Guns of the USS Monitor

Yesterday I had the opportunity to look at the two XI-inch Dahlgrens recovered with the turret from the USS Monitor.  The folks at the US Monitor Center have these in tanks undergoing treatment.  The guns will be there for several more years before this process is complete.  But even in the tanks, these guns reveal an interesting story.  So let me offer a bit of a “walk-around.”

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Or more precisely, a “walk around the tank.”

And before getting too far, let me suggest the walk-around offered for the USS Keokuk gun in Charleston for comparison.  On the books, these are the same type of guns.  But the guns differ in details.

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With the guns under water, being treated for being under water for well over 100 years, its hard to get a photo without a little glare.  But someday these will be out on display.

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The front sight mass on one of the guns has tapped holes for mounting the front sight.  Would be interesting to see if that gun had a front blade sight.

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When cast the sight mass and other fixture attachment points were un-finished – meaning the holes were not drilled.  When placed into service, an artificer would drill the holes and a specialist would “sight” the piece.  If for any reason the sights or lockpieces were removed from the gun, a standard practice was to fill those holes with zinc or another metal.  Otherwise the hole presented another surface area for corrosion to take hold.

The stampings on the breech are clear as the day they the guns were accepted by the inspector.

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Notice here the right side lockpiece block.  It was altered for use. And think about the times fire went down the vent there to ignite powder propelling a shot against some target… such as the CSS Virginia.

Some other markings on the guns are in honor of that historic fight.  Hard, with the glare, to get a st right on view.  But you can make out “Worden”, “Ericsson” and “Merrimack.”

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Yes, to the Federals, she was still the Merrimack.

Other objects in the tanks include one of the carriages.

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Again, fascinating artifact.  I don’t know of any other XI-inch monitor carriages extant today. When the preservation is complete, these will complete many volumes of research.   These also serve as a reminder these were not simply “guns” pulled up out of the sea, but guns in a service state with equipment and accessories.  Some of those are finished with treatment.

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Some of these were still attached to the guns when recovered with the turret.

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And many of these have stampings which provide sharp details to the story of the Monitor.

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A historic record beyond just paper and ink.  Real physical primary sources, if you will.

You can read more on the preservation and conservation efforts on the Monitor‘s turret at the USS Monitor Center Blog.  You can also see some better photos in the latest issue of Civil War Times Illustrated.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

8 thoughts on “Guns of the USS Monitor

  1. These Dahlgrens were cast at the West Point Foundry (Cold Spring, NY)
    in 1859, registry numbers 27 & 28. They would not appear cataloged in The Big Guns (Olmstead, Stark, Tucker – 1997) since they were recovered after the book was published. Make a note if you own a copy of this excellent study.

    1. Over the years I’ve found a lot of inaccuracies in that listing. And of course there are a sizable number of updates that have been forwarded to the keeper of the list. Unfortunately, the person keeping the list has not reciprocated the sharing. I would say that the public listings, at a minimum, should be posted on the web.

    1. Jeanette, thanks. Unfortunately my skill with the camera include the knowledge of two buttons – the one that says “on/off” and the other that activates the magic which captures the picture.

    2. The polarizing filter isn’t difficult to use. It doesn’t even need to fit the camera, just get one that’s larger than the lens and hold it in front of the lens. Look at how the wiever or screen displays the image and rotate the filter untill the reflexes are gone, then press that second button and your picture is there.

  2. Not directly relevant to the discussion here, but your pictures of the monitor’s big guns reminded me of my boyhood when Fort Slocum was still operating in Long Island Sound.

    It was a training facility for the Army in the fifties and sixties and I believe has been shut down for some time; but the island had a number of big guns–muzzle loaders–which I believe were of Civil War date, scattered around the island. Nearby, Glen Island, a county park, also had several smaller muzzle loaders also on display. I believe they may all originally have been from the same fortification. They may still be in place for all I know, although the army base has been shut down for many years.

    They were mounted on concrete bases and not their original carriages; still there were quite a few of them and today would be prize museum pieces. Maybe one of the folks who follow this blog may know something about their current status.

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