March 09, 2021

U.S.S Monitor versus C.S.S. Virginia

The Monitor and Merrimac: The First Fight Between Ironclads

A very important naval battle took place on 9 March 1862. This is usually remembered as the duel between the Monitor and the Merrimack, but that 2nd ship had been rechristened as the Confederate States Ship Virginia. Battle of Hampton Roads - HISTORY

This naval battle, though inconclusive, rendered EVERY other ship in service, anywhere in the world, obsolete. It would kick off an arms race that would pass thru H.M.S Dreadnought, and culminate in the likes of U.S.S Iowa class battleships, the Kriegsmarine ships Bismarck and Tirpitz, and the Imperial Japanese Naval ships of the Yamato (大和) class.

The Battle of Hampton Roads, also known as the Battle of the ironclads, occurred on March 9, 1862 between the U.S.S. Monitor and the Merrimack (C.S.S. Virginia) during the American Civil War (1861-65) and was history’s first naval battle between ironclad warships.It was part of a Confederate effort to break the Union blockade of Southern ports, including Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia, that had been imposed at the start of the war. Though the battle itself was inconclusive, it began a new era in naval warfare.

The Virginia had had free reign against the wooden vessels of the Union Navy.

On March 8, 1862, it cruised down the Elizabeth River and sunk the U.S.S. Cumberland before running aground the U.S.S. Congress and setting her on fire off Hampton Roads in southeastern Virginia.

But on March 9th, the Monitor arrived.

The next day, the U.S.S. Monitor steamed into the Chesapeake Bay to protect the rest of the Union’s wooden fleet, including the U.S.S. Minnesota. The Monitor had set sail only three days earlier from Brooklyn under the command of Lieutenant John L. Worden. Designed by Swedish engineer John Ericsson, the vessel had an unusually low profile, rising from the water only 18 inches. The flat iron deck had a 20-foot cylindrical turret rising from the middle of the ship; the turret housed two 11-inch Dahlgren guns. The Monitor had a draft of less than 11 feet so it could operate in the shallow harbors and rivers of the South.

Although the battle was a draw, the Monitor ended the free reign that the C.S.S. Virginia had over the Union Navy.

Both ships came to sad ends.

When the Yankees invaded the James Peninsula two months after the Battle of Hampton Roads, the retreating Confederates scuttled the Virginia. The Monitor went down in bad weather off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, at the end of the year.

If you haven't seen Ken Burns' The Civil War, I highly recommend it. The coverage of this battle is brief, but memorable.

1 comment:

  1. Here's a great link to that piece of history at the The Mariners’ Museum .


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