The Miracle That Saved The Union


On January 14 Commodore Smith wrote Ericsson a nasty note on his blue paper, reminding him that “the time for the completion of the shotproof battery … expired on January 12th….” Smith was right, of course; the federal contract had been signed by the government exactly a hundred days before. But the government, now deeply concerned, did nothing about cancellation, any more than it would hold Ericsson to a part of the contract requiring masts and sails. Washington wanted the Monitor badly, under almost any terms. Besides, the government was partly responsible for the delay, since it had not yet been able to provide the guns.

At Novelty a barge was warped under the company’s huge forty-ton crane, a landmark towering over its private pier. Sections of the enormous turret were lowered on board, and the barge was towed to the Continental Iron Works. The turret sections were taken into the ship house, placed on the Monitor , and assembled. DeLamater’s men connected its double train of cogwheels with the small steam engine that would turn it. This completed Monitor ’s well-known “tin can on a shingle” silhouette.

Practical details were now worked out. The ship, up until this time really nameless, was usually referred to as Ericsson’s Battery. Ericsson now proposed to the Navy the name Monitor . Twenty-two-year-old Lieutenant S. Dana Greene, the officer who would ride her down the ways on launching, was assigned as executive officer. Rowland prepared for the launching, asked Ericsson to send riggers to assist, and constructed wooden boxes to buoy up the ship’s stern lest she plow too deep in the water upon leaving the launching ways.


Smith forwarded the news that the Merrimac had been floated out of dry dock on January 25 and urged Ericsson to hold the Monitor ’s trials as soon as possible.

With some fanfare the Monitor moved out of her ship house at 9:45 A.M. on January 30, gathered momentum, and slipped down the inclined ways into the cold waters of the East River, buoyed up by the wooden boxes. The Stars and Stripes flew from the turret and flagstaff. Steam tugs, puffing black smoke and white steam, stood by to help. Ericsson, in company with Lieutenant Greene and Acting Volunteer Master L. N. Stodder, stood on her decks while a top-hatted crowd watched from the ship house and the shores of the river. It was the hundredfirst working day from the date the contract was signed and the hundredth day from the laying of the keel.


The Brooklyn Daily Eagle of January 31 reported:

The launch of the iron-clad battery Ericsson took place yesterday at Rowland’s Shipyard, and was highly successful. The vessel is broad and flat-bottomed, with vertical sides and pointed ends, requiring but a very small low depth of water to float in, though heavily loaded with an impregnable armor upon its sides and a bomb-proof deck, on which is placed a shot-proof revolving turret, that will contain two very heavy guns. It is so low in the water as to afford no target for the enemy, and everything and everybody is below the waterline, with the exception of the persons working the guns, who are protected by the shotproof turret. The vessel will soon be ready for a trial trip, when some idea can be formed as to her usefulness.

Gustavus Fox sent Ericsson a telegram on the launching day to “hurry her to sea as the Merrimac is nearly ready at Norfolk.”

Things were moving. The Monitor needed only guns, crew, and trials and she would be ready. On the day she was launched, the ordnance officer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard told Ericsson he had been authorized to take two eleven-inch guns out of the gunboat Dacotah for the Monitor , so “if you will send your derricks to the yard the guns can be hoisted out.” Ericsson wrote Smith that the Monitor was nearing completion, which pleased the old man greatly. “She is much needed now,” he replied.

Now it was February. The East River froze over. By the third, Fox had wired Ericsson again that Lincoln wanted to know when the Monitor would be ready. Trial time was at hand. On February 5 the two Dahlgren guns were mounted in the turret, “presenting a formidable appearance.” On the ninth the main engine was turned over, and the ventilation, on which so much depended, was tested. On the eleventh Paulding wired Washington that she would be ready in a week, but the blacksmith shop in the yard blew up, and Ericsson was having trouble with the turret-turning gear, the piston valves being “too snug.”