With a novelist's
eye and a historian's devotion to research and accuracy, Arthur Mokin
recreates the early days of the Civil War. The Union Army is stalled and
the Navy in a shambles when Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles learns
that the Confederates are completing an "invincible" iron vessel.
In desperation he turns to Captain John Ericsson, a brilliant but eccentric
engineer. This is the story of Ericsson and the bizarre, experimental
craft that proves crucial to the survival of the Union.
The narrative begins
on April 6, 1861. We meet an anxious Gideon Wells, Secretary of the U.S.
Navy. He fears war is about to break out and is concerned that the Confederates
will confiscate units of the U.S. fleet in southern ports. He is particularly
concerned about the recently built USS Merrimack, one of the few
steam-powered ships in the fleet.
On April 12, the Confederates fire on Ft. Sumter and the long, devestating
war begins. Abe Lincoln and his cabinet realizing the south has no industrial
capacity and that it plans to import all weaponry and materiel in return
for cotton, settle on the stratagem of blockade.
To his dismay, Welles learns that the Confederates have seized Merrimack
and plan to refit her as an ironclad with which to bust the anticipated
blockade. Welles also learns that a New York engineer claims to have designed
an ironclad that can counter Merrimack and moreover, guarantees
to build it in one hundred days.
Each side sets about frantically to build its ironclad, Merrimack
in Norfolk, and Monitor in New York. It is a race that can decide
the outcome of the war since England, France, and Spain signal their intention
to intervene on the side of the Confederacy if the integrity of the Union
blockade cannot be maintained.
On Saturday, March 8, 1862, Merrimack steams into Hampton Roads,
anchorage of the U.S. blockading force, and decimates the Union fleet
of wooden ships. The following day Monitor steams onto the scene,
and the epic battle of the first ironclad warships begins; it proves to
be the most critical naval engagement of the war, and one that renders
the wooden navies of the world obsolete.
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There are four major
characters in the book. They are:
1) Lt. John (Jack) Worden, U.S. Navy. He becomes the first POW of the
Civil War when the Confederates take him prisoner the day after the war
begins. Released after seven months of incarceration, when both sides
agree to an exchange of officers, he goes on to win honor and glory as
skipper of the Monitor in her world-famous confrontation with the
Character and personality: Forty-three years old and a veteran of twenty-seven
years, Worden comes of humble farming folk, is devout, bookish, abstemious,
and a bit of a loner, with an excellent service record. Though he has
earned a reputation for inspiring the loyalty, respect, and affection
of his subordinares wherever he serves, his rise through the ranks has
been slow. The reason is succinctly expressed by the Assistant Secretary
of the Navy: "Sounds like an advanced case of no friends in high
Worden is married and the father of four children. His wife, Olivia, daughter
of a wealthy and socially prominent New York family, is described as a
woman of quiet beauty and extraordinary determination. She is instrumental
in persuading the Navy to negotiate her husband's release from an Alabama
2) Captain John Ericsson, brilliant naval architect and inventor, is regarded
with suspicion and contempt by Navy brass who, unjustly hold him responsible
for a tragic marine accident that has taken the lives of the Secretary
of State and the Secretary of the Navy, among others. Ericsson, a proud
and unbending man, does not deign to clear his name, and will have nothing
to do with the Navy. Reposing on the inventor's shelf are his plans for
an all-iron boat, half submarine, half gun platform, of which the Navy
wants no part.
3) Secretary of the U.S. Navy, Gideon Welles, a feisty New Englander and
former newspaper publisher is, above all, concerned with maintaining the
all-important blockade of the southern coast. His main adversary, he finds,
is not the Confederate fleet, but rather the tradition-bound Navy of which
he is Secretary.
4) Abraham Lincoln on being shown a model of Ericsson's ironclad, expresses
his opinion as a former riverboat pilot: "Well, all I have to say
is what the girl said when she put her foot into the stocking, 'It strikes
me there's something in it.'"
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Alan Cameron, Lloyds
List, (London, U.K.)
Arthur Mokins vivid account of the tense year 1861, when everything
in naval affairs seemed to be going wrong for the North, presents absorbing
portraits of the personalities involved as well as a lucid account of
the naval tactics and strategy on both sides, dramatic narratives of the
several ship battles in Hampton Roads, and above all detailed descriptions
of the commanders of the Merrimack and Monitor learning
the capacities, drawbacks and technologies of fighting their respective
Major Ken McKenzie,
Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, Naval History
Arthur Mokins Ironclad: The Monitor and the Merrimack
is a fictional treatment of the worlds first engagement between
armored vessels. Drawing from both primary and secondary sources, it is
very much in the tradition of Gore Vidals Lincoln: A Novel
(Random House, 1984) and William Safires Freedom (Doubleday,
1987). His stage is set from the office of the President to the battlefield
of First Bull Run; from the jail in Montgomery, where the first commander
of the Monitor, John L. Worden, was imprisoned, to the New York
office of Captain John Ericsson, her architect.
Although it is difficult to place words in the mouths of historical figures,
to deduce private motive from public record, Mokin has generally succeeded.
His characters are plausible and reasonably developed, and he captures
the soul of a Navy Department torn between the tradition of broad sail
and wooden walls, yet pressed by emerging operational demands to consider
the armored, steam-propelled warship. Mokin is at his best in describing
the tortured deliberations of an examining board confronting the new technology
of iron and steam.
The battle scenes themselves are graphic and immediate. On 8 and 9 March
1862, naval warfare was forever changed, as the Merrimack literally
crushed the unions wooden-hull blockade frigates in Hampton Roads,
and then turned on the Monitor. Their lengthly, inconclusive duel
was a tactical stalemate, but a strategic victory for the North, since
it left the blockade in place and protected the movement of General George
McClellans army to the Penninsula.
This is a well-written and interesting book...
while preserving absolute fidelity to the facts, Mokin is able to give
the protagonists enough color and depth so we know and care about their
pursuits. The story lives as we read it.
Mokin offers us some interesting insights into the character of Abraham
Lincoln who was, of course, president and final decision-maker during
the Civil War. Im somewhat of a sucker for Lincoln material, and
the way we see him through Mokins eyes is very revealing. This was
indeed a man whose humanity and fairness was strong and crucial, his very
There are other elements in IRONCLAD which appealed to me. The powerful
description of Washington D.C. in the summer is terrific. Smells and sounds
waft off the pages to your unsuspecting senses. The man who engineered
the Monitor using a dream he had cherished for many years, John
Ericsson, brings more life and color into the narration which will perk
you up as you meet him and marvel at his determined foresight and engineering.
The tension builds as the Merrimack finally proceeds to meet the
Monitor. Those of you who are war movie buffs need go no further.
The pages where Mokin describes the battle are tense, exciting and vivid.
For twenty-six years
as CEO of Arthur Mokin Productions, Inc., New York, wrote, produced, and
directed documentary films, including eighteen that won major industry
awards: Blue ribbon, American Film Festival; CINE Golden Eagle; and Chris
Statuette, Columbus Film Festival.
Guest lecturer on film production at American University, Brown, Columbia,
and the State University of New York (Stony Brook). Taught film production
course at Hofstra University, NY.
Monitor & the Merrimack. All Rights Reserved Copyright 1991, 2000
Arthur Mokin. An AUTHORS GUILD BACKINPRINT.COM EDITION. Published by iUniverse.com,
Inc. Originally published by Presidio Press. ISBN: 0-595-09379-5 Printed
in the United states of America.