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Monitor vs Virginia


When the Confederates seized the navy base at Norfolk they came into possession of the hull of the frigate USS Merrimack. They raised the hull and outfitted it with thick steel plate surrounding it. They thus created the first ironclad. Word that the south was creating a ship that might threaten the union blockade fleet soon reached the North. In August Congress forced the Union navies hand when it enacted a law directing the building of three ironclads. John Ericsson reluctantly submitted a bid for a radical design. It was a lightly armored small craft that was highly maneuverable, and had a heavily armored turret that could fire in any direction.

On March 8th the CSS Virginia was ready to sail. It steamed out of Norfolk harbor and headed for the Union blockade fleet at the mouth of the James at Hampton Roads. Five Union ship were waiting there. The Virginia headed for the first the Cumberland, shelled her and then rammed her sending the ship to the bottom. She then turned to the Congress, who was helpless against her onslaught. All the while the shells of the Union ships bounced harmlessly off the Virginia. Next on her list was the Minnesota, which had run aground. However, the Virginia's draft was too deep to allow her to close on the Virginia. The Virginia retired for the night planning to finish off the Union fleet in the morning.

 

 

The next morning when the Virginia returned to finish its handiwork, it was surprised to discover a new strange vessel near the Minnesota. A crewman from the Virginia recounted- "we though at first it was a raft on which one of the Minnesota's boilers was being taken to shore for repairs". That raft soon came out and fired on the Merrimack. Hour after hour the two ships slugged it out, neither side achieving a decisive advantage. Finally both ships withdrew. The day had ended in a draw. It was however a strategic victory of the Union, as its fleet had been saved and the Virginia was bottled up in the James River. The day of the wooden navy was over.

Updated October 22, 2013