Monday, December 31, 2012

Loss of the USS Monitor

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Monitor. It seems that the event has drawn little notice in the blogosphere with everyone trying to get posts on Murfreesboro and the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation set for January 1, 2013. I must admit I had lost sight of it myself. My post on Murfreesboro , in particular “Hell's Half Acre” at the Round Forrest could not be pulled together to suit me, and the EP is best left to abler minds and pens than mine. What to do?

While searching Frank Leslie's Illustrated for something to tie in with Murfreesboro, I stumbled across the following poem (again???!!!) dealing with the loss of the Monitor. Although I enjoy sharing some of the poetry I find in my studies, I hate to do two posts back to back built on it. After thinking about it most of the day, I decided to go ahead with it. Two reasons led me to the decision. First, it is a great poem! It is at once heroic and sad, yet not full of flowery language that leaves your mind lost as to the poets intent. Secondly, after a perusal of the Official Records of the navies, I found it strikingly accurate, with little artistic license being employed.

It may not be completely accurate but close enough, and as a memorial to the sailors that perished aboard Monitor and her tow, the USS Rhode Island, it accomplished its mission. I beg pardon to those of you that do not like poetry but please read it anyway. It is another of my rare “Sesquicentennial Moments”. It is rather lengthy but it will keep your attention.
Crew of the Monitor,


The Monitor: December 31, 1862

In gallant trim, with fame elate,
the foremost of our Ironsides,
the Monitor, with noble freight
forth on the Atlantic billow rides.

Monroe's grim fort, from iron mouth,
thunders “God Speed” and “Victory!”
With answering cheer, towards the South
on steams the hero of the sea.

Commander J.P. Bankhead, USS Monitor
Old Ocean smiled, the wind was light,
the sailors wore a joyous air,
so passed the day, and so the night,
and all around was calm and fair.

But with the morning clouds arose,
which deepened, till, when evening came,
fierce on her fell those giant blows,
sending dull tremors thro' her frame.

But as a rider strides his horse,
which rages neath his weight, so kept
our gallant boat her onward course,
and thro' the tempest swept.

But art is weak when Nature rears
in wrath sublime her giant form,
and clothed in lurid night, rides forth
upon the volleying storm.

Down thro' the gaping seams the wave
poured its insidious tide, as erst
o'er Arqua's walls the invaders crept,
ere fell swoop the stormers burst.

Firm at their post, the gallant crew
struggled with night, and storm, and sea,
'twas all in vain— the tempest grew,
and battled for its victory.

The spectral blue lights rose in vain,
from the Rhode Island--soaring high--
in one brief gleam they pierce the rain,
then perish in the sky.

O'er deck and tower the maddened waves
like living creatures rush and leap,

Commander Stephen D. Trenchard, USS Rhode Island
as 'tho Old Ocean had unchained
the demons of the deep.

'Twas the threshold of the morn--
Midnight, without a star looked on;
and as the stormy day was born,
the Monitor was gone!

For with one shuddering lurch, as tho
it knew its doom, above the wave
it rose an instant, then below
plunged deep into its grave.

Brave hearts were quenched forever then,
they died as honor loves to die,
in striking chains from fellow men--
for Truth and Liberty!

And honor to the glorious band,
who, scorning the wild tempests breath,
grappled their sinking comrades hand,
and dragged them back from death!*

Worden and Bankhead—gallant twain, **
for one brief minute ye may weep
your ocean home beneath the main,
then to fresh triumphs on the deep!
'Twas the last morn of '62,
and by the long gray strips of sand
of Hatteras the seagulls flew,
at instincts blind command.

And all that day around the spot
where sank the noble Monitor,
The staunch Rhode Island cruised--
forgot were storm and oceans roar.

But fathoms deep below the wave,
our grand heroic brothers rest,
the corals guard their sacred grave;
and sea flowers deck each breast.

Where o'er their billowy pall each night
the sighing winds roll and surge,
the choral voices, vast and dim--
Old Oceans solemn dirge.

Unfortunately I was unable to find who actually wrote this poem and no mention of the author was given in Leslie's.
The Picket

* The USS Monitor went down off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina at about 1:30 AM, December 31, 1862, with sixteen sailors lost. Rhode Island lost eight in their efforts to save the crew of the stricken ironclad.
    **Lieutenant John L. Worden, First commander of the Monitor, Commander J.P. Bankhead the last.


  1. What a great find! I think poems can help capture the essence of historical events in such a unique and emotional way. One of my favorite poems (it's technically a song) is "The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald."
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi Zim! I hope your Christmas was happy and your 2013 will be a great one! I agree with your thinking about poetry related to actual events. This one was so close to the OR reports that I felt it was worth sharing. Also it is hard to beat "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". I do like a good ballad! As always, Thanks for stopping by!