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Investigation Of The Ironclads Ships That Revolutionized Naval Warfare

Enjoy an exciting article exploring the CSS Virginia/Merrimack and the USS Monitor clashing in Hampton Roads on March 9th, 1862. Those ships proved quickly that wooden boats were obsolete, and a new generation of Ironclad vessels was emerging.

USS Monitor Historical Photo ~ "The ironclad almost sank on the trip from New York to Hampton Roads a few days before the battle when a severe gale with huge waves dumped tons of water down the short vent and smoke stacks.

Wet drive belts began slipping and blowers stopped. Boilers were deluged in sea water and deprived of air. Steam pressure plummeted; the interior filled with smoke; engines slowed and stopped; pumps were useless, and water began filling the iron enclosure.

Fortunately, the tow ship pulled them into calmer waters where machinery could be restarted. This was in engineering terms a potentially catastrophic 'single point of failure.' Taller stacks would be installed later.

CSS Virginia, drawing by Clary Ray

In inventor John Ericsson’s design, the 160 tons of turret was suspended by diagonal braces from and rotated on its central spindle, driven by auxiliary steam engines on large gear wheels underneath.

The spindle would be jacked up for combat, floating the turret a few inches clear of the deck. Otherwise, the turret would be lowered to rest the circumference on a brass ring in the deck, where it could not rotate and proved to be not very watertight.

A British naval engineer developed a superior design with the turret rotating on large iron or steel ball bearings around the base. This concept would supersede Ericsson’s creation in subsequent warships.

The CSS Virginia was constructed on the deep-draft hull and engines of the former steam frigate USS Merrimack, which severely limited her maneuverability in shallow waters like Hampton Roads. Monitor could run rings around her." ~

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