The epic Civil War slugfest between two ironclad warships, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (aka the Merrimac) on March 9, 1862, made wooden warships obsolete. DeKay (Chronicles of the Frigate Macedonian) has fashioned a lively popular history of the race between North and South to build an armored warship and to beat the enemy to the punch. Relying on previously published sources and studies, deKay has distilled a large amount of research. The genesis of the CSS Virginia shows how creative (and desperate) the Confederacy was in getting ahold of the wooden but well-outfitted Merrimac and armoring her. But the story of Swedish-born engineer John Ericcson, who stubbornly clung to his idea for an armored warship for decades until finally realizing his dream in 1862 with the all-iron, sail-less ""cheesebox on a raft"" Monitor, is the real story of the book's first half. A cast of supporting characters appears along the way and makes for gripping suspense, culminating in the fight off the coast of Hampton Roads, Va. After vividly describing the Monitor's treacherous maiden journey south from Brooklyn, deKay shows the havoc the Virginia was causing amid the Northern naval blockade as the Monitor approached. Their eventual conflict was pitched but inconclusive, and the Monitor later joined the patrol of the area before foundering near Maryland. DeKay sketches the fate of both ships and their impact on naval architecture and strategy, but his vivid rendering of the tough decisions faced by men at the forefront of innovation makes the greatest impression. 25 b&w illustrations. BOMC featured alternat. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997 Release date: 10/01/1997 Genre: Nonfiction
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