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Beyond the Book: Background information when reading That Anvil of Our Souls

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That Anvil of Our Souls

A Novel of the Monitor and the Merrimack

by David Poyer

That Anvil of Our Souls by David Poyer X
That Anvil of Our Souls by David Poyer
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2005, 438 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2006, 432 pages

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The USS Merrimack (scuttled by the Union forces when they abandoned the Norfolk Navy Yard at Portsmouth, VA, and renamed the Virginia by the Confederate forces who subsequently raised her) and the Monitor (built in about 90 days by John Ericsson) fought the first engagement between ironclad ships, in March 1862. If you can't remember the outcome I'm not going to tell you here as it would be a bit of a plot spoiler!

However, I will tell you that the Monitor sank in heavy seas in 1862, and in 1973 scientists discovered the intact wreck. The site is now protected by the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. The steam engine and turret of the Monitor were recovered in 2002 for display with other artifacts at the Mariner's Museum, Newport News, Va.

John Ericsson is probably best remembered today as the designer of the Monitor, but he invented and designed many other things as well.  He was born in Sweden in 1803.  At 17 he joined the Swedish army as a map-maker and was so good at his job he was paid double for his work.  In his twenties he moved to London, England where, amongst other things, he entered the now historic locomotive design contest with his engine Novelty, which lost to Stephensons' Rocket.  He came to America in 1839 to promote the screw propeller and stayed for the next 50 years developing ships and ordnance for the navy, including the Monitor, a fully iron steam vessel with a revolving turret, driven by a screw propeller instead of the usual paddle wheel.

This "beyond the book article" relates to That Anvil of Our Souls. It originally ran in August 2005 and has been updated for the July 2006 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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