CSS Virginia

CSS Virginia

CSS "Virginia" was an ironclad warship of the Confederate States Navy during the American Civil War (built using the remains of the scuttled USS "Merrimack").

She was one of the participants in the Battle of Hampton Roads in March, 1862 opposite the USS "Monitor". The battle is chiefly significant in naval history as the first battle between two "ironclads".

Ironclads were only a recent innovation, started with the 1859 French "La Gloire". Afterwards, the design of ships and the nature of naval warfare changed dramatically.

USS "Merrimack" becomes CSS "Virginia"

When the Commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, one of the important federal military bases threatened was Gosport Shipyard (now Norfolk Naval Shipyard) in Portsmouth, Virginia. Accordingly, the order was sent to destroy the base rather than allow it to fall into Confederate hands. Unfortunately for the Union, the execution of these orders was bungled. The steam frigate USS "Merrimack" sank before she completely burned. When the Confederates entered the yard, they raised the "Merrimack" and decided to use the engines and hull to build an ironclad ram.

water and addition of tons of iron did not improve the situation.

Battle of Hampton Roads

The Battle of Hampton Roads began on March 8 1862 when "Virginia" sortied. Despite an all-out effort to complete her, the ship still had workmen on board when she sailed. Supported by "Raleigh" and "Beaufort", and accompanied by "Patrick Henry", "Jamestown", and "Teaser", "Virginia" took on the blockading fleet.

The first ship engaged, USS "Cumberland", was sunk after being rammed. However, in sinking, "Cumberland" broke off "Virginia's" ram. Seeing what happened to "Cumberland", the captain of USS "Congress" ordered his ship grounded in shallow water. "Congress" and "Virginia" traded fire for an hour, after which the badly-damaged "Congress" surrendered. While the surviving crewmen of "Congress" were being ferried off the ship, a Union battery on the north shore opened fire on "Virginia". In retaliation, the captain of "Virginia" ordered "Congress" fired upon with red-hot shot, to set her ablaze.

"Virginia" did not emerge from the battle unscathed. Shot from "Cumberland", "Congress", and the shore-based Union troops had riddled her smokestack, reducing her already low speed. Two of her guns were out of order, and a number of armor plates had been loosened. Even so, her captain attacked USS "Minnesota", which had run aground on a sandbank trying to escape "Virginia". However, because of her deep draft, "Virginia" was unable to do significant damage. It being late in the day, "Virginia" left with the expectation of returning the next day and completing the destruction of the Union blockaders.

Later that night, USS "Monitor" arrived at Union-held Fort Monroe, rushed to Hampton Roads in hopes of protecting the Union force and preventing "Virginia" from threatening Union cities.

The next day, on March 9, 1862, the world's first battle between ironclads took place. The smaller, nimbler "Monitor" was able to outmaneuver "Virginia", but neither ship proved able to do significant damage, despite numerous hits. "Monitor" was much closer to the water, and thus much harder to hit by the "Virginia's" guns, but vulnerable to ramming and boarding. Finally, "Monitor" retreated. This was because the captain of the "Monitor" was hit by gunpowder in his eyes while looking through the pilothouse's peepholes, which caused "Monitor" to haul off, but she soon returned, and the captain of "Virginia", Catesby ap Roger Jones, thought it best to do the same to tend to any damages. It has been marked in history that the "Virginia" retreated, but the battle was a draw. The Union blockade remained.

During the next two months, "Virginia" made several sorties to Hampton Roads hoping to draw "Monitor" into battle. "Monitor", however, was under orders not to engage. Neither ironclad was ever to fight again.

Finally on May 10, 1862, advancing Union troops occupied Norfolk. "Virginia" was unable to retreat further up the James River due to her deep draft, nor was she seaworthy enough to enter the ocean. Without a home port, "Virginia" was ordered blown up to keep her from being captured. This task fell to ap Roger Jones, the last man to leave "CSS Virginia" after all of her guns had been safely removed and carried to Drewy's Bluff to fight again. Early on the morning of May 11, 1862, off Craney Island, fire reached her magazine and she was destroyed by a great explosion.

Historical names: "Merrimack", "Virginia", "Merrimac"

The name of the warship which served the Confederacy in the famous Battle of Hampton Roads has become a source of confusion, which continues to the present day.

When she was first commissioned into the United States Navy in 1856, her name was "Merrimack", with the "K". The name derived from the Merrimack River near where she was built. She was the second ship of the U.S. Navy to be named for the Merrimack River, which is formed by the junction of the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee Rivers at Franklin, New Hampshire. The Merrimack flows south across New Hampshire, and then eastward across northeastern Massachusetts before emptying in the Atlantic at Newburyport, Massachusetts.

The Confederacy bestowed the name "Virginia" on her when she was raised, restored, and outfitted as an ironclad warship, but the Union preferred to call the Confederate ironclad warship by either its earlier name, "Merrimack", or by the nickname, "The Monster".

Perhaps because the Union won the Civil War, the history of the United States generally records the Union version. In the aftermath of the battle, the names "Virginia" and "Merrimack" were used equally by both sides, as attested by the newspapers and correspondence of the day. Some Navy reports and pre-1900 historians misspelled the name as "Merrimac," which is actually an unrelated ship. [ [http://www.americancivilwar.com/monitor.html Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack C.S.S. Virginia Civil War Naval Battle ] ] Hence "the Battle of the "Monitor" and the "Merrimac". Both spellings are still in use in the Hampton Roads area.

Memorial, heritage

*It is said the most popular exhibit at Jamestown Exposition held in 1907 at Sewell's Point was the "Battle of the "Merrimac" and "Monitor"," a diorama which was in a special building.Fact|date=January 2008
*The small community in Montgomery County, Virginia near where the coal burned by the Confederate ironclad was mined is now known as Merrimac, Virginia.
*Other pieces of "Virginia" are on display at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News and the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, where the anchor has resided on the front lawn for many years.

In 1907, an armour plate from the ship was melted down and used in the casting of the Pokahuntas Bell for the Jamestown Exposition. [Richmond Times-Dispatch, " [http://www.loc.gov/chroniclingamerica/lccn/sn85038615/1907-04-13/ed-1/seq-2 Pokahuntas Bell for Exposition] ", April 13, 1907]

The name of the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, built in Hampton Roads in the general vicinity of the famous engagement, with both Virginia and federal funds, also reflects the more recent version.

Should periodic modern efforts to recover more of the Confederate vessel from the depths of Hampton Roads prove successful, it is unclear what name will be applied to the remains.

ee also

*Norfolk Naval Shipyard
*USS Merrimack (1855)



Military Heritage did a feature on the Merrimack (CSS Virginia), USS Monitor, and the Battle at Hampton Roads (Keith Milton, Military Heritage, December 2001, Volume 3, No. 3, pp.38 to 45 and p. 97).

External links

* [http://www.lva.lib.va.us/ Library of Virginia official website]
* [http://www.vahistorical.org/ Virginia Historical Society official website]
* [http://www.moc.org/ Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, VA official website]
* [http://cssvirginia.org/ website devoted to the CSS "Virginia"]
* [http://www.hamptonroadsvisitor.com Hampton Roads Visitor Guide]
* [http://www.monitorcenter.org/ USS Monitor Center and Exhibit Newport News, Virginia]
* [http://www.mariner.org/ Mariner's Museum, Newport News, Virginia]
* [http://www.hrnm.navy.mil/ Hampton Roads Naval Museum]
* [http://www.multied.com/Navy/cwnavalhistory/ Civil War Naval History]
* [http://www.geocities.com/hrforts/Fort_Wool/history.htm Fort Wool History]
* [http://www.roadstothefuture.com/I664_VA_MMMBT.html Roads to the Future - I-664 Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel]

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