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"Monitor & Merrimack Questions" Topic

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Enakan08 Nov 2018 4:37 a.m. PST

Hello All!

I've been going through lots of books lately on Hampton Roads, I should've taken notes from some of the books though. It seems the more I read, the more questions I had pop up in my mind.

For the Monitor, the US gun crews were just using regular charges for their 11-inch guns, right? Per Navy regulations on that date, they were not allowed to use double charges? The guns were better built but the brass thought there was an excessive chance of them bursting, causing ship damage and killing gun crews.

IF, just saying IF, the Monitor crews were able to use larger charges could they have penetrated the Merrimack's armor faster, possibly winning the combat for the Union?

For the Merrimack, their gun crews used shells versus the wooden hulled vessels they faced the first day of battle. Very effective! But did they neglect having any wrought iron solid shot for use against other ironclads? Was that type of ammunition available at all in Gosport, or were they just stuck with shells?

Going with the above Monitor note, double-charging one of their Brooke's rifles or one of the 9" smoothbores, using sold shot, could they have penetrated the turret armor of the Monitor?

Lastly, the ramming attacks. In several books the ram of the Merrimack was said to have not been installed securely, mounting plates were flawed and not replaced so the ram was not "perfectly" secure. Also Buchanan did not use full speed for his first ramming attack, he called for his ship to start backing to avoid being caught in the hull of the Cumberland.

If he had gone full speed with a secure ram, could the attack have been more devastating? Maybe not lose his ram at all? Or would he have issues with his less than reliable engines and gotten pulled down as the Cumberland sank? Apparently he did the same thing in his ramming attack on the Monitor, slowing at the last minute so that attack also was not delivered at full force. Plus the Monitor having rudder problems with her ram attack on the stern of the Merrimack.

It seems like both ships could have "won" over the other, in several scenarios, if construction, shot and gun charges had been different.

Thoughts? Or am I way off base?

Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian08 Nov 2018 5:00 a.m. PST

But did they neglect having any wrought iron solid shot for use against other ironclads? Was that type of ammunition available at all in Gosport, or were they just stuck with shells?

My recollection is that the solid shot wasn't available yet.

KSmyth08 Nov 2018 5:58 a.m. PST

There are few examples of ironclads penetrated during the Civil War. Those that were had been "racked" by repeated hits that weakened their plates. Examples of this would be the Tennessee at Mobile Bay, the Keokuk at Charleston or Virginia II at Trent's Reach. Not many exceptions-the grounded Atlanta, maybe. But not many catastrophic penetrations. The armor was ahead of the guns.

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP08 Nov 2018 6:00 a.m. PST

However, fatefully, one of the "Dahlgrens" exploded on being tested in 1860, causing Navy regulations to require the use of much lower levels of powder until 1864, well into the Civil War. The commander of USS Monitor felt that had his gunner packed the cannons with a full charge, he might have been able to destroy CSS Virginia.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP08 Nov 2018 6:32 a.m. PST

Have you read this? It was very interesting.


I got it through inter-library loan.

The Beast Rampant08 Nov 2018 7:06 a.m. PST

"Virginia". The Merrimack burned and sank at Gosport.

Cloudy08 Nov 2018 7:46 a.m. PST

I read an article a while back that mentioned in passing that the crew still called her "Merrimack" regardless of the "Virginia" re-christening.

Enakan08 Nov 2018 11:07 a.m. PST

Hey 79 PA!

Looks GOOD! I guess you can't have enough books!

Selling off my old 25mms since I'm not playing them much anymore, going into ships for now. Cleaning up the collection and adding to it. Just want realism in the gameplay.

The name depends on who you read about the ship from, as Cloudy mentioned. Same thing with the spelling of Merrimack, folks go Merrimac or Merrimack. I've read the "K" spelling is correct. So much conflicting history accounts!

Found another one, where Tredegar could produce wrought iron shot. Yup, they didn't have any yet……..but what if!!!


Could it have penetrated? Any good tables on ACW big gun performances out here?

Trierarch08 Nov 2018 10:16 p.m. PST

As a general rule roundshot does not "penetrate" armour
Damage is done by "racking" the armour – causing it to flex and breaking plates, sheering bolts and shattering the wooden backing.

Most famously the Weehawken against the Atlanta – described as collapsing her casemate.

Many (most?) ACW ironclads were more vulnerable to this due to having laminated armour rather than solid plates.


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