160 Years: “Unlike Anything That Ever Floated” In Hampton Roads

It was morning, Sunday, March 9, 1862. As executive officer and second in command of the revolutionary ironclad, USS Monitor, Greene supervised the weapons in the turret while his captain, Lieutenant John L. Worden, commanded the vessel from the little pilothouse some 50 feet forward of the guns. They had just sallied forth to meet the CSS Virginia (ex USS Merrimack) in the first contest between ironclad warships.

What natural light there was streamed down through ventilation holes in the iron plates over their heads. The curving walls or “bulkheads” were covered with additional thin iron sheets as shields to prevent hundreds of bolt heads and nuts binding the turret plates together from becoming shrapnel within when enemy rounds struck without. These internal surfaces were whitewashed to reflect light.

Monitor was equipped with a speaking tube—a pipe through which voice orders and status reports presumably could be exchanged between the captain in the pilothouse and Lieutenant Greene in the turret—but it apparently didn’t work well, perhaps due to incessant noise of engines and guns. The ship’s paymaster and captain’s clerk were assigned as messengers running between the two stations with verbal exchanges. “They performed their work with zeal and alacrity,” reported Greene, “but, both being landsmen, our technical communications sometimes miscarried.”

Greene’s best and most dangerous view for aiming was through the few-inch gap between the muzzle of the gun and the top of the gun port when the gun was run out for firing. Green called down the hatch in the turret floor to the paymaster below, instructing him to go forward and ask Worden for permission to fire. The reply: “Tell Mr. Greene not to fire till I give the word, to be cool & deliberate, to take sure aim & not to waste a shot.” [From the ECW Post, “Around We Go In The Monitor Turret”]

The Battle of the Ironclads was about to begin! After the CSS Virginia wrecked havoc on the wooden hulled Federal ships on March 8, 1862, the Union’s ironclad arrived in the night, setting the stage for a historic battle and turning point in naval warfare on March 9, 1862.

For the 160th Anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads and the first clash of ironclad vessels, let’s revisit Dwight Hughes podcast episode!

Unlike Anything That Ever FloatedListen HERE for Free

(You can also add the book from the ECW Series to your bookshelf collection by ordering from Savas Beatie. ) 

2 Responses to 160 Years: “Unlike Anything That Ever Floated” In Hampton Roads

  1. I started the month by reading Dwight Hughes’ book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough! It inspired me to take my wife and toddler to explore the Newport News/Hampton area earlier this week. (The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News is an absolute treasure!)

    Thank you, Mr. Hughes and ECW for fleshing out this story!

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