USS Monitor: a historic ship completes its final voyage (Ed Rachal Foundation Nautical Archaeology Series) by John D. Broadwater 239 pages, more than 100 b&w and colour illustrations including plans and drawingsTexas A&M University Press, 4354 TAMU, College Station. TX 77853-4354, 2012, $39.95, (hbk) ISBN 978-1603444736
Article first published online: 4 FEB 2013
© 2013 The Authors. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology © 2013 The Nautical Archaeology Society
International Journal of Nautical Archaeology
Volume 42, Issue 1, pages 235–237, March 2013
How to Cite
McCarthy, M. (2013), USS Monitor: a historic ship completes its final voyage (Ed Rachal Foundation Nautical Archaeology Series) by John D. Broadwater 239 pages, more than 100 b&w and colour illustrations including plans and drawingsTexas A&M University Press, 4354 TAMU, College Station. TX 77853-4354, 2012, $39.95, (hbk) ISBN 978-1603444736. International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, 42: 235–237. doi: 10.1111/1095-9270.12008_21
- Issue published online: 4 FEB 2013
- Article first published online: 4 FEB 2013
In this book John Broadwater presents a vivid and comprehensive account of the USS Monitor project. Not intended as the definitive academic publication, it gives a brief insight into this unique and iconic vessel, its history and technology and provides the reader with some understanding of the archaeology and complex engineering and diving feats that occurred in the course of the 40-year-long project. In exhibiting considerable skill as a story teller, John Broadwater succeeds admirably in presenting this work to a general readership.
He leads with the history and engineering behind USS Monitor and with the naval battle ethos of the comtemporary American Civil War. He moves to the 20th century search for Monitor and follows the logic and remote-sensing method used in its eventual location in 1972. The found wreck becomes America's first National Marine Sanctuary—a model for all that followed under the auspices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This covered the evolution of deep-water wreck diving and recording over the decades since 1972, and, the subsequent politics and processes surrounding the site's protection and management. There are insights into one of the greatest and most complex maritime archaeological feats so far attempted, including details of the partial excavations involved in the recovery and management of selected objects and remains and general site management before, during and after excavation, resulting in public presentations and exhibition plans. Permeating the whole operation is the career of one of the most acclaimed maritime archaeologists and ubiquitous flag-bearer for the United States' cultural-resource-management movement in the modern era, John D. Broadwater.
From the outset, Broadwater enters our consciousness along with those who worked on this innovative and iconic American vessel since the first but unsuccessful search in May 1950. He come to us in an unapologetic first person, setting the scene and style for all that is to come in the book: ‘… I twist my body to peer through the tiny viewport … as we descend to toward the seafloor. Huddled in a cramped aluminium cylinder I'm struggling to control my fear of close spaces.’
Presented with this initially alarming introduction, with personal fears and the inadequacies of his early equipment laid bare, I had to reassess my initial reactions and then accept, as Broadwater himself notes in the Preface: ‘I put aside… [the] archaeological and engineering report long enough to write this account of the Monitor story for a general audience [drawing] heavily on my personal knowledge and experience … in the hope that I can impart to readers a sense of the concerns, deliberations, decision making, excitement, and elation that I and others experienced.’ Once this is understood and once we accept (as both Broadwater, and then James P. Delgado in his Forward, take pains to emphasize) that this is not the archaeological report, we can better appreciate and understand what has happened to USS Monitor since the Stevens Brothers first presented their concept for a ‘steam-powered iron-armoured warship’ in 1841. Broadwater certainly achieves his aims via an attractive and well-written work that is primarily designed for general readership as it permeates the bookshops during the 150th anniversary years of the vessel's launch and loss.
Along with CSS H. L. Hunley, USS Monitor has, for Americans, what Delgado characterizes as ‘mythical qualities’, with interest in it constantly propelled by a ‘national mania that continues 150 years later’. Ordinary Americans will certainly enjoy the work and Civil War buffs will find it entertaining and of value. A product of John Ericsson's inventive genius, its armament, low freeboard and rotating turret (a breakthrough in naval conflict), Monitor has a global significance—along with its adversary CSS Virginia. It heralded in the new era of naval warfare that occurred during what is generally characterized as the ‘first modern war’. Naval historians will also pick up the book (even though there is no chapter on naval technology) and they will move on to the technological race between the Union and the Confederacy, followed by the spread of interest in the successful pioneering American ironclads around the globe.
Apart from the general interest in the Monitor story, this work is important for today's practitioners and students of maritime archaeology, especially those working in the once remote field of deep-water survey and deep-water archaeological method—Monitor lies at 238 feet. It will also have much to say to those involved or interested in iron, steel and steamship archaeology generally. The de-concretion of the Dahlgren guns, the excavation of the turret and the management of the human remains and artefacts within it, provide a foil to a similar exercise earlier conducted upon H. L. Hunley. One of Keith Muckelroy's observations, that the longevity of complex shipwreck excavations such as this is a distinct asset, allowing, as Renfrew and Bahn have emphasized as essential, constant feedback, re-assessment and the cumulative adding of specialists to the core team in a continuum of necessity spanning many decades. Appropriate here is the image (p. 3) of a young Broadwater preparing for one of the early research dives complemented by a shot of him in recent years with two young colleagues and materials excavated from Monitor's experimental turret (p. 197). This well illustrates how long the Monitor programme has been going for and is still going.
But where is the engine in all of this? Ensuing reports for the on-going deconcretion of Monitor's complex 30-ton engine and its ancillary machinery (major excavations in themselves) are impatiently awaited by those active in steamship archaeology whether comtemplating similar enterprises or with scientific, engineering or other reasons for interest in the process. It remains to be seen whether the combined archaeological-conservation team assembled at the laboratory at the Mariner's Museum in Newport will succeed in dismantling Ericsson's engine and, after re-assembly, be able to turn it over again. This was achieved with the SS Xantho engine, the final reports or which are now in preparation after more than a quarter of a century of work (IJNA 15:2 173–6; IJNA 17:4, 339–47, IJNA 33:2, 330–37). The Xantho experience shows that this phase will be many years, decades even for the Monitor machinery is very large and its de-concretion and dismantling will prove a daunting and, when completed, an extraordinary feat.
Notwithstanding the scale of the engine operation still to come, the Monitor project has been a massive undertaking: one of the world's largest and greatest. Throughout the work the extent and complexity of the equipment, support vessels, service personal and the size of funding attests to the importance of this wreck to the American people as a whole. They, not the practitioner or the archaeologist, are Broadwater's target audience here as he makes very clear. Included therefore, in magazine style, are entertaining little snippets such as ‘Was Monitor discovered during world War II?’ and ‘Diving milestones—1977 and 1979’ and many others appear featured in information boxes scattered here and there through the text. These are mixed with equally eye-catching but much larger boxes providing informative details on subjects such as John Ericsson himself; a précis of the 42 site visits conducted between 1973 and 2009; and another attesting to the sheer magnitude of this ‘national’ project gives the number of service divers (142) deployed and the amount of dive-time accumulated by them in both a surface-supplied and saturation (bell) mode. The equipment used and the vessels deployed are similarly treated. There is a box on Monitor's construction; on the submersibles used; letters home from Civil War combatants; the mixed-gas dive systems and other aspects of diving support and training including public awareness through recreational diving on the wreck; NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary programme; and conservation of iron and the artefacts. Last in this overview through ‘asides’, the work of JPAC (the Forces Central Identification Laboratory and its forensic teams) boasting an astounding 400 people. Taking time off from work identifying missing United States service personnel, these teams assisted in identifying the crew unexpectedly found in the ship's turret after it was excavated and raised.
Manager of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary after April 1992, and one of the three first archaeologists to commence work on the site in 1979 and the only person to have maintained the essential continuous thread of professional involvement to this day, Broadwater is generous in his acknowledgement of the others pioneers: Gordon Watts who first brought the wreck to the attention of readers of this journal (IJNA 4:2, 1975, 301–28) is described as ‘the leading expert on the ship and its current condition’. Hundreds of other names and many institutions are mentioned in a similarly generous way and by this means Broadwater solves the problem all of us face over how properly to credit those who have assisted, provided their expertise or proved valuable in so many ways to a complex archaeological programme. Now he and NOAA can concentrate on the archaeological report and catalogue – their duty to a myriad others done.