National Museum of United States Navy Acquires Rare Civil War Warship Bell

July 23, 2008 at 3:37 am 1 comment

A bell from the historic Civil War naval vessel USF Merrimack has been put on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy in Washington D.C.

Merrimack, rebuilt as the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia, participated in the famous battle against the Union ironclad Monitor at Hampton Roads on March 8-9, 1862.

The bell was donated to the Navy by Adrian Pearsal, a private collector of nautical antiques. Pearsal had originally contacted the National Geographic Society (NGS) to see if they knew of any educational naval collection that would be interested in receiving the bell. The NGS then put him in touch with Mark Wertheimer, Head of the Curator Branch, Naval Historical Center (NHC)in Washington D.C. Negotiations then opened up in early 2006, culminating in the donation of the Merrimack’s bell to the NHC a year later.

Although it is unclear whether the bell was aboard Merrimack/Virginia during the battle at Hampton Roads, it is known to have been aboard Merrimack before it was scuttled by Union forces upon abandonment of the Norfolk Navy Yard to Confederate forces in 1861.

The bell appears to have suffered severe fire damage and has a large dent that seems to have been caused by a timber falling onto the heated bell during the course of a fire.

This damage led to the question as to whether or not it was on board Virginia during the battle at Hampton Roads. The reason for the confusion is because the ship was scuttled twice, the first time by Union forces, and the second after the battle by the Confederates forces.

Was the bell damaged during the first scuttling and then taken off, or during the second scuttling after the battle? At this time the NHC does not know.

The history of the bell prior to Pearsal’s acquisition of it is murky. After the Civil War it seems to have been acquired by the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War veterans organization. It was put on display by them until the 1920s, when it passed into the hands of private collectors.

The acquisition of the bell is important for both the museum and for the Navy overall.

“There are very few artifacts from Merrimack and the battle between Virginia and ironclad Monitor at Hampton Roads and so the acquisition of this bell with the Merrimack’s name on it is very exciting,” said Wertheimer.

The bell is now on display at the museum’s popular Civil War gallery as a long-term attraction.

The battle at Hampton Roads was of national importance as it was the first ever battle between ironclad steam warships. Although the battle between Virginia and Monitor was inconclusive, it did have a significant impact on naval architecture and thus revolutionized naval warfare.

“Hampton Roads was an important time in the Navy’s history as it represented the watershed from wooden hulled ships to iron hulled and armored ships,” said Wertheimer.

Katie Winstanley (NNS)

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Entry filed under: American Military History, Modern Military History, Naval History. Tags: , , , , , , .

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  • […] National Museum of United States Navy Acquires Rare Civil War … By worldmilitaryhistory A bell from the historic Civil War naval vessel USF Merrimack has been put on display at the National Museum of the United States Navy in Washington DC. Merrimack, rebuilt as the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia, participated in the … World Military History Blog – https://worldmilitaryhistory.wordpress.com […]

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