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1862
Battle of the Ironclads
During the American Civil War, the CSS Virginia, a captured and rebuilt Union steam frigate formerly known as the Merrimac, engages the USS Monitor in the first battle between iron-fortified naval vessels in history.

The Confederate navy’s addition of iron plates to the captured USS Merrimac steam frigate temporarily made it an unstoppable force in the disputed waters of the Civil War. After seeing the Merrimac in action, the Union Navy constructed its ironclad, the USS Monitor.
On March 8, 1862, the Virginia attacked a Union squadron of wooden-hulled vessels in Hampton Roads off the Virginia coast. The USS Congress, a frigate, and the USS Cumberland, a sailing sloop, were easily sunk by the Virginia, which suffered no noticeable damage.
Late that night, the USS Monitor arrived in the area. With its deck nearly at the water level, the Monitor had an unassuming appearance, but it was a formidable match for the Confederate ironclad.

On March 9, the two vessels engaged each other, and both the Monitor and the Virginia suffered direct hits that failed to penetrate their iron shells. Finally, after four hours, a cannon blast from the Virginia hit the Monitor‘s pilothouse, temporarily blinding the ship’s captain, Union Lieutenant John L. Worden.
The Virginia was thus allowed to escape to Norfolk, Virginia, and the Battle of the Ironclads ended in a draw. Two months later, the Virginia was trapped in Norfolk by advancing Union forces, and its Confederate crew blew up the fearful vessel rather than allow it to fall into Union hands.

The CSS Virginia and USS Monitor were not the first ironclad warships, but they were the first ironclads to battle against one another

The Confederacy had great difficulty in sourcing the iron plating needed for the CSS Virginia

Despite carrying twelve large caliber guns, one of the CSS Virginia’s most lethal weapons was a simple 1,500lb iron ram projecting from its bow

During its battle with the USS Monitor the next day, the CSS Virginia sought to employ its ram, not knowing that this weapon now lay at the bottom of Hampton Roads.

See a painting of the sinking of the USS Cumberland by James Gurney: See the Painting

The CSS Virginia’s commander, Franklin Buchanan, was seriously wounded by musket ball on March 8 and did not participate in the Virginia’s famous March 9 duel with the USS Monitor

Buchanan, who would recover from his wound, captained the CSS Tennessee in its battle with Rear Admiral David Farragut’s squadron in the Battle of Mobile Bay. During that battle, Buchanan would suffer a broken leg and would surrender with his ship on August 5, 1864.

Sensing that their shells could do little damage, even at close range, the CSS Virginia ceased firing at the Monitor during the Battle

If the USS Monitor had used larger gunpowder charges in its 11-inch guns, it's likely that it would have holed and sunk the CSS Virginia


USS Monitor vs CSS VirginiaThis illustration shows the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia firing upon one another at close range during the Battle of Hampton Roads (Library of Congress)

Ironically, as the CSS Virginia fired more of its onboard ordnance, the ship became more vulnerable to attack

Franklin Buchanan and John L. Worden both became superintendents of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland

John L. Worden, promoted to rear admiral after the war, was the commandant of the United States Naval Academy between 1869 and 1874. A drill field at the Academy is named for Worden.

Before the Civil War, Franklin Buchanan was the first superintendent of the Unites States Naval Academy (1845 - 1847). The stately Buchanan House, current residence of Academy superintendents, is named after this famous Confederate Admiral.