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21 Jan 2019

How Innovation Happens: A Tale of Two Ironclads


From Washington's crossing of the Delaware to the Anaconda Plan, warfare by water figured heavily into all three defining conflicts of our nation's first century. Naval operations could tip the balance of a battle, a campaign or even a war, but building and maintaining a navy during the Civil War was an ever-shifting challenge. As the main fighting raged on land, the two navies committed time, ingenuity and natural resources to bolster bold strategies for the war on the water.

Take, for example, the Battle of Hampton Roads, the first-ever battle of ironclad ships. So many factors had to converge to make this historic event possible. Here are just a few of them:

Virginia seceded, forcing the U.S. Navy at the Gosport Naval Yard in Portsmouth to hastily scuttle, destroy or leave behind valuable vessels and guns, including the steam frigate USS Merrimack.
The Confederates were able to salvage and repurpose the Merrimack, replacing the upper works with an iron-covered citadel mounting 10 guns and calling their new ironclad the CSS Virginia.
Largely through serendipity, naval engineer John Ericsson was able to get an audience with Abraham Lincoln to share an innovative design for what would become the USS Monitor. Ericsson overcame objections and misgivings from some high-level officials in the Union Navy to get his design made a reality.
Mary Touvestre, a freed slave employed in the home of an engineer working on the CSS Virginia, happened upon a blueprint for the ship and recognized its significance. She risked life and limb to bring news of the Confederates' progress on this new warship to the Union Navy, lighting a fire under their own ironclad construction timeline.
The USS Monitor was ready just in time to face the newly unleashed CSS Virginia and save the Union fleet from certain destruction. Had its timeline been delayed just a few more weeks, things could have gone very differently on the rivers of Virginia that spring of 1862.
The meeting of the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia represented a new pinnacle of a decades-long naval arms race their creators had managed to outpace the development of artillery and neither ship could substantially damage the other. Hampton Roads ended in a stalemate and a gauntlet was laid for weapons development.
These innovative ironclads were just one step along the path to modern naval technology. Another naval first during the Civil War was the debut of the H.L. Hunley submarine and both ironclads and submarines would continue to evolve long after that conflict subsided.

Read more about the history of navies in America's wars on Battlefields.org.

A Toast to You

We have supporters like you to thank for a truly awe-inspiring 2018. You made incredible progress saving battlefield land across the country including through our year-end campaigns to save acres at Seminary Ridge and Cold Harbor and you exceeded our goal of $300,000 in website donations matched! We will keep you updated as these efforts progress. Celebrate 2018 and get excited about 2019 with our brief year-in-review video.

Remembering the Sultana

Even the awesome power of steam had its limits, as Americans learned the hard way in the wake of the Civil War, when the steamboat carrying more than 2,000 Union troops on their way home exploded and sunk. Learn more about this tragic moment in American history.

A Cap Tip to Our Founding Members

If you've visited our online store, you may have seen our Founders Collection - but you may not have noticed that it's only available for a limited time. Become a member of the Trust today with a contribution of $50 or more, and we'll send you a free limited-edition cap to start off your Founding Member swag collection. All members receive a discount on store purchases, so you can build your collection from there. 

Missouri In the Civil War

A key border state, Missouri had thousands of troops fighting for both sides and was the site of a number of battles as well as the construction of two predecessors to the USS Monitor: the USS Essex and the USS Benton. Watch our new video to learn more facts about Missouri in the Civil War.

South Carolina: January 17th, 1781

In the early hours of that fateful January 17th, Daniel Morgan's Patriots met the British on wide-open South Carolina pastureland. By 8 a.m., the Battle of Cowpens was over and the course of the Revolutionary War had forever shifted. Celebrate the anniversary of this pivotal battle by reading all about it.

Thomas Paine In4

In this new In4, Jim Percoco sheds light on one of the overlooked figures of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine. This British-born Patriot wrote pamphlets to inspire the Revolutionary cause, including "Common Sense," which celebrated its 243rd anniversary of publication on January 10.

Mark Your Calendars for Park Day

On April 6th, 2019, modern patriots across the nation will come together to give back to the parks that teach and inspire us. Save the date and get connected with your local park to do your part!

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