“Our Little Monitor: The Greatest Invention of the Civil War”

After visiting the Monitor, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote that 'all the pomp and splendor of naval warfare are gone by.' To him, the Monitor signaled a sea change that would breed 'a race of enginemen and smoke-blackened cannoneers, who will hammer away at their enemies under the direction of a single pair of eyes.' Saddest of all, Hawthorne felt, was that 'heroism... will become a quality of very minor importance.'

Lecture Description

On March 9, 1862, the USS Monitor met the CSS Virginia in battle in Hampton Roads, Virginia—the first time ironclad vessels would engage each other in combat. For four hours the two ships pummeled one another as thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers and civilians watched from the shorelines. Although the battle ended in a draw, this engagement would change the very nature of naval warfare. The “wooden walls” of navies around the world suddenly appeared far more vulnerable to political and military leaders. At the same time, in the weeks after the Battle of Hampton Roads, Americans developed their own ideas for improving the Monitor or for sinking the Virginia. This talk will discuss some of the inventions devised by terrified northerners, as well as the legacy of the USS Monitor in American life and popular culture since her sinking on New Year’s Eve 1862.


Civil War and Reconstruction Naval and Maritime

ALL TOPICS & TITLES: Go back to all topics and titles.

More Distinguished Lectureship Program Resources