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Building the "Life Like" Monitor and Merrimac kits - need help with paint!

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  • Member since
    April, 2006
Building the "Life Like" Monitor and Merrimac kits - need help with paint!
Posted by Irish3335 on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 4:47 PM

Hello all,

Im building the Uss Monitor and the Confederate Merrimac / CSS Virginia...getting close to paint but wanted some ideas on what colors they would be?  want to do the bare minimal weathering (pre confrontation) and wanted some good ideas on how to do the look of armour plating from that era..any help (or sites where I can get some references / photos) would be great!  Thanks much

  • Member since
    January, 2003
  • From: arizona
Posted by cthulhu77 on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 5:21 PM

I've always found this site to be of immense help, and a good source of links too:
  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 7:28 PM

I'm no Civil War expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I have had several occasions to do some reading about this particular subject. 

I got hired by the Monitor Marine Sanctuary and the Mariners' Museum some years ago to design a paper model of her, for use in those organizations' education programs.  In the course of that project I dug through all the published sources I could find  and picked the brains of the folks who had been diving on the wreck of the ship.  The consensus seemed to be that the Monitor had an extremely simple color scheme:  black above the waterline and red oxide below.  The red used for that purpose in those days seems to have been a considerably brighter shade than what we normally associate with bottom paint nowadays - a slightly orange-ish shade.  The experts seem to think her iron plating was painted black.  Not the most interesting or challenging of color schemes.

Scarcely any really reliable information about the Virginia's appearance seems to exist.  I imagine it's possible that the original Merrimac was copper-sheathed below the waterline; that seems to have been standard practice in the U.S. Navy of the era.  Most well-executed models of her, though, seem to show her in a scheme similar to the Monitor's, with red-lead paint below the waterline.

Last year my students and I worked on a project in association with one of the few surviving (well, sort of surviving) Confederate ironclads, the C.S.S. Neuse.  She was burned to prevent capture by the Yankees, and sank in the Neuse River near Kinston, North Carolina.  The remains of the hull are on public exhibition.  I had some lengthy discussions with the guys at the state historic site where she's exhibited; they know far more about this stuff than I do.  Their opinion is that Confederate ironclads were "painted" overall with a concoction that the Confederacy (and, I suppose, probably the Union too) used as a protective coating for all sorts of metal - notably cannon barrels.  It was a mixture of black paint, tar, turpentine, and maybe some other substances; if it wasn't pure black it was pretty close to it.  (Maybe a sort of brownish-black.) The folks at the Confederate Naval Museum, in Columbus, Georgia, seem to be of the same opinion.  I must say, though, that some of the photos of Confederate ironclads on the Mississippi seem to show a lighter color - probably grey.

Whether the Virginia (the first of the type, fitted out before any precedent or standard had been set) was painted that way is hard to say.  It's occurred to me to wonder whether, given the circumstances of her "conversion," she was painted at all.  It's certainly conceivable to me that the planking on her decks might have been left natural.

Maybe some Civil War enthusiasts in the Forum can help out more than I can with this one.  But I'm inclined to think the black and red scheme is right for the Monitor, and that the Virginia leaves plenty of scope for personal interpretation.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    March, 2004
Posted by Gerarddm on Thursday, April 13, 2006 10:35 AM

One could hazard a guess that, since the Confederates needed to get Virginia into action ASAP, they built her with the minimum revisions required to save time, materials, and money. Therefore if I were building her I'd have a coppered bottom because undoubtedly that's what Merrimac had.

Gerard> WA State Current: 1/700 What-If Railgun Battlecruiser 1/700 Admiralty COURAGEOUS battlecruiser
  • Member since
    April, 2006
Posted by Irish3335 on Thursday, April 13, 2006 11:55 AM
awesome, thanks for the help!
  • Member since
    November, 2005
Posted by Anonymous on Thursday, April 13, 2006 12:21 PM


Sign - Off Topic!! [#offtopic]

Along these lines I have kind of a dumb question.

Maybe I am the only one, but as a kid in school, I also researched the Monitor ships as well.

I understand that when the average person says "Monitor" he/she is actually referring to the U.S.S. Monitor, that faught the C.S.S. Virginia, but in fact they do not usually realize that the Monitor was a complete class of ships built by the U.S. Navy after the Civil War (not unlike the Dreadnought).

Generally the post-war production models had a slightly convexed deck, and the later larger models often had two turrets.

These actually became the prototypes for the more modern dreadnaught/turreted battleships first innovated by Jackie Fisher, First Sea Lord in Britain in the late 19th century.

So when an "expert" says "I went scuba diving and saw the Monitor", my question is which one did they see, and did they know that there was more then one, and does he know for certain which one he/she is looking at?

Just wondering

  • Member since
    May, 2003
  • From: Greenville, NC
Posted by jtilley on Thursday, April 13, 2006 1:21 PM

It's a reasonable question.  You're quite right:  "Monitor," like "Dreadnought," is both the name of a specific ship and a generic label for a class of vessels.  The word "monitor" has been used in reference to various large, slow, heavily-armed ships as recently as WWII.  As a matter of fact, I think the term "river monitor" was used to describe some American vessels used on the rivers of Vietnam.

A careful writer will use capital letters and italics when talking about a particular ship.  When you read about "the U.S.S. Monitor" it's pretty clear that the vessel in question is the single-turret ship that fought the Virginia.  When somebody refers to "a monitor" or "a Civil War monitor," he's using the term in the more generic sense.  If you're dealing with a casual conversation rather than the printed word, I guess you have to ask the person in question to explain what he means.

Youth, talent, hard work, and enthusiasm are no match for old age and treachery.

  • Member since
    January, 2006
  • From: istanbul/Turkey
Posted by kapudan_emir_effendi on Monday, April 17, 2006 4:20 PM

What a good incidence is this topic ! If it did not existed, I had to open one for my 2-hour inter-paper rapid build water line USS Weehawken. I will use the Lindberg USS Monitor from the ironclad duel set. I'll need a top view drawing of the passaic class to use as a template. Can I obtain one from the net ?


Don't surrender the ship !


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