Thursday, October 25, 2007

Today in 1861 &1862

Today in 1861 the keel of the Union ironclad Monitor is laid at Greenpoint, Long Island.
In September 1861, John Ericsson, a native of Sweden, was granted the contract to begin constructing the U.S. Navy's first ironclad.
The wooden keel was laid at the Continental Iron Works on Long Island. The vessel was not large--172 feet long and 41 feet wide. Raising from the water by only 18 inches the ship had an extremely low profile. The turret, a 20-foot cylindrical structure in the middle of the ship housed two 11-inch Dahlgren guns.

The craft was launched into New York's East River on January 30. After resolving many engine problems the monitor was commissioned on February 25 and soon set sail for Virginia.

On March 8, 1862, it engaged the C.S.S. Virginia in battle at Hampton Roads. The first Naval battle in the world between ironclads. The battle ended in a drawn that day, but a new era in warfare had dawned.

An additional note: The Monitor later sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras taking many of its crew down. In very recent history the wreck was found and much of the ship has been raised and preserved. At the “Mariners Museum” in Hampton Roads Virginia there is a new building dedicated to the monitor with a myriad of artifacts and preserved parts of the ship. Human remains found during the raising of the craft were given military funerals with full honors. The “Mariners Museum” is easy to find and the trip can be done in a day.

Today in 1862 President Lincoln sends a wire to General George McClellan saying: "I have just read your dispatch about sore tongued and fatiegued [sic] horses. Will you pardon me for asking what the horses of your army have done since the battle of Antietam that fatigue anything?"

Lincoln earlier had urged McClellan to pursue General Lee across the Potomac after the bloody battle at Antietam but McClellan being ever cautious refused. McClellan pled fatigue of his horses and his men and desired to maintain his Army in repose. This was a fateful decision. Lee’s army also fatigued was in retreat and not in much condition to fight. Lee himself commented later that if the Union had pursued him after Antietam the end of the war may come much sooner.
Within a week of Lincolns curt message to McClellan the President replaced the General with General Ambrose Burnside. By now Lee had finished crossing the Potomac had rested and was willing to fight another day.

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