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The heyday of the monitor

On the Appomattox River, in 1864, lie five of the then latest type of Federal ironclad-all built on the improved Ericsson plan, doing away with the objectionable “overhang” of the deck, dispensed with in order to give greater speed and seaworthiness. By this time the Federal navy had found abundant opportunity to try out the qualities of the monitor type. A monitor presented less than a third as much target area as any one of the old broadside ships that could possibly compete with her armament. Her movable turret enabled her to train her guns almost instantly on an adversary and bring them to bear constantly as fast as they could be loaded, no matter what the position or course of either vessel. If a monitor went aground, she remained a revolving Fort irrespective of the position of her hull. A shot to do serious damage must strike the heavy armor of the monitor squarely. The percentage of shots that could be so placed from the deck of a rolling ship was very small, most of them glancing off from the circular turret and pilot-house or skidding harmlessly along the deck. Only the most powerful land batteries could make any impression on these “iron sea-elephants” which the Federals had learned how to use. Their only vulnerable spot was below the water-line. The boom across the river in the picture, as well as the torpedo-nets, arranged at the bows of the vessels, indicates that the Confederates strove constantly to seize the advantage of this one weakness. The monitors in the James and Appomatox were too vigilant to be thus caught, although hundreds of floating mines were launched in the current or planted in the channel. The fleet, ever on the watch for these, was kept busy raking them up and rendering them harmless for passing ships.

A fleet of five monitors in 1864

Deck of a Union monitor.


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