Friday, March 9, 2018

Books on the sinking, rediscovery, and recovery of the USS Monitor

On this day in history (March 9, 1862), the USS Monitor clashed at Hampton Roads with the CSS Virginia. Both ironclads burned a lot of coal and angrily bashed in a bunch of each other's plates before going home, never to meet again. Offhand, I was trying to think of which one of the many books documenting this historic naval engagement stands head and shoulders above the rest, but came up empty. I'll have to think about that some more, so instead I decided to briefly highlight some books that document the sinking and rediscovery of the Monitor as well as the recovery and preservation of some of its major components.

As we all know, the Confederates were forced to blow up the Virginia in May and the Monitor foundered off Cape Hatteras during a storm at the end of the year. Several twentieth century expeditions located the wreck of the Monitor. Among other things, their record of its deteriorating state prompted the creation of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. In the 1990s, the first serious attempts to recover artifacts for preservation occurred, with the propeller, engine parts, guns, and turret eventually raised between then and now. A number of books have explored this history and the ongoing process of conservation.

A study of the recovery I particularly liked was John D. Broadwater's deeply informative and richly illustrated USS Monitor: A Historic Ship Completes Its Final Voyage (2012). Broadwater served as chief archaeologist of the NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and he was manager of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary from 1992-2005 (leading seven underwater expeditions to the wreck over that period), so he writes with considerable insight and authority on the topic.

Most recently, I've been delving into "Our Little Monitor": The Greatest Invention of the Civil War by Anna Gibson Holloway (former curator of the USS Monitor Center at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News) and Jonathan W. White. I'll have more to say about it in my review, which will appear later this month or in early April.

The story of the recovery was in the national news for quite a while, and it's not surprising that it spawned a number of books. I can't comment specifically as I haven't read any of them but wanted to just mention a couple more. Part of the 1973 dive expedition, Robert E. Sheridan authored Iron from the Deep: The Discovery and Recovery of the USS Monitor (2003). Published in 2005, Paul R. Clancy's Ironclad: The Epic Battle, Calamitous Loss, and Historic Recovery of the USS Monitor explored once again the history, sinking, and subsequent salvage efforts, but it also promised "fresh insights into the sinking of the Union ship" and "the answer to an intriguing forensic mystery: the identities of the two sailors whose bones were found in the Monitor's recovered turret."


  1. A good friend of mine dove on the Monitor before they brought up the turret. It was a remarkable dive, preserved on video. This book is outstanding. Thanks for posting.

  2. I really enjoyed DeKays book on the Monitor and in my opinion William C Davis is he best book on the battle (and the most readable.)


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