On Jan. 30, 1862, the USS Monitor was launched into the East River at the Continental Iron Works in Greenpoint. The Monitor was the first ironclad warship of the U.S. Navy. It was assembled in just three months in 1861 after its keel was laid at Greenpoint, using iron plates shipped from the Albany Rolling and Slitting Mill in Troy, N.Y.
Its iron hull and low-lying iron deck, on which was mounted a revolving turret holding two heavy guns, was of revolutionary design. It was an odd-looking vessel, dubbed “the Yankee cheese-box on a raft.” It was launched by a crew of volunteers recruited from the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s receiving ships (where officers and men waited until they were able to join their ships). After the launching from Greenpoint, on its first night out, heavy seas rolled over the Monitor’s low-lying deck, washed out the caulking in the turret, and gushed into the berth deck.
Although the Monitor’s confrontation with the South’s Virginia (formerly the Merrimac) on March 9, 1862, ended in a draw, its arrival at Hampton Roads probably saved the Union fleet. It was the first battle between two ironclad warships.
At the end of 1862, on its way to Charleston, S.C., to take part in an attack, the Monitor went down in a storm off Cape Hatteras, N.C. The encounter with the Merrimac proved the effectiveness of the new ironclad ships, and it marked the beginning of the modern epoch in the field of naval engineering.
This article was written by Vernon Parker (1923-2004)