The USS Monitor, an iconic piece of military history, sank 160 years ago. Now a marine sanctuary, the wreck has become an unlikely testbed for ocean conservation
14 December 2022
ON Christmas Day 1862, during the height of the US civil war, the crew of the ironclad warship the USS Monitor sat down to a decadent dinner. On the menu was turkey, mashed potatoes, plum pudding and fruitcake – rare treats for the sailors who had spent months subsisting on mostly crackers and salted pork. But events were about to take a less festive turn.
A few days after the meal, the ship set out to join a military expedition down the east coast. One evening, as darkness fell, sleet and snow blew in sideways and the ship rode a rollercoaster of 9-metre-high waves. It took on water and, before long, came to a sorry end at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
If things had ended there, the Monitor would only be remembered by military historians. But that wasn’t the final chapter of its story. More than a century after it sank, the shipwreck became entangled in the politics of marine conservation and, in an unlikely twist, has ended up serving as a test bed for a new way to save the seas.
In its day, the Monitor was a state-of-the-art vessel. Designed by Swedish-American immigrant John Ericsson and built in a steelyard in Brooklyn, New York, in 1861, the ship had an innovative gun turret, the first of its kind to revolve. After being rushed into battle against the Confederate forces of the slave-holding southern states during the civil war, the Monitor defended a squadron of five wooden frigates …
Article amended on 20 December 2022
We corrected Beth Pike’s job title
Leave a Reply