Our First Sanctuary:
USS Monitor

The USS Monitor changed the course of naval history in the United States — and its resting place is our nation's first national marine sanctuary.

Officers sit for a portrait before Monitor's rotating gun turret. Credit: Library of Congress
Josiah Carter escaped from a Virginia plantation and joined the Monitor’s integrated crew. Credit: NOAA Monitor Collection

Constructed in the midst of the Civil War at the behest of President Abraham Lincoln, the USS Monitor was the United States' first ironclad warship. The ship was designed to go head-to-head with the CSS Virginia, the Confederate ironclad that was wreaking havoc on the Union fleet.

When Monitor and Virginia finally met at the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862, the battle was ultimately a draw, but one outcome was distinctly clear: the worldwide strategies of naval warfare and shipbuilding were changed forever.

After nearly a year in service, Monitor's career came to an untimely end. In the early morning hours of December 31, 1862, the ship was under tow off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, when a fierce storm swamped the low-riding ship, sending it and 16 brave crew members into the deep. The wreck's location was unknown for more than a century until its discovery in 1973. In 1975, the resting place of the USS Monitor became our nation's first national marine sanctuary, Monitor National Marine Sanctuary.

divers removing the monitor turrent
monitor turrent being pulled out of the water

Clocking in at 120 tons and pulled from the depths of Monitor National Marine Sanctuary in 2002, Monitor's turret is the largest metal marine artifact ever recovered from the ocean. Credit: NOAA

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uss monitor on the bottom of the ocean

Now in its final resting place at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, the USS Monitor has become a crucial habitat for ocean life. Photo: NOAA