The source of the name of the Monitor is simple enough. It was suggested by her designer, John Ericsson. The word means "a person or thing that warns or instructs." Ericsson hoped his new ship would serve to admonish the Confederates. The many ships of more-or-less similar design that followed came to be known as "monitors."
However, the name of the Monitor's opponent is the source of endless argument and confusion, for one of the most famous ships in naval history was known by three different names -- and it still debated which is the most proper. Before she was ever the C.S.S. Virginia of the Confederate States Navy, the same craft had been a commissioned vessel of the United States Navy named the U.S.S. [United States Ship -- meaning a commissioned warship of the United States Navy] Merrimac, sometimes referred to as the U.S.S. Merrimack. There is no absolutely definite answer to the question of which spelling is right. The town of Merrimac, New Hampshire is next to the Merrimack River. At times, both spelling were used in official documents referring to the ship. Adding to the confusion, there was a Confederate blockade runner called the Merrimac. She was captured by the Union navy and continued in service as the Merrimac -- and there was a second U.S. navy ship Merrimac of the 1890s.
Whether or not any of these ships were ever called the U.S.S. Merrimac(k) at the time they were in service can only be answered on a case-by-case basis. The prefix U.S.S. for U.S. Navy ships, although used as far back as the 18th century did not become standard or universal until the 20th century.
On February 17, 1862, she was renamed the C.S.S. (Confederate States Ship) Virginia, named for the state where she was built, and where she was stationed. However, even after that date, many Northern writers referred to her as the Merrimac(k). As the old saying goes, "history is written by the winners," and that is as good an explanation as any for why there are so many accounts of the Monitor battling the Merrimac. Or Merrimack.
See this link at the U.S. Navy History and Heritage website for more on the naming of U.S. ships. (The section on ship prefixes is torward the bottom of the page.) See this link for why the H.L. Hunley is not the C.S.S. Hunley
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U.S.S. Carnodelet, the first of the "City" class ships
|The "tinclad" U.S.S Rattler, formerly the civilian vessel Florence Miller.|
The tern "Tinclads" referred to a whole motley collection of ships that provided good service throughout the war. They weren't armored with tin, but were called that because tin is usually used in thin sheets, and these ships had only thin, light armor, designed to fend off musket fire, rather than to protect against concentrated cannon fire. These ships were converted civilian ships, and no two were fully alike. On most, there was only armor in key areas, such as around the pilot house and the engine machinery. Many used ½ inch or one-inch iron plate for armor (as compared to the 11-inch thick armor on the Monitor's turrret.) Some had no metal plating at all, but just thick wooden sides. They were used for various jobs, such as crew transport and patrolling stretches of the river.
This link, which will open in a new window, displays a page from a privately operated website, and provides an excellent overview of the Tinclads.
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