Broadening our horizons
I appreciated the articles on the Monitor in the March 2012 issue but there were a few inaccuracies. The cover statement that Monitor made “every other warship obsolete” is only true if we mean every other warship in the U.S. Navy. Both the French and the British had iron warships: the Gloire (which was an ironclad) and HMS Warrior (an all-iron ship with a box citadel for principal armament). The turret John Ericsson used in Monitor was his own design, but a turret had actually been devised in 1857 by the British captain Cowper Coles, a great proponent of turret armament. Alas, his prize exhibit ship, HMS Captain, carried two enormous turrets, and was so top-heavy that it capsized in a gale in the Bay of Biscay and took Coles with it. Ironclads did not get their first try-out in the Civil War. French ironclads saw action during the Crimean War when they were used to bombard the Kinburn forts. Their design was enormously successful, and was more or less what the Confederates adopted for rebuilding the Merrimac and what James Eads used for the river ironclads.
This illustrates one of the problems we face in Civil War history, a kind of provincialism that tends to ignore the comparative history of 19th-century warfare. A lot of the ‘why did they do that?’ questions about the Civil War make more sense when they’re seen against the background of the Crimean War, 1853-56, the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, the North Italian War of 1859 and the Prussian wars of the 1860s.
Allen C. Guelzo
Director, Civil War Era
I used to live a few blocks from St. Paul’s Cemetery where French Mary is buried (“Fearless French Mary,” March 2012). Her grave lay unmarked for 87 years until a stone marker was erected and dedicated in a 1988 ceremony. St. Paul’s Cemetery is in Baldwin Borough, Pa., a suburb of Pittsburgh.
Jefferson Hills, Pa
Brave boy in blue
Ron Soodalter overlooked one particularly brave young man in his column “Little drummer boys” (Legends, May 2012). J.C. Julius Langbein, my great-great-great-uncle, was a drummer for the 9th New York Infantry, Company B (Hawkins’ Zouaves). In 1862, at the age of 15, he helped rescue an officer from enemy fire during an action in Camden, N.C., and for this he earned the Medal of Honor.
John W. Bender
Tags: Letters from Readers