Trivia & Activities

  • Swedish-American inventor John Ericsson apparently preferred his drawing board to his wife. Amelia Byam Ericsson followed her husband to New York, but she returned to London and, though John provided for her livelihood and corresponded with her for the rest of her life, the two never saw one another again.

  • The contract issued to Ericsson by the US Navy for the building of the USS Monitor stipulated that the ironclad should be equipped with masts and sails. Ericsson conveniently ‘forgot’ that requirement.

  • Confederates covered the sides of the CSS Virginia with pork fat before her battle on March 8.  According to Executive Officer Catesby ap Roger Jones, this was done in the hopes “that it would increase the tendency of the projectiles to glance.”  During the battle on March 8, the heat and flames from exploding shells hitting the Virginia caused the grease to sizzle.  Midshipman Hardin Littlepage recounted that the ship seemed to be ‘frying from one end to the other.’  He also overheard two crewmen, Jack Cronin and John Hunt talking to one another. Hunt said ‘Jack, don’t this smell like hell?’ to which Cronin replied, ‘It certainly does, and I think the we’ll all be there in a few minutes.’

  • On March 8, 1862, 2 men were killed and 8 men wounded on the CSS Virginia.  One of those wounded, William G. Burke, listed his primary occupation before the war as ‘comedian.’

  • William Cline, a marine on the CSS Virginia, recalled that on March 9, 1862, ‘We began the day with two jiggers of whiskey and a hearty breakfast.’  Meanwhile on the Monitor, the crew had not slept in nearly three days and few among the crew had time to eat their breakfast of hardtack and coffee before the battle with the Virginia  began.

  • During the battle on March 9, Lieutenant John Randolph Eggleston of the CSS Virginia  stopped firing his gun at the Monitor.  When questioned by Jones, the commander, Eggleston replied “It is quite a waste of ammunition to fire at her.  Our powder is precious sir, and I find I can do the Monitor as much damage by snapping my finger at her every five minutes.’

  • During the battle on March 9, the Monitor fired 41 shots at the Virginia, 20 of which actually hit the Confederate ironclad.  The Monitor received 23 hits – most from the Virginia, but some were from the USS Minnesota which was firing ricochet shots (much like skipping stones across the water) – some of these shots accidentally hit the Monitor.

  • As the Monitor began to founder off the coast of North Carolina, December 30, 1862, crewman Francis Butts had an interesting way of ‘protecting’ the ship’s cat.  He writes: Bailing was now resumed. I occupied the turret all alone, and passed buckets from the lower hatchway to the man on the top of the turret. I took off my coat – one that I had received from home only a few days before (I could not feel that our noble little ship was yet lost) – and rolling it up with my boots, drew the tampion from one of the guns, placed them inside, and replaced the tampion. A black cat was sitting on the breech of one of the guns, howling one of those hoarse and solemn tunes which no one can appreciate who is not filled with the superstitions which I had been taught by the sailors, who are always afraid to kill a cat. I would almost as soon have touched a ghost, but I caught her, and placing her in another gun, replaced the wad and tampion; but I could still hear that distressing yowl. As I raised my last bucket to the upper hatchway no one was there to take it. I scrambled up the ladder and found that we below had been deserted. I shouted to those on the berth-deck, “Come up; the officers have left the ship and a boat is alongside.”  Is there a cat inside one of the Monitor’s Dahlgren guns?  We’ll know for sure when the guns are removed from the turret sometime in 2004.

  • The last thing the Monitor’s crew saw of their vessel was the red signal lantern “that hung from the pennant staff above the turret of the Monitor.  About one o’clock on the morning of Wednesday, December 31st, she sank and we saw her no more.”  In 1977, that same red signal lantern became the first major artifact recovered from the wreck site.  Last thing seen, first thing recovered!

Aground When a ship moves into water that is too shallow for her to float and becomes stuck on the sea bottom.
Blockade To form a line of ships in order to close a port.
Casemate A fortified enclosure.
Channel The main passage into a harbor or on a river. The channel is usually the deepest part of a river or harbor.
CSS Abbreviation for Confederate States Ship.
Draft The depth of a ship’s hull.
Ebb The flow of the tide back toward the sea.
Expeditions A voyage of exploration.
Foundry A factory where iron is made.
Hampton Roads The area of water where the James River, Elizabeth River and the Chesapeake Bay meet.
Hull The body of a ship.
Intercept To stop or interfere with the progress of something.
Ironclad Originally a wooden ship that had iron plate attached to its sides to protect it from damage. The term is often used to describe any Civil War ship that was made of iron.
Magazine A storage compartment for ammunition.
Pilot Someone who steers a ship. Also someone who knows a harbor or river and directs ships through the safe channels.
Planking The outer covering of the sides of a ship.
Secede To withdraw or leave a group.
Strategy A plan of action.
Steam Engine A motor that gets its power from compressed steam. When a ship with a steam engine is moving it is generally said to be “steaming” or “under steam.”
USS Abbreviation for United States Ship.
Turret A round, fortified structure resembling a tower.
Vessel A ship.
Waterline The highest place where water touches the side of a ship.

Define and label parts of the USS Monitor

Label the Monitor (PDF)

Label the Monitor Answer Sheet (PDF)

Define and label parts of the CSS Virginia

Label the Virginia (PDF)

Label the Virginia Answer Sheet (PDF)


Read a Letter from William Keeler to His Wife and Answer Questions

Letter from William Keeler to his Wife (PDF)