The Monitor Cannon
If you’ve ever entered our library on the Market Street side, perhaps you’ve taken a moment to notice that there is a small cannon standing guard in front. A plaque on the cannon reads:
THE MONITOR of 1863 fame the invention of Capt. John Ericsson was the first war vessel carrying an armored turret. It was made through the efforts of John F. Winslow and John A. Griswold and with money furnished by them. This cannon made for the Monitor was presented to the CITY OF POUGHKEEPSIE by Mary C. W. Black Mr. Winslow’s daughter 1926.
That all sounds very official, but there’s a slight problem: there were only two cannons on the Monitor and they both went down with the ship (they are now being preserved in a museum in Virginia). So what’s the real story behind this particular cannon?
First, what is the Monitor? Perhaps you remember learning in school about the famous Civil War battle between the two ironclad ships, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (also known as the Merrimac when it was a Union ship). This battle, which took place in March of 1862, was the first of its kind, with the two iron-built ships testing their abilities to both inflict and survive damage. Even though there wasn’t a clear victor, the Confederate Navy took far less of a loss overall with regards to lives lost and ships damaged. The Monitor itself did well and saw action again in May of 1862 at The Battle of Drewry’s Bluff. The ship was then used as part of the blockade along the James River until December of 1862, when its crew received orders to sail to North Carolina. Sadly, while being towed by the USS Rhode Island, a powerful storm overcame the Monitor, and she sank off the coast of Cape Hatteras, taking 16 crew members with her (47 crew members were rescued by the Rhode Island).
Even with the loss of this new invention, the idea of iron ships and ships with turrets (like the Monitor had,) was revolutionary and greatly affected the building of future ships. However, it would not have happened without the support of a man who would retire to live right here in Poughkeepsie, John Flack Winslow. Winslow had been a successful iron manufacturer since 1831, when he began managing iron works in New York and New Jersey. He worked alongside his business partners, Erastus Corning and John A. Griswold, and they created the Albany Iron Works. While visiting Washington D.C., Winslow and Griswold happened to meet C.S. Bushnell and an inventor named John Ericsson. Together, they looked over Ericsson’s plans for an ironclad ship with a gun turret, which would allow for the easy aiming and firing of cannons in any direction. These plans were originally turned down by the Navy Board who believed that the boat would sink with all of those iron plates. Winslow and Griswold decided to help Ericsson by taking this idea to President Lincoln where Winslow, with his great knowledge of iron manufacturing, managed to convince the President to give it a try.
A contract was made and accepted by the Navy, but the new ironclad had to be completed within 100 days. Winslow quickly got to work making sure that his Albany Iron Works could handle this project. However, he needed the assistance of other manufacturers, so he personally visited them in order to get them on board. During this process, his first wife Nancy suddenly died. He continued on with his work, and the ship was completed in exactly 101 days. Winslow also managed to design two cannons for the ship, but it was decided that they were far too small for what was needed. Instead, two 11-inch Dahlgren Guns were brought in, capable of firing 136-pound round shots. Winslow was also the man to choose the first Captain of the newly built Monitor: a man from Dutchess County named John Lorimer Worden.
After the war, Winslow purchased an estate just north of the City of Poughkeepsie known as Woof Cliff. He expanded the house, improved the landscape, and was well known for being a generous host at 4th of July celebrations, where he fired off one of the cannons that he designed for the Monitor. Interestingly, while those cannons never got around to destroying any Confederate ships, they did manage to blow up a tugboat that happened to be sailing down the Hudson during one such late night July 4th celebration. Luckily, no one was hurt and Winslow bought the company a new tugboat. He married for a second time, a local girl named Harriet Wickes, and they had three children together. He stayed busy with his church and local railroads until the sudden death of his eldest daughter Julia – only six years old – in 1875, at which point he retired. Winslow died in 1892, but his wife continued to live on the estate until her death in 1926.
It was in 1926 when one of the cannons was donated to the City of Poughkeepsie by Winslow’s second daughter Mary. She also sold off her family’s estate during that year to developers, who turned the property into an amusement park with rides and a giant swimming pool; the house became a restaurant. The old grand house was torn down in the 1950s, and the land is now part of Marist College. Next time you visit us, check out our cannon with a new knowledge of its interesting history.
Marvel, William. “The Monitor Chronicles” – 973.75 Mon
Nelson, James L. “Reign of Iron” – 973.752 Nel
Wheeler, Francis B. “John Flack Winslow and The Monitor” – LH B Winslow
Poughkeepsie Journal – 20 Aug 1944, 17 Dec 1967
01 – Photo of John Flack Winslow taken at Vail Brothers Studios in Poughkeepsie
02 – An image of the Beers Map showing the location of Wood Cliff
03 – Drawing of Wood Cliff from History of Dutchess County by James H. Smith, 1882
04 – Photo of the cannon in front of Adriance Memorial Library
Marist Website – Images of the demolition of Woof Cliff in the 1950s
Library of Congress – The Wreck of the Iron-clad Monitor