The original USS Monitor revolutionized naval warfare when it was commissioned on 25 February 1862. It possessed the world’s first rotating turret that was protected by eight layers of 1-inch thick iron plates. The Monitor then went on to make history by facing the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia on 9 March 1862 at Hampton Roads, Virginia. Although neither ship was sunk, the battle proved that the era of the wooden warship was over and that the future of naval history would be dominated by iron and, eventually, steel. The rotating turret would also become a standard fixture on all major warships in the years to come.
The Union Navy subsequently built many monitors during the course of the war, but, even though monitors were invented during the Civil War, this type of warship saw active duty throughout World War I and, in some rare cases, even participated in World War II.
A good example of a monitor seeing extensive naval service after the Civil War was the USS Monadnock (BM-3). Named after a mountain in New Hampshire, this 3,990-ton iron-hulled, twin-screw, double-turreted monitor was originally laid down in 1874 but wasn’t actually launched until 1883. It then sat at the Mare Island Navy Yard in California until it was finally completed and commissioned on 20 February 1896. The Monadnock served as a unit of the US Pacific Squadron along the west coast. She spent the next two years on training cruises and exercises along the Pacific coast from Puget Sound to Baja California. After war started between the United States and Spain in 1898, the Monadnock was ordered to steam to the Philippines and join Admiral George Dewey’s task force. Monitors were slow, had limited range, poor sea keeping qualities, and were designed only for coastal defense missions. Nonetheless, the USS Monadnock left San Francisco on 23 June 1898 and started its perilous journey for the Philippines. This was hardly the type of ship you would want to take into the open ocean since monitors had a very low freeboard and could easily founder if they ever encountered a serious storm. But, after making a brief stop in Hawaii for coal and supplies, the ship finally reached Manila Bay on August 16. She immediately became part of Dewey’s Blockade of the Manila-Marviles-Cavite area and she eventually provided American troops in the Philippines with badly needed offshore artillery support. In December of 1899, the Monadnock steamed to Hong Kong where she spent the next five years protecting American interests in the area by patrolling Chinese rivers (especially the Yangtze) and steaming along China’s coast.
Figure 1 (top): The USS Monadnock at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, in June 1898. She is about to sail on her voyage to the Philippines. Note the old monitor USS Camanche (1864-1899) is visible beyond Monadnock's after turret. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2 (middle): The Monadnock in the Pacific Ocean during her voyage from San Francisco to Manila in the Philippines. Photographed from the USS Nero (1898-1922), a collier that escorted the Monadnock on her trans-Pacific voyage. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3 (bottom): Another photograph of the Monadnock at sea between San Francisco and Manila. This picture was also taken from the USS Nero. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for lager image.