Sinking of the Monitor


Monitor On December 30, 1862 the USS Monitor sank during a gale off Cape Hatteras, NC. The Monitor had battled the CSS Virginia in March of that year in the first battle of ironclad warships at Hampton Roads, VA. The following account appeared in the Baltimore American on January 5, 1863.

"In conversation with several officers and crew of the Monitor I gather the following narrative of the facts attending the loss of the noble little vessel and so many of her crew:

We left Fortress Monroe on Monday, the 20th of December, in tow of the steamer Rhode Island with the Passaic in tow of the steamer, State of Georgia. We passed Cape Henry Monday afternoon at 5 o’clock, with a smooth sea and light wind. The Passaic was a little way ahead. The weather continued fine until five o’clock Tuesday evening, when it commenced to blow from the South West, with a heavy sea running and making a clean sweep over all.

At 9:30 Cape Hatteras bore NNW, distant 20 miles. The gale still increased. The vessel labored very heavily, the upper hull coming down upon every sea with fearful violence. Up to this time the Worthington pumps and bilge injectors were entirely competent to keep the vessel free.

At 10 o’clock several heavy seas struck the vessel in succession, when word was sent up from the engine rooms that the water was gaining on the pumps. Orders were then given to start Adams’ Centrifugal Pump, capable of throwing three thousand gallons of water per minute. For a while the water appeared to be kept under.

In a short time, however, word was passed from the engine room that the water was again gaining on the pumps, and was at that time up to the ash pits, in a great measure stopping the draft. The water at this time was standing two feet deep on the ward room floor.

All hands were then set to work with every bucket on hand to bail. Water, however, kept gaining upon the pumps until within a foot of the fires in the furnaces.

A "Costern" signal was then flashed to call the attention of the Rhode Island to our condition. After much delay, consequent upon the heavy sea running, a boat was lowered from the Rhode Island and sent to our assistance. After several trials she succeeded in getting alongside of us.

The Rhode Island at the same time in going astern, caught her launch between her own side and our vessel, crushing the boat badly and bringing her own counter very heavily down upon our side. For a time she could not move her engine. Getting on a centre she finally started ahead, and the launch, smashed as it was, succeeded in conveying to the steamer thirty of the crew of the monitor.

After the departure of the launch, those remaining on board worked at the buckets with a will. The gale at this time was raging furiously, the sea making a clean sweep over the top of the turret. The water at this juncture had succeeded in rising up to the grade bars of the furnaces, and was gradually extinguishing the flames. The steam in the boilers consequently ran down, and the pumps could not be worked for want of sufficient steam.

At this time three boats were discovered coming towards the vessel. Word was passed that boats were at hand sufficient to take all of them from the vessel. The Monitor was sinking. Every pump was stopped, and her deck was under water. Several, in coming off the turret were swept by the waves to the leeward and must have perished as no assistance could be rendered them.

The boats shoved off from the sinking vessel, and though entreated to come down and get in them, several remained standing up on the turret, afraid of being swept from the deck, stupefied by fear. The boats succeeded in reaching the Rhode Island in safety and all on them got on board.

A picked crew with the gallant officer of the Rhode Island, Mr. Brown, then shoved off in the launch to return to the Monitor. The moon, which up to this time had been throwing some light upon the waves, was shut out by dense masses of black clouds.

At a quarter to one in the morning, the Monitor’s lights disappeared beneath the waves. The Rhode Island then started for the spot where the Monitor was seen to go down. Costern signals were constantly kept up on all parts of the vessel to catch a glimpse of the missing boat.

At daylight nothing was seen on the waves and with heavy hearts we ran around the spot as nearly as could be judged where the Monitor had disappeared until late in the afternoon. Several steamers and other vessels were spoken, to learn, if possible, the fate of the missing boat, but nothing could be heard.

The survivors reached Fortress Monroe last evening in the Rhode Island. Nothing whatever was saved."


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