Saturday, October 31, 2009

New York Civil War Site: Our Most Valuable Swede

During the Civil War, a Swedish inventor saved the Union from disaster. His name was John Ericsson and he designed the ironclad ship, the Monitor.

A statue of him lies in the midst of Battery Park in downtown Manhattan. You can see it on your way to visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

Being the weaker side in raw power, the Confederacy more readily adopted technological advances in military weaponry to nullify the Union's clear strength in numbers and armaments. To counter the Federal Navy, the South developed the CSS Virginia, an ironclad naval vessel. The Confederates unleashed this new weapon and it soon sunk two wooden naval ships in the Federal blockading squadron off Hampton Roads, Virginia.

The Federals had received prior word of this threat and through Lincoln's intervention, the Ironclad Board in Washington gave John Ericsson a contract for $270,000. The Board provided it on a monthly basis and told him that he would have to return the money if he disliked the terms (imagine trying to set such a contract today). In addition, since it was during a war, time was of the essence.

Ericsson developed the ship in a record 100 days at the Continental Iron Works in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. He and other engineers placed two guns on a revolving turret. With the ship ready in such a short time, it sailed down to Virginia to join the beleaguered blockade squadron in southern Virginia.

On March 6, 1862, ironclad met ironclad. In a day-long battle, the ships fought to a draw. A round from the CSS Virginia hit the hull of the ship and blinded the Monitor's captain. A falling tide also compelled the Virginia to withdraw.

Without the Monitor, the Virginia might have sailed up to Washington and begun a bombardment. The Monitor saved the Union from military disaster. That is why John Ericsson was our most valuable Swede.

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