The Monitor at the Mariner's Museum
Newport News Travel Blog› entry 2 of 28 › view all entries
September 22nd, 2009 – by: Andy99
The Monitor was designed as a costal gunboat to protect US Navy ships blockading Southern ports during the Civil War. Specifically, the warship was meant as a deterrent to the Confederate ironclad warship Virginia that posed a serious threat to the largely wooden fleet of US ships blockading the port of Norfolk, Virginia.
The large exhibit tells the story of the development of ironclad warships, the innovative design of the Monitor, the famous battle between the Monitor and the Virginia, the sinking of the Monitor during a storm in December 1862, and the recovery of parts of the wreck in 2002. The Monitor contained many innovations, incuding a four-blade propeller and a rotating gun turret. The ship was entirely steam powered and built of iron, with quarters below the waterline to present a low target profile. It even had the first flush toilet installed on a ship! It was built in only 100 days--a record when 555 days was the average time to construct a ship. But, there was a weapons race on to counter the Confederate ironclad Virginia being built at the same time from the captured USS Merrimack in the captured Norfolk Navy yard. (One gallery shows the parallel construction of the Virginia.
We went through the entire exhibit. It opens with the Monitor's recovered lantern eerily glowing red. Drawings, artwork, and models document the ship's design. Artifiacts and reconstructions of the interior show the ship's workings and life of the crew on board. A full size replica of the ship allows one to walk on the deck and gain a perspective of its size and design. The engagement between the Monitor and the Virginia (Merrimack) in Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862 is documented, but it is but one part of the large exhibit. Other exhibits describe the exploration of the wreckage off Cape Hatteras in the 1990s and raising of the turret in 2002. Finally, preservation tanks can be viewed that contain the recovered turret, naval guns, and other ironwork. The iron is being chemically treated to stabilize it after immersion in seawater for over a century. It is a very extensive and facsinating exhibit and, after a while, it begins to be difficult to absorb all of the information presented!
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