- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2001

Efforts have just begun to raise the steam engine from the sunken hulk of the USS Monitor, the famous, iron-armored Civil War fighting ship built by Union forces.

The Monitor foundered in North Carolina waters during a great storm while under tow to Beaufort, N.C., a little after midnight on New Year´s Eve in 1862. But it and its Confederate nemesis, the Virginia, have been the stuff of U.S. maritime and Civil War history ever since.

"It literally was the Navy´s first modern warship," said John Broadwater, sanctuary manager for the Monitor. "It fought a battle that was famous around the world as the battle that changed naval warfare forever."

This summer, the Commerce Department´s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Navy are working with the Mariners´ Museum of Newport News, Va., to rig and recover the ship´s 30-ton engine from the ocean floor off Cape Hatteras, N.C.

Since Friday, 104 persons have been stationed on a $55,000-a-day barge off Cape Hatteras, waiting for good underwater conditions so they can start working.

Justin Lyons, spokesman for the Mariners´ Museum, explained that last summer NOAA and the Navy lowered an engine recovery structure, a huge frame that fits over the wreck. Now a "trolley" — or pulley — connected to the frame will drop to the wreck. Divers will attach the engine to the trolley. The trolley will be lifted back to the bridge, and the barge will then pull the entire mechanism out of the water.

The engine will be pulled out and stored in a 12,250 cubic-foot conservation tank at the Mariner´s Museum. The engine will then be examined and prepared for the 10-year conservation process. Curtiss Peterson, the museum´s chief conservator, says he hopes to make the engine crank at the end of the conservation process.

Later this summer, the group also will begin salvaging the ship´s turret, a part of the ship that made it distinctive-looking and that represented an innovation in naval warfare.

The Monitor was the first ironclad, turreted warship ever to be created. Heavily armored primarily with weighty iron, the ship lay so low in the water that barely 1 foot of the ship could be seen above the water line, giving it the appearance of a small submarine.

The Monitor´s 400-horsepower engine was protected from enemy fire by an armor belt made of a little oak and a lot of iron.

The revolving turret was a 9-foot high cylinder, 22 feet in diameter. It enclosed two cannons and their operators. It allowed the ship to fire on a target regardless of the direction the ship was heading, so the ship need not turn to enable its guns to bear on an enemy.

The ship was built in response to intelligence reports that the Confederate Navy was building a "rebel monster" — the CSS Virginia, built over the hull of the USS Merrimack. The Merrimack was a Union steamship the South had burned and scuttled after capturing the Union navy yard at Norfolk.

The Monitor was launched from New York on Jan. 30, 1862; the Virginia was launched about two weeks later.

The Virginia engaged the federal fleet at Hampton Roads, Va., and the wooden Union ships docked there were no match for her. On March 8, the Virginia destroyed the USS Cumberland and Congress and damaged the USS Minnesota before anchoring for the night near Norfolk.

When the Virginia returned March 9 to finish off the Minnesota, she instead encountered the Monitor. For four hours the two ships exchanged fire, neither seriously damaging the other.

At one point, an exploding shell temporarily blinded the Monitor´s captain, John Worden. The ship retreated to shallow water to take care of the captain and assess damages. The Virginia assumed the Monitor was retreating for good and withdrew, claiming victory. When the Monitor returned, it found the Virginia had left. The Monitor´s crew also claimed victory.

The Virginia was destroyed by her crew in May, when advancing Union forces threatened to capture her.

Mr. Broadwater, who is monitoring the Monitor project, says participating in the salvage operation "really makes you feel like you are doing something worthwhile."

"The public really likes the Monitor," he said. "It takes them back to their grade-school history days. They remember that battle."

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