Monitor's 150th Anniversary
life sinking
 

A Home for Sailors

Though a machine, the Monitor would be the home to between 58 and 63 men throughout her career. The accommodations for these men, however, were not the norm for a traditional naval vessel. On every warship in the US Navy, a certain physical hierarchy obtained. The commanding officer lived furthest aft, in the largest and finest quarters. Just forward of him, his officers found their accommodations. Living amidships were the petty officers and the aptly named young “midshipmen” and the common sailors on the orlop or gun decks, and in the forecastle, or “before the mast.”

However, because part of the ingenuity of the design of the Monitor lay in the placement of all systems save ordnance below the waterline, the engine had to be placed aft, in the space traditionally allotted to the commanding officer. Thus, Ericsson threw naval tradition aside in his design and placed the captain’s quarters as far forward as possible, just behind the anchor well and pilothouse. Officers would live behind the captain in small, yet well-appointed cabins to the starboard and port of the officers' wardroom. A wooden bulkhead would separate these officers from the berth deck where the crew and a few unfortunate junior officers lived. Ericsson was aware that this unorthodox layout might be a difficult thing for seasoned officers to bear. Therefore, he outfitted the officers quarters quite elegantly, and at his own expense.

It was difficult to provide natural light within the vessel. Therefore, Ericsson installed a series of oil lanterns every 6 to 9 feet along the port and starboard sides of the vessel. Elegant brass sconces to hold them were purchased ready-made from suppliers in New York. William Keeler described the lighting in the staterooms: “The only objection is they are too dark. I have all my writing to [do] by candlelight & lamps are always burning in the ward room. If the sun ever shines again it may light us up a little better.”

A series of decklights, 6-inch-diameter holes set into the deck with thick glass in iron frames, let light into each stateroom. The wardroom had two of them. The decklights were often covered with water when the deck was awash, but the light got through anyway and, according to Keeler, “when the sun shines bright it is sufficiently light to read and write without difficulty.” The decklights could be opened to allow in fresh air when conditions allowed, and at least once, Keeler found his decklight used as a mailbox when a fellow officer delivered Keeler’s mail through the opening.

In contrast to the damask and lace of the officers’ quarters, the berth deck was a utilitarian space of 16 feet by 25 feet, stretching from the staterooms to a point beneath the turret. This was where the crew of about 49 men slept in hammocks, taking turns keeping watch. Oil lamps provided most of the light, for there were no deck lights to let daylight into the crew’s quarters. When the upper hatches were opened, the crew enjoyed more light and air. Storerooms, including the powder magazine and the shell room, bordered the berth deck.

 
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Click on the images for a larger view.

These images offer a glimpse into life onboard the USS Monitor. Based on a series of sketches produced by Theodore R. Davis, these engravings were published in Harper’s Weekly on April 12, 1862. They were partly inaccurate, but the ship’s officers approved them.

The Captain’s cabin was spacious and elaborately furnished with tables and chairs.The Captain’s cabin was spacious and elaborately furnished with tables and chairs. (Courtesy U.S. Naval Historical Center)

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The wardroom was elegant and offered the officers an area they could use for their leisure.  Doors led off from either side of the wardroom to their cabins.The wardroom was elegant and offered the officers an area they could use for their leisure. Doors led off from either side of the wardroom to their cabins. (Courtesy U.S. Naval Historical Center)

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This view of the berth deck looks fore and aft. It features the ladders that gave access to the turret and shows the solid shot stored in the center of the deck.This view of the berth deck looks fore and aft. It features the ladders that gave access to the turret and shows the solid shot stored in the center of the deck. (Courtesy U.S. Naval Historical Center)

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The engineer officer and assistants attending one of the two boilers and side-lever engine. The engineer officer and assistants attending one of the two boilers and side-lever engine. (Courtesy U.S. Naval Historical Center)

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