Thursday, March 1, 2012

1855 Print of USS Merrimack

As we approach the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads, it is well worth remembering some of the roots of the participants. In the museum's gallery is this 1855 print of the steam frigate USS Merrimack.

This print is a sepia tone reproduction of a color print. The man in charge of printing and marketing the work, New York City print maker L.H. Bradford, apparently decided that the original drawing (see a black and white version below) was too boring to sell and decided to put some life into the print. He added sailors on Merrimack's main deck, put all the ship's forty-eight gun portals open with guns deployed, civilian merchant ships in the background, and placed a bigger typeface for the print's name.

Naval architect George G. Pook drew the original drawing. Judges at a ship model contest noted Pook's ability as an artist when they commented that, "These plans, in their designs, correctness, execution, and neatness are not surpassed by any thing of their kind which the Committee have ever witnessed." "G.G.", as he signed his art, was the older brother of naval architect Samuel Pook. Samuel is most famous for the original design of USS Merrimack and the Civil War river ironclads affectionately known as "Pook's Turtles."

Named for the Merrimack River in New England, Merrimack was the lead ship in a series of magnificently-designed capital warships. The frigate conducted only one cruise. She travelled to South America and then to the Pacific before returning to Gosport Navy Yard in 1859. The Navy decommissioned her due to her expense and unreliable engines. The Confederate Navy captured and converted her into the famous CSS Virginia.

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