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.

CWTS Article Archive
Winter 2016 A Reminiscence
Winter 2016 My First Sulter Token
Spring 2016 Protesting Union Civil War Policies
Winter 2015 Slave Owner Issued Civil War Tokens
Fall 2014 Hill the Barber & African American Store Card Issuers
Fall 2014 Gustavus Lindenmueller: The Myth, The Man, The Mystery
Apr. 2004 Henry Varwig - OH165GD
Mar. 2004 Dating Mr. Sayre's Tokens
Feb. 2000 Knowledge of Civil War Tokens
Jan. 2000 Ohio 710A
Dec. 1999 Speculations About Yankee Robinson
Nov. 1999 Hussey's Private Message Post
Oct. 1999 The Great Central Fair
Sep. 1999 Wm. S. Wilcox of Adrian, Michigan
Aug. 1999 Grading Isn't Really a Monster
July 1999 The 1860 Presidential Campaign Medalets
June 1999 The Other Store Cards of Central New York
May 1999 George McClellan - The Peace Maker?
Apr. 1999 Sutler Tokens at Gettysburg
Mar. 1999 More on the Monitor and Merrimac
Feb. 1999 Civil War Token Mini-Set -- General Franz Sigel
Jan. 1999 Die Sinker Errors on Civil War Tokens
Dec. 1998 The Abraham Lincoln Mini-set
Nov. 1998 Civil War Token Errors
Articles reprinted with permission of The Civil War Token Society.
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