In its own way, the 19th century was a time of change as remarkable and far reaching in its effect as that of today. This change not only entered into power at sea to make it even more potent than in its great past, but much of the change originated in or gained its impulse from the Navy.
Each era has produced several types of warships that of necessity range from small, fast ships to the heaviest and most powerful. The Ship-of-the-Line, short for Ship-of-the-Battleline, was the "Battleship" of the age of sail-the mightiest of warships that could give the most punishment and take the most. It was the citadel of seapower.
Steam propulsion, large rifled cannon and other developments brought a revolution. This slowly gathered headway up to the Civil War. Then almost overnight the world was startled into awareness of a new era by the dramatic events in Hampton Roads that culminated in the battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (USS Merrimack), 9 March 1862.
On that day the Ship-of-the-Line passed into history as the first strength of navies. No one type was on hand to replace it.
The next generation would witness much experimentation and wide diversity of thought concerning the new champion of the seas. Interestingly, as it evolved, both Monitor and Virigina provided key elements. They were grandparents of the mighty battleship that steamed majestically upon the stage of history as the 20th century opened.
Because of the success of the Monitor, the United States built a large number of this heavily armored, turreted, low freeboard type-which gained the generic title "monitors".
Post Civil War
After the Civil War the Nation let its Navy decline beyond the danger point as it has imprudently after most wars. Yet even in these doldrum days wise leaders in the Navy achieved progress. .
There was great diversity of concept as naval thinkers sought to achieve the champion of the sea that would best serve the United States as she sped toward world leadership. Steadily there was growth toward a combination of the Monitor and the Virginia. As a few monitors were modernized or new ones laid down beginning in the 1870's, these monitors added freeboard and superstructure to develop toward the true ship type of hull represented by the USS Virginia, BB-13, launched in 1906. With their centerline turrets and usually single caliber battery they were the true forerunners of the Dreadnought.
This evolution and many other changes in the "new Navy" of the 1880's-90's resulted in the battleship which served our Nation well in its brief span of predominance. Today we live in yet another period of evolutionary change. It races at jet speed but in many respects is like that of the century ago.
Four States have preserved their namesakes as stirring mementos of the courage, skill and devotion of the men who manned them. This handful of surviving champions of another era sees three types of warships now contesting for the honor of supremacy -the aircraft carrier, -the heavy guided-missile ship, and -the Polaris submarine. Will they evolve into a single type or with the vast expansion of capabilities that air and underwater operations have brought navies in this century, will we have co-champions, each serving in its own medium.
The following ships played a vital role in the development of the American Battleship from the USS Monitor to the USS Iowa:
USS Monterey BM-06
USS Indiana BB-01
USS Virginia BB-13
USS South Carolina BB-26, First Generation Dreadnought
USS Nevada BB-36, Second Generation Dreadnought
USS Iowa BB-61, Third Generation Dreadnought
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