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tv   Richard Snow Discusses Iron Dawn  CSPAN  January 14, 2017 11:19am-11:56am EST

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[inaudible conversations] >> hello. we are an independent bookstore and we have a second location in jersey city and you confined more information about us online. we are honored to be here tonight celebrating the launch of richard's nose book iron don. lets give richard a round of applause for his neighbor. [applause]. [applause]. [applause]. >> he has previous been editor-in-chief and written several books including two
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novels in a book of poetry and he has written for films including pbs film: coney island. thank you for coming. enjoy. richard, why don't you come on up. >> thank you very much. what a nice store and thank you for having me. this is the book's publication day, so for the last few weeks i have been and what a writer friend of mine calls the role before the wall, but anyway i am pleased and honored to have "iron dawn" make its debut not only in brooklyn, but greenpoint brooklyn has many technological wonders, but perhaps the most impressive-- i mean, the uss
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monitor. it's the single most influential war ship ever built and it was born about 400 yards away from here. we tend to think of the civil war as a land affair. you say civil war and people think of gettysburg, shiloh and it's unlikely anyone will remember the navy and the reason is clear, the navy encountered only 5% of the unions manpower and its losses for the entire four years of the war were often surpass in the single day of fighting on land. there are two civil war ships that still live in the national memory, the monitor and the merrimack and there is good reason for this. they were the first to two metal ships-- in fact they were the first to steam powered ships
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that ever fought each other, but there's more to it than that. a lot of the sea fights threat the course of history in hours and even minutes, but there's never been a battle quite like this one. it was a test of a brand-new technology that changed everything in a single morning. if three days after kitty hawk the wright brothers took their airplane out to see and won a stunning victory for their country. a lot of writing about the civil war sees it as a contest and that is largely true. sort of interesting that it was the south that brought the technology into the fights. when the war broke out, have the southern born officers in the u.s. navy, you know, if you are
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worried-- [inaudible] >> resigned their commissions and went south, but they didn't take any ships with them, so the secretary of the navy had to-- you know, found themselves with a lot of good officers and just six shifts to put them on. he knew a lot about the scene he was a good marine lawyer and he knew the north with throw blockade along the southern ports and that it would take a generation for his country to build a comparable fleet, so what to do? he did not want to waive a defensive work. every union ship was made of wood. right away he wrote to the committee on naval affairs: i regard the possession of an iron ship as a matter of the first necessity in a quality in
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numbers may be compensated by vulnerability, not only this economy, but naval success dictates the wisdom and expediency of fighting with iron against wood. so, he put two gifted shipwrights to work on an ironclad and they have the idea of building a metal for any wooden hole. the whole would be under water safe from cannon fire. this was a simple concept, but extremely difficult. for one thing, it would take a very powerful engine to drive a ship like that and they went to the ironworks in richmond, the largest in the south, and asked of them to build it. nothing too complicated, but the north weirdly enough solve their problem. one of the most important navy yards was in norfolk, virginia.
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there were dozens of big warships there when court sumner was fired on end the war began. anyone could have held it for the union, but the common of their panic camp at the all to the torch and the best burn was the merrimack. she burned right down to the waterline and sank, but with her whole and engine intact. of the hole was down, engine was down and the south had saved itself have a years of work, but there were still plenty to new trick this was a tremendous undertaking. it's not too much to call it the south manhattan project and even getting the iron plate that were eventually 70030 feet, tons of them from norfolk. it was difficult. in the end it hobbled the railway system with half the sound, but it got there and once
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it arrived and got bolted to a wooden trust work with the heavy-- 10 heavy guns inside of it. on august 8, the mobile register, the mobile alabama register published: it would seem the merrimack is being converted into an iron case battery. if so, she will be a floating fortress that will be able to defeat the whole navy of the united states and bombard its cities. , this is story, there was no idea of secrecy with military in those days. it's reached the secretary to u.s. navy a couple days after it was published and it scared them it was gideon welles. he was a very able guy. heated been given the navy even though he wanted to be postmaster general, but even so
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in the first few months of his administration set up a blockade along a thousand miles of our coastline, but again all wooden ships and now this. wells is worried not only about the iron ship, but about where it was being built. his blockade began at chesapeake bay and stretched all the way down to florida, but the crucial part was in the chesapeake. as long as the ships were on station there they could strangle the ports in virginia, which were the most important in the confederacy or 10 miles south of norfolk is hampton road, the largest natural harbor in the world and opens on the chesapeake. put an indestructible worship there and the north was in bad trouble and as the blockade got broken by england might commend the war, which everyone was very
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frightened of then. so they got dozens of proposals. one was for a rubber clad that would bounce awake cannon balls and it's a great shame this was never built, but they chose some ships but paid no attention to what would turn out to be the most important one. of the monitor would never have existed if a man named cornelius bush now had not had a problem. he was a railroad guy who talked them into accepting his plans for the ironclad and the board would, but if you can guarantee it would float and guarantee was a big word, so he talked to new york iron owner. and he said i know someone for you. he went that night. he came down to franklin street and the next morning met john
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erickson. he showed him his plans. erickson gave him the good news, it would float fine and as bush now thanked him and said goodbye he took out a dusty cardboard box and said would you like to see my plans for an ironclad and he said yes. now, john erickson is a puzzling figure among americans. he turned the course of a whole war, he had the mechanical genius of an edison and yet today he is scarcely remembered and i think it's partly his personality because from first to last he was hottie, prickly, quick-tempered always went into a rage when things didn't go his way and he always had a grievance. he was born in 1803 in a swedish
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mining town about a time he was 17 he had invented an engine that invented that worked on hot air rather than steam and he was getting famous from this when he began a complex personal life by getting a young swedish nobleman pregnant and the fallout from that sent him to england or he developed one of the first team engines. of course, success has a thousand fathers, but it's entirely possible that erickson is the inventor of the modern propeller. anyway one of the ship's cup i've a man named robert stockton who was high up enough in the u.s. navy to get him to come to america and build the first propeller driven worship built by any navy. the ship was a triumph, but stockton and erickson had a falling out and started spent the rest of his life making sure erickson never got paid for his navy work, so went erickson
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brought out his cardboard box he was angry with the u.s. navy and had been for years. what was in the box with a cigar shaped thing with a bulge in the middle. it was a germ of an entirely revolutionary warships. like the merrimack it was all metal and that bulge was a tour it that would rebel to point its guns and enemies no matter which way the ship itself was going. he was completely won over. he got in to see the president and he got the best possible listener, abraham lincoln. with the possible exception of jefferson he was more interested in inventions than any other president we have had and is the only american president to receive a patent and he got it
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for a maritime thing. he got erickson's idea right away and went with him when he finished ironclad board. the first meeting went well, but the next one did not. one board member, captain davis put his opinion of americans-- erickson's idea of blue book all terms. he pushed back and said you may take that little thing home and worship it. it would not be idolatry since it was made in the image of nothing in the heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. so now what? even though erickson was a bitingly angry with the navy bushnell got him to go to washington and explain the ship himself and he was very persuasive. when the board said it was worried the ship would not be stable, he said she will float
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upon the water and she will live in it like a duck and after he explained why the head of the board said, sir-- you know this guy's been in the navy for 40 years he said i've learned more about a vessel from what you have said then i have never-- ever known before, so he got his contract, but it was a tough one. @100 days to put together what was the most complicated machine ever built in the world at that time and the biblical captain davis was cried rice-- quite rice. monitor, erickson gave it the name, 100 feet long had a flat back that rose only 8 inches above the water and was hovering really, although that word did not describe a vessel. all that stuck up was the tour it and it was only 20 feet across and only held to guns,
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but they were big ones. the ship had perhaps 50 inventions, but erickson was too busy for file for patents and when she was launched in the east river january 30, 1862, she did indeed float like a duck. in the meantime the rebuilt merrimack had been launched and she also stayed above the water. malory chose as her captain a man named franklin buchanan. he founded the us naval academy, but he was best known in the service has been ferocious and mallory wanted a man about violence. she had a crew of about 300. the monitor had a crew of only 48 and her captain was a man named james warden. his sole previous claim to any kind of fame was having been the
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first prisoner captured in the war on either side. he had been taken after delivering a secret message from wells to a union fort in florida he was still weak from half a year and not alabama jail, but he was just as determined. both sides knew they were in a race in the merrimack won it. on march 8, 1862, captain buchanan ordered seem out to the roads. there were powerful-- union ships on station there and the one closest to the merrimack with the cumberland and the congress. together they mounted seven times as many heavy guns. buchanan went for the cumberland first. the cumberland opened fire and the pilot said, our shock
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bounced off the merrimack side like india rubber. she kept coming on. she had at yard long iron spike at her bow and a "new york times" correspondent roque-- wrote slowly she moves and horribly upon the doomed vessel. like a rhinoceros she shrinks down her fred-- had an frightful horn with a solo crunch sheep pierces the bow listing her as a toy. the cumberland started sinking right away. her gunners kept firing until the water was around to their knees. not one shot pierced the merrimack. the cumberland went down with her flag still flying and 129-- 121 dead beneath it and then the merrimack turned on the congress and set her on fire. she surrendered. 121 more dead in the next target was another union, the minnesota
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that steamed over to help and had run aground, but now the tide was going out in the minnesota would be there in the merrimack called it a day. quite a day. it was the worst defeat the union it navy had ever suffered and it would remain until pearl harbor 80 years later. the news of the battle through the entire-- sent the north into a real panic. at a cabinet meeting the next morning president lincoln walking to the window and looking onto the tarmac expecting to see the merrimack coming up the river. where is the monitor? nearly on the bottom of the atlantic. she set out from brooklyn the day before and had run into a storm that .doc or ventilators, which filled all her spaces with poison gases.
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her engine crew passed out. they thought-- the other crew members thought they had died. they had not, but as they came to that ship nearly sank twice, but just at dusk on the second day of this voyage she entered that chesapeake. about 1:00 a.m. the look out from the stranded minnesota saw this strange shape in the darkness and the minnesota's skipper said: all on board. we have a friend that was stand by us in our hour of trial. on board felt nothing of the sort. at the time he was actually appalled.
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with this ludicrous little pie plate the best but north could come up with against the monster that just killed two of this finest ships in the world. a union sailor was trying to tug the minnesota as its sandbar and wrote the next morning was a fine line, clear and bright. there was the little monitor flat on the water like a turtle. we all commenced to comment and make fun. that was certainly the thought on the merrimack when she came to finish off the minnesota. as a captive steamed out to meet her he called to the captain: i will stand by you to the last and then he shouted back, no, sir. you cannot help me. he expected the monitor to stand off. that is not what happened. the north said much to my astonishment she later felt alongside the merrimack in the contest was that of a pygmy to a
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giant turkey was not the only one astonished. when the monitor fired her first shot her quartermaster said he could see surprise on a ship just as you can on a human being and there was surprise all over the merrimack. the monitor's officers said mark the condition our men were in. for 48 hours they had no rest, very little food, but after the first gun was fired we forgot all fatigue, hard-working anything else and went to work fighting as hard as minera did. they did it on the merrimack, also. shed more guns. the monitor was more nimble. the merrimack trying to get to the minnesota. they thought for four hours at neither ship heard the other until a shell exploded in front of the monitors pilothouse momentarily blinding the captain
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and he turned over command to his executive officer who threw off the four-- waste more ammunition into the tourette's. the merrimack that the monitor was retreating, heading back to norfolk and that was the end of the battle. just a few hours on a sunday morning, but what a noise it made. one of the many things that make the battle unusual is that each side truly believed it had want and that's how it came down in history. neither ship sank the other and it's often called a draw. captain van brunt did not think it was a draw. his ship survived and so did the union blockade. the fight had the most immediate worldwide impact. a few weeks earlier in the london newspaper it had made fun of america's dwarfed fleet and shapeless mass of incoherence that they call an army.
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now, that dwarfed fleet suddenly looked very different. the press changed its tune for the london times said: nine tenths of the british navy had been rendered entirely useless and it just a month later the british admiral holden-- halted construction on all wooden warships. overhear the monitor continued while the merrimack held. mouth-- both crews wanted a rematch. that never happened. in may with union troops advancing on norfolk. they blew up the merrimack from keeping it from falling into enemy hands and eight months later the monitor got stuck in a gale and sank, but although both ships were gone, their short
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lives sparked a technical and naval revolution that continues to this day. the last united states ships to be called monitors patrolled the rivers of vietnam. the tour it will with us for decades, perhaps centuries to come. somewhat strangely there's never been a well-known poem celebrating the battle the way, you know, all of her window homes wrote about ironside, but 1928 civil war epic john brown's body, steven vincent bonet wrote about not it, but what had changed. he does not look to the future, but to the past and rights of the 2000 year tradition that hampton rose between end. he writes: the sinking of all the world's old cebit and names them are rare, victory and constellation, golden hind,
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galleys of cartridge, galleons with gilded virgins, siren haunted galleons, are goes in rbcs, moving the sea in one long wooden wall behind the huge flagship of the arc in such a swelling cloud of phantom sale and whitened ocean going down by the head. green water seeping through the ports, spreading along the famous decks, going down, going down, going down to mermaid pools. to the dim barnacle surrounds where davy jones drinks everlasting realm with the seahorses of his sunken dreams. thank you. [applause].
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>> you said that it was a draw, so what was that immediate impact on the civil war? >> that immediate impact was fortunately for the north the lack of impact in that, you know, the thing lincoln was scared about when he was looking on the potomac was that the merrimack had already sunk every union ship on station and now was coming up to bombard washington. that would have been highly unlikely as it was not a ship that was easy to handle, but had it broken the blockade, there would have-- it would have had
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immediate effect on the national morale. of that year had gone very badly for the union and if the south had suddenly broken through, there was a very real thought that the european powers would intervene. looking back 160 years that seems unlikely, but no one thought so at the time. in any event it had a great effect on morale of-- seven because the fighting was so disastrous. >> can you tell us a bit about the name merrimack? where did that come from? >> well, this is something that may not consume most of you, but a lot of people have argued-- i
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ran a history magazine for many years and there wasn't a month that went by that we didn't have someone writing in and saying that the merrimack should be called virginia. now, the merrimack was the uss merrimack, named for the massachusetts river. when the confederates launched it they rechristened it the confederate state ship of virginia and it that under that title, but it's interesting that once in a great while on official communication the officer on the ship would write about the virginia. whenever they were talking about it were writing their families they called it the merrimack and there is another-- you know, there's another element to this,
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which would say that, you know, the ship had not been sold out of our navy and for instance the american crews of world war ii was sold to the argentinian navy under the name of general and everyone remembers that, but the north certainly had not sold the merrimack the south and a lot of people contend that among the larger issues solved by the war is what we call a ship, but it's an argument that goes on and on and people feel quite passionate about it. >> so, what drew you to the subject? >> i have always been interested in this. i don't know-- when i first became aware of it, but i do know when i was having a wretched time in summer camp at
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the age of 10 i remember doing a lot of drawings of these ships and it's a very nice subject for an unhappy and not particularly talented 10-year old artist because they are both easy to draw. the monitor is this nice old one in the merrimack is this nice roof on a shingle and i was always fascinated by them. you know, i think in part for the same reason one is interested in movies about invasion from mars. they were so much unlike anything else that have a-- i had ever been seen when they went out and it was such a huge public fight. there were like 15000 troops on all the shores of confederate
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and union alike who saw this site and were absolutely fascinated by it and somehow it seeps into the national consciousness and it certainly got into mine fairly early. that may be more than you wanted to know. >> tell us about the casualties during that three hours. were there any? >> the casualties-- there were plenty of how to lease on the first day. i think all told, 400 union navy men died. on the first day of the fights, the doomed cumberland got off a lucky shot that blew up the muzzle of one of the confederate guns, but basically what happened was to people died on the merrimack and 400 people died on the union ship.
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that gives you some idea of why this battle frightened people. on the next date no one was hurt on either ship except for captain awarded who again was temporarily blinded, but he got his site back, but the horrible disproportionate losses of the first day also gave a grim look into what would be going on in the next century when you are going to be sending men against machine guns, the heavy machinery is not easily taken by human flesh. >> given the first-day results, why were they not more aggressive than that, the merrimack or did they really feel matched with the monitor? >> it's interesting.
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the merrimack was a very cumbersome ship to handle and it had been knocked around, but they were eager to get back into the fight. all of a sudden both these ships had become so famous, but they were actually too valuable to waste. abraham lincoln himself said don't use the monitor unless they actually come for the union fleet and mallory said don't put the merrimack in danger. they were suddenly such a valuable property that no one wanted to stick their neck out with them. that led to a stalemate, of course, because weapons cautiously used are really no weapons at all, but they both became so famous in that one morning that no one wanted to put them in harms way and they never met each other again.
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>> the end of the story is the monitor is back on? >> that is true. and it's worth noting that the merrimack was blown up by the confederate troops. her wheels survived, a couple pieces of iron plates that might or might not have belonged to her, but the monitor went down on the union seabed and stayed there until very recently when it was extraordinarily affected effort they raised pursed her engines and then they got at the whole tour it with the two cannons in its and they are there in the wonderful mariners
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museum in virginia. you can see them in this great big bath of electrolytes that is slowly taking away the years of marine encrustation. it's a thrilling to see the real guns that really fired. they are still there and now will be forever. >> thank you. >> thank you. [applause]. >> thank you very much.

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