The Battle of Hampton Roads
Today marks the sesquicentennial of the Battle at Hampton Roads. On March 8, 1862, the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack), under the command of Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan, left Norfolk and steamed out to attack nearby Union ships, including the USS Cumberland. Around 2pm, the Virginia rammed the Cumberland with its 1,500-pound iron ram, “mortally” killing the Cumberland via a hole to its hull. The Virginia temporarily entangled itself within the Cumberland’s hull but managed to extract itself—at the cost of its iron ram—before sinking. Next, the Virginia targeted the USS Congress, who intentional ran aground rather than face the Virginia directly. In turn, the Virginia pounded the Congress with its broadsides, forcing the Union vessel to lower its flag and surrender around 4pm. While attempting to accept the Congress’s surrender, Flag Officer Buchanan was wounded, forcing the Virginia to break away and return to shore so that its captain might seek medical attention.
The next day, March 9th, resulted in the famed battle of the ironclads as the night before, the USS Monitor, a radically designed ironclad, had slipped into Hampton Roads. On the morning of the 9th, the Virginia, now under the command of Catesby Jones, prepared for another assault. While steaming towards the USS Minnesota, the Virginia’s crew spotted a peculiar raft-like vessel with a large rotating turret: the USS Monitor. The Virginia shifted focus and began firing on the Monitor. The Monitor responded in kind and the two ironclads settled in for a close range, albeit ineffective, fire-fight. The Monitor successfully deflected the Virginia’s attempts at ramming and capsizing before finally disengaging and heading for shallower waters. Soon thereafter, the Virginia, low on ammunition and worried over the lowering tide, returned to Norfolk —thereby ending the battle in a draw. Despite a clear victory for either navy, the Battle of Hampton Roads proved a key turning point in the evolution of naval warfare.
Please also see a Hampton Roads-specific Voice from the Past: "How These Powerful Machines Are To Be Stopped Is A Problem I Can Not Solve."
Holzer, Harold and Tim Mulligan, eds. The Battle of Hampton Roads: New Perspectives on the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. New York: Fordham University Press, 2006.
Still, William N. Jr. Iron afloat: The story of the Confederate Armorclads. Nashville: Vanderbilt University, 1985.
Symonds, Craig. "The Battle of Hampton Roads: Then & Now." The Civil War Trust Web site. Accessed March 6, 2012. http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/hampton-roads/hampton-roads-history/the-battle-of-hampton-roads.html.
________. The Civil War at Sea. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2009.
"10 Facts about Hampton Roads." The Civil War Trust Web site. Accessed March 6, 2012. http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/hampton-roads/hampton-roads-history/10-facts-about-hampton-roads.html.
Tucker, Spencer. Blue & Gray Navies: The Civil War Afloat. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2006.
Thulesius, Olav. "USS Monitor: A Cheesebox on a Raft." America's Civil War Magazine. Available online at the Civil War Trust Web site. Accessed March 6, 2012. http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/hampton-roads/hampton-roads-history/uss-monitor-a-cheesebox-on-a.html.