Monday, August 16, 2010

Reign of Iron: The True-Life Saga of the Monitor and the Merrimack

When I was the a kid, the most fascinating aspect of the Civil War (aside from the post-war adventures of Johnny Yuma, the Rebel) was the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack.

In the years since I’ve looked at the war from different angles and gained an appreciation for other battles and other personalities, but one thing remains the same. Nothing grabs me like the first battle of the ironclads.

That may be partly due to James L. Nelson, a historian who is also a fine fictioneer. I’ve read a couple of his pirate mysteries, so I was well aware he could tell a good tale. But the story laid down in Reign of Iron is one of those stranger-than-fiction adventures, which makes it even more compelling.

To introduce the contestants . . .

The Merrimack was a steam-powered wooden warship partially destroyed in the early days of the war. The Confederates salvaged her hull and engines, topping her with iron plating and 10 big guns. On completion, she was renamed the C.S.S Virginia, but is still known to history as the Merrimack

The U.S.S. Monitor was built from scratch on a revolutionary new design, and referred to, with much derision, as a “floating cheesebox.” Few people believed she could float, much less fight. She had only two guns, fixed in a revolving iron turret. Work on the Monitor did not begin until the Merrimack had been under construction for four months.

Though both sides had spies, no one knew just when either ship would be ready for action. Incredibly, both ships arrived at Hampton Roads, the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay, on the same day. Unfortunately for the North, Monitor was several hours too late to prevent Merrimack from destroying two of the Union’s most powerful wooden warships. The following day, the Monitor and the Merrimack hammered each other with iron at close range for over four hours while thousands of soldiers from both sides lined the banks to cheer them on.

Reign of Iron is the story of the men who designed them, built them and fought them, and how they changed the course of naval warfare. This book gets two giant ironclad THUMBS UP.
 




8 comments:

Deka Black said...

I must admit in shame: All these years i was thinking this battle was a legend! I believed warships were made, but used in things like transport and stuff like that. :(

pattinase (abbott) said...

I wonder how influential wars are to men's reading interests. And do men in countries that rarely fight wars (Scandinavia, perhaps)have different interests. All the men I know read a lot of books about war.

Evan Lewis said...

Don't know. I find I'm fascinated by wars taking place just about anywhere, but have no interest in any taking place in the last century. Weird.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I assume you've built a model kit of this famous clash. There's a Merrimack-like ironclad in Charleston SC that I viewed when I was there a couple of years ago. It must have taken a ton of courage to climb into one of these and launch it into the water.

Charles Gramlich said...

oooh, for me too. Just loved that story.

Richard R. said...

Seems to me there was a movie about this, wasn't there? Or maybe a History Channel feature, or something? It's a little vague.

Evan Lewis said...

I tried to find some kind of movie at the library and failed. Rats.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I saw the same production Rick did, but I don't recall what station showed it. Probably the History Channel.