As some of you are no doubt aware, I am fascinated with 19th century America, and one of the most significant developments in maritime history happened 150 years ago this week. For the first time ever, a battle was fought between ironclad warships in Hampton Roads, Virginia on March 9, 1862. The Confederates had recovered the sunken steam frigate U.S.S. Merrimack and rebuilt it, converting it to a casemate ironclad vessel that they renamed C.S.S. Virginia. The Union’s vessel, the U.S.S. Monitor, was a technological marvel, made almost entirely of iron and containing a revolving gun turret, as well as flush toilets, a forced air ventilation system, and a couple dozen other new inventions. I have found the ship fascinating ever since I was a kid. Perhaps one day I will get a chance to see the recovered parts of the ship at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News.
Of course there are Massachusetts connections to the Monitor, too. When the Monitor’s turret was pulled off the ocean floor (it sank during a storm in December 1862) it contained the remains of two crewmen. One of these men is believed to be a sailor from Boston. Something like one in five sailors in the Union Navy during the Civil War were from Massachusetts. The Boston.com website recently had a great article about the New England connections to the Monitor recently.
Anyway, too much great history stuff going on this year for me to not talk about it, at least a little.