- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 10, 2002

NEWPORT NEWS The recovered gun turret of the USS Monitor returned yesterday to the place where the Union ironclad fought its single but historic Civil War battle.

The turret is "a moving, powerful capsule of human history from a tormented time in America from which our young nation emerged reunited," John Hightower, president and chief executive of the Mariners' Museum, said during the arrival ceremony for the artifact raised from the Atlantic Ocean.

The turret will be taken to the museum today to undergo 12 to 15 years of conservation and be displayed with hundreds of other Monitor artifacts.

The Monitor and the Confederate ship CSS Virginia, formerly the Merrimack, changed naval warfare and architecture when they fought to a draw on March 9, 1862, in the Hampton Roads harbor near Newport News.

The battle the first between vessels covered in iron plates to repel cannon balls heralded the end of the era of wooden fighting ships.

The Monitor, designed by Swedish engineer John Ericsson, featured innovations including the first revolving gun turret, which allowed cannons to be aimed and fired independently from the ship's position.

The Monitor sank in a storm on Dec. 31, 1862, landing upside down in 240 feet of water, 16 miles off Hatteras, N.C. Sixteen sailors died.

A joint Navy and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) team used a huge crane to raise the 120-ton, coral-encrusted turret Monday and place it on a 300-foot barge.

Researchers also found the remains of possibly three of the Monitor sailors in the turret.

The barge traveled about 160 miles to Newport News. While several hundred sailors and civilians watched from shore, Navy divers wearing shorts and T-shirts manned the rails as the barge arrived at Victory Landing Park, about a mile from the battle site.

"Standing in this place on March 9, 140 years ago, we would have witnessed the battle within range of the smell of its gunpowder," Mayor Joe Frank said. "It is only fitting that we welcome back the Monitor to Newport News."

The barge carrying a piece of the most sophisticated warship of its day dropped anchor in the James River yesterday about 600 feet from a modern naval marvel the USS Ronald Reagan, an aircraft carrier being built at the Northrop Grumman shipyard.

A replica of a Civil War-era American flag, which had been attached to the salvage apparatus when the turret was raised, hung down the side of the turret.

The ceremony including a 21-gun salute and the playing of "Taps" marked the end of a five-year effort by NOAA, the Navy and the museum to recover major artifacts from the deteriorating wreckage of the Monitor.

The turret was the largest and most eagerly anticipated piece to be retrieved.

"This was the ark of the covenant," said Jim Kelly, the Williamsburg mechanical engineer who designed the eight-legged claw that was attached to the turret to help lift it.

The so-called "spider" remained on the turret yesterday.

The ceremony also meant that Navy divers who had been on the barge since it left Louisiana on June 2 to head to Hatteras could finally go home.

"The turret was unyielding. We had to stay focused. Perservance is what raised it," said Bryon Van Horn, a master diver from Panama City, Fla.

"It's a good feeling to be here. You can look out over it and go home and see the family," said Mr. Van Horn, the father of three girls.


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