Iron Coffin: War, Technology, and Experience aboard the USS Monitor

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Overview

The USS Monitor famously battled the CSS Virginia (the armored and refitted USS Merrimack) at Hampton Roads in March 1862. This updated edition of David A. Mindell's classic account of the ironclad warships and the human dimension of modern warfare commemorates the 150th anniversary of this historic encounter.

Mindell explores how mariners—fighting "blindly," below the waterline—lived in and coped with the metal monster they called the "iron coffin." He investigates how the ironclad technology, new to war in the nineteenth century, changed not only the tools but also the experience of combat and anticipated today’s world of mechanized, pushbutton warfare.

The writings of William Frederick Keeler, the ship’s paymaster, inform much of this book, as do the experiences of everyman sailor George Geer, who held Keeler in some contempt. Mindell uses their compelling stories, and those of other shipmates, to recreate the thrills and dangers of living and fighting aboard this superweapon.

Recently, pieces of the Monitor wreck have been raised from their watery grave, and with them, information about the ship continues to be discovered. A new epilogue describes the recovery of the Monitor turret and its display at the USS Monitor Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

This sensitive and enthralling history of the USS Monitor ensures that this fateful ship, and the men who served on it, will be remembered for generations to come.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review

Well researched and wide in its scope, this work raises issues that transcend the Civil War and resonate in our own time.

Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

This book offers important new insights into the Monitor as a national icon, the ironclad's association with the modern U.S. Navy, and the evolving role of innovation and heroism in twenty-first-century warfare.

Journal of Southern History

Mindell provides an intriguing and richly textured analysis that makes effective use of contemporary diaries and other reports. These accounts help Mindell convey the flavor of life aboard the Monitor with candor and insight.

Pirates and Privateers

Mindell takes us back in time so we become 'witnesses' to the events surrounding the Union Navy's most famous ironclad.

War

An original and stimulating study that raises serious questions about relations between warriors and their death-dealing machinery.

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - John F.M. McDermott

The excellence of this volume confirms its continuing usefulness... Iron Coffin is a veritable gem of a book.

H-War, H-Net Reviews - Gregory Stern

Mindell’s research is impeccable and supports his argument with considerable authority from contemporary sources as well as his own experiences after the partial recovery of the Monitor’s components. The book, as with its earlier incarnation, is an important bridge between operational military history and the human side to science and technology.

Industrial Archaeology - Robert C. Stewart

Midell conveys life aboard the Monitor with realism and honesty.

War

An original and stimulating study that raises serious questions about relations between warriors and their death-dealing machinery.

American Historical Review

Well researched and wide in its scope, this work raises issues that transcend the Civil War and resonate in our own time.

Journal of Southern History

Mindell provides an intriguing and richly textured analysis that makes effective use of contemporary diaries and other reports. These accounts help Mindell convey the flavor of life aboard the Monitor with candor and insight.

Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

This book offers important new insights into the Monitor as a national icon, the ironclad's association with the modern U.S. Navy, and the evolving role of innovation and heroism in twenty-first-century warfare.

Pirates and Privateers

Mindell takes us back in time so we become 'witnesses' to the events surrounding the Union Navy's most famous ironclad.

John F.M. McDermott

The excellence of this volume confirms its continuing usefulness... Iron Coffin is a veritable gem of a book.

Gregory Stern

Mindell’s research is impeccable and supports his argument with considerable authority from contemporary sources as well as his own experiences after the partial recovery of the Monitor’s components. The book, as with its earlier incarnation, is an important bridge between operational military history and the human side to science and technology.

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Product Details

Meet the Author

David A. Mindell is Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing and Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is author or editor of several books, including Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight and Between Human and Machine: Feedback, Control, and Computing before Cybernetics, the latter published by Johns Hopkins. The first edition of Iron Coffin, titled War, Technology, and Experience aboard the USS Monitor, won the Sally Hacker Prize from the Society for the History of Technology in 2001.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Preface 2012 xi

Preface to the First Edition xiii

Introduction A Strange Sort of Warfare 1

Chapter 1 Revising the Revolution, 1815-1861 11

Chapter 2 Building a Ship, Speaking Success 31

Chapter 3 William Keeler's Epistolary Monitor 51

Chapter 4 Life in the Artificial World 61

Chapter 5 The Battle of Hampton Roads 70

Chapter 6 Iron Ship in a Glass Case, April-September 1862 87

Chapter 7 Utilitarians View the Monitor's Fight, 1862-1865 110

Chapter 8 Melville and the Mechanic's War 121

Conclusion Mechanical Faces of Battle 133

Epilogue 149

Notes 155

Bibliographical Essay 179

Index 185

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