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World map showing location of the U.S.S. Monitor

The USS MONITOR

Finding and Researching the Monitor
For more than 100 years, this famous US Naval warship sat at the bottom of the ocean floor – its location unknown. Then in 1973, this sunken treasure was found. For scientists and historians this was like finding “buried treasure”!

In order to make the discovery of the Monitor the scientists first had to choose an area to explore (“sweep”) based on historical records from log books. Then scientists began “sweeping” the area about 5 miles by 14 miles where they believed the Monitor to be. In this area they found 22 total shipwrecks on the ocean floor, which needed to be investigated to figure out which one might be the Monitor.

It took five months of investigating to confirm that one particular wreck was for sure the USS Monitor. The researchers had to take a lot of photos and measurements, as well as video. It was difficult to do from boats, with cameras hung on cables, without much light! Also making it very hard was the fact that the ship lay upside down about 220 feet down on the ocean floor. Researchers had to compare everything with the original plans of the Monitor. Finally, in March 1974 they made the official announcement – the USS Monitor had been found! Then scientists could begin to form a plan for retrieving and studying the shipwreck. Scientists have done many explorations of the Monitor shipwreck and have dived down and taken many measurements, photos, and notes on what they were able to see, as well as bringing up various pieces of the Monitor to study. In 1998, they recovered the 9-feet iron propeller. In 2000, they even lifted out the 30 ton steam engine! They have also lifted the gun turret out from the wreck and they have even found bones from skeletons of the crew. One worry was that the sunken ship was not stable and might be further ruined by the research. But scientists have done a great job of preserving it, while continuing to bring various pieces and artifacts from the sunken warship to study. Many of the USS Monitor’s artifacts are currently on display at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

What the Monitor Looked Like
The Monitor had no sails and used steam for power. It was the first ironclad ship built by the US Navy. It sat very low in the water; in fact most of the ship was underwater. Probably the most interesting invention for this ship was the revolving “turret” that sat in the middle of the ship. It was 9 feet high, and had two 11-inch cannons. Since it could turn in any direction, this was a big advantage over enemies! All the other ships during that time had to move the ship into position, as the cannons faced out of the sides of the ships. So, while they had to steer and turn their ship, the Monitor could have already started shooting on them!

The Importance of the Monitor
The USS Monitor was a famous American warship, built during the US Civil War and it served the Union (North) cause. It was launched in 1862 and saw its most famous battle with the Confederate navy ship Virginia off the coast of Virginia. Even though the battle was basically a “draw” the Monitor gained recognition for its action against the Confederacy (South). On December 31, 1863, the Monitor sunk near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

The Monitor lasted less than a year, yet its designs and its action against the Confederate navy brought attention to it. Ship designers from around the world were influenced by its new features, which helped change the way later warships were built. And now, as a shipwreck, we study it and bring pieces of it into a museum. This gives us valuable information on history, science, and culture.

This shipwreck is a sunken treasure that is a link to America’s past and to a world-famous era of ship design and building. In 1975 the Monitor was designated the first U.S. National Marine Sanctuary, an area that covers about 1 square mile of ocean. This helped to protect the area and the sunken ship itself from people.