USS Monitor-The Beaufort Link

Although Swedish inventor John Ericsson submitted plans to Napoleon III in 1854 for an “impregnable battery” that included a revolving cupola, it wasn’t until 1861 that Ericsson’s plans for such an ironclad ship were accepted by the US Navy Department.

USS Monitor was launched from Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint, NY on January 30, 1862. In October, Monitor spent several weeks at the Washington Navy Yard where it was repainted and modified. Battle damages were repaired with iron patches – each scar was labeled according to its origin: “Merrimac”- “Minnesota”- “Ft. Darling” and “Merrimac’s Prow”.

Shortly afterwards, on December 24, 1862, orders were issued for Monitor to proceed to Beaufort, North Carolina. On December 31 she encountered a severe storm several miles off the coast of North Carolina. Efforts by the crew were in vain and the ship slowly sank – four officers and 16 crewmen lost their lives.

Discovered in 1973

In Beaufort, a monument honoring John G. Newton, the Duke University Marine Laboratory team leader involved in the 1973 discovery of the long-sunken Civil War Union ironclad Monitor, was dedicated March 9, 2002, the 140th anniversary of the historic vessel's battle with its rival Confederate ironclad Virginia (originally Merrimack before its capture and refitting).

Newton, who died in 1984 at the age of 52, led the group aboard the marine lab's former research vessel Eastward that discovered Monitor on Aug. 27, 1973, lying upside down in 230 feet of water about 16 miles off Cape Hatteras. That discovery was preceded by nearly a year of intensive historical research that narrowed the search to a 6-by-16 mile rectangle in what is known as the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" because of the frequency of shipwrecks.

"Before our first week was over, we had picked up 21 targets," Newton recalled in a January 1975 National Geographic article. The day the right target was found, he wrote, "the scientist on watch paid little heed to a slight echo" traced on the paper track of a sonar recorder. Fortunately, Newton added, Fred Kelley, the chief of Eastward's oceanographic party, passed by while wrapping up a bit of fishing from the ship's rail. 'Hey -- that looks like something,' Fred said, and suggested that Eastward reverse course to take a closer look."

It would take another five months of post-discovery study, plus a second site visit in April 1974, to unquestionably identify the wreck.

Monitor was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in October 1974 as a resource of national significance. On January 30, 1975, Monitor became the first National Marine Sanctuary under Title III of the Marine Protection, Research and Protection Act of 1972.

Wool coat that sank with ironclad Monitor is nearly revived
The Union jacket is again recognizable despite 140 years submerged inside the Monitor’s turret, which was recovered in 2002. (Jonathon Gruenke / Newport News)