The novel’s Sergeant Timothy Chase of the Twenty-Ninth Massachusetts thought he’d seen the future in the 1862 Hampton Roads battle between the ironclads USS Monitor and the CSA Virginia. But the future had a good ways to go yet.
Shortly thereafter, the Monitor led an attack group of five Union gunboats up the James River to assault Drewry’s Bluff outside Richmond. It came to nothing when it was found that the Monitor’s guns could not be sufficiently elevated to hit the Rebel batteries atop the ninety-foot bluff.
Eight similar ironclads, also dubbed monitors though some lacked the USS Monitor’s swiveling gun turret, were repulsed a year later in an attempt to retake Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Only one, the twin-turret USS Keokuk, was sunk by Confederate artillery but the rest suffered enough damage to their turrets to limit their offensive abilities.