of the most famous moments in naval history: the first time two ironclads had faced each other in a naval engagement. During the battle, the two ships circled one another, jockeying for position as they fired their guns. The cannon balls simply deflected off the iron ships. In the early afternoon, the Virginia pulled back to Norfolk, Virginia. Neither ship was seriously damaged, but the Monitor effectively ended the short reign of terror that the Confederate ironclad had brought to the Union navy.
Designed by Swedish engineer John Ericsson, the Monitor had an unusually low profile, rising from the water only eighteen inches. The flat iron deck had a twenty-foot cylindrical turret rising from the middle of the ship; the turret housed two eleven-inch Dahlgren guns. The shift had a draft of less than eleven feet, so it could operate in the shallow harbors and rivers of the South. It was commissioned on 25 February 1862, and arrived in the Chesapeake Bay just in time to engage the Virginia.
After the famous duel, the Monitor provided gun support on the James River for George B. McClellan’s Peninsular Campaign. By December of 1862, it was clear the ship was no longer needed in Virginia, so she was sent to Beaufort, North Carolina, to join a fleet being assembled for an attack on Charleston, South Carolina. The Monitor served well in the sheltered waters of the Chesapeake, but the heavy, low-slung ship was a poor craft for the open sea. The USS Rhode Island towed the ironclad around the rough waters of Cape Hatteras. As the Monitor pitched and swayed in the rough seas, the caulking around the gun turret loosened and water began to leak into the hull. More leaks developed as the journey continued. High seas tossed the craft, causing the ship’s flat armor bottom to slap the water. Each roll opened more seams and, by nightfall on 30 December, the Monitor was in dire straits.
That evening, the Monitor’s commander, J.P. Bankhead, signaled the Rhode Island that he wished to abandon ship. The wooden side-wheeler pulled as close as safety allowed to the stricken ironclad, and two lifeboats were lowered to retrieve the crew. Many of the sailors were rescued, but some men were terrified to venture onto the deck in such rough seas. The ironclad’s pumps stopped working, and the ship sank before sixteen of its crew members could be rescued. The remains of two of these sailors were discovered by divers during the Monitor’s 2002 reemergence. Many of the ironclad’s artifacts are now on display at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

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