tv The Civil War USS Monitors Wartime Service Sinking Recovery CSPAN March 17, 2019 10:00am-10:51am EDT
quarstein is director emeritus of the uss monitor center. he discusses the monitor's battle against the css virginia in march of 1862. he also talks about the thinking -- sinking of the monitor off of north carolina, and details recovery efforts in the this 1970's. talk was part of a daylong seminar hosted by longwood university. >> without further ado, let me introduce our first speaker, mr. john quarstein, who many of you know. he's an award-winning historian. the brochures are in lobby. he is the director emeritus of the u.s. monitor center and the
mariners museum in newport news. it's an amazing collection of material they have in their exhibit. he's the author of 17 books, two in particular, that will be interesting to all of you is "css virginia, sink before surrender," and the "monitor boys." he has received many awards, including the national trust for historic preservations presidents award for historic preservation, and many others. his talk today is the ship that saved the nation, the monitor's recovery and confirmation. please welcome mr. quarstein. [applause] mr. quarstein: thank you. on march 8, 1862, there was a terrible day for the union.
it turned the tide in favor of the confederacy when the css virginia emerged from the elizabeth river and sunk two major union warships. they were the cumberland and the congress. the union navy was in disarray, people were in the white house looking out the curtains, down the potomac, fearing this super weapon, as they would call the merrimack, would be there soon, and the war would end in a confederate victory. all was to change, as if magic, because, that evening, a ship that was called like no other ship before, in fact, one person said a sailor's eyes have never looked upon such a vessel. if i believed in idle re- --
idelry, i would worship it. that is the uss monitor. the monitor is a very unusual vessel. it is made in three parts. the turret sits on an armored deck. then, the armored deck sits on a hull. -- it is ae rain vesselne like because everything is below the waterline. one of my favorite stories is when the crew first gets on, two people desert immediately because it is so different. they have all of these new devices. john erickson, the inventor, will have over 100 patentable items, of which 33 are patented, and he gives those patents to the u.s. navy. one of the most unique patents on board happened to be a compression commode. you live under the water, there is no doubt. one of the members of the
monitor's crew, william keeler, will be laying in his bunk and there are deck lights that brings daylight into the cabin. he's reading. all of a sudden, it went dark and he saw fish over his light. so you can imagine this was the strangest ship ever seen. somehow, it left in new york on march 6, 1862, encountering two storms on its way south. it almost sank twice. somehow, she came into hampton roads just as the battle is concluding. she is a day late to do her duty. nevertheless, she -- actually, the commander, a scientific
officer in the old navy, he basically, as he looks across the chesapeake bay towards hampton roads, he sees all of these ships rushing out. he sees flashes of cannon fire in the distance. he will merely say "they rushed out of hampton roads like a flock of chickens chased by a fox." it wasn't -- the monitor only went seven knots. samuel been a green -- dana greene said he had no sleep for 24 hours, trying to keep the ship afloat. they will go into hampton roads, pull up next to the frigate, the roanoke, and john marsden is the commander. marsden says that monster came out yesterday and the minnesota, another steam screw frigate, 47
tons, sister ship of the original merrimack is run aground on the hampton barr and you need to position yourself next to it. i want you to think that, here comes the monitor, 127 feet in length. it ain't much to it. it's nine feet off of the water's edge. he pull's next to the minnesota, about 45 feet off of the water's edge. it is dark. the congress is burning, and finally it will explode. , it is terrible for the union. so word and -- worden stands on the turret. the commander of the minnesota is a man who looks down and says, what are you?
worden says i'm the monitor, i'm here to protect you. he says, i don't know what you're going to do, but if that thing comes back, i will fight my ship and sink before surrender. i have to tell you, worden nearly and calmly says "i will protect you." i want to tell you about the monitor. i got a to you, we have got about three feet extra headroom in the sketch. everything was compressed within the monitor. the hull, one of the problems is there is an overhang over the hull, which we will hear about later. the virginia came out of here on march 8, had to come up like this, come here, rams and a
sinks the cumberland, sinks the congress, and the minnesota had cut the corner of what is known as hampton bar. she is so badly stuck aground. at night, the virginia came back to a buoy. at 6:30 in the morning, she is ready to go. they have breakfast, which was like the breakfast i had this morning with two boiled eggs and two jiggers of whiskey. anyway, the fog is there, so she is delayed. she starts to move like this, and the monitor will, all of a sudden, appear. john taylor woods says no one has ever seen anything like that. in retorts, the acting commander, roger jones, said it
is the erickson's battery, look out for some hot fight. basically, for the next -- that is the sinking of the cumberland, very dramatic. it's like a pigme against a giant. the virginia is 262 feet. the pilot house is out in front, and then there is the turret. they have bad communications between the pilot house and turret. they have this speaking tube. when the monitor sank, water had gotten into the tube, so it didn't work. inside the terrorist, you have these white marks to tell you the captain's order. if you are in a spinning turret, do you know where that is? if you are using black powder, are the white marks covered up?
and can you see out of the turret? you have to look over the top of the 11 inch guns and when you see a dark object, you fire. problem is, one of those dark objects would be the pilot house. [laughter] it is called: monitor roulette. out of 41 shots, they only hit the virginia 20 times. that kind of tells you that there is bad fire control. virginia doesn't have the proper ammunition on board. one of the ship's inventors is john mercer brooke, and brooke will have invented not only the virginia, with its submerged ends, but also the finest rifle cannon of the civil war. and he invented the brooke bolt, which is an armor piercing shot.
if you look at the turret of the monitor, you can see where the brooke bolt hit the turret. it screws in. they don't have it. during the battle, roger jones is walking down the gun deck and sees this other officer, then commander, known as john randolph. randolph is standing behind his gun, every so often, snapping his finger. he says why aren't you firing the gun? randolph turns around and says i can do as much damage that the ship by snapping my fingers than firing my guns, and powder is precious, sir. oh my gosh. well, this battle will continue for four and a half hours. i'm not here to talk about the battle.
what i'm here to talk about is that, at the very end -- now these ships almost touched each other. the confederates concocted plan that, oh my gosh, i have a bunch of volunteers, we will jump on the deck of the monitor, take off our coats, cover the pilot house, stuff them down the smokestacks, and we got a bunch of chloroform and we will throw it in the turn it and take them by boarding. they don't do that because it is kind of a crazy plan. nevertheless, at the very end of the battle, the virginia is starting to rise, higher and higher, because of the use of coal and gunpowder. and worden decides he will run at the tail of the virginia because you can see the propeller churning.
he said i'm going to ram it and disable the ship. heads rightspeed, to the tail, but then, there is a steering a function. the monitor veers off, and as a result, the virginia and john taylor would will fire a seven inch shell that hits the pilot house, throws part of it off, and blinds worden. basically the battle is over. , it is a drawn battle. the monitor had stopped the virginia from destroying any more wooden ships. likewise, the virginia had been successful enough so that she blocked the james river during the beginning of the peninsula campaign, which will cause the flag officer, lewis goldsborough, to get a disease
in 1862 known as ram fever, or merrimack on the brain. in other words, he closes the james river, refuses to run past the batteries at yorktown, and mcclellan is forced to lay siege. well, not forced to lay siege, it's just mcclellan. that's another lecture i have to tell you. so, after the battle, these people, these are the officers of the monitor, these people are heroes. william keeler, who kind of looks like john lennon there, right? [laughter] mr. quarstein: anyway, he will write that when you walk into an eating establishment at monroe, you didn't have to pay a thing. in fact, daniel toffee had to
take a message to washington. daniel toffee was the captain's clark. he went into the hotel, and was feeded with the most lavish meal. basically, these guys were here because they were on the little ship that saved the nation. that made them heroes. the big thing is that the monitor will serve during the peninsula campaign. i want to tell you, the monitor was not a nice ship to serve on. number one, she is painted black until august, and light gray then. in july, she is painted black, in the james river. the temperature in the engine room is up over 30 -- 130. in the galley, which is next to the boilers, it is 140 degrees.
mosquitoes and flies had gotten into the area. one of them said the mosquitoes was as big as hummingbirds. we hear that everywhere. so, the monitor after serving in , support of the peninsula campaign, will come down to hampton roads. she is then ordered up to the washington navy yard. during this time, she goes through a series of officers, including samuel dana greene for one-day. for three days, it was thomas. -- thomas o selfridge. jeffers takes command and he will be a hated commander. crew right worden -- worden who is recovering from his injuries. dear sir, nothing has been happy
on the monitor since you left. can you please come back? signed, affectionately the , monitor boys. the big thing is, the monitor, you can see how they modified the pilot house. this was done by alvin steiners so it had sloped armor. basically, when she is in the washington navy yard, they put patches on her where shot had been hit. they have a larger telescoping smokestack. the problem with the monitor is she has to bring in air to feed her engines and entire ship. in heavy seas, she is in serious trouble. she comes down, after being refitted at the washington navy yard, her new commander is john pine bankhead. he is cousin to john bankhead
mcgruder. he is born in fort johnston, south carolina. is brigadierfather general bankhead. nevertheless, he replaces this other captain, thomas stevens. i would be remiss of if i didn't tell you -- remiss if -- rem issive if i didn't tell you that the sky was a drunk. my favorite story about him was that they were supposed to move up the appomattox river. and the alligator, the union submarine, which is then selfridgeby thomas junior. people say he can't command the ship with a c because every ship that he is on that thinks has a c.
bottom line, they were coming down the hampton roads and had this great christmas dinner. it is amazing. in fact, jacob nicholas will write to his father, i am becoming a hogg. the food is so good. we had chicken stew, oysters, turkey, sweet and irish potatoes. to end it all, we had oranges, and apples, and nuts, and the best fruitcake i've ever had. i've never had good fruitcake. [laughter] prof. janney: someone else was eating with him. george said the cook ruined the meal, not worth the dollar we paid. on that day, they gave orders to go where? down south. they are supposed to head towards beaufort, north carolina because the federal navy, at
that time, was considering an operation against wilmington, north carolina. the monitor will be towed south by this ship. this ship is the rhode island, 236 feet in length iron hull. of course, a peddler. dler -- paddler. she is commanded by a man known as stephen decatur trenchard. trenchard is the most famous rescue at sea individual at the time. he rescued several crews. the most important was in 1856, when during a gale, he is in a coastal survey ship, the uss vixen, and a british ship ran
into rocks 200 yards ashore. he saves every crewmember, and it is so impressive that queen victoria will give trenchard a gold presentation sword. but wait, trenchard can't have it because of the emoluments clause. sometimes we paid attention to that. the big thing is that he had to have a special act of congress to have him receive the sword. as the monitor -- as they toe down, they get hit by a terrible storm, 30 foot seas. 50 knot wind, rain squalls, snow squalls, sleet squalls. finally, john bankhead -- john pine bankhead has to raise the
red lantern of distress, and immediately trenchard organized , two ships to come over to the monitor and rescue the crew. the big problem is is that the rhode island cannot come alongside the monitor. the fear was a wave could pick it up and drop it on the monitor, the monitor sank. or, the monitor could be thrown into the side of the rhode island so she would sink. 63 men on board the monitor, and basically, this is a harrowing night. the wind is screaming, and one crew member in the turret gets so upset with the screaming of the ship's cat that he grabs the cat, throws her in the barrel, and puts a tempe on afterwards. he could still hear the screaming of the cat. you can well imagine.
they have this ladder, but the ladder got washed away, so they're coming on ropes. you get on the deck and you have to come across to jump into this longboat. you have to jump probably here length. there are several recorded that people that missed, daniel moore, it was said the last thing we heard of him was a gurgle. william keeler is on the deck. he jumps toward the longboat. he misses. however, someone grabs him and brings him into the boat. james fenwick will be washed off
of the bow when he is trying to get the hogs line and so will william wentz. napoleon stoddard will be able to cut the line so the monitor -- the action happening as the -- is the monitor is picked up and slammed back down. is starting to come apart. many of the crew members thinks the ship will fall apart before she actually will think. -- sink. anyway, they have two long boats, they come over, pickup crew members, and william keeler said he arrived with not a stitch of close on. and freezing. you can imagine the conditions. dr. grenville weaks, and one boat that is cracked, gets next
to the rhode island, bumps against the rhode island puts , his arm out, dislocate his arm, crushes three fingers and someone says "oh my gosh, your arm is terrible." and he says, "an arm is worth a life." the last rowboat will try to come back under the command of rodney bozeman brown. however, he is guided toward the red light, and all of a sudden, a swell brings him up. as he comes down, the light is gone and the monitor is no more. this is about 12:30. you have about 30 people on the rhode island saying it is 12:15, 12:30, 1:00. i tend to go with the ship's log of rhode island, which says 12:30. the monitor is no more.
16 people were lost. 47 people were saved. it shocks the nation to see that the monitor is no more. when the monitor sank, she sank by her hull. and she turns like that. the turret falls off because one of the troubles is that the turret sits in a brass ring. it is a spindle operated turret, and actually it is faulty. , they jacked it up and put oakum under it to stop leaks. well, the turret falls off, comes down, hits the bottom, and turns over, upside down. then, the hull comes down and comes down, as you can see, over part of the turret. that is how she is going to be
discovered in 1974 by dr. newton. dr. newton is with the duke maritime research institute. they pick it up on sonar and they, then, will be able to put these composite pictures. once you find the monitor, that is fine and dandy. what are you going to do about it? well, basically, let's see, over 50 years later, they start to make decisions to bring up objects. the first object is going to be this. this is the famous red lantern, right? that was hung from the area
around the turret. they had no way of climbing to the top, over the canvas cover, to put it up therem so those pictures are wrong. there, so those pictures are wrong. oddly, the last thing seen is the first thing found. you have to realize that, basically, the mariners museum was selected to be the depository for all monitor objects. for the first 10-15 years of the project isn't this great? , oh, it's down there and we get these objects up, which are pretty fabulous. all of a sudden, there is the idea, we actually can bring parts of the monitor up. the owner of the vessel is no
up. -- noah. they orchestrated a partnership -- they selected the mariners museum to be the repository. then, they go to the u.s. navy and we get the cooperation of what is known as "dive team six." monitor is in 235 feet of water. this means you can't just go down there. it it is very serious compression diving. at first, more objects coming up. then, basically the idea is that we cut away the whole section of the monitor. by cutting away this section of the monitor means we can
bring up all of this armor plate. we can bring up the propeller. we can bring up the entire engine room. this is the oldest complete 19th-century steam engine -- maritime steam engine in the world. so we bring up the engine, would bring up the armor plate, and then the idea is, let's bring up the turret. the tour it has a bunch of problems in bringing her up -- urretare it -- the t has a bunch of problems in bringing her up. she weighs 120 tons. you have to realize the monitor was the plate, that is all made in baltimore, then it is shipped to staten island, where it is and they bend the
plate, put it altogether. then all of a sudden, what do they figure out? oh, we cannot pick up the turret to take it over to greenpoint, brooklyn to put it on the monitor. so they have to take it halfway apart, ship it over, reap the -- re-put the plate on. the monitor is built in just over 100 days, and there are over 30 manufacturers part of the construction of the monitor. this is an assembly line production the likes of which had never been seen. all of these parts have to come, all purpose fit. the turret weighed 120 tons, and then there is probably about 10 tons of concrete in. 11o you have
inch dahlgren guns at 8000 pounds each. 100lift component is about tons or more, so it is complex. basically, we have to figure out how to bring it up. the divers, we build a frame. then we build what is called the spider. ooh, gosh. the spider is designed by nasa. it is fabricated by the newport iss shipbuilding, which right down the street from the mariners museum. the first time out there, they have got to fit this underneath the turret. the turret has to be jacked up on the bottom, and then have this platform placed under her.
remember, she is upside down. then we have to bring this -- these arms go out like this. remember, you are doing this in 235 feet of water. how may have been off of cape hatteras before? is it happy water? no. [laughter] i had to go out there one time and they said, you better take your dramamine. i said, they probably know what they are talking about. thank goodness, because it is where two currents meet. labrador and the gulfstream. they had to fit that under and then they had to have the right weather conditions to bring this thing up, and it was an amazing sight to see. once you get it up, what are you going to do with it? right?
the big problem, you have several different materials that are on the monitor. just the 11 inch dahlgrens themselves, they are cast-iron , which has a different property of dissolution when it is under salt water. --ties -- it graphic ties is s, so this has to go in a tank that has a solution and an electric current. basically, this is a reconstruction of what we found on the monitor of the worthington pump. henry worthington was one of the most brilliant mechanical engineers of the 19th century,
and he invented these pumps. the pumps are down in the engine rooms. they also have an andrews pump, which throws a stream of water as wide as a man, one could say. let's just be on the monitor on december 30. the timeline goes, noon, we see storms in the distance. 4:00, a swell, but the water is breaking around the turret. everything looks happy. 5:00, let's have dinner. 7:00, storm hits. 8:30, oh my gosh, the water is gaining. 9:30, we cut the line, drop our anchor. 10:00, we have got our distress signals up. those in rhode island do not see it at first. between 10:30 and 12:30 is where the rescue operation took place.
they knew at 10:30 they had to get off of the monitor. everything is steam powered on the monitor. yous a result of that, when hear that pump do its last return, you know that what? the ship is doomed. right? keillor talks about waiting in the ship. -- about wading down in the ship. he was going to go back and take all of his documents because he was paymaster, and then he realized, the water is at my waist. i think i'd rather save myself rather than those documents. so we recovered -- actually, there were two seamen on the monitor or in the turret, and we have come very close to naming them. these two shoes were on the same body, and if you notice, there
is a slight different brand, different brands of shoes. notice, these guys have a wing tip, this guy does not. we find an entire pea coat, which is actually called a pilot's coat, that we actually put -- it is called a pilot's coat because it has a pocket up here. that meant it would have been used by an enlisted man -- excuse me, a warrant officer. although we think this is on the body of a man known as jacob nicholas. we can't be sure because of the dna testing that only brought us to two different people for that body. but he had in his pocket a spoon that said "j.n."
his father was a tailor, so that is why yet such a fine coat on. some of the pathos of the monitor was that the -- jacob nicholas writes after christmas , man, i had this great meal. he talks about getting fat, he talks about the great fruitcake, and then he says, we just got orders going south. some of the old salts are worried about going around cape hatteras, but i think we will be ok. well, jacob nicholas is one of the 16 men that go down on the monitor. and you have to divide them all up because you can count where some of them missed getting into the longboat, get washed off the deck. all --, same you lewis one man, samuel lewis auggie, had just joined the navy 30 days before. he actually had never been to sea before.
he is down in his cabin, seasick as can be. frank butts goes and says, you have to get out of here. we are abandoning ship. and he says, i am so sick, i am going to die here anyway. leave me alone. and so they did. the big thing is that jacob nicholas will go down. his sister writes. so sick that the reply letters are all going to leaks.om dr. basically, he gets this letter and he will write back. "your brother did his duty well till the very end. but i am too unwell to dictate much more of this note." he had his arm dislocated. it does not work well anymore.
"i am too unwell to dictate much more of this note. your brother did his duty well until the end and he has gone, i believe, to a better place, were storms do not come." thank you. [applause] john: huzzah! >> that was great. we will have a few minutes for question and if you would have a question, come on down to the microphone to ask that. anyone for a question? wow. john: i guess i told the story. >> you covered it. john: very complex, these objects. we have a conservation team of 10 people, and each one has a -- each one has little specialties like cloth, wood, and of course iron. and actually, we had the stories of black catty. we had just hired a person from
's revengeann project, and he is developing a machine to go down the barrel and remove the concretion. the bets are on our whether lieutenant whiskers, the cat, is up the barrel or not. [laughter] is, all thee if he stories frank butts tells will be true. we get stories off the monitor that nobody else says other than frank butts. i think it is very, very interesting, and it is a fabulous story. it is a story that we could tell for all day because of just how the ship worked. erickson's folly became the little ship that saved the nation, and really, it was not a well-designed war ship. it could not go to sea. instead of 360 range of firing, it only had about 200. the bad communications. you can't see out of the turret,
so they will make a lot of result atons that first in the passaic class, which will be constructed. the commander of the monitor will take command of the montauk , and is a bunch of studies about its operations. does a bunch of studies about its operations. still, you can build it up in the north, but the trouble is, they have to take them to ports in the south. to get there, you have to go to sea. yes? >> i am david from charlotte. thank you for speaking with us this morning. a wonderful talk. how much longer will the turret be in solution, and how do you know how long it needs to be there? and will you live to see the project finished? john: if i live as long as ed barrs, i will. [laughter] [applause]
john: so that means 30 years. no, the guns were estimated that they will be ready in about three to four years. the trouble with the guns is that the carriages alone have oak, brass, bronze, cast-iron, wrought iron. we have taken one apart and we are conserving each one of those materials separately. and then we have to put it back together. however, when we put it on display, the carriage is going to be here and we will have to elevate the gun over it because the carriage can no longer support 8000 pounds. . really, we think the dahlgrens probably weigh under eight tons now because of a fight --
because of graphitization. the turrets, the trouble is the salts that all down between the eighth layers of one inch iron plates. we had to take everything out of there. this summer we are picking the turret up and turning it right side up because it is resting on the roof. the roof is not supposed to take 120 tons. we are going to spin it, and i can't wait to see this happen. we will spin it and put it back down so we can take off the roof. wrought-iron, the plates are wrought iron, so as a result of that, we will be able to kind of move the project forward a little more quickly. the first idea was to take the turret apart plate by plate, and we probably could have finished
it in about 10 years. but the trouble is, if you take it all apart, the turret was not perfectly round. so you take it apart, and it's got gun dents in it. i can tell you where it got it. they all leave a different type of impact on the turret. so if you took of the turret plates apart, it would be difficult to put them all back together properly. so we decided to maintain the integrity of the turret itself. that is why it is going to take a little longer. it has drawn out the salt on the conservator, so i can't tell you how they are making their decisions because they test the
water, and they hum and haw, drain it, put more stuff in, and when you go see the turret, you can see all of the salt residue around its conservation tank on all of the wires that are sending the electrical current through it. so it is pretty fascinating. if not any other questions, i just want to leave you with what gershon on jacques -- gershon jacques and other naval heroes said, we will always sink before surrender. thank you. [applause] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2018] weekend,: every american history tv brings you unique programming on our nation's past. for more, visit www.c-span.org /history. announcer: this weekend on "reel ," commentary for a 1916
silent u.s. army film documenting an expedition ordered by president woodrow wilson to police the u.s./mexico border and send troops into mexico to pursue revolutionary leader poncho villa. >> in order to better understand the border and what it was like back then, clearly it is in the headlines today, but what was it like in 1916? what would we have seen if we traveled to that area? >> on the u.s. side, you would find a were markedly safe border considering there is a very large war going on on the other side. much of the mexican revolution battles take place right over the border in northern mexico, in chihuahua and to the north. so the north of mexico is a very dangerous place, and there aren't many refugees coming over the border at that time to escape the fighting in northern mexico, but on the u.s. side
there are not many attacks considering the danger and long-standing conflict that happened very close by to american soil. there's the columbus, new mexico raid. 12 soldiers are killed in that raid before the expedition is sent into northern mexico to essentially try to capture and kill poncho villa in retribution for the loss of lives at columbus. there's another in may, a little and athat, in 1916, smaller town closer back to columbus. but there aren't really a whole lot of other raids that happen around that time. there are some shots that sometime make it into the u.s., but it is actually shockingly safe considering the scale of the conflict. host: and yet, do you find it ironic that a century later, still some of the same issues? is definitely
interesting that we are having some of the same issues today. at the time, there was no border fence. there was no border wall. the border was relatively open. you could just walk across in most places. there were even places in el paso and other towns where they had bars straddling the border, so you could walk in and drink on the others out of the border. it is really open to back-and-forth travel between the two countries. announcer: watch the entire film historianntary by a sunday at 4:00 p.m. eastern on american history tv, only on c-span3. announcer: next on "the presidency," historian h.w. branch talks about humor in the white house and the role it plays in presidential politics. from george washington to donald trump, he considers how funny our chief executives have been, or not, and whether they abused humor to their advantage.