One of the nation’s most revered military wrecks was visited in May by a NOAA-supported team and they made a startling discovery 16 miles off the coast of North Carolina.
The Civil War battleship USS Monitor apparently refuses to surrender to the forces of nature. Although it’s been on the seabed since 1862, the first vessel of its kind remains in “an excellent state of preservation,” according to Tane Renata Casserley, resource protection and permit coordinator at National Oceanic’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. and Atmospheric Administration.
It’s all the more surprising given that Navy divers made major intrusions into the wreckage in 2002, when they recovered the prized turret and other artifacts to be preserved, he said. .
“The wreck is in amazing condition after being on the seabed for 160 years and withstanding all environmental conditions off Cape Hatteras, including extremely strong currents and hurricanes,” Casserley told McClatchy News. .
“During these projects (2002), it was necessary to cut through the armor belt, hull and deck of the battleship to gain access to the turret since the wreckage was above. The question for us at NOAA was, would these cuts in the sinking result in further deterioration? Would we see significant changes caused by these actions today?”
The answer to these questions “has been a resounding ‘no'”, he said.
It’s a revelation that begs an explanation, and Casserley has a theory.
The USS Monitor was visited as part of the Valor in the Atlantic Expedition, which sent a remote-controlled camera to explore several ships sunk during the Civil War and World War II.
The USS Monitor was the oldest and most important of these, as the first US warship built with a revolutionary rotating gun turret, NOAA reports.
Monitor sank on New Year’s Eve in 1862, in an area off North Carolina known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, due to approximately 2,000 shipwrecks. Sixteen American sailors were lost in the sinking, according to historians. “The waves were growing and the wind was howling. With every pitch and roll, shock waves ravaged the crew and the hull of the little vessel,” according to a NOAA report.
“Leaks developed, flooding the engines and reducing the steam pressure needed for propulsion. The crew tried to use pumps and even bail out with buckets, but the distress was too great. … The turret was the only escape hatch from below and as the men tried to rush across the deck, many of them were swept away into the unknown by the treacherous waves.”
The Monitor was rediscovered in 1973 – “lying upside down in 230 feet of water” – by the Duke University Research Vessel Eastward and efforts to protect the first vessel of its kind began almost immediately, reports NOAA.
In 1975, the site of the USS Monitor became “the nation’s first national marine sanctuary,” a move that aims to protect and preserve it as an important part of the “nation’s maritime heritage.”
The May 15–25 Valor in the Atlantic expedition counted as “the first site examination” since 2002, and Casserley feared it would show that the turret recovery project had led to advanced deterioration.
Finding otherwise has left scientists searching for explanations, and Casserley thinks the “robustness of Monitor’s construction” continues to vindicate it.
“That same iron armor that deflected cannonballs fired at close range and even collisions…has now contributed to its longevity on the seabed,” Casserley said.
“That same iron hull and armored belt built to withstand the rigors of war has now enabled Monitor to provide a stable habitat in its new role as the island of life. It was truly amazing to see the transformation deep within There was often so much marine life on Monitor that it was difficult to see the wreck itself.”
A remote-controlled camera only examined the exterior, so questions remain about what’s going on inside the ship, he said.
The expedition team, which partnered with the Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration, left the wreck realizing that much of it remains unchanged, providing an extraordinary opportunity for marine archaeologists and historians.
“This area is a time capsule going back to 1862 to learn more about how the crew lived and worked aboard a prototype ironclad warship,” Casserley said.
“In some ways it is in better structural shape than the majority of wrecks from the same period and extends to World War II wrecks. The bottom line is that the USS Monitor will be there for generations to come to share his stories of heroism.”