The Monitor Chronicles

The Monitor Chronicles: One Sailor’s Account: Today’s Campaign to Recover the Civil War Wreck is a unique account of the Union’s first ironclad ship the Monitor. The ship’s history is told through the letters of George Geer, a first-class fireman who served on the Monitor from nearly its first day to its last. Geer’s firsthand accounts are a valuable addition to the study of the Civil War.

From March, 1862, until the sinking of the Monitor in January, 1863, George Geer wrote a series of letters to his wife Martha. These letters provide information about the famous ironclad as well as the day to day life of Union sailors. Unfortunately Geer failed to write about the fateful encounter with the Confederate ironclad the Merrimac renamed the CSS Virginia. According to Geer’s March 10, 1862 letter to Martha, “I shall write you little about our fight as you will see it all in the Papers.” Still, Geer’s writings do provide insight on the Union navy and General George McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. Through Geer’s letters, readers learn about shipboard conditions, what sailors ate and, how they dealt with persistent boredom.

The letters also provide additional insight into the home front, particularly the plight of women. Through Geer’s writings, readers experience the hardships of a Civil War era wife. Although Mrs. Geer’s letters were burned by her husband, his replies address her concerns, including loneliness, fears of impending widowhood and continuing economic problems.

The Monitor Chronicles discusses the history of the ironclad, as well as its future. The first nine chapters describe the Monitor’s campaigns during the Civil War, with the final chapter discussing the modern day campaign to recover the ship. In 1973, two scientists located the wreck off the coast of North Carolina. Two years later the Monitor “was designated the nation’s first marine sanctuary to be administered by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.” Periodic expeditions led to the recovery of several artifacts, still intact after 120 years. In the late 1980’s, NOAA, fearing further deterioration of the Monitor, began making plans to recover the ironclad. The chapter discusses the problems of raising the rapidly deteriorating ship and includes haunting photographs of the submerged wreck and its artifacts.