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USS Monitor

USS Monitor

"1 do not consider this steamer a sea-going vessel."
"No sailor ever led a more disagreeable life than we did on the James River, suffocated with heat and bad air if we remained below, and a target of sharpshooters if we came on deck."
—Lt Samuel Dana Greene, USS Monitor Executive Officer.

Nearly invincible in Chesapeake Bay, the Monitor was out of its element on the open ocean. It nearly sank during its maiden voyage in March 1862, and it did sink on its final mission less than 10 months later. The side-wheeler Rhode Island was towing it to Beaufort, N.C., on December 30, 1862, when a storm struck off the Outer Banks. Unable to keep the Monitor afloat, Captain John Bankhead displayed a red lantern, the prearranged distress signal, then cut the ship free and dropped anchor. Lifeboats from the Rhode Island rescued Bankhead along with 46 officers and men in his all-volunteer crew, but 16 others washed overboard or went down with the ship.

The Monitor's whereabouts were a mystery until August, 1973, when an expedition sponsored by Duke University Marine Laboratory, the National Geographic Society, and the National Science Foundation found it in 230 feet of water 16 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras. Although the hull rested upside-down on the detached turret, the ship was clearly recognizable. Oxidation and perhaps World War II depth charges had taken their toll, but the ship was surprisingly intact.

-- Exhibit in the NC Aquarium, Manteo, NC

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North Carolina Historical Markers

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John Pyne Bankhead
Lt. Comm. Samuel Dana Greene

Posted By: Ray Gurganus

  1. Email: Ray Gurganus, personal photograph;

Updated: 6-29-2021