Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Carol Sheriff


On the afternoon of March 8, 1862, the Confederate ironclad ram Virginia, built upon the burned-out hulk of the steam screw frigate Merrimack, crawled slowly into Hampton Roads to challenge the Union blockade of the Confederate coastline. Before nightfall, the Virginia had wreaked havoc upon the Union blockading fleet: the USS Cumberland lay at the bottom of the Roads, her flags still defiantly flying while the surrendered USS Congress blazed ominously in the harbor until exploding spectacularly in the early morning hours of March 9.;The USS Monitor---a vessel of a radical new design and completely untried in battle---arrived too late to make a difference on the 8th, but met the Virginia on the morning of the 9th in a contest that signaled the first time ironclad had met ironclad in combat. While their four-and-a-half-hour battle ended in a draw, it changed much of the future course of naval warfare. Within days of the engagement, navies around the world were declaring an end to wooden construction and moving forward with their own ironclad building programs--many of which predated both the Monitor and the Virginia. Furthermore, the Monitor's rotating gun turret design freed vessels from the strictures of broadside tactics by allowing the guns, rather than the entire vessel, to be turned, and ushered in a new element of battleship design.;Neither the Virginia nor the Monitor lived out that year, however. The Virginia was destroyed in May of 1862 by her own crew to keep her from enemy hands, while the Monitor succumbed to a nor'easter on New Year's Eve off the coast of Cape Hatteras.;Discovered in 1973, the Monitor was designated a National Marine Sanctuary in 1975 under the auspices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Since 1987, The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, VA has served as the principal repository for artifacts recovered from the wrecksite and is currently conserving over 210 tons of the Union ironclad in the Batten Conservation Complex.;This dissertation serves as the text for the catalogue of the award-winning exhibition, Ironclad Revolution, which opened at The Mariners' Museum in 2007. The author serves as curator of the USS Monitor Center. Drawing from artwork, archival material and the recovered artifacts themselves, this work seeks to tell the full story of the Monitor: her history, discovery, recovery, and conservation.



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