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"Lincoln's Secret Weapon"

PBS Airdate: October 24, 2000
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NARRATOR: In a place called the Graveyard of the Atlantic lie the remains of one of America's most famous ships, the USS Monitor.

This was the Navy's first iron warship. It saved the North in the Civil War.

And changed forever the way war was waged at sea. But reaching the Monitor is difficult.

MASTER DIVER: Man stations

MASTER DIVER: Give me air into the hats.

MASTER DIVER: We have air to all hats.

MASTER DIVER: Bleed 'em down

NARRATOR: A team of Navy divers prepares for the treacherous assignment.

MASTER DIVER: On the side, divers to the stage.

NARRATOR: For now the seas are calm. But in an instant conditions can change, putting ship and divers in dire jeopardy.

NATS: Hold the stage straight

NARRATOR: It's a deep dive, 230 feet to the ocean floor. Powerful currents and sudden storms are a constant threat.

NATS: 200 feet, on the bottom.

NARRATOR: The objective for the first dive is simple. Find the target.

COMS: You need another 10 feet on the clump line of slack?

DIVER: That's correct. We don't have enough (inaudible) to really determine where we are.

NARRATOR: But suddenly the divers run into trouble. A strong current whips across the bottom.

DIVER: It's really stirred up down here.

NARRATOR: Visibility plunges.

DIVER: I can feel you pulling right now. My umbilical is tending (inaudible) straight away from the stage.

MASTER DIVER: Red diver, what is your status?

NARRATOR: On the surface anxious moments pass.

MASTER DIVER: Listen up, guys. The current will diminish a little bit.

DIVER: Topside Red Diver. I'm moving out right now.

COMS: Red Diver, can you get a look at your compass and tell us which direction you're going?

DIVER: I'm starting to head out (inaudible).

COMS: We've got the wreck in site.

NARRATOR: Why risk life and limb to reach this relic of a war fought long ago?

DIVER: - we got the wreck in sight?

____: I believe so.

DIVER:OK topside.

NARRATOR: Because now the Monitor itself needs saving.

BROADWATER: The hull is collapsing, it's collapsing at a really rapid rate, much more rapid than we expected.

MASTER DIVER: You guys need talk to me, man, I'm getting really close here.

DIVER: Hurry up.

NARRATOR: In a race against time and the elements, the divers will try to raise the ship piece by piece. The Navy has come to rescue one of its own.

MASTER DIVER: I'm starting to run out of time. I'm running out of time Kofield. I need you to get back to the stage.

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NARRATOR: It is one of the most famous battles in the American Civil War, the Monitor versus the Merrimack.

NATS: Fire!

NARRATOR: The first clash between ironclad warships, a pivotal moment in this war and in naval history.

BROADWATER: The Monitor literally changed the face of naval warfare over night.

And its most unique feature is still seen in warships today and that was its revolving gun turret.

But it really has not only gone down in history as marvel of American naval technology, but it's just somehow struck that chord with the American people that it's something we all remember from our school days.

NARRATOR: John Broadwater is in charge of the marine sanctuary which now protects the Monitor.

He is launching a long term plan to recover the ship and to understand why she became such an instant legend.

The wreck lies on the Atlantic seafloor under 230 feet of turbulent ocean. To get an idea of the dangers ahead, project historian Jeff Johnston has brought on board two models.

One shows the Monitor as a state-of-the-art iron warship. The other, the wreck today. Somehow the hull has come to rest upside down on its famous turret.

JEFF JOHNSTON: The turret was held on the center of the ship by gravity. The night the Monitor sank, she filled with water, she just kind of laid back in the water, hit stern first which explains the tur- the stern damage. The turret was physically held on by gravity and as the turret impacted - I mean as the stern - the ship impacted the turret just kind of rolled off, laid in the bottom and the hull just came to rest on top of her. Both the hull and the turret are upside down which really kind of makes it hard to recognize.

NARRATOR: The Monitor is not only hard to recognize, but being upside down makes it dangerous to work on. Jagged pieces of metal can easily snag divers.

The Monitor is just one of several thousand wrecks off Cape Hatteras on the North Carolina coast. The reason: two powerful currents collide here. The warm, red Gulf stream sweeping up from the south, the cold, blue Labrador current flowing down from the north.

BROADWATER: And because these two seas are quite different in temperature and composition, they mix here and they cause all sorts of unusual weather patterns and it's very unpredictable. And it earns its name. We've certainly had our share of trouble with the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

NARRATOR: John Broadwater has enlisted the services of the U.S. Navy's Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2. For these divers, precision archaeology is a completely new line of work.

CHRIS MURRAY: We're salvage guys. It's not how precise or where exactly something is. It's just how quick you can get off the bottom usually. So this is different. We've had to sit down with you guys, slow up, and go over, hey we're here, we're here, we're mapping, we're doing everything precise. So it's definitely different from anything we've ever done.

NARRATOR: Chris Murray commands this elite Navy dive team. They brought up the gruesome fragments of TWA flight 800 when it crashed off Long Island. But conditions there were mild compared to what they now face.

CHRIS MURRAY: Optimally we'd like you right here, 10 feet off. Make sure you check the bottom, make sure it's clear. (inaudible) looked at the bottom.

NARRATOR: Commander Murray knows that at 230 feet his divers are pushing the limits for safety and depth. The man he places in charge of this difficult operation is Master Diver Donny Denis.

MASTER DIVER: Hey, Cape Hatteras is one of the worst places you can dive at in the world. The weather changes dramatically, the current - you've seen it, the sea state out here. And kind of, this is like our way of proving to ourselves, hey, that we can work at this depth and these conditions and still be productive because this salvage job is unlike any I've ever done.

NATS: Give me air to the hats.

____: - air to all hats.

NATS: Bleed 'em down

____: Anything other than this is not acceptable.

NARRATOR: Hard-hat diving is as old as diving itself. There's still no better way to get heavy objects off the bottom.

MASTER DIVER: I told you guys, you've got to do it this way. If you don't do it this way it's unacceptable.

NARRATOR: Snaking behind each diver is an umbilical - yellow, green, red. Red and green diver will go into the water. Yellow will remain on deck, ready to dive in an emergency.

MASTER DIVER: Is your eject valve shut, silver valve open?

NARRATOR: The umbilical delivers the divers' breathing mix, hot water to keep him warm and a communications link.

NATS MASTER DIVER: On the side, divers to the stage. You green too. On the side, divers going up and over. Get to fire it up a little bit, because it's got to go down fast.

NARRATOR: Even with all the careful preparation, getting divers over the side is a tense procedure.

MASTER DIVER: Stop!!! I didn't say go down!

NARRATOR: Once in the water the divers are switched from air to mixed gas.

DIVER: OK red, OK green (helium voices)

NARRATOR: Husky Navy baritones are transformed by helium into Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Mixed with oxygen, the helium replaces nitrogen, a component of air, which at depth can send divers into a drunken stupor.

On the way down all goes well. But on the bottom the divers once again encounter a ripping current.

CHRIS MURRAY: He must be fouled.

NARRATOR: This time conditions don't let up. Divers are in danger of being swept off the wreck.

MASTER DIVER: OK, we are, we're coming off the bottom right now.

NARRATOR: Master Diver Denis decides to bring the team up.

MASTER DIVER: OK, listen up guys, once we get off the bottom, the current will diminish a little bit.

DIVERS: Understand, understand.

MASTER DIVER: They got to match the wire as the wire comes up. They're pulling faster than the wire.

DIVERS: I can feel that they're pulling right now.

NARRATOR: It takes five men hauling on each umbilical to stop the divers from being swept away by the current.

_____: The current's heavy, it's catching umbilicals. So we're aborting the dive, we're going to come up and just regroup, and wait 'till the current's really trying to drop - dropped off on us.

MASTER DIVER: Fire it up.

NARRATOR: At this depth, the divers can't come straight to the surface. They must make a series of decompression stops.

The divers are still not out of danger when they get back on deck. Gases forced into their tissue by pressure begin to rapidly expand.

NATS: OK, let's get 'em unhatted. Come on.

NARRATOR: The surface team has just minutes to get them into an on-board chamber where they will complete their decompression.

NATS: Get on valves there, Dyer. Airification on, give me an OK in the window.

NARRATOR: It will take an hour and a half to return their bodies to surface pressure.

NATS: On the bottom, OK, the chamber?

NARRATOR: The divers must wait for conditions to improve before they can risk another dive and finally start exploring the Monitor.

The Monitor was the brainchild of John Ericsson, one of the great engineering geniuses of the Industrial Revolution.

DAVID MINDELL: John Ericsson was a engineer's engineer in that he was a calculator and he was a draftsman. But he was not really tinkerer. He wasn't one of these people who grew up in a garage or on a farm particularly which was common for the day. He grew up doing military engineering, ballistics, and what first brought him to the attention of others was his drawing abilities.

NARRATOR: Ericsson's drawings translate into a wide variety of projects - canals in his native Sweden, locomotives in Britain.

JEFF JOHNSTON: He invented probably what was considered to be the fastest locomotive ever built for her time frame. He even designed steam machinery to run sewing machine factories. But his passion was always ships.

NARRATOR: The steam engine developed by the Englishman James Watt achieves the ingenious breakthrough of rotary motion. The task that John Ericsson sets himself is to harness this power to drive a warship.

At his drawing table he arrives at a most unconventional solution.

To a friend he writes. "Designed a rotary propeller actuated by steam power, consisting of a series of segments of a screw, attached to a thin broad hoop supported by arms so twisted as also to form part of a screw."

The result is the world's first screw propeller, the forerunner of those that power all modern ships. On London's River Thames, Ericsson demonstrates his idea, using a vessel a little smaller than one of today's tour boats. But support for his invention comes not from England but the United States.

The first warship to be powered by Ericsson's new device is the Princeton. Built for the U.S. Navy, it looks like a traditional sailing ship. Yet, as the hull design reveals, engine and propeller are neatly housed below deck, protected by the surrounding water.

But when the Princeton arrives in Washington, disaster strikes. Robert Stockton, a prominent naval officer and Ericsson's partner, has armed the vessel with a powerful 12-inch gun. During a demonstration for President Tyler, the gun explodes with deadly results.

J.T. DeKAY: And it killed six people including the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Navy. And it was a terrible, terrible crisis in Washington and a great scandal. And Stockton had so much power in Washington that he managed to get the whole blame put on Ericsson, although it was not Ericsson's gun that had misfired. Ericsson's name was anathema from that time on in the Navy Department.

NARRATOR: Angry and maligned, John Ericsson retreats to the sanctuary of his drafting office.

In a letter he writes, "I say damned is the injustice of calling him 'wild' who, with his wildness, has originated and perfected naval propulsion."

J.T.DeKAY: He was also very prickly, very thin skinned, very sure of himself, but at the same time very upset if other people do not share his high expectations of himself.

NARRATOR: A genius to some, a pigheaded purist to others, Ericsson refuses to abandon his vision of a truly modern, steam-powered warship.

At the Monitor wreck site, the current on the bottom has finally slackened.

John Broadwater must work quickly. He sets his sights on recovering the Monitor's propeller, an improved version of Ericsson's original design.

BROADWATER: In the context of the wreck itself, the propeller is unstable. It's in an area of the wreck that's deteriorated so far that it's not properly being supported, and if the propeller is not somehow stabilized or removed, the hull may collapse because of it. But in a larger sense, the Monitor's propeller was unique in another way in that it was one of the first of the types of screw propellers that were just starting to develop in that day.

NARRATOR: The divers start by removing the marine growth from the Monitor's propeller. But after all the delays they're in too much of a hurry.

MASTER DIVER: Hey both divers, listen up. I don't want you getting a CO2 hit down there.

DIVERS: I Understand

MASTER DIVER: If I hear you guys breathing hard, I'm going to abort.

NARRATOR: Over the course of the day, the divers successfully clean off the propeller.

Now attention shifts to John Ericsson's other great invention, the Monitor's gun turret.

BROADWATER: It only had two guns, but they were very large bore guns. And the turret could be revolved in any direction. So the guns could be aimed without changing the course of the ships. So it allowed for much more rapid aiming and firing. And also the turret was so heavily armored that it was virtually impervious to shell fire from any of the other guns that ships carried at that time.

NARRATOR: The Navy team assembles a hydraulic dredge to clean out the turret, which is now filled with sand and debris.

It's an important dive, one John Broadwater will make himself, using SCUBA gear. Since the wreck was discovered in 1973, no one has managed to look down inside the Monitor's turret.

BROADWATER: Now this dive we're going to try and excavate inside the turret, just far enough down to see if we can locate the guns and carriages. We think they're in the turret, but until we see them for sure, we won't know.

NATS: Wherever Mr. Broadwater points at you suck at.

NARRATOR: At first everything goes according to plan. John Broadwater rendezvous with the two Navy divers. They start the dredge.

NATS: Turn on the pump.

NARRATOR: But the dredge is too powerful and could destroy whatever's inside the turret. The divers abandon the attempt.

NATS: The NOAA diver is leaving.

NARRATOR: For now the question of the Monitor's guns must remain a mystery. But it was heavy guns like these that created the need for iron warships.

By the 1850s John Ericsson and other naval engineers face a major new challenge. Guns can now fire a dangerous new device - the exploding shell.

ANDREW LAMBERT: The threat of a shell is that it would punch through the outer hull of the ship. It would get under the gun deck where all the loose powder and ammunition was lying. It would explode there, it would set off secondary explosions, it would kill large numbers of the crew, it would cause panic. If it reached lower into the ship it might even blow a hole below the water line and cause the ship to sink. So it was a very serious threat, a far more serious threat than the arrival of a simple solid shot projectile.

NARRATOR: In 1860 the British Navy responds to this threat by building a huge new warship, the HMS Warrior. Its hull is built entirely of iron. And its main gun deck is further protected by 4 and a half inches of wrought iron armor. Yet it still looks like a sailing ship. Ericsson, true to form, takes a completely different approach.

ANDREW LAMBERT: Ericsson throws all of that away and he takes just the fundamentals, the armor, the engine and the gun. And he make - puts them into the smallest conceivable package for service, probably not on the open oceans but certainly in coastal waters. It's a completely different response to exactly the same technology and the same challenges.

NARRATOR: Ericsson's answer is the Monitor. It's so unlike anything else he doesn't even call it a ship. Instead he calls it "a sub-aquatic system of naval warfare." It's the beginning of a new era.

The Monitor's iron deck rises just a few inches above the surface. Its turret rotates using steam power. Now the guns can be aimed in any direction without the ship changing course.

To protect the turret, Ericsson covers it with 11 inches of wrought iron armor.

Inside, two powerful guns run on sleek mechanical carriages. What matters now is not how many guns a ship carries but how powerful they are.

Yet this revolutionary warship still only exists on paper as America heads toward its greatest crisis.

April 12, 1861, the shots fired by the Confederates on Fort Sumter signal the beginning of the American Civil War. Technology is destined to play a major role in this bloody conflict.

A newly-elected President Lincoln turns to veteran general Winfield Scott for advice.

J.T.DeKAY: Scott, who'd been a hero in the Mexican War, gave him very good advice. He said the only way they could possibly win in a war against the south was to actually surround the entire south and squeeze it, as he said, like an anaconda. This became known as the Anaconda plan. And the single biggest part of it was that there had to be a blockade that would run all the way around the thirty-five hundred miles of the Confederate shoreline.

NARRATOR: But the Confederates strike back, seizing the nation's most well-equipped shipyard at Norfolk, Virginia. Retreating Union forces scuttle and burn several ships. One of them is the steam frigate, USS Merrimac.

NATS: One thing I find amazing is how little head room there was and what it must have been like for (inaudible) in one of those cannons.

NARRATOR: In the workshop of the Navy's model ship collection at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Colan Ratliff examines plans for the Merrimac, the same plans that Confederate engineers begin pouring over in the early summer of 1861.

NATS: Sort of like being stuck in an attic.

NARRATOR: Searching for a way to break the Northern blockade, the engineers hit upon an ingenious idea.

COLAN RATLIFF: Now the Merrimack, of course, burned, and this area here was destroyed. And this left the lower portion of the hull that you see here. This is what was left. The engines were in the middle, probably a lot of debris and stuff in the middle, and this was right there tied at the dock. The South raised this. They took the hull, they towed it to their dry dock which they had intact after the Union abandoned the yard, and they built this on top of it. This was the armored case-mate of the CSS Virginia, and this is the instrument that they needed to break the blockade.

NARRATOR: With sloping armored sides, the Merrimack is transformed and renamed the Virginia.

COLAN RATLIFF: This was the pride of the of the South. This was their number one war ship.

J.T.DeKAY: And the Yankee Navy had absolutely nothing with which to combat this very serious threat.

NARRATOR: Scrambling for an iron ship of its own, the Navy turns to the man it has so long rejected. John Ericsson suddenly finds himself with a contract to build the Monitor.

JEFF JOHNSTON: Ericsson had a time constraint of 90 days to complete a warship - actually pretty much unheard of in United States history, maybe even in the world. The way he accomplished this was he built this vessel entirely out of flat iron plate. He made everything rigid and strong by attaching angle iron to the back of it. Ericsson was so precise in his mathematics and his calculations that as this ship came together, all these parts were delivered, everything virtually fit with little or no alteration.

CHRIS MURRAY: We would like to know if you can get your hand around the plate and move the plate.

DIVER:Yeah. I can follow it all the way around.

NARRATOR: Several of the iron plates with which Ericsson built his ship so rapidly have come loose.

Once they are mapped, the divers drag the plates to a lift basket. The thickness of the iron will show how fast the Monitor is deteriorating.

COMS OP: Okay, Divers Red and Green, stop what you're doing and move back to the stage.

NARRATOR: When the deckplates are hoisted on board, their condition sends a chill through John Broadwater.

BROADWATER: And we can see by this plate - this was a half inch thick iron plate, and it's literally paper thin now. This really just underscores what we've been saying about the wreck is really just in it's last stages of deterioration before collapse.

NARRATOR: 136 years ago these rusty remnants were state of the art technology.

On January 30th, 1862, the Monitor is launched in New York, two weeks later than the contract stipulated but still ahead of the Virginia. To the surprise of some naval experts, the ship floats exactly as Ericsson predicted. But only now is the vessel's true character revealed.

DAVID MINDELL: The most revolutionary aspect of the Monitor, apart from the turret itself, and I think in some ways more than the turret itself, was it was really a part submarine. This was a semi-submersible craft.

NARRATOR: For the first time in naval history, the whole crew lives below the waterline. With an eye on future Navy business, Ericsson furnishes the officers' quarters lavishly at his own expense. He also installs more than 40 patentable devices, including a forced-air ventilation system and the first flushing toilets on a ship.

On the wreck most of the crew quarters have collapsed, leaving little to suggest how the 58 officers and crew once lived.

DAVID MINDELL: There were skylights lights in the deck and they would look up and see through the skylights sunlight coming in and there would be water between them and the sunlight. And sometimes they would even look up and see fish in the skylights. And it was really - it's almost - some of the early scenes on the Monitor are - read like they're straight out of Jules Verne "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea." These men are living in a submarine world and it's the first time ever that they're doing it, and it creates an awful lot of complicated and interesting responses.

NARRATOR: William Keeler, the ship's paymaster, is immediately impressed. To his wife, he writes "Yesterday, I saw my iron home for the first time."

But Captain John Worden has misgivings. He writes: "Here was an unknown, untried vessel, an iron coffin-like ship of which the gloomiest predictions were made, with her crew shut out from sunlight, depending entirely on artificial means to supply the air they breathe."

This wheel drove the ventilation system. If it fails the crew could suffocate. Further back are the boilers and engine.

For most people at the time, the steam engine is still an almost magical device. It powers everything on board - the turret, the pumps, and of course, the propeller.

As the Monitor heads off to face the Merrimack, Ericsson has supreme confidence in his ship. To President Lincoln he writes: "The time has come, Mr. President, when our cause will have to be sustained not by numbers, but by superior weapons."

On March 8, 1862, the Monitor steams into the battle zone. Events that day and the next will go down as one of history's most famous naval engagements.

The tail of the Anaconda encircling the South is coiled tightly around Chesapeake Bay. One of its inlets, Hampton Roads, is the key to the blockade. Union forces control the northern shore and access to the sea, but the southern shore and the port of Norfolk are in Confederate hands.

Only hours before the Monitor arrives, the Virginia steams out of Norfolk harbor, ready to break the blockade.

In quick succession she destroys the Cumberland and the Congress, two of the main ships of the northern blockading fleet. Hundreds are killed. The era of wooden sailing ships comes to a sudden and bloody end.

A third ship, the Minnesota, has run aground and like her sisters, seems doomed.

COLAN RATLIFF: The next day comes, the Virginia gets underway. She heads right away towards the Minnesota. But in front of the Minnesota is this unusual little craft that they all can't quite make out. The comment has always been "it's a tin can on a raft." And it slowly gets underway and it comes towards the Virginia and thus begins the great battle between the two.

J.T. DeKAY: It's this - I mean you had - it was like a football game. There were ten-thousand Yankee troops on one side of the Hampton Roads. There were ten-thousand rebel troops on the other side. They're all cheering as these two iron ships come at each other and batter away at each other.

DAVID MINDELL: One of the things that just astonished participants was a simple fact which is reported over and over again was seeing these both iron shot and exploding shells simply bouncing off the sides of both the ships.

And these shots everybody knew how deadly they could be, what kind of carnage they could cause. For the people inside the Monitor it caused a little bit of confusion and they did stun some people but it wasn't anything like the kind of damage which had been caused the previous day.

NARRATOR: At times the two ships are just feet apart. Each fires more than 20 accurate shots. But neither can pierce the other's armor.

DAVID MINDELL: It seemed like two machines were fighting against each other. And frequently you see the battle reported as the first fight between ironclads, as though the ironclads were doing the fighting and not the people who were running them.

NARRATOR: After four hours, the two ships finally disengage, leaving no doubt that the future of war at sea belongs to iron ships. The effect on the Civil War is no less decisive.

COLAN RATLIFF: They fought to a standstill. Virginia went back up to the Gosport Navy Yard to - for slight modification and to lick her wounds and to fix what they could fix. The Monitor stayed on station to protect the fleet. But Monitor and the blockading fleet was still there. More importantly, the idea of the Anaconda plan was intact.

J.T. DeKAY: Henry Steele Commager, who was one of the top Civil War historians of all time, has always said the Battle in Hampton Roads is more important than Gettysburg, and he's right. It saved the U.S. Navy's position and it saved the blockade and it kept Europe out of the war. And it made it possible for the Anaconda Plan to finally work and to actually squeeze the Confederate states. And all, all could have fallen apart if it hadn't for this battle between these two little ships.

NARRATOR: Like their predecessors who fought in the Monitor, these Navy divers sense that their moment has come. Commander Murray prepares his team for the expedition's greatest challenge.

CHRIS MURRAY: Most people dream about an opportunity like today. Today we're making that dream come true, so let's go. Think, be safe, just do it methodical. Let's go.

NARRATOR: The Navy team is now committed to a single objective: recovering the Monitor's propeller. The early dives go without a hitch.

COMS: All right, go to work.

DIVER: All right.

NARRATOR: The first team positions a saw on the propeller's wrought-iron shaft.

COMS: Hold it right there. All right, what have we got?

NARRATOR: Another team attaches the nylon sling and liftbag that will bring the propeller to the surface.

DIVER: Hold that topside. That's good right there.

COMS: OK. OK, give us a view of the slings now.

DIVER: OK.

COMS: Let me see how the slings are and if we need to take any slack out.

NARRATOR: But as they return to the ship, there's trouble. One diver has reacted badly to the switch to pure oxygen.

MASTER DIVER: Dowell, are you ventilating?

NARRATOR: Master Diver Denis orders them back onto air. The pure oxygen used to speed up the decompression process has caused the diver's heart to race. He could go into convulsions.

It's a dangerous moment. If they have to rush him to the surface, it could kill both him and his partner.

At the stage his partner tries to keep him calm.

MASTER DIVER: Very dangerous. If you don't lower the PP O2 very quickly, the guy could go into a O2 convulsion. It's sort of like an epi - like a seizure sort of thing. Almost every time when the seizure's over the guy will be unconscious for 10 or 12 min. It's a very ugly - very ugly.

Careful with him. Don't kill him, take him to his bench. Let's get him unhatted, come on. Get his chin strap. How're you doing Dowell? Get your neck dams, let the tenders undress you. Chamber team, man up.

NARRATOR: Once in the chamber, both divers will go through the decompression process all over again.

MASTER DIVER: Interlock doors, (inaudible), you're leaving the surface, move. Minute in the water column, minute 30 on deck. In the interlock let the divers get comfortable, put 'em on oxygen, let me know when they're on O2. That much umbilical -

NARRATOR: The incident has everyone on edge.

MASTER DIVER: Just one. Take your spinnaker shackle, and coil the crap on the damn stage so I can see it. I don't know why it's so f---ing hard.

NARRATOR: Ninety minutes later diver Dowell emerges safely from the recompression chamber.

DOWELL: It just all of a sudden just hits you. I've never had an 02 problem before, and well, you had increased heart rate. It was - you kind of feel like your heart's trying to come out of your chest, and total weakness, shaking.

NARRATOR: And the incident has produced a hero.

MASTER DIVER: Well we've got a wall of shame for people of screw up. Cowan probably just saved that guy from going into a convulsion. So we're going to start a hall of fame. It's a motivation factor. This is all in good fun right here, but the guy here really deserves a pat on the back.

NARRATOR: Despite near disaster, the team goes right back to work.

MASTER DIVER: The wall of shame and the hall of fame's one dive away.

NARRATOR: At last the divers are blessed with near perfect conditions. But they've never encountered 100 year-old wrought iron before. There's no room for error.

At 11 am the saw blade begins to bite into the Monitor's 9-inch propeller shaft. It is the moment that the whole expedition has been leading to.

MASTER DIVER: Hey Cowan, remember now. Don't put too much pressure on that blade.

DIVER: I understand topside

DIVER: We're doing fine topside. Everything is going A, OK

MASTER DIVER: Understand

MASTER DIVER: Cowan how far do you think that blade has bitten into the shaft?

DIVER :We've just about got the whole blade inside.

MASTER DIVER: Ok, good. About 1 inch roughly.

By the end of the dive, the saw has gone just 2 inches into the shaft. The surface team rapidly calculates the time it will take to cut all the way through.

MASTER DIVER: At the rate they were cutting just now, there's no way one dive's going to cut it. OK so we know it's going to take two more dives to cut through the metal. I think we're going to have to make a call here. Do we think we have the weather for two more dives?

NARRATOR: 5 dives are the most they've have done in day. Today they've already done 6. And a half-cut shaft could jeopardize the whole propeller.

MASTER DIVER: That's really something very unstable down there.

NARRATOR: It's time for a dramatic move.

MASTER DIVER: They can't wait to get my name on the wall of shame.

NARRATOR: Running short of divers, Commander Murray takes a gamble. He decides to send 20-year veteran, Master Diver Donny Denis to the bottom. If any one can make the cut in one dive he can.

CHRIS MURRAY: Anything else you need? Have a good dive

MASTER DIVER: 30 good minutes

NARRATOR: John Broadwater too heads back into the water.

BROADWATER: Well I'm anxious to see, it sounds like they're almost ready on the cut or at least halfway through. I'm anxious to get a last second look at it and if we're lucky we might even see it come lose. Should be a really neat dive.

NARRATOR: So the salvage veteran and the archaeologist head down together, each hoping this will be the decisive dive.

Both men go to work. John Broadwater checks the positioning of the nylon lifting rig. Master Diver Denis proceeds with the cut.

Suddenly the saw begins to shake violently threatening to break the blade.

DIVER: The blade just fell off the shaft making it hard to keep the saw in place.

NARRATOR: They extend the dive from 30 to 40 minutes. It's risky at this depth. And still the work isn't done.

MASTER DIVER2: We'll get the diver back on the stage and go to work with the camera and you can go to work and we'll take it from there.

NARRATOR: Commander Murray has only himself now to finish the job.

CHRIS MURRAY: Well we've got a stubborn shaft down here. We're within an inch, half an inch. Hopefully I'm just going to go down there and clean up. We'll see.

NARRATOR: John Broadwater and Commander Murray have been planning this expedition for months. Now everything hinges on one critical dive.

BROADWATER: This is going to be it right? This is the dive.

CHRIS MURRAY: It's got to be.

BROADWATER: Good luck

NARRATOR: Since dawn Commander Chris Murray has been sending his men over the side. Seven sets of divers in all. It's more than anyone can remember in a single day.

MASTER DIVER2: Tenders check locking pins. On the side Divers getting to the stage. Stage handlers.

NARRATOR: For the eighth time the stage is ready to go over the side. Everyone prays that the notorious currents will remain slack for just one more dive.

MASTER DIVER2: OK red, OK green. All right what do we need to do?

NARRATOR: When the divers hit bottom, they find the job almost done. A sudden surge has snapped the last few inches of the shaft.

CHRIS MURRAY: Understand.

MASTER DIVER2: I got it.

NARRATOR: They call for the cable attached to the propeller to be raised.

MASTER DIVER2: All right, the screw is clear

CHRIS MURRAY: The screw is clear

NARRATOR: With just a slow tug on the winch the Monitor's historic propeller finally comes free.

MASTER DIVER2: Go ahead Red.

CHRIS MURRAY: Yahoo!

[Clapping & cheers]

BROADWATER: I think it's, it's -.two things. The fact that Ericsson's own hand was involved in this is important. But I think it's also important that this shows that we do have the capability with this team to save parts of the Monitor, preserve them indefinitely for people to enjoy for years to come

NARRATOR: Darkness arrives quickly and with it a sudden storm.

It is as if the gods of Cape Hatteras are making one final attempt to hold onto their escaping prize.

MASTER DIVER2: Skipper good job. All right come on let's go. Chamber crew, man your stations.

___: All right we got time walk 'em.

NARRATOR: Meanwhile the propeller hangs in the dark ocean below. Like some strange leviathan hooked from the deep.

MASTER DIVER: Chief Finger. 2 tender lines, a mask and a set of fins and a body right here.

NARRATOR: As preparations get underway to receive the propeller, there's still no guarantee of success.

JEFF JOHNSTON: And they're trying to be as careful as they can. But the danger of an artifact this size and this age is that when it breaks the air water interface, then gravity takes effect. So we're kind of holding our breaths until then.

NARRATOR: For the first time in 136 years the Monitor's propeller breaks the surface. But then the cable starts to swing. The newly freed propeller threatens to dash itself against the ship that has come to save it.

MASTER DIVER: Down Tommy, down Tommy down, down Tommy down, down, down , down Tommy down, fast Tommy fast. Go go go. Go Go Tommy down. Down Tommy down, down down down.

BROADWATER: That was exciting

NARRATOR: But a sobered crew quickly attaches more tending lines.

Gently they steer for the four tons of Civil War wrought iron into the cradle that awaits it.

At last the propeller rests safely on deck.

Voice: All stop, all stop

NARRATOR: For the entire team, it's a moment to savor.

CHRIS MURRAY: It's a long time coming. She didn't give up easy. She fought us every bit of the way. Came through though.

NATS: I think everybody's name should come off there now. Came out of there alive. Clean slate. Yeah clean slate.

NARRATOR: And all names are erased from the wall of shame

MASTER DIVER: Thing's on deck. That's what counts.

JEFF JOHNSTON: Up until last week it was hard to even recognize as the propeller.

BROADWATER: And somehow I think John Ericsson may be smiling down on us tonight.

NARRATOR: The Monitor becomes an instant legend following its stunning success at Hampton Roads.

The New York Times calls it "The Battle of the Giants". The ship and its new technologies capture the Northern imagination.

But the Monitor's success also inspires caution.

President Lincoln sends out a terse note warning: "She should not to go skylarking up to Norfolk."

But soon the Confederate port of Norfolk falls and the Virginia is blown up to keep her out of Union hands.

At the same time there is a huge demand for more Monitors. Ericsson is soon building a whole fleet. Before the end of the war the Union will launch no fewer than 61.

ANDREW LAMBERT : The problem was that the Monitor idea became so popular and it became politically so important to the Lincoln Administration that they began to see the Monitor as the answer to all of their problems and they built bigger and bigger Monitors of which Ericsson's Monitor the Puritan was perhaps the biggest and most extreme. And these were thought of as open ocean fighting vessels. This was simply impossible. With the sea breaking over the top of the vessel drowning out the turret and coming in-board it was highly likely the vessel would sink.

NARRATOR: Would this be the fate of the original Monitor and her crew? In December 1862, while being towed South, she runs into a storm off Cape Hatteras.

JEFF JOHNSTON: Around 7 pm one of the tow lines on the Monitor snaps and the ship actually starts to tow very badly, she's pitching and yawing in the waves. And as the waves increased in height instead of riding over them half the time she's just slicing right through them because of the shape of her hull. As the night wore on the situation got, I mean, critically worse. She starts leaking at the officer's hatch forward, she starts leaking at the crew's hatch aft. What really did her in was probably when she starts leaking around the coal chutes, the hatches for the coal chutes in the rear of the vessel.

NARRATOR: In the early morning hours of December 31st, 1862, the Monitor with about a dozen men on board slips beneath the waves. The stern weighed down by the engine and other machinery strikes the bottom first.

The hull rolls over. And the turret, held on only by gravity, falls off. The upturned hull finally comes to rest on top of the turret.

136 years later the Kellie Chouest steams into Hampton Roads with the Monitor's propeller on board. It is unloaded at Newport News where thousands once cheered the Monitor as it returned from battling the Virginia.

Today television crews and reporters gather at the Mariners' Museum to witness the unveiling of this triumph of 19th century technology.

NATS: So a lot of planning, a lot of effort went into this.

Appropriately it is a team of US Navy divers who have recovered the propeller that powered the Navy first modern warship.

As for John Ericsson, he died on March 8, 1889, one day short of the 27th anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads.

His body was returned to his native Sweden where it lies in a magnificent mausoleum. As a reminder of his great technological achievement, nearby stand two 15-inch Dahlgren cannon, similar to those on the Monitor.

At a critical moment, John Ericsson built a revolutionary warship which played a decisive role in the Civil War and perhaps turned the tide of history.

Of the many "Monitors" built, the original is still the most complete which is why archaeologists will risk diving to these depths to study its fragile iron remains.

Whether future expeditions to the wreck succeed or fail, the Monitor remains a powerful symbol. The ship that shone for a brief yet dazzling moment. And in that moment changed forever the way war was waged at sea.

What is it like to be enclosed in an ironclad ship that could easily become your coffin? On NOVA's Website follow an eye witness account of the famous battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack.

To order this show or any other NOVA program for $19.95 plus shipping and handling call WGBH Boston Video at 1-800-255-9424.

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There was no gas chambers anywhere.

Witness how evidence stopped one man's attempt to rewrite history. Holocaust on Trial next time on NOVA.

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PRODUCTION CREDITS

Lincoln's Secret Weapon

Produced by
D. J. Roller & Jonathan Wickham

Written by
Jonathan Wickham

Directed by
Kirk Wolfinger

National Marine Sanctuary Program is managed by NOAA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Cinematographer
D.J. Roller

Narrator
Roy Scheider

Editor
Bobby Jones

Music
Robert Neufeld

Field Sound Recordist
Mike Filosa

Additional Sound
Brent Willey

Unit Managers
Tom Cappello
Marilyn Kempf
Melissa Roller

Additional Underwater Photography
John Chluski
Doug Kesling

Assistant Camera
Mike Filosa

Production Assistants
Kelly Olson
Joules Wright
Cathy Collis

Crew for John Ericsson Recreation Sequence
Pat McNeely
Frank Galline
John Halden
Donna Martin
Jordan McMonagle
Liz Palmer
Montgomery Schuth
Roger Sherer

Animation
Turner Studios

Monitor 3D Model
Silicon Graphics, Inc.
Andrew Shein
Nelson Frolund
Multigen

Josef P. Jamieson
Terrence Hicks

Historical Adviser
Dana Wegner

Stills Research
Mika Holliday

Offline & Post Production Facility
Artisan Picture Works

Online Editor
Jessica Teal

Film Transfer
Crawford Communications

Film Colorists
D.C. Cardinali
Ron Anderson

Sound Mix
Synchronized Sound

Sound Engineers
Tom Race
Carl Gentner

Still Photo Sources
Beverly R. Robinson Collection, US Naval Academy
Emory University
Library of Congress
Mariners' Museum
National Archives
Naval Historical Foundation
The Swedish American Historical Museum
The New York Times
US Naval Academy Museum
US Naval Institute

Library Footage
Turner Network Television
Newport News Shipbuilding

Special Thanks
E. Buk Antiques & Art
Cambrian Foundation
Dan Darling
Diving Unlimited International
HMS Warrior
Tod Hammond
Kew Bridge Steam Museum
IANTD
Monitor National Marine Sanctuary
Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester
NOAA
NURC at UNCW
Pace Technologies
Scubapro
Southern Skirmishers
US Coast Guard
US Navy, Mobile Diving & Salvage Unit 2

NOVA Series Graphics
National Ministry of Design

NOVA Theme
Mason Daring
Martin Brody
Michael Whalen

Post Production Online Editor
Mark Steele

Closed Captioning
The Caption Center

Production Secretaries
Queene Coyne
Linda Callahan

Publicity
Diane Buxton

Senior Researcher
Ethan Herberman

Unit Managers
Jessica Maher
Sharon Winsett

Paralegal
Nancy Marshall

Legal Counsel
Susan R. Shishko

Business Manager
Laurie Cahalane

Post Production Assistant
Lila White Gardella

Assistant Editor
Post Production
Regina O'Toole

Associate Producer
Post Production
Judy Bourg

Post Production Editor
Rebecca Nieto

Production Manager
Post Production
Lisa D'Angelo

Senior Science Editor
Evan Hadingham

Senior Producer
Coproductions and Acquisitions
Melanie Wallace

Managing Director
Alan Ritsko

Executive Producer
Paula S. Apsell

A NOVA Production by ZoëTV and Liquid Pictures for WGBH/Boston in association with Channel 4.

©2000 WGBH Educational Foundation

 

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