1995 32¢ Monitor and Virginia
Issue Date: June 29, 1995
City: Gettysburg, PA
Quantity: 15,000,000 panes of 20
Printed By: Stamp Venturers
Printing Method: Photogravure
The release of the 20 Civil War stamps marked the most extensive effort in the history of the U.S. Postal Service to review and verify the historical accuracy of stamp subjects. Each of the 16 individuals and four battles featured were chosen from a master list of 50 subjects, which included Presidents, generals, major battles, rank-and-file soldiers, women, African and Native Americans, and abolitionists. The goal of the U.S.P.S. was to show the wide variety of people who participated in the Civil War.
Monitor and Virginia
At the start of the Civil War, the Union not only possessed the pre-war Navy, but also the industry capable of meeting wartime demands, placing it in a position to gain the upper hand in naval warfare. But this position was seriously challenged when the Confederate Virginia sailed into Hampton Roads.
In an effort to construct a Navy, the Confederates had raised the Merrimack, a sunken Federal ship. Covering the wooden ship with iron plates, they renamed it the Virginia. Sailing into Hampton Roads on March 8, 1862, the Virginia easily destroyed two Union warships and grounded three others, raising Confederate hopes of breaking the Union blockade. The following day when the Virginia returned to finish the job however, she was met by the ironclad Monitor.
The first battle in history between armored ships, that clash between the Virginia and the Monitor changed the course of naval warfare. After four hours of fighting neither ship was able to gain the upper hand. The Monitor however, proved to be the superior vessel, and eventually a large ironclad fleet was modeled after her. Interestingly, many of the Monitor’s features, including the revolving gun turret, were invented by John Ericsson, who is commemorated on a 1926 5¢ stamp.
Birth Of Johan Ericsson
John (Johan) Ericsson was born on July 31, 1803, in Värmland, Sweden.
From a young age, Ericsson and his brother Nils showed an aptitude for canal building. Their talent was discovered by the architect of the Gota Canal, who hired them as cadets of mechanics in the Royal Navy.
By the time he was 14, Ericsson was working as an independent surveyor. Three years later he joined the Swedish Army. He reached the rank of lieutenant and continued to work as a surveyor. When he wasn’t working, Ericsson built a heat engine that used the heat from a fire instead of steam to function. Ericsson soon realized he wanted to dedicate his time to building things and resigned from the army. He went to England in 1826 but his heat engine didn’t gain the support he had hoped.
Undeterred by this setback, Ericsson put more time into inventing. He developed improvements to steam engines, including improving the heating process to provide more oxygen. In 1829, he worked with John Braithwaite to build the Novelty steam locomotive for a trial run of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The Novelty was well received, but it didn’t win the competition. Ericsson and Braithwaite designed two more steam locomotives, but neither was purchased.
While some of Ericsson’s inventions around this time failed, some proved successful. He invented a surface condenser that enabled steamers to recover freshwater for its boilers while in the ocean. He also created a pressure-activated fathomer. However, these were considered minor successes and Ericsson spent some time in debtors’ prison.
Ericsson then turned to ship design. While the British Navy rejected his new propeller design, that led him to meet American Captain Robert Stockton. He encouraged Ericsson to come to America, where it would be better received. So Ericsson moved to New York in 1839 and was eventually charged with building a 700-ton sloop that became the USS Princeton. It took three years to build and was one of the most advanced warships of the day, winning a speed record in 1843. However, over time Stockton had worked to gain more credit for the ship than he deserved, going so far as to design a new gun. But Stockton’s gun was faulty and killed two American politicians during a firing demonstration. Stockton blamed the issue on Ericsson, preventing him from getting paid.
Ericsson soon began working with Cornelius H. DeLamater, who owned an Iron Works. Ericsson was free to experiment all he wanted there. He built his first iron steamboat and his first hot-air invention while there. In the 1830s Ericsson invested a good deal of time in hot-air engines. While his first few failed, he eventually found success in his caloric boilerless engines.
After the Civil War began, the Confederacy converted the USS Merrimack into an ironclad ship, leading the Union to call for one of their own. Though Ericsson resented the navy for his previous treatment, he was encouraged to submit a design and presented the USS Monitor. His design was unusual, inspired by Swedish lumber rafts, but it was accepted, built, and launched within about 100 days. Just days after it was launched in March 1862, it battled the CSS Virginia (the former USS Merrimack) at the Battle of Hampton Roads. While the battle ended in a stalemate with neither ship able to sink the other, Ericsson’s design was considered a success and several more monitors were ordered. Several features of the Monitor would be included in future warships around the world, particularly the rotating turret, which is still seen on warships today.
Ericsson went on to design other naval ships and weapons, including a torpedo boat and “sun engines” that used solar energy for hot air engines. He died on March 8, 1889, the anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads. In accordance with his wishes, Ericsson’s remains were returned to Sweden. He was sent on a naval escort with 100,000 bystanders watching as the ship departed.