When John Ericsson conceived his "impregnable battery" he had no idea that it would still be fighting battles a hundred years after his death. In the mid nineteenth century he struggled to have his concepts approved by distinguished industrialists mired in the past. But then came the War Between the States, and with war always come technological advancement and the adoption of previously unacceptable innovations. Word arrived in Washington that the South was building an ironclad ram that could destroy the Union fleet with single-handed impunity. Unwittingly, the CSS Virginia (ex-USS Merrimack) provided the impetus to goad reluctant Northern politicians into funding the construction of an ironclad opponent. Thus the Monitor came into being.
Then along came the battle that forever changed the way naval strategists viewed warship design and ship-to-ship engagement. The Monitor and the Virginia fought to a standstill, neither ship inflicting significant damage upon the other. Each was invulnerable to the other and to land-based batteries. Nevertheless, by the end of that year (1862) both ironclads were gone: the Virginia was blown up by her crew to prevent capture, the Monitor foundered in a gale off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
All was quiescent for more than a century, until the Monitor's badly deteriorated remains were positively identified in 1974. Within months an impregnable barrier was placed around the wreck site: a political artifice called a National Marine Sanctuary.
The Monitor's next battle became a legal contest: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wanted the ironclad as its own private research domain; the author wanted it open to the public for whom it had been established as a sanctuary. The controversy raged for six years, until the author won vindication in a court of law. He then led an expedition to the site and took dramatic underwater photographs that captured the Monitor the way it was in 1990--the way it will never be again.
No matter how strongly constructed, the ironclad cannot win the battle against the forces of time and nature. Until its ultimate demise, the best we can do is watch the wreck as it collapses more each year--like a loved one on her deathbed--and remember the Monitor for what meaning it has brought into our lives: politically, historically, and culturally. Of these concepts the Monitor is an everlasting symbol.
The book is amply illustrated with black and white historical photographs, as well as color photographs of the wreck as it appears on the bottom.
About the Author
Gary Gentile started his diving career in 1970. Since then, he has made more than 1,000 decompression dives, over 100 of them on the Andrea Doria. He has specialized in wreck diving and shipwreck research, concentration on wrecks along the East Coast, from Newfoundland to Key West, and in the Great Lakes.
He has written dozens of articles for magazines and has published thousands of photographs in books, periodicals, newspapers, brochures, museum displays, film and television. He lectures extensively on wilderness and underwater topics, and conducts seminars on advanced wreck diving techniques and high-tech diving equipment. He is the author of several books on nonfiction diving and nautical and shipwreck history.