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No single sea battle has had more far-reaching consequences than the one fought in the harbor at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in March 1862. The Confederacy, with no fleet of its own, built an iron fort containing 10 heavy guns on the hull of a captured Union frigate named the Merrimack. The North got word of the project when it was already well along, and, in desperation, commissioned an eccentric inventor named John Ericsson to build the Monitor, an entirely revolutionary iron warship - at the time, the single most complicated machine ever made. Abraham Lincoln himself was closely involved with the ship's design. Rushed through to completion in just 100 days, it mounted only two guns, but they were housed in a shot-proof revolving turret.
The ship hurried south from Brooklyn (and nearly sank twice on the voyage), only to arrive to find the Merrimack had destroyed half the Union fleet and would be back to finish the job the next day. When she returned, the Monitor was there. She fought the Merrimack to a standstill and saved the Union cause. As soon as word of the battle spread, Great Britain - the foremost sea power of the day - ceased work on all wooden ships. A thousand-year-old tradition ended, and the path to the naval future opened.
Iron Dawn is the irresistible story of these incredible, intimidating war machines. Historian Richard Snow brings to vivid life the tensions of the time, explaining how wooden and ironclad ships worked, maneuvered, battled, and sank. This full account of the Merrimack and Monitor has never been told in such immediate, compelling detail.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Brian on 11-09-16
Good book about an underreported area of the civil war
I have read about 100 books about the civil war (including several comprehensive multi-volume histories) and an astonishing percentage of this book was completely unknown to me. It is a good length, well paced, enjoyable and informative.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
By Tad Davis on 05-09-17
As a boy, I went fishing in Hampton Roads, just off Fort Monroe, in a little boat with an outboard motor. This was just before the Civil War centennial craze: it was impossible not to get caught up in it, and the story of the Monitor and the Merrimack, which took place in Hampton Roads a hundred years earlier, was one of the most fascinating.
Richard Snow has written a wonderful book, in one sense a dual biography of the two warships. (He refers to the Confederate vessel throughout as the "Merrimack," pointing out that although it had been rechristened the CSS Virginia, that name never caught on, even at the time. He also explains why the name correctly has a "k" at the end. I was so steeped in the lore of the battle from my boyhood that the "k" in the title of the book is one of the first things that caught my attention.)
There was a lot of information here that was new to me, despite my previous interest in the subject. I had never known, for example, that the Monitor, as tough as she was under fire, was vulnerable to boarding - and that the crew of the Merrimack actually did try to board her at one point during the battle. I had never realized before, though it's obvious in hindsight, that one of brilliant features of the Monitor's design was that after firing, the turret swung away: the Merrimack's gunners were never able to draw a bead on the gun ports. And the Confederate Secretary of the Navy, considering the rebuilt Merrimack a great success, proposed sailing it to New York harbor and blowing ships and the Brooklyn shipyards there out of the water.
Snow includes a retrospective chapter that covers both ships and men. The Merrimack was blown up by the Confederates to prevent its capture after Lincoln set in motion a campaign to retake the Norfolk shipyard. And at the very end of 1862, the Monitor went down in a storm off Cape Hatteras as it sailed south for another mission. Both ships defied expectations by actually floating, but neither was fit for sea. (When the Monitor's turret was found and raised a few years ago, skeletal remains were found and given a respectful burial.)
Grover Gardner gives his usual excellent performance.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful