Louis Napoleon Stodder (February 12, 1837 – October 8, 1911) was a U.S. Navy officer and served in the American Civil War as acting master on the famous USS Monitor when it fought the Merrimack [lower-alpha 1] at Hampton Roads on 8–9 March 1862. He is also noted for his heroic efforts in the final hours before Monitor sank in a violent storm at sea off Cape Hatteras that same year. He later commanded the USS Adela and served in the East Gulf Blockading Squadron. After the Civil War he was promoted to Captain and served with distinction commanding other vessels and in other capacities. He continued serving in the Navy until 1902. When he retired Stodder lived out the remainder of his years in New York.
Stodder was born on 12 February 1837 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was married to Watie Howland Aldrich, daughter of Alton Aldrich and Mary Earle, of Franconia, New Hampshire on 15 November 1861, shortly after the Civil War began. Little is known about his childhood and early life.
Civil War service
Stodder volunteered for service aboard the USS Monitor and served as Acting Master for the entire time she was in service (25 February 1862 through 31 December 1862) and was officially assigned to the vessel on 31 January 1862 He was turret officer and along with Officers Samuel Greene and Chief Engineer, Stimers commanded and coordinated a sixteen man gun-crew inside the turret of the Monitor. Designed John Ericsson, the ship was unusual in its design and completely made of iron and set mostly below the waterline. Stodder, who was present at Continental Iron Works while the ship was being built, was subsequently skeptical as to whether Ericsson's hulky ironclad vessel would actually float, as were some of the other officers. He was also present when the ship was launched on 30 January 1862 into New York's East River at Greenpoint Brooklyn. Just before the launching Stodder remarked,
see her after she strikes water. She's bound to go to the bottom of the East River and stick there, sure.
To his amazement the vessel slipped into the water and floated, while Ericsson stood on its deck in defiance of all his critics.
First battle of the ironclads
On the evening of March 8 after a perilous journey at sea the Monitor finally arrived at Hampton Roads only to find that the Virginia had already destroyed several ships of the Union's blockading squadron. When daylight came the following morning the Monitor engaged the Virginia directly. During Monitor's first and epic battle of the ironclads, Stodder operated the burdensome control wheel that turned the turret into position allowing her guns to bore and fire at the Confederate ironclad. During the battle the ironclads Monitor and Virginia battled for four hours. Each ship ineffectually pounded the other with close range cannon fire, changing the way most naval battles would be fought in the future. Amid battle Stodder along with officers Stimers and Truscott were inside the gun turret of Monitor talking over matters and positioned such that they were leaning against the turret's inside side when it took a direct hit outside. Knocked unconscious, Stodder was taken below where it took him an hour to regain consciousness. He was replaced by Chief Engineer Stimers for the duration. Stodder was the USS Monitor's turret officer and the first person injured at the Battle of Hampton Roads, surviving a direct hit to Monitor's gun turret. After regaining consciousness Stodder recalled,
Service on James River
Stodder also served on Monitor at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff The Monitor tried to make its way up the James River and past the blockade in the river, but it was too heavily guarded by the guns of Fort Darling and other shore batteries. Stodder who participated in the assault later claimed,
During the last week of June the Monitor also provided naval support for General McClellan's forces along the banks of the James River during the Peninsula Campaign by covering McClellan's withdrawal from the area. While stationed there, at Harrison's Landing, the heat was so intense that Stodder later wrote:
After service on the James River the Monitor was put into drydock for repairs in Washington's navy yard in September. Upon completion in November a notice was placed in the newspaper which stated that the ship would be put on display. Tourists, which turned out by the thousands, were allowed to board and tour the vessel. Stodder and other officers were assigned to oversee the event. When it was over Stodder noted,
anything removable. When we came up to clean that night there was not a key,
doorknob, escutcheon -- there wasn't a thing that hadn't been carried away.
Monitors's final voyage
In December 1862 while serving under Commander John P. Bankhead while Monitor was on her last voyage Stodder played a fundamental role in the prolonged attempts to save the Monitor from sinking while being towed to North Carolina by the USS Rhode Island during a violent storm some sixteen 16 miles (26 km) off the coast of Cape Hatteras. As the storm grew in intensity the connecting tow line threatened the safety of both ships as they heaved to and fro in the turbulent sea. At 10:30 p.m.Bankhead gave the order for the red distress lantern to be hoisted atop the turret. The engines were slowed to preserve steam for the pumps. However the reduced speed made the towline very taut causing the Monitor to be unstable and almost impossible to control. Bankhead ordered the towline cut and called for volunteers to go out onto the deck to carry out the task. Stodder and two other volunteers came forward. As they climbed down the turret onto the low freeboard deck two of the men were quickly swept overboard by large waves and drowned, but Stodder managed to hang on to the safety lines around the deck and continued making his way to the tow line. While riding the storm Stodder managed to cut through a tow line, thirteen inches in diameter, using a hatchet. In the final minutes before Monitor's sinking Stodder made several attempts to go below deck in complete darkness to aid any crew members needing assistance. He found the wounded engineer Lewis still bedded who refused to be moved. Stodder later reported about his unfortunate encounter with Lewis',
however, to do so and, not being strong enough to carry him, I had to leave him to his fate.
Stodder survived the sinking and he along with other rescued officers and crew were transferred to the Rhode Island which had the Monitor in tow on the their way to blockade duty in South Carolina on the night of 30 December 1862. He later wrote that "it was not an easy job" and was himself almost washed overboard by the large waves splashing over the low freeboard (deck) of that vessel. Stodder was one of two officers who remained with Bankhead who was the last surviving man to abandon the sinking Monitor. In his official report of the Monitor's to the Navy Department Bankhead praised Stodder for his heroic efforts and wrote,
of Lieutenant Greene and Acting Master Louis N. Stodder, who remained with me until the last,
and by their example did much toward inspiring confidence and obedience on the part of the others.
Some time after the sinking a controversy emerged over why the Monitor sank. In the Army and Navy Journal Ericsson accused the crew of drunkardness during the storm and consequently unable to prevent the vessel from sinking. Stodder vigorously defended the crew and rebuked Ericsson's characterization of the crew and events and wrote to Pierce that Ericsson cover's up defects by blaming those that are now dead, pointing out there there were several technical problems that led to the ship's sinking, foremost being the overhang between the upper and lower hulls which came loose and partially separated during the storm from slamming into the violent waves. Stodder's account was corroborated by other shipmates.
Other Civil War service
In 1863 Stodder was commander of the USS Adela, a former blockade runner which was attached to the East Gulf Blockading Squadron. Before departing to join the squadron the Adela was in need of coal and arrived at 4 August 1863 at Port Royal South Carolina to resupply the ship. After waiting ten days Stodder soon realized that coal supplies were exhausted. During his wait, another ship, the bark Faith laden with coal, struck the nearby shoals and bilged. Stodder requested permission from her senior officer to salvage the Faith's coal which was granted. For three days the crew of the Adela were up to their necks in water salvaging the coal for use in the Adela by which time they were able to salvage about 25 tons. During this time another supply vessel carrying 1400 tons of coal had arrived. His crew exhausted, Stodder ordered the salvaging operation to stop, hoping to obtain a supply from the arriving vessel.
Stodder also served aboard the USS Ohio when it was outfitted as a receiving ship.
Post Civil War service
Stodder's post Civil War service was very distinguished. He joined the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service as a Third Lieutenant. He was honorably discharged as Acting Volunteer Lieutenant on 10 January 1863. The following February, for his heroic role aboard the Monitor he was awarded a sword on which were engraved the words: Presented to Lieut. Louis N. Stodder By his Boston Friends Feb. 9th 1863 "Monitor" on guard. In 1999 the sword was auctioned by a prominent New York auction firm and realized more than $43,000.
In 1879 he was promoted to Captain and was given command of the USS Oliver Wolcott. On 11 January 1883 while still captain of this vessel he subdued an Indian uprising at Fort Simpson, British Columbia. In 1892 Stodder was named supervisor of anchorages at the Port of New York, remaining in that position until 1901. He retired from service the following year.
Years after the Civil War when Ericsson died in 1889, his body was sent to Sweden for burial on August 23, 1890, at the request of the Swedish government. It was loaded aboard a Navy warship with a full ceremony attended by Stodder, the Secretary of the Navy and other former Monitor crew members.
In 1906, Albert Stevens Crockett, a young reporter for the New York Herald, interviewed the former Captain Stodder, who was retired and living in New York, then the only surviving officer of the Monitor. Stodder was initially reluctant to talk about himself, so it took some persuading by Crockett to get Stodder to provide a first-hand account of the Monitor's history. Stodder's hair and mustache were now white, but Crockett noted that the former officer was still "erect of figure and had the air and voice of a strict disciplinarian, though with a keen sense of humor and an enjoyment of life." Stodder's account helped historians piece together the story of the short-lived Monitor.
Louis Stodder was the last surviving crew member of the Monitor and lived well into the 20th century. Following a nervous breakdown Stodder died of cerebral apoplexy and pulmonary edema in Brooklyn, New York, October 8, 1911, at the age of 74. He is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
- Merrimack was abandoned by retreating Union forces at Norfolk, Virginia, later salvaged by Confederate forces, converted to an ironclad and renamed CSS Virginia
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