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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
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