- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — A full-scale replica of the iconic Civil War ironclad USS Monitor has been topped off with a replica of another icon in its own right: the ship’s revolutionary revolving gun turret.

Riggers used a crane yesterday to lift the replica turret onto the deck of the replica Monitor, next to the USS Monitor Center, a $30 million wing of the Mariners’ Museum to open March 9, 2007, the 145th anniversary of the famous first battle of ironclads.

“Finally, the crowning moment for the USS Monitor evocation,” John B. Hightower, president and chief executive officer of the museum, told a small group of onlookers in hard hats.

The Monitor and the CSS Virginia fought to a draw in the Battle of Hampton Roads, a few miles from where the museum now stands. The clash changed naval warfare by making wooden ships obsolete. The Confederates built the Virginia on the salvaged hull of a Union ship, the USS Merrimack.

Eyewitnesses to the battle called the cylindrical turret — the Monitor’s most famous feature — a “cheese box on a raft” or the “Yankee cheese box.”

On Dec. 31, 1862, less than one year after the fight, the Monitor sank upside down during a storm off the North Carolina coast. Sixteen crew members died.

Among the observers yesterday was retired Navy diver Capt. Bobbie Scholley, commander of the expedition in 2002 that recovered the turret from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

“It kind of brings it back, the whole environment, even though we’re on dry land,” Capt. Scholley said. “It just gives me goose bumps to see the replica turret going on the [replica] ship.”

Employees of the Northrop Grumman Newport News shipyard, which makes nuclear aircraft carriers, are building the 170-foot replica of the Monitor in 22 steel sections at the yard, from materials donated by the Navy.

More than 90 students at the Northrop Grumman Newport News Apprentice School have been working on this “almost perfect replica of the Monitor,” said Larry Koeck, the school’s training administrator.

Completed sections are moved to the museum and welded together to form the ship’s hull. Construction began in January and is to be completed early next year.

The Monitor’s turret, the ancestor of every gun turret in the Navy’s history, allowed the ship to remain in place while training its two guns on a target. On other ships of the time, warriors had to move the entire vessel to aim their banks of guns.

The turret will go on display in the USS Monitor Center along with more than 1,100 artifacts from the ship. Visitors will be able to walk on the deck of the replica.

Mr. Hightower announced yesterday that $24.9 million, or more than 80 percent of the $30 million cost of the center, has been raised.

“The turret is the iconic symbol of technology in the Civil War,” said Anna Holloway, curator of the center. “The replica turret is kind of the symbol of the Monitor Center coming into existence. It’s bringing all the parts of the story together.”

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