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Iron Dawn: The Monitor, the Merrimack, and the Civil War Sea Battle that Changed History Paperback – October 24, 2017
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"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
About the Author
Richard Snow was born in New York City and he graduated with a B.A. from Columbia College. He worked at American Heritage magazine for nearly four decades and was its editor-in-chief for seventeen years. He is the author of several books, including two novels and a volume of poetry. Snow has served as a consultant for historical motion pictures—among them Glory—and has written for documentaries, including the Burns brothers’ Civil War, and Ric Burns’s PBS film Coney Island. Most recently, he served as a consultant on Ken Burns’s World War II series, The War.
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The author describes carefully and accurately the steps that led both sides to produce their designs, the personal commitment that builders and officials made to their concepts, and the matter-of-fact heroism that the crews manifested as the first battle between ironclads raged in Hampton Roads. Sadly, after their standoff, neither ship survived more than a few months.
This is a comprehensive, well-researched book, not only on the technologists who designed and built the two ironclads, but on the naval secretaries and politicians and how their personalities drove the efforts of the technologists forward. The culmination of all their thoughts and efforts ended in a draw in the ironclads' fateful encounter, which somewhat deflates the story. It's certainly not the author's fault; you can't rewrite history.
I had a sense for the importance of the duel between the Monitor and the Merrimack, and some sense for Ericsson's innovation, but this book does a great job providing a more full story. Snow provides greater understanding of key figures such as Welles, Mallory, Buchanan, Ericsson, John Worden. I had heard of the key role of Dahlgren in naval artillery and was familiar with the Brookes rifle, but this book explained the development of these weapons and how they reshaped naval warfare. There is a good explanation of the innovative features of the Monitor - but also the design challenges, flaws, and navy yard improvisation that almost led to her sinking. There is also a good explanation of the creation of the CSS Virginia (nee Merrimack) - it wasn't just as simple as placing armored plates on her.
This book also provides insights into the burning (twice) of the Gosport Navy Yard, the ambiguity around the spelling of the Merrimack's name, and the reason why the Confederates ultimately scuttled the Merrimack.
An all round excellent book that not only tells the tale of the Monitor v. Merrimack, but also ties together the key individuals and technological innovation that led to this watershed moment in naval history.
Over all, I really liked this book and highly recommend it.