The history of this country is colorful and interesting. Montauk has played its part in that history but not many people now about the role of the USS Montauk.
So many are taught about the USS Monitor as the first U.S. Navy ironclad war ship built to patrol harbors, and its famous battle with the Confederate vessel Merrimack. However nine of these ships were built at the same time. All were used in the United States Civil War. Overlooked of course is the USS Montauk. Launched in December 1862, it was commanded by Commander John L. Wolden. The USS Montauk was sent, after being built in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to South Carolina to be part of the Atlantic Blockading Squadron against the south.
Its first action was the bombardment of Fort McAllister in Georgia during January 1863. The specialty of the ironclad “Passaic type” of which both the Montauk and the Monitor were was close range bombardment of targets in harbors such as forts and other patrol boats, or monitoring vessels. The USS Montauk was equipped with a 20 ft in diameter turret which had a pair of Dahlgren guns which used eleven inch Dahlgren smoothbore shell guns, the heaviest available at that time. When it opened fire it was spitting out huge amounts of hot lead in rapid fire.
The USS Montauk also helped attack Fort Sumter, outside of Charleston, South Carolina leading to the capture of Battery Wagner of Charleston in September 1863. The vessel was used in that area until 1865 when she was sent to duty in the waters off of North Carolina. The Montauk patrolled and dominated the waters of the Cape Fear River. With her Ironclad strength and massive gun turret the USS Montauk dictated terms of who went in and out of the river.
It may be noted the USS Montauk survived the storm that sunk the more famous USS Monitor. The crew dumped all of its ammunition over the side to keep the boat riding higher in the water. President Lincoln himself took cabinet member for a tour of the Montauk when it passed through Washington D.C. on its way to the south for battle. Lincoln viewed the technology of the ironclads as a wave of future warfare. Today one of the United States Navy’s most noted aircraft carriers is The USS Lincoln, nuclear powered, with planes tomahawk missiles and Nuclear weapons.
There is one more Lincoln connection to the USS Montauk. It was on the deck of the USS Montauk that the body of Abraham Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth was investigated and examined after he was killed in an attempt to capture him. There are conspiracy theorists who believe he may have been brought to the ship alive.
The USS Montauk was decommissioned in December 1865 and sent to League Island Naval Shipping Yard in Philadelphia with the surviving sister ironclads. It was there that she remained until 1904 when she was scrapped.
In a ceremony before she was permanently disbanded her list of accomplishments were once again read off. The interesting thing about all this is that when built and commissioned in 1862-1865 the population of Montauk officially was under 100 people. There was no train out to Montauk until the mid 1890’s. But the Montauk Lighthouse was a beacon to the sailors of many vessels from many nations and mentioned in much of the lore of seafaring men. Today many nuclear powered submarines pass by the lighthouse on their way to Groton. It is worth remembering that to southerners Montauk meant not getting by with contraband. The ship was illustrated and known through the country. It was like the people who now call Montauk home, strong tough as nails.