- Historic Sites
The Miracle That Saved The Union
The Union desperately needed an extraordinary warship to counter the ironclad the Confederates were building
December 1975 | Volume 27, Issue 1
Though a return engagement was expected, none took place, and when in May the Confederates evacuated Norfolk, they decided the Merrimac was too unseaworthy for the open ocean and drew too much water to make it up the James River to Richmond, so her own crew destroyed her. The Monitor , with young Greene still aboard, was being towed to blockade duty off Beaufort, North Carolina, when she foundered off Cape Hatteras during a storm at sea on December 31, 1862.
John Ericsson continued to build ironclads for the Union navy for the remainder of the war; but the building of the unique Monitor had made him a hero—the hero of the “hundred-day miracle.”
The Monitor was not officially declared “out of commission” by the Navy until September 30, 1953. Twenty years later—in the summer of 1973—a team of oceanographie researchers from Duke University discovered her remains lying in 220 feet of water about fifteen miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, where she had gone down in 1862. The find was verified through the use of underwater television cameras, sonar readings, magnetometer records, and bits of wood and coal brought up by mechanical scoops. The television pictures showed the Monitor turned upside down, her encrusted stern facing upward, her turret cushioning it. The researchers decided there would be no way of raising the vessel to the surface without her falling apart until better salvage techniques were devised—perhaps several decades in the future.