Louis N. Stodder

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Louis N. Stodder
1865 photo of Acting Master Stodder
(unknown photographer)
USS Monitor (replica)

Louis Napoleon Stodder (February 12, 1837 – October 8, 1911) was a U.S. Navy officer and served in the American Civil War as acting master on the famous USS Monitor when it fought the Merrimack [a] at Hampton Roads on March 8–9, 1862. He is also noted for his heroic efforts in the final hours before Monitor sank in a violent storm at sea off Cape Hatteras that same year. He later commanded the USS Adela and served in the East Gulf Blockading Squadron. After the Civil War he was promoted to Captain and served with distinction, commanding other vessels and served in other capacities. He continued serving in the Navy until 1902. When he retired, Stodder lived out the remainder of his years in New York.

Early life[edit]

Stodder was born on February 12, 1837 in Boston, Massachusetts.[1] He was married to Watie Howland Aldrich, daughter of Alton Aldrich and Mary Earle, of Franconia, New Hampshire on November 15, 1861, shortly after the Civil War began. Little is known about his childhood and early life.[2]

Civil War service[edit]

Stodder volunteered for service aboard the USS Monitor and served as Acting Master for the entire time she was in service (February 25, 1862 through December 31, 1862)[3][4][5] and was officially assigned to the vessel on January 31, 1862[6] He was turret officer and along with Officers Samuel Greene and Chief Engineer, Stimers commanded and coordinated a sixteen-man gun-crew inside the turret of the Monitor.[7] Designed John Ericsson, the ship was unusual in its design and almost completely made of iron and set mostly below the waterline.[8] Stodder, who was present at Continental Iron Works while the ship was being built,[9] was subsequently skeptical as to whether Ericsson's hulky ironclad vessel would actually float, as were some of the other officers. He was also present when the ship was launched on January 30, 1862 into New York's East River at Greenpoint Brooklyn. Just before the launching Stodder remarked,

She was rather a hasty job, was the Monitor. -- You had better get a good look at her now as you won't
see her after she strikes water. She's bound to go to the bottom of the East River and stick there, sure.

To his amazement the vessel slipped into the water and floated, while Ericsson stood on its deck in defiance of all his critics.[10]

First battle of the ironclads[edit]

On the evening of March 8 after a perilous journey at sea the Monitor finally arrived at Hampton Roads only to find that the Virginia had already destroyed several ships of the Union's blockading squadron.[11] When daylight came the following morning the Monitor, to the surprise of the confederate crew, emerged from behind the Minnesota and engaged the Virginia directly. During Monitor's first and epic battle of the ironclads, Stodder operated the burdensome control wheel that turned the turret into position allowing her guns to bore and fire at the Confederate ironclad. During the battle the ironclads Monitor and Virginia battled for four hours. Each ship ineffectually pounded the other with close range cannon fire, changing the way most naval battles would be fought in the future. Amid battle Stodder along with officers Stimers and Truscott were inside the gun turret of Monitor talking over matters and positioned such that they were leaning against the turret's inside side when it took a direct hit outside.[12] Knocked unconscious, Stodder was taken below where it took him an hour to regain consciousness. He was replaced by Chief Engineer Stimers for the duration.[13][14] Stodder was the USS Monitor's turret officer and the first person injured at the Battle of Hampton Roads, surviving a direct hit to Monitor's gun turret.[15][16][17] After regaining consciousness Stodder recalled,

I was flung by the concussion clean over the guns to the floor of the turret.[12]

Service on James River[edit]

Stodder also served on Monitor at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff The Monitor tried to make its way up the James River and past the blockade in the river, but it was too heavily guarded by the guns of Fort Darling and other shore batteries.[18] Stodder who participated in the assault later claimed,

If we had a regiment of men we could have taken that fort.[19]

During the last week of June the Monitor also provided naval support for General McClellan's forces along the banks of the James River during the Peninsula Campaign by covering McClellan's withdrawal from the area. While stationed there, at Harrison's Landing, the heat was so intense that Stodder later wrote:

It was hell, being 170 degrees in the fireroom, and on the berth deck it was 95 degrees[20]

After service on the James River the Monitor was put into drydock for repairs in Washington's navy yard in September. Upon completion in November a notice was placed in the newspaper which stated that the ship would be put on display. Tourists, which turned out by the thousands, were allowed to board and tour the vessel. Stodder and other officers were assigned to oversee the event. When it was over Stodder noted,

[tourists]...went through the ship, like a flock of magpies, prying loose as souvenirs
anything removable. When we came up to clean that night there was not a key,
doorknob, escutcheon -- there wasn't a thing that hadn't been carried away

Monitors's final voyage[edit]

Engraving of Monitor sinking

In December 1862 while serving under Commander John P. Bankhead while Monitor was on her last voyage Stodder played a fundamental role in the prolonged attempts to save the Monitor from sinking while being towed to North Carolina by the USS Rhode Island during a violent storm some sixteen 16 miles (26 km) off the coast of Cape Hatteras. As the storm grew in intensity the connecting tow line threatened the safety of both ships as they heaved to and fro in the turbulent sea. At 10:30 p.m.Bankhead gave the order for the red distress lantern to be hoisted atop the turret.[24] The engines were slowed to preserve steam for the pumps. However the reduced speed made the towline very taut causing the Monitor to be unstable and almost impossible to control. Bankhead ordered the towline cut and called for volunteers to go out onto the deck to carry out the task. Stodder and two other volunteers came forward. As they climbed down the turret onto the low freeboard deck two of the men were quickly swept overboard by large waves and drowned, but Stodder managed to hang on to the safety lines around the deck and continued making his way to the tow line. While riding the storm Stodder managed to cut through a tow line, thirteen inches in diameter, using a hatchet. In the final minutes before Monitor's sinking Stodder made several attempts to go below deck in complete darkness to aid any crew members needing assistance. He found the wounded engineer Lewis still bedded who refused to be moved. Stodder later reported about his unfortunate encounter with Lewis',

I told him the ship was sinking, and that he had better take his chances in the open. He refused
however, to do so and, not being strong enough to carry him, I had to leave him to his fate.

Stodder survived the sinking and he along with other rescued officers and crew were transferred to the Rhode Island which had the Monitor in tow on their way to blockade duty in South Carolina on the night of December 30, 1862.[26][27] He later wrote that "it was not an easy job" and was himself almost washed overboard by the large waves splashing over the low freeboard (deck) of that vessel.[28] Stodder was one of two officers who remained with Bankhead who was the last surviving man to abandon the sinking Monitor. In his official report of the Monitor's to the Navy Department Bankhead praised Stodder for his heroic efforts and wrote,

I would beg leave to call the attention of the Admiral and of the Department of the particularly good conduct
of Lieutenant Greene and Acting Master Louis N. Stodder, who remained with me until the last,
and by their example did much toward inspiring confidence and obedience on the part of the others.

Some time after the sinking a controversy emerged over why the Monitor sank. In the Army and Navy Journal Ericsson accused the crew of drunkardness during the storm and consequently unable to prevent the vessel from sinking. Stodder vigorously defended the crew and rebuked Ericsson's characterization of the crew and events and wrote to Pierce that Ericsson cover's up defects by blaming those that are now dead, pointing out that there were several technical problems that led to the ship's sinking, foremost being the overhang between the upper and lower hulls which came loose and partially separated during the storm from slamming into the violent waves. Stodder's account was corroborated by other shipmates.[30]

Other Civil War service[edit]

In 1863 Stodder was commander of the USS Adela, a former blockade runner which was attached to the East Gulf Blockading Squadron. Before departing to join the squadron the Adela was in need of coal and arrived at August 4, 1863 at Port Royal South Carolina to resupply the ship. After waiting ten days Stodder soon realized that coal supplies were exhausted. During his wait, another ship, the bark Faith laden with coal, struck the nearby shoals and bilged. Stodder requested permission from her senior officer to salvage the Faith's coal which was granted. For three days the crew of the Adela were up to their necks in water salvaging the coal for use in the Adela by which time they were able to salvage about 25 tons. During this time another supply vessel carrying 1400 tons of coal had arrived. His crew exhausted, Stodder ordered the salvaging operation to stop, hoping to obtain a supply from the arriving vessel.[31]

Stodder also served aboard the USS Ohio when it was outfitted as a receiving ship.

Post Civil War service[edit]

Stodder's post Civil War service was very distinguished. He joined the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service as a Third Lieutenant. He was honorably discharged as Acting Volunteer Lieutenant on January 10, 1863. The following February, for his heroic role aboard the Monitor he was awarded a sword on which were engraved the words: Presented to Lieut. Louis N. Stodder By his Boston Friends February 9, 1863 "Monitor" on guard. In 1999 the sword was auctioned by a prominent New York auction firm and realized more than $43,000.[32]

In 1879 he was promoted to Captain and was given command of the USS Oliver Wolcott. On January 11, 1883 while still captain of this vessel he subdued an Indian uprising at Fort Simpson, British Columbia. In 1892 Stodder was named supervisor of anchorages at the Port of New York, remaining in that position until 1901. He retired from service the following year.[33]

Later life[edit]

Years after the Civil War when Ericsson died in 1889, his body was sent to Sweden for burial on August 23, 1890, at the request of the Swedish government. It was loaded aboard a Navy warship with a full ceremony attended by Stodder, the Secretary of the Navy and other former Monitor crew members.[34]

In 1906, Albert Stevens Crockett, a young reporter for the New York Herald, interviewed the former Captain Stodder, who was retired and living in New York, then the only surviving officer of the Monitor. Stodder was initially reluctant to talk about himself, so it took some persuading by Crockett to get Stodder to provide a first-hand account of the Monitor's history. Stodder's hair and mustache were now white, but Crockett noted that the former officer was still "erect of figure and had the air and voice of a strict disciplinarian, though with a keen sense of humor and an enjoyment of life." Stodder's account helped historians piece together the story of the short-lived Monitor.[35]

Louis Stodder was the last surviving crew member of the Monitor and lived well into the 20th century.[36] Following a nervous breakdown Stodder died of cerebral apoplexy and pulmonary edema in Brooklyn, New York, October 8, 1911, at the age of 74. He is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.[33][37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Merrimack was abandoned by retreating Union forces at Norfolk, Virginia, later salvaged by Confederate forces, converted to an ironclad and renamed CSS Virginia


  1. ^ Quarstein, 2010, p. 209
  2. ^ Robert L. Criswell, Historian. "USS Monitor". National Aldrich Assoc. Retrieved August 12, 2013. 
  3. ^ White, 1957, p. 47
  4. ^ Maclay, 1894, p. 306
  5. ^ Church, 1911, p. 279
  6. ^ Quartsein, 2010, p. 261
  7. ^ Konstam, 2002, p. 68
  8. ^ Quarstein, 2006, p. 61
  9. ^ Davis, 1975, p. 48
  10. ^ Quarstein, 1999, p.47
  11. ^ Quarstein 1999, p. 77
  12. ^ a b Holzer, 2013, p. 13
  13. ^ Quarstein, 2010, p. 227
  14. ^ Davis, 1975, Chap. III
  15. ^ Chriswell, 2013, article
  16. ^ Maclay, 1894, p.313
  17. ^ Lt. Green, letter, 1862
  18. ^ Fuller, 2008, p. 178
  19. ^ Thulesius, 2007, p. 124
  20. ^ Hoehling, 1993, p. 186
  21. ^ Thulesius, 2007, pp. 131-132
  22. ^ Quarstein, 2006, p.255
  23. ^ Hoehling, 1993, p. 188
  24. ^ Quarstein, 2010, p. 172
  25. ^ Hoehling, 1993, p. 191
  26. ^ Mariner's Museum, Article: The Last Voyage of the USS Monitor
  27. ^ Hoehling, 1993, p. 189
  28. ^ Quarstein, 2010, p. 174
  29. ^ Still, 1988, p. 20
  30. ^ Mindell, 2000, p. 140
  31. ^ Daniels, Sec. Navy, 1921, pp.529, 535
  32. ^ "AN IMPORTANT HISTORIC UNITED STATES NAVY CIVIL WAR PRESENTATION SWORD...". Christies, New York. Retrieved August 15, 2013. 
  33. ^ a b Quarstein, 2010, p. 193
  34. ^ MIndell, 2000, p. 142
  35. ^ Civil War Times Illustrated, p. 31
  36. ^ Thulesius, 2007, p. 138
  37. ^ Greenpoint Monitor Museum, article


  • Criswell, Robert L. (2013). "USS MONITOR/Aldrich connection". National Aldrich Assoc. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  • Davis, William C. (1975). Duel Between the First Ironclads (Book club ed.). Garden City, New York: Doubleday. p. 201. OCLC 1551282. 
  • Daniels, Secretary of the Navy, Josephus;; Marsh, Captain, U.S.Navy,, C.C. (1921). 'Official records of the Union and Confederate navies in the War of the Rebellion. Government Printing Office, United States; Naval War Records Office, Office of Naval Records and Library. p. 980.  , eBook
  • "150th Anniversary of the Sinking of the USS Monitor". The Greenpoint Monitor Museum. 
  • Fuller, Howard J (2008). Clad in Iron – The American Civil War and the Challenge of British Naval Power. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. p. 409. ISBN 978-1-59114-297-3. 
  • Hoehling, Adolph A. (1993). Thunder at Hampton Roads. Da Capo Press. p. 231. ISBN 9780306805233. , Book (par view)
  • Holzer, Harold (2013). The Battle of Hampton Roads: New Perspectives on the Uss Monitor And the Css Virginia. New York: Penguin Books: New York Historical Society. p. 416. , Book
  • Maclay, Edgar Stanton (1894). A history of the United States Navy, from 1775 to 1893. D. Appleton & Company, New York. p. 647.  eBook
  • Mariners' Museum. "Timeline: Last Voyage of the Monitor: December 24th - Forward". Newport News, Virginia: The Mariner's Museum. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  • ——. "The Last Voyage of the USS Monitor". Newport News, Virginia: The Mariner's Museum. Retrieved July 17, 2013. 
  • Mindell, David A. (2000). War, Technology, and Experience Aboard the USS Monitor. JHU Press. p. 187. ISBN 9780801862502. , Book (par view)
  • Lieutenant Samuel Dana Green, U.S.N. (1862). "An Eye-Witness Account of the Battle Between the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia". Naval Historical Foundation, Washington, DC. Retrieved July 18, 2013. 
  • Quarstein, John V. (1999). The Battle of the Ironclads. Arcadia Publishing. p. 128. ISBN 9780738501130. , Book
  • —— (2006). A History of Ironclads: The Power of Iron Over Wood. The History Press. p. 284. ISBN 9781596291188. , Book
  • —— (2010). The Monitor Boys: The Crew of the Union's First Ironclad. The History Press. p. 349. ISBN 9781596294554. , Book
  • Still, William N. (1988). Hill, Dina B., ed. Ironclad Captains: The Commanding Officers of the U. S. S. Monitor. Washington, D.C.: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 83. ISBN 9780160035609. , Book (no preview)
  • Thulesius, Olav (2007). The Man who Made the Monitor: A Biography of John Ericsson, Naval Engineer. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 255. ISBN 978-0-7864-2766-6. , Book (par view)
  • White, William Chapman; White, Ruth Morris (1957). Tin can on a shingle. Dutton Publishers. pp. 176 pages.  Book (snippet view)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]