CWTS Article of the Month!

March 1999

More on the Monitor and Merrimac

by Arthur W. Farr

Extracted from The Civil War Token Journal, Volume 31 Number 1.

        Almost every Patriotic Series collector has at least (Fuld 237-241) one
Monitor token.  A few lucky folks own a 498/499, an R-8 Merrimac piece made from the vessel's armor plate.  The following is a bit of history on the
two ships not found in most books.

        The story of the battle in Hampton Roads between the two armored
ships is, of course, well known.  The Merrimac had been sunk at Norfolk
Navy Yard by the Union at the start of the war and was raised and onverted by the Confederates into a casemented ironclad mounting rifled cannon.
The Monitor, John Ericsson's "Cheese box on a raft", was a radical new
design employing a rotating turret for the first time.  By fighting the Virginia, as the Confederacy named their ship, to a standstill the Monitor kept her
from destroying the remaining wooden ships of the Union fleet.

        You can imagine that Gideon Wells, Lincoln's Secretary of Navy, was
more than surprised when he received two letters after the engagement
informing him that the designs of the two ships were not original.

         The first letter came from a minister in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and
told Wells that the writers father, Thomas Gregg had patented in March
1814 a Ball Proof vessel propelled by steam.  Secretary Wells was amused
by the letter as the drawing attached appears to be the Merrimac.  He noted that the writer should have sent his letter to the Confederate Secretary of
the Navy.

        Wells was not amused by the second letter which stated that Theo-
dore R. Timby had a prior patent on the turret and that the Monitor partners
had drawn up an agreement with Mr. Timby assigning the patent to them.
Timby was to receive $20,000 for the patent and a royalty of $5,000 for each
turret subsequently used on a monitor.

        Secretary Wells wrote to John Ericsson and asked if this was true.
Ericsson did not reply by mail but went to Washington and convinced Wells
that the government's contract was with him alone.  As a result Theodore
Timby did not receive payment for the hundred odd turrets installed on ships
during the balance of the Civil War.

         Theodore Timby spent the balance of his long life trying to be recog-
nized as the actual inventor of the turreted ship.  As late as 1902, when in his
eighties, he sued the government for back royalties on turrets, hoping that
he would win the case and receive the credit he felt was his.  He lost.

        Some time after his death in 1909 the Monitor partners correspon-
dence, which would have proven his case, was found.

        The Civil War Tokens can be tied to an almost inexhaustible number
of incidents in American history.  As you are reading, think about the people
and events depicted in the series.

Articles reprinted with permission of The Civil War Token Society.
Copyright ©1998-1999