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Construction Begins | The Pressure is On | Sea Trials | Orders Arrive

Orders Finally Arrives

The Monitor finally received orders to head south. A dispatch from Hiram Paulding instructed Lieutenant Worden to “proceed with the Monitor under your command to Hampton Roads and on your arrival report to the senior naval officer there,” adding “when the weather permits.” The weather remained difficult for the next two days, though, and the Monitor’s departure was delayed until March 6.

While the Monitor was designed by Ericsson to be a seagoing vessel, no one was willing to take any chances with her. So accordingly, on Thursday, March 6, the Monitor left the Navy Yard with a small fleet. The steam tug Seth Low took the Monitor in tow, in company with the steamers Sachem and Currituck. By 4 p.m. they had left New York Harbor and were heading south.

However, Gideon Welles had issued new orders to the Monitor at the advice of General George Brinton McClellan , who felt that the Monitor could best benefit the Union by clearing the Potomac River in advance of McClellan’s planned troop movements. McClellan was preparing to move troops south to Urbanna, and then to proceed overland to Richmond. Welles telegraphed the Navy Yard in New York with orders for the Monitor to “proceed immediately to Washington,” but the message arrived two hours after the Monitor had left. A vessel carrying the new orders raced to reach the Monitor, but was unsuccessful. The message did reach Commodore Marston in Hampton Roads, however.

Executive Officer Samuel Dana Greene recalled that “[o]n the following day a moderate breeze was encountered, and it was at once evident that the Monitor was unfit as a sea-going craft.” The log indicates initially a Force 4 on the Beaufort Scale, but it is somewhat telling that after a point the officers of the watch ceased trying to estimate what force the wind was. This was perhaps in part due to the fact that the men were trying to keep their vessel afloat.

Compounding their difficulties, the leather belts of the engine had grown sodden and stretched with the influx of seawater into the engineering spaces. With stretched belts, the engine could not function and the ventilators could not blow. Noxious fumes began to fill the engine room. Most of the crew ended up on top of the turret that impossibly long night. Paymaster William Keeler wrote that “things for a time looked pretty blue, as though we might have to ‘give up the ship.’” Samuel Dana Greene said of his first five days underway on the Monitor, “I think I lived ten good years.”

As the Monitor steamed south, Commodore John Marston of the USS Roanoke and Union naval commander in Hampton Roads received his own telegram from Gideon Welles. It read:

Send the St. Lawrence, Congress, and Cumberland into the Potomac River. Let the disposition of the remainder of the vessels at Hampton Roads be made according to your best judgment after consultation with General Wool. Use steam to tow them up. I will also try and send a couple of steamers from Baltimore to assist. Let there be no delay.

Welles sent this message on the 7th. He then sent a second message telling Marston to await additional orders carried by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus Vasa Fox who was traveling to Hampton Roads on the 8th.

The Battle of Hampton Roads was about to begin.


From The Mariners’ Museum Monitor Center, a Chronological History of 1861 to 1862

April 17: Virginia secedes from the Union.

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April 18: Chief Engineer Benjamin Franklin Isherwood completes repairs to USS Merrimack and proclaims the frigate ready for sea. McCauley denies approval for the Merrimack to leave Gosport. Flag Officer Hiram Paulding is ordered to take command of Gosport Navy Yard. Paulding leaves the Washington Navy Yard with 100 marines on Board the 8-gun steamer USS Pawnee.

Virginia Governor John Letcher orders Major General William Booth Taliaferro of the Virginia Militia to Norfolk and to occupy Gosport Navy Yard.

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April 19: Lincoln proclaims a blockade of the Southern coastline.

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April 20: Federals burn and abandon Gosport Navy Yard.

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April 21: Confederates occupy Gosport Navy Yard.

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April 22: Flag Officer French Forrest assumes command of Gosport Navy Yard. Captain Franklin Buchanan, commandant of the Washington Navy Yard, resigned his U.S. Navy commission.

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April 27: President Lincoln extends the blockade to include the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina.

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May 3: Anaconda plan formulated by General Winfield Scott.

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May 6: Arkansas secedes.

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Chronological History Continued...

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