Union ironclad

Civil War shipwreck's iconic engine gets TLC

On the deck of the USS Monitor, looking forward on the starboard side. 1862Photo U.S. Naval Historical Center

From Our Amazing Planet

Conservationists are slowly restoring the steam engine of the USS Monitor, an iron-armored warship from the Civil War.

The order to abandon ship came just after midnight. The USS Monitor, a Union ironclad, was taking on too much water, caught in a violent storm.

At approximately 1:30 a.m. on Dec. 31, 1862, the Monitor was overcome, engulfed by the crashing waves.

Almost 150 years later, conservators are getting the first up-close look at the sunken Monitor's 30-ton steam engine, an engineering wonder of its day, and the mighty heart of a ship that played a notable role in America's Civil War.

The USS Monitor went down in treacherous waters 16 miles (25 kilometers) off North Carolina's Cape Hatteras. The wreck was discovered in 1973, resting upside down on the ocean floor in about 235 feet (71 meters) of water.

In a massive undertaking in 2001, the ship's engine was brought to the surface.

It was no ordinary steam engine. Designed by Swedish inventor John Ericsson, it was a "vibrating side-lever" engine with pistons that worked horizontally, an innovation that had allowed the compact, 400-horsepower engine to be entirely belowdecks, behind the Monitor's armor and impervious to enemy fire.