"A lively tale of science, war and clashing personalities . . . The charm of Iron Dawn comes from its ability to paddle between the quirky, prosaic world of inventors and bureaucrats and the hell of combat afloat, where death’s scythe swings as swiftly as on land. By keeping a human heart beating inside the keel of two extraordinary machines, Iron Dawn delightfully carries the reader from the Age of Sail to the Age of Iron."
—The Wall Street Journal
“With muscular vitality, vast knowledge of military technology, and a novelist's gift for capturing vivid detail, Richard Snow retells the story of Civil War ironclads as if it is unfolding before our startled eyes for the first time. The Monitor and Merrimack have never seemed more modern, dangerous, or revolutionary as they reappear in the hands of this master storyteller.”
—Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion and winner of the 2015 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize
“A masterful tale of the great Civil War ironclads, those strange, seemingly supernatural ships. One, Richard Snow tells us, looked like a rhinoceros, the other like a 'metal pie plate.' Their story—and that of the misunderstandings and maneuverings that preceded the Battle of Hampton Roads—is irresistible, nowhere more so than in this crackling, supremely poised account.”
—Stacy Schiff, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Witches, Cleopatra: A Life, and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America
"Everybody knows about the Monitor and the Merrimack, right? Well, actually, as it turns out, we don't. In Iron Dawn, Richard Snow opens up the vast, enthralling world of politics, war, technology, maritime history, and human drama that lies just back of that momentous battle. Snow is a terrific writer. I can't remember when I have had such sheer fun with a Civil War book."
—S.C. Gwynne, New York Times bestselling author of Rebel Yell and Empire of the Summer Moon
"Snow's energetic account encompasses issues large and small, including discussions of arms and armament; the origin of the word 'splinter'; the battle's inconclusive end; a Southern joke of the day ('Iron-plated?' 'Sir, our navy is barely contem-plated'); Lincoln's special interest in the Union's ironclad; the difference between shells and solid shot, the 'mystery' of the Merrimack's name; and the enthusiastic Monitor fever that swept the relieved, almost giddy North. A few notable naval battles changed the course of wars, even history, but the clash at Hampton Roads transformed the nature of warfare itself and offered a glimpse of the 'grim modernity' Snow vividly captures."
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"Achieves appealing immediacy....A thorough and enthusiastic treatment, Snow’s account will capture the naval-history and Civil War readership."
“A terrific read, one which renders all previous accounts of the encounter between of the Monitor and the Merrimack as obsolete as the Merrimack and Monitor made wooden war ships.”
—Allan Barra, The Dallas Morning News
“Iron Dawn is a worthy read not only for serious Civil War buffs, but also for those who appreciate how ingenuity forever changed the way the military does battle on the sea.”
“An utterly absorbing account of one of history’s most momentous battles and the fascinating events and personalities that brought it about.”
“Iron Dawn is a magisterial account of one the most important battles in US naval history. It is also a wonderfully absorbing story about human beings in all their struggles both great and small. Richard Snow has struck gold—or better yet, iron.”
—Dr. Amanda Foreman, author of A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War and Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire
Historian Snow (I Invented the Modern Age) captures the drama of the most well-known naval confrontation of the Civil War in this swift-moving narrative. Snow argues that the creation and immediate deployment of ironclad vessels symbolized the modernity of the war. The idea for these new ships evolved with South Carolina’s secession in December 1860. After Maj. Robert Anderson of the U.S. Army opted to hold Fort Sumter in defiance of South Carolina’s demands, enterprising Charleston carpenters built an iron-reinforced floatable gun platform to blast away at Sumter. Then the race was on for both sides to create a steam-powered, metal-clad ship that would be nearly indestructible. Snow neatly sets the scene for these events, ratcheting up the tension of this early arms race that resulted in the March 1862 confrontation between the Monitor and the Merrimack at Hampton Roads. Crisp characterizations bring immediacy to the story, especially thanks to the affecting letters between Monitor paymaster William Keeler and his wife, Anna. Though Snow’s conclusions about the importance of the battle aren’t novel and his historical lens is narrowly focused, this is an accessible and enjoyable account. Illus. Agent: Emma Sweeney, Emma Sweeney Agency. (Nov.)
In this history of the 1862 confrontation of the ironclads USS Monitor and USS Merrimack, a pivotal naval battle of the Civil War, Snow (I Invented the Modern Age) attempts to present a synthesis without shorting details about the battle, ships, and crews. The result is a parallel examination of the two vessels, from their conception in the early 19th century to their demise after the fatal encounter. The author brings his paired narratives together in the famous Battle of Hampton Roads, VA. With sometimes florid and intricate narrative, Snow incorporates stories of heartbreak and humor, especially as the vessels are hurried toward combat. Snow devotes more than half of his book to the development and building of the ships, including engineering, business, and political interests as well as military exigencies. In the process, the account is occasionally bogged down by mind-numbing details. VERDICT Not always easy to read, this overview of an important confrontation doesn't advance understanding of the battle beyond other recent contributions but offers an adequate introduction for general readers and may be useful for libraries adding works on the Battle of Hampton Roads to their collections. [See Prepub Alert, 5/2/16.]—Charles K. Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato
★ Sept. 6, 2016
The former editor-in-chief of American Heritage revisits an epochal battle in naval history.To some, the Monitor appeared “a mere speck, a hat upon the water,” but she was “the most complicated machine that had ever been built,” a combination of steam and iron whose revolutionary design so confounded naval architects that many doubted she would even float. Instead, when she appeared at Virginia’s Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, the day after the Confederacy’s iron-plated Merrimack had already sunk two Union wooden ships, she preserved the Union blockade and immediately rendered every navy in the world obsolete. Popular historian Snow (I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford, 2013, etc.) builds toward these days of savage battle (thousands watched from shore), telling each ironclad’s story through the men who conceived, financed, sponsored, captained, and sailed it. Especially memorable are the author’s tightly focused profiles of the desperate Confederate Naval Secretary Stephen Mallory and his harried counterpart, Gideon Welles; indefatigable Connecticut entrepreneur and lobbyist Cornelius Bushnell, who championed the Monitor’s innovative designer, the brilliant, prickly John Ericsson; John Dahlgren, “the father of naval ordnance”; and the Merrimack’s squabbling co-creators, John Brooke and John Porter; Franklin Buchanan, the Merrimack’s aggressive, first-day captain, and the Monitor’s skipper, John Worden, who emerged from the four-hour battle sightless in one eye. Snow’s energetic account encompasses issues large and small, including discussions of arms and armament; the origin of the word “splinter”; the battle’s inconclusive end; a Southern joke of the day (“Iron-plated?” “Sir, our navy is barely contem-plated”); Lincoln’s special interest in the Union’s ironclad; the difference between shells and solid shot, the “mystery” of the Merrimack’s name; and the enthusiastic Monitor fever that swept the relieved, almost giddy North. A few notable naval battles changed the course of wars, even history, but the clash at Hampton Roads transformed the nature of warfare itself and offered a glimpse of the “grim modernity” Snow vividly captures.