Today in History:

Virginia (1862-1862)

User Rating: 0 / 5

Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

On 20 April 1861, when Virginia authorities took over the Norfolk Navy Yard after its evacuatuation by Federal forces, they found, among other valuable items, the hulk of the steam frigate USS Merrimack. Though burned to the waterline and sunk, the big ship's lower hull and machinery were intact. During the remainder of 1861 and the first two months of 1862, the Confederate States Navy raised, drydocked and converted her into a casemate ironclad ram, a new warship type that promised to overcome the Union's great superiority in conventional warships. Placed in commission as CSS Virginia in mid-February 1862, the ship's iron armor made her virtually invulnerable to contemporary gunfire. She carried ten guns of her own, a seven-inch pivot-mounted rifle at each end and a broadside battery of two six-inch rifles and six nine-inch smoothbores. Affixed to her bow was an iron ram, allowing the ship herself to be employed as a deadly weapon.

Virginia made her first combat sortie on 8 March 1862, steaming down the Elizabeth River from Norfolk and into Hampton Roads. In a historic action that dramatically demonstrated the superiority of armored steam-powered warships over their wooden sailing counterparts, she rammed and sank the big U.S. Navy sloop of war Cumberland and shelled the frigate Congress into submission. In Washington, D.C., many of the Federal Government's senior officials panicked, convinced that Virginia posed a grave threat to Union seapower and coastal cities. They were unaware that her serious operational limitations, caused by her deep draft, weak powerplant and extremely poor seakeeping, essentially restricted her use to deep channels in calm, inland waterways.

However, their worries were relieved the next day. When Virginia returned to Hampton Roads to attack the grounded steam frigate Minnesota, she found the Union's own pioneer ironclad, USS Monitor, waiting. A second historic battle ensued, with the two opponents firing away, without mortal effect, until the action ended in a tactical draw in the early afternoon of 9 March 1862.

Over the next two months, the two ironclads kept each other in check. Virginia, repaired and strengthened at the Norfolk Navy Yard, reentered the Hampton Roads area on 11 April and 8 May, but no further combat with the Monitor resulted. As the Confederates abandoned their positions in the Norfolk area, Virginia was threatened with the loss of her base. After a futile effort to lighten the ship enough to allow her to move up the James River, on 11 May the South's formidible ironclad was destroyed by her crew off Craney Island, some six miles from where she had electrified the World through her battles of 8 and 9 March. CSS Virginia's wreck was largely removed between 1866 and 1876.

This page features all our relatively accurate views of the Confederate Navy ironclad ram Virginia, ex-USS Merrimack, and provides links to other views of the ship and her actions.

For additional views of, or relating to, CSS Virginia, see:

  • CSS Virginia -- Grossly Inaccurate Views of and on board the Ship;
  • CSS Virginia destroys USS Cumberland and USS Congress, 8 March 1862;
  • Action between CSS Virginia and USS Monitor, 9 March 1862;
  • CSS Virginia -- Miscellaneous Actions;
  • CSS Virginia -- Ship's Officers and other People; and
  • CSS Virginia -- Relics.

    Photo #: NH 57830

    CSS Virginia (1862-1862)


    Wash drawing by Clary Ray, 1898.

    Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C.



    Photo #: NH 61676

    CSS Virginia (1862-1862)


    Photograph of a 19th Century artwork.



    Photo #: NH 76386

    CSS Virginia (1862-1862)


    Colored outboard profile plan, originally in the files of the Bureau of Construction and Repair. Its origin is unknown, but it may be of Civil War vintage.

    The original is plan # 81-12-2B in Record Group 19 at the U.S. National Archives.



    Photo #: NH 58881

    CSS Virginia (1862-1862)


    Halftone reproduction of a line engraving, originally published in "Battles and Leaders of the Civil War", Volume I, page 695.
    It is based on a drawing by Lt. B.L. Blackford, made on 7 March 1862, the day before Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack) engaged USS Cumberland and USS Congress.



    Photo #: NH 45978

    USS Monitor (1862)
    and
    CSS Virginia (1862)

    Montage drawing featuring plans of the two ships, portraits of men responsible for building and operating them, and scenes of their histories. It is inscribed: "Dedicated to the Memory of Thomas Fitch Rowland, Builder of the Original Monitor.". Drawn by Charles H. Corbett, circa 1907 or later.
    See Photo # NH 45978 (extended caption) for more extensive information.

    Courtesy of Charles H. Corbett.



    Photo #: NH 314

    CSS Virginia (1862-1862)


    Engraving depicting the ship in drydock at the Norfolk Navy Yard, after the installation of her armor, circa early 1862. She was then nearing completion after conversion from the hulk of USS Merrimack.

    Courtesy of of Mrs. A.W. Hasker.



    Photo #: NH 42222

    CSS Virginia (1862-1862)


    Halftone of an artwork published in Fiveash, "Virginia-Monitor Engagement", Norfolk, Va., 1907. It depicts the ship in drydock at the Norfolk Navy Yard, circa February 1862, while nearing completion after conversion from the hulk of USS Merrimack.



    Photo #: NH 58712

    CSS Virginia (1862-1862)


    Halftone reproduction of an artwork copyrighted by G.S. Richardson, 1906, depicting the ship drydocked at the Norfolk Navy Yard, circa early 1862, while nearing completion after conversion from the hulk of USS Merrimack.



    Photo #: NH 42223

    CSS Virginia (1862-1862)


    Model by Alexander Lynch, 1939, on exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum, Los Angeles, California. Model's scale is 1/8" = 1'.

    Courtesy of Arthur Woodward, Director of History and Anthropology, Los Angeles Museum, September 1939.



    For additional views of, or relating to, CSS Virginia, see:

  • CSS Virginia -- Grossly Inaccurate Views of and on board the Ship;
  • CSS Virginia destroys USS Cumberland and USS Congress, 8 March 1862;
  • Action between CSS Virginia and USS Monitor, 9 March 1862;
  • CSS Virginia -- Miscellaneous Actions;
  • CSS Virginia -- Ship's Officers and other People; and
  • CSS Virginia -- Relics.

    Please login to post a comment. You may create an account using the form available to the right.

     

    Major Battles of the Civil War

     

    Banner