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Monitor Sinking off Hatteras
This nightmare would be played out again--fatally--on the last day of 1862 when Monitor’s pumps failed to stem the incoming seas and John Ericsson’s ironclad pioneer plunged to the bottom off Cape Hatteras with the loss of several crewmen.
I should point out that even the fuel that fired an ironclad’s boilers was a threat. Coal, while not a new fuel used by the Navy, had the potential of becoming a silent killer. Fossil fuels require proper ventilation and this concept was not yet adequately understood by Civil War engineers. Untold casualties, some fatal, occurred when crewmen either loaded wet bituminous coal in below-deck bunkers or bilge water contaminated the fuel.
Both the Mississippi Squadron and the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron reported a number of cases of sailors being discovered either dead or unconscious below deck. The more fortunate were revived when exposed to the fresh air. Besides unconsciousness, surgeons described their patients as what today we would call cyanotic–the blueness of the skin caused by oxygen starvation--with foreheads and eyelids markedly swollen. Similar cases reported aboard a coal-fired ship in 1913 recognized the problem as carbon monoxide poisoning. We now know that wet, unventilated coal produces high levels of that dangerous gas.
Indeed, there were significant differences in warfare once ironclads came into their own. Naval guns up to the middle of the 19th century had an effective range of only about a mile and a half. These were the smoothbores throwing balls weighing 24 and 32 pounds. The strategy therefore called for close in fighting terminated by boarding parties and hand-to-hand combat.