Saving a Sunken Treasure: While the Titanic Remains at Ocean's Bottom, Congress Weighs a Plan to Raise the Civil War Ship Monitor

By Pedersen, Daniel | Newsweek, April 20, 1998 | Go to article overview

Saving a Sunken Treasure: While the Titanic Remains at Ocean's Bottom, Congress Weighs a Plan to Raise the Civil War Ship Monitor


Pedersen, Daniel, Newsweek


While the Titanic remains at ocean's bottom, Congress weighs a plan to raise the Civil War ship Monitor

Even though its seagoing life was almost as short as the Titanic's, the Union ship USS Monitor was the billion-dollar megahit of 19th-century warships. Without it, some historians think, the North might have lost the Civil War. But for 135 years, the Monitor has been slowly eroding in its watery grave off the coast of North Carolina. Now Congress is getting ready to decide whether it's worth spending a few late-20th-century millions to raise the wreck and save a piece of the past.

An important piece. The Monitor took part in one of the great sea battles of history, a duel between two ironclad vessels that sealed the fate of wooden warships and inaugurated a new era of naval combat. On March 9, 1862, it engaged the Virginia (formerly the Merrimack), a Confederate ship that only the day before had punched a giant hole in the Union's wooden-ship blockade at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. A four-hour battle ended in a stalemate, but the Virginia was forced to retire with a leak below the waterline, and the North was able to reinstate its choke hold over Confederate attempts to trade with Europe. Nine months later, the Monitor itself sank in a gale off Cape Hatteras, N.C., and was rediscovered only in 1973. "This is an American icon, like the Statue of Liberty," says John Broadwater, manager of a federal sanctuary created to protect the remains. "Its influence was felt around the world."

Time to save the Monitor is running short. Buffeted by ocean currents and damaged by fishermen, the ship has begun to fall apart underneath its metal skin. Its stern recently cracked open like an egg, exposing the interior to new dangers. So Broadwater's agency--the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration--will submit to Congress by the end of this month a final draft of an intricate $22 million plan to save key parts of the Monitor from oblivion by raising them for display in a museum.

Enthusiasts say the project, it' successful, would rank as one of the greatest achievements in the history of marine archeology. …

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Saving a Sunken Treasure: While the Titanic Remains at Ocean's Bottom, Congress Weighs a Plan to Raise the Civil War Ship Monitor
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