When members of the conservation team began their work at the Mariners' Museum, they expected to see battle scars on the turret of the USS Monitor. "Like with this dent, we knew it was here," said Conservation Project manager Dave Krop, "but we didn't know how deep it was. Now we know it's just impressive. You know it's a fingerprint of the battle."
They would find other surprises. The Monitor was built in a hurry, after Union leaders learned that a Confederate ironclad was under construction. "So all over kind of the eastern seaboard, in the northeast," Krop said, "craftsmen and tradesmen were working to put this ship together in a record number, what a hundred days, give or take."
And when the conservation team began to remove the sediment that had settled in the turret and covered every surface, it became clear that the man who designed the USS Monitor, John Ericsson, and the craftsmen who built her hadn't sacrificed quality.
Eric Nordgren is the project's Senior Conservator. "I think the surprise has been the craftsmanship, the way that it was built and how well preserved some of the elements are after all that time under water," Nordgren said.
The USS Monitor survived the Battle of Hampton Roads, her stand-off with the Confederate Ironclad Virginia in March 1862, but she sank later that year in a New Year's Eve storm off the coast of North Carolina. Almost 150 years later, the Monitor's place in history is secure, but the details of her design, and the lives of the men who built her and sailed her into battle are still coming into focus.