John Ericsson’s design for the USS Monitor was crucial to the Union in the early years of the war and proved so important that it became the namesake of that style of ironclad warship. The United States Navy needed their own ironclad to go up against the CSS Virginia, and Swedish-born Ericsson—already a technological inventor and engineer of some renown—saved the day with his idea that seemed "the image of nothing in heaven above, or the earth beneath, or the water under the earth."
Ericsson has a rightful though often forgotten place in American history and one of the best ways to reconnect with slightly obscure figures is to experience artistic representations of their person. A quick search reveals that the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC has at least twelve pieces of Ericsson-related art ranging from a marble sculpture to traditional oil on canvas to albumen silver print. Most of these portraits are viewable online and this portrait of Ericcson as well as this 1862 group portrait entitled Men of Progress are viewable in person in the National Portrait Gallery’s American Origins exhibit.
After seeing Ericsson’s portraits, don’t forget to visit the John Ericsson National Memorial, located in West Potomac Park, south of the Lincoln Memorial. Here a six-foot-five figure of Ericsson sits surrounded by figures representing “adventure,” “labor,” and “vision”—three qualities that Ericsson and the Civil War Navies truly exemplified.