Battle of Hampton Roads Ironclads Monitor Merrimack Virginia (2023)

Battle of Hampton Roads Ironclads Monitor Merrimack Virginia (1)
Battle of Hampton Roads Ironclads Monitor Merrimack Virginia (2)

Battle of Hampton Roads

Other Names: Monitor vs. Virginia; Monitor--Merrimack Battle; Duel of the Ironclads

Location: Hampton Roads, Virginia

Campaign:Peninsula Campaign (March-September 1862)

Date(s): March 8-9, 1862

(Video) Battle of Ironclads: Monitor vs Virginia

Principal Commanders: Lt. John Worden [US]; Capt. Franklin Buchanan and Lt. Catesby R. Jones [CS]

Forces Engaged: 4 warships [US]; 1 warship [CS]

Estimated Casualties: 433 total (US 409; CS 24)

Result(s): Inconclusive

Summary: On March 8, 1862, from her berth at Norfolk, the Confederate ironclad Virginia steamed into Hampton Roads where she sank Cumberland and ran Congress aground. On March 9, the Union ironclad Monitor having fortuitously arrived to do battle, initiated the first engagement of ironclads in history. The two ships fought each other to a standstill, but Virginia retired.

Battle of Hampton Roads or Battle of the Ironclads
Battle of Hampton Roads Ironclads Monitor Merrimack Virginia (3)
Battle of Hampton Roads: (L) Merrimack (aka Virginia); (R) Monitor

Description: The Battle of Hampton Roads, often referred to as either the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack (aka Merrimac or Virginia) or the Battle of Ironclads, was the most noted and arguably most important naval battle of the American Civil War from the standpoint of the development of navies. It was fought over two days, March 8–9, 1862, in Hampton Roads, a roadstead in Virginia where the Elizabeth and Nansemond Rivers meet the James River just before it enters Chesapeake Bay. The battle was a part of the effort of the Confederacy to break the Union blockade, which had cut off Virginia's largest cities, Norfolk and Richmond, from international trade.

(Video) Ironclads (1991) Monitor and Merrimack (CSS Virgina)

The major significance of the battle is that it was the first meeting in combat of ironclad warships. The Confederate fleet consisted of the ironclad ram CSS Virginia (built from the remnants of the USS Merrimack) and several supporting vessels. On the first day of battle, they were opposed by several conventional, wooden-hulled ships of the Union Navy. On that day, Virginia was able to destroy two ships of the Federal flotilla, USS Congress and USS Cumberland, and was about to attack a third, USS Minnesota, which had run aground. However, the action was halted by darkness and falling tide, so Virginia retired to take care of her few wounded — which included her captain, Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan — and repair her minimal battle damage.

Determined to complete the destruction of the Minnesota, Catesby ap Roger Jones, acting as captain in Buchanan's absence, returned the ship to the fray the next morning, March 9. During the night, however, the ironclad USS Monitor had arrived and had taken a position to defend Minnesota. When Virginia approached, Monitor intercepted her. The two ironclads fought for about three hours, with neither being able to inflict significant damage on the other. The duel ended indecisively, Virginia returning to her home at the Gosport Navy Yard for repairs and strengthening, and Monitor to her station defending Minnesota. The ships did not fight again, and the blockade remained in place.

The battle received worldwide attention, and it had immediate effects on navies around the world. The preeminent naval powers, Great Britain and France, halted further construction of wooden-hulled ships, and others followed suit. A new type of warship was produced, the monitor, based on the principle of the original. The use of a small number of very heavy guns, mounted so that they could fire in all directions was first demonstrated by Monitor but soon became standard in warships of all types. Shipbuilders also incorporated rams into the designs of warship hulls for the rest of the century.

March 8: The battle began when the large and unwieldy CSS Virginia steamed into Hampton Roads on the morning of March 8, 1862. Captain Buchanan intended to attack as soon as possible. Virginia was accompanied from her moorings on the Elizabeth River by Raleigh and Beaufort, and was joined at Hampton Roads by the James River Squadron, Patrick Henry, Jamestown, and Teaser. When they were passing the Union batteries at Newport News, Patrick Henry was temporarily disabled by a shot in her boiler that killed four of her crew. After repairs, she returned and rejoined the others.

At this time, the Union Navy had five warships in the roadstead, in addition to several support vessels. The sloop-of-war USS Cumberland and frigate Congress were anchored in the channel near Newport News. Frigate St. Lawrence and the steam frigates Roanoke and Minnesota were near Fort Monroe, along with the storeship USS Brandywine (1825). The latter three got under way as soon as they saw Virginia approaching, but all soon ran aground. St. Lawrence and Roanoke took no further important part in the battle.

Virginia headed directly for the Union squadron. The battle opened when Union tug Zouave fired on the advancing enemy, and Beaufort replied. This preliminary skirmishing had no effect. Virginia did not open fire until she was within easy range of Cumberland. Return fire from Cumberland and Congress bounced off the iron plates without penetrating. Virginia rammed Cumberland below the waterline and she sank rapidly, "gallantly fighting her guns as long as they were above water," according to Buchanan. She took 121 seamen down with her; those wounded brought the casualty total to nearly 150.

Ramming Cumberland nearly resulted in the sinking of Virginia as well. Virginia's bow ram got stuck in the enemy ship's hull, and as Cumberland listed and began to go down, she almost pulled Virginia under with her. At the time the vessels were locked, one of Cumberland's anchors was hanging directly above the foredeck of Virginia. Had it come loose, the two ships might have gone down together. Virginia broke free, however, her ram breaking off as she backed away.

Monitor Merrimack Battle Map
Battle of Hampton Roads Ironclads Monitor Merrimack Virginia (4)
(Map) Battle of Hampton Roads, March 8, 1862

Buchanan next turned Virginia on Congress. Seeing what had happened to Cumberland, Lieutenant Joseph B. Smith, captain of Congress, ordered his ship grounded in shallow water. By this time, the James River Squadron, commanded by John Randolph Tucker, had arrived and joined Virginia in the attack on Congress. After an hour of unequal combat, 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, Buchanan ordered Congress fired upon with hot shot, cannon balls heated red-hot. Congress caught fire and burned throughout the rest of the day. Near midnight, the flames reached her magazine and she exploded and sank, stern first. Personnel losses included 110 killed or missing and presumed drowned. Another 26 were wounded, of whom ten died within days.

Although she had not suffered anything like the damage she had inflicted, Virginia was not completely unscathed. Shots from Cumberland, Congress, and Union troops ashore had riddled her smokestack, reducing her already low speed. Two of her guns were disabled and several armor plates had been loosened. Two of her crew were killed, and more were wounded. One of the wounded was Captain Buchanan, whose left thigh was pierced by a rifle shot.

Meanwhile, the James River Squadron had turned its attention to Minnesota, which had left Fort Monroe to join in the battle and had run aground. After Virginia had dealt with the surrender of Congress, she joined the James River Squadron despite her damage. Because of her deep draft and the falling tide, however, Virginia was unable to get close enough to be effective, and darkness prevented the rest of the squadron from aiming their guns to any effect. The attack was therefore suspended. Virginia left with the expectation of returning the next day and completing the task. She retreated into the safety of Confederate-controlled waters off Sewell's Point for the night, but had killed 400 enemy sailors and had lost two. The Union had lost two ships and three were aground.

The United States Navy's greatest defeat until World War II caused panic in Washington. As Lincoln's Cabinet met to discuss the disaster, the frightened Secretary of War Edwin Stanton told the others that the Virginia might attack East coast cities, and even shell the White House before the meeting ended. Welles assured his colleagues that they were safe as the ship could not traverse the Potomac River. He added that the Union also had an ironclad, and that it was heading to meet the Virginia.

March 9: Both sides used the respite to prepare for the next day. Virginia put her wounded ashore and underwent temporary repairs. Captain Buchanan was among the wounded, so command on the second day fell to his executive officer, Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones. Jones proved to be no less aggressive than the man he replaced. While Virginia was being prepared for renewal of the battle, and while Congress was still ablaze, Monitor, commanded by Lieutenant John L. Worden, arrived in Hampton Roads. The Union ironclad had been rushed to Hampton Roads in hopes of protecting the Union fleet and preventing Virginia from threatening Union cities. Captain Worden was informed that his primary task was to protect Minnesota, so Monitor took up a position near the grounded Minnesota and waited. “All on board felt we had a friend that would stand by us in our hour of trial,” wrote Captain Gershom Jacques Van Brunt, the vessel’s commander, in his official report the day after the engagement.

The next morning, at dawn on March 9, 1862, Virginia left her anchorage at Sewell's Point and moved to attack Minnesota, still aground. She was followed by the three ships of the James River Squadron. They found their course blocked, however, by the newly arrived Monitor. At first, Jones believed the strange craft—which one Confederate sailor mocked as "a cheese on a raft"—to be a boiler being towed from the Minnesota, not realizing the nature of his opponent. Soon, however, it was apparent that he had no choice but to fight her. The first shot of the engagement, was fired at Monitor by Virginia. The shot flew past Monitor and struck Minnesota, which answered with a broadside; this began what would be a lengthy engagement. “Again, all hands were called to quarters, and when she approached within a mile of us I opened upon her with my stern guns and made a signal to the Monitor to attack the enemy,” Van Brunt added.

After fighting for hours, mostly at close range, neither could overcome the other. The armor of both ships proved adequate. In part, this was because each was handicapped in her offensive capabilities. Buchanan, in Virginia, had not expected to fight another armored vessel, so his guns were supplied only with shell rather than armor-piercing shot. Monitor's guns were used with the standard service charge of only 15 lb of powder, which did not give the projectile sufficient momentum to penetrate her opponent's armor. Tests conducted after the battle showed that the Dahlgren guns could be operated safely and efficiently with charges of as much as 30 lb.

The battle finally ceased when a chance shell from Virginia struck the pilot house of Monitor and exploded, driving fragments of paint and iron through the viewing slits into Worden's eyes and temporarily blinding him. As no one else could see to conn the ship, Monitor was forced to draw off. The executive officer, Lieutenant Samuel Dana Greene, took over, and Monitor returned to the fight. In the period of command confusion, however, the crew of Virginia believed that their opponent had withdrawn. Although Minnesota was still aground, the falling tide meant that she was out of reach. Furthermore, Virginia had suffered enough damage to require extensive repair. Convinced that his ship had won the day, Jones ordered her back to Norfolk. At about this time, Monitor returned, only to discover her opponent apparently giving up the fight. Convinced that Virginia was quitting, with orders only to protect Minnesota and not to risk his ship unnecessarily, Greene did not pursue. Thus, each side misinterpreted the moves of the other, and as a result each claimed victory.

(Video) Battle of the Ironclads

Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory wrote to Confederate President Davis of the action:

"The conduct of the Officers and men of the squadron … reflects unfading honor upon themselves and upon the Navy. The report will be read with deep interest, and its details will not fail to rouse the ardor and nerve the arms of our gallant seamen. It will be remembered that the Virginia was a novelty in naval architecture, wholly unlike any ship that ever floated; that her heaviest guns were equal novelties in ordnance; that her motive power and obedience to her helm were untried, and her officers and crew strangers, comparatively, to the ship and to each other; and yet, under all these disadvantages, the dashing courage and consummate professional ability of Flag Officer Buchanan and his associates achieved the most remarkable victory which naval annals record."

In Washington, belief that Monitor had vanquished Virginia was so strong that Worden and his men were awarded the Thanks of Congress:

"Resolved . . . That the thanks of Congress and the American people are due and are hereby tendered to Lieutenant J. L. Worden, of the United States Navy, and to the officers and men of the ironclad gunboat Monitor, under his command, for the skill and gallantry exhibited by them in the remarkable battle between the Monitor and the rebel ironclad steamer Merrimack."

During the two-day engagement, the U.S.S. Minnesota shot off 78 rounds of 10-inch solid shot; 67 rounds of 10-inch solid shot with 15-second fuse; 169 rounds of 9-inch solid shot; 180 9-inch shells with 15-second fuse; 35 8-inch shells with 15-second fuse and 5,567.5 pounds of service powder. Three crew members, Alexander Winslow, Henry Smith and Dennis Harrington were killed during the battle and 16 were wounded.

Aftermath: Each vessel spent the next month in what amounted to posturing. Not only did the two ships not fight each other, neither ship ever fought again after March 9.

The end came first for Virginia. Because the blockade was unbroken, Norfolk was of little strategic use to the Confederacy, and preliminary plans were laid to move the ship up the James River to the vicinity of Richmond. Before adequate preparations could be made, the Confederate Army under Major General Benjamin Huger abandoned the city on May 9, without consulting anyone from the Navy. Virginia's draft was too great to permit her to pass up the river, which had a depth of only 18 ft, and that only under favorable circumstances. She was trapped and could only be captured or sunk by the Union Navy. Rather than allow either, Tatnall decided to destroy his own ship. He had her towed down to Craney Island in Portsmouth, where the gang was taken ashore, and then she was set afire. She burned through the rest of the day and most of the following night; shortly before dawn, the flames reached her magazine, and she blew up.

(Video) USS Monitor, CSS Virginia and Battle of Hampton Roads

Monitor likewise did not survive the year. She was ordered to Beaufort, North Carolina, on Christmas Day, to take part in the blockade there. While she was being towed down the coast (under command of her fourth captain, Commander John P. Bankhead), the wind increased and with it the waves; with no high sides, the Monitor took on water. Soon the water in the hold gained on the pumps, and then put out the fires in her engines. The order was given to abandon ship; most men were rescued by USS Rhode Island, but 16 went down with her when she sank in the early hours of December 31, 1862.

Battle of Hampton Roads, aka Battle of the Ironclads or Monitor Merrimack Duel, witnessed the world's first battleships in action as the two armorclad warships roared and thundered for hours as each fired volley after volley in what appeared to be futile attempts to sink the other. The Monitor and Merrimack (aka CSS Virginia) battle ushered in a new era of naval warfare and literally made all modern navies around the globe obsolete. As a result ofthe Civil War, monitors and ironclad rams would respectfully be known as the world’s first generation battleships. See also: USS Monitor, USS Merrimack, CSS Virginia, Battle of Hampton Roads: Homepageand Union and Confederate Navies: Homepage.

Battle of Hampton Roads Ironclads Monitor Merrimack Virginia (6)
Battle of Hampton Roads Ironclads Monitor Merrimack Virginia (7)


Battle of Hampton Roads Ironclads Monitor Merrimack Virginia? ›

Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack, also called Battle of Hampton Roads, (March 9, 1862), in the American Civil War

American Civil War
Decades of political unrest over slavery led up to the Civil War. Disunion came after Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 United States presidential election on an anti-slavery expansion platform. An initial seven southern slave states declared their secession from the country to form the Confederacy. › wiki › American_Civil_War
, naval engagement at Hampton Roads, Virginia, a harbour at the mouth of the James River, notable as history's first duel between ironclad warships and the beginning of a new era of naval warfare.

What was so special about the Monitor and the Merrimack at the Battle of Hampton Roads? ›

The battle between the ironclad ships the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimac or Merrimack), took place on March 8 and 9, 1862. Also referred to as the Battle of Hampton Roads, it is significant in naval history because it was the first battle between ironclad ships.

What was important about the battle between the Merrimack Virginia and the Monitor? ›

The Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack is famous because it was the first clash between ironclad warships. This battle changed the future of naval warfare. It took place on March 8, 1862 and March 9, 1862.

What happened in the battle between the ironclads the Monitor and the Merrimack? ›

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.

How did the Monitor sink? ›

As the Monitor pitched and swayed in the rough seas, the caulking around the gun turret loosened and water began to leak into the hull. More leaks developed as the journey continued. High seas tossed the craft, causing the ship's flat armor bottom to slap the water.

Are there any ironclad ships left? ›

There are only four surviving Civil War-era ironclads in existence: USS Monitor, CSS Neuse, USS Cairo, and CSS Muscogee.

What is the significance of the battle of the ironclads? ›

This battle revolutionized naval warfare by proving that wooden vessels were obsolete against ironclads. The next day the Union's first ironclad—the USS Monitor—arrived and fought the Virginia to a draw, ensuring the safety of the Union blockade fleet.

What was significant about the Battle of Hampton Roads? ›

The Battle of Hampton Roads was the first engagement of ironclad warships during the Civil War and was fought between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia. While neither side could claim victory, the battle demonstrated the viability of ironclad technology and provided a glimpse into the future of naval warfare.

Who won the Monitor vs Merrimack? ›

The subsequent battle between the two ironclads was generally interpreted as a victory for the Monitor, however, and produced feelings of combined relief and exultation in the North. While the battle was indecisive, it is difficult to exaggerate the profound effect on morale that was produced in both regions.

Was the Merrimack ever found? ›

Last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recovered the huge turret of the Monitor from its resting place in 240 feet of water off Cape Hatteras, N.C., where the Union ironclad sank in a storm on New Year's Eve 1862.

What was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War? ›

Battle of Antietam breaks out

Beginning early on the morning of September 17, 1862, Confederate and Union troops in the Civil War clash near Maryland's Antietam Creek in the bloodiest single day in American military history.

How long did the ironclads fight? ›

Commissioned on February 25, 1862, it arrived at Chesapeake Bay just in time to engage the Virginia. The battle between the two vessels began on the morning of March 9 and continued for four hours.

Where is the Monitor now? ›

Today, the remains of the Monitor rest on the ocean floor off North Carolina's Outer Banks, where the ship sank in a storm on December 31, 1862.

How many guns did the CSS Virginia have? ›

CSS Virginia was a 4,500-ton steam screw propelled ironclad ram warship of 12 guns. She was rebuilt in 1862 by the Confederate States Navy from the scuttled hulk of the USS Merrimack during the "War Between the States" - the American Civil War.

How did the CSS Virginia sink? ›

Early on the morning of May 11, 1862, off Craney Island, fire and powder trails reached the ironclad's magazine and she was destroyed by a great explosion.

Why is the USS Monitor famous? ›

The USS Monitor was the Union Navy's first ironclad warship during the American Civil War; it sunk in 1862 off the coast of North Carolina and became the site of our nation's first national marine sanctuary in 1975.

How deep does the USS Monitor sit in the water? ›

Due to the Monitor's depth (~230 ft.), strong currents, and the often adverse weather conditions, it is not an easy task to fully document and survey the shipwreck site. Since its discovery, the Monitor has been documented with sonar images, video, and photographs.

How many guns did the Monitor have? ›

The Monitor had two cannons that could fire solid shots weighing 140 pounds.

Where is the ironclad Merrimack? ›

The hunt for remains of the legendary Confederate ironclad, Merrimack in the Elizabeth River, Portsmouth, Virginia.

When was the last ironclad used? ›

There is no clear end to the ironclad period, but towards the end of the 1890s the term ironclad dropped out of use. New ships were increasingly constructed to a standard pattern and designated battleships or armored cruisers.

Where can I see an ironclad? ›

The ironclad, “CSS Albemarle,” was the most successful Confederate ironclad. You can see its smokestack at the Museum of the Albemarle in Elizabeth City, and its bell at the Port O'Plymouth Museum. A 3/8 replica is based in Plymouth on the Roanoke River.

How many ironclad ships were in the Civil War? ›

During the Civil War, the Union began construction of 76 ironclads, commissioning 42 of them before May 1, 1865. On the Confederate side, 59 ironclads were begun, and only 24 were completed. Of six ironclads begun in North Carolina , four were commissioned.

Who won USS Monitor vs CSS Virginia? ›

In one of the most famous naval battles in history the Union Monitor defeated the Confederate Virginia. It was the first battle between two steel navy ships and marked the end of the wood based navy.

Was the Monitor a Confederate ship? ›

USS Monitor was an ironclad warship built for the Union Navy during the American Civil War and completed in early 1862, the first such ship commissioned by the Navy.

What impact did ironclads have on the Civil War? ›

The Confederacy concluded in June 1861 that ironclad warships would best suit its needs. With its limited shipbuilding capacity, the Confederate navy found it more advantageous to build a few impregnable warships to combat the numerically superior Union navy.

Who built the first ironclad ship? ›

Designed by Swedish engineer and inventor John Ericsson, the U.S. Navy's first ironclad, USS Monitor, was commissioned on February 25, 1862 at New York City, New York. An innovative warship, she had a thick-armored round turret which was twenty-feet in diameter.

What were the top 5 costliest battles of the Civil War? ›

Costliest 15 Battles of the Civil War
1GettysburgJuly 1-3, 1863
2Chickamauga*Sept. 18-20, 1863
3SpotsylvaniaMay 8-21, 1864
4The WildernessMay 5-7, 1864
11 more rows

What happened to the ship Merrimack? ›

On 20 April, before evacuating the Navy Yard, the U.S. Navy burned Merrimack to the waterline and sank her to preclude capture.

What was the Merrimack renamed? ›

The Merrimac was renamed the CSS Virginia after it was converted to an ironclad by John L. Porter of Portsmouth. It was refloated for the first time on Feb. 17, 1862.

What was the deadliest day in human history? ›

If you think of the deadliest day in the United States' history, your mind is probably drawn to the terrorist attacks of September 11, the calamity that followed Japan's strike on Pearl Harbor or perhaps a battle from the Civil War.

What was the number one cause of death in the Civil War? ›

Burns, MD of The Burns Archive. Before war in the twentieth century, disease was the number one killer of combatants. Of the 620,000 recorded military deaths in the Civil War about two-thirds died from disease.

What state has the most Civil War battlefields? ›

The Answer:

These 384 principal battles occurred in 26 U.S. states with Virginia (123), Tennessee (38), Missouri (29), and Georgia(28) leading the way. For more information about these states, check out our U.S. States channel.

What was the outcome of the Battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack quizlet? ›

What was the outcome of the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimack? Check all of the boxes that apply. It changed naval warfare worldwide. It ended with no clear victor.

Where was the Monitor and Merrimack Battle? ›

Battle of Hampton Roads

When did the Monitor and Merrimack fight? ›

What was the outcome of the Battle at sea between the Union ship Monitor and the Confederate ship Virginia? ›

Neither ship was seriously damaged, but the Monitor effectively ended the short reign of terror that the Confederate ironclad had brought to the Union navy. Both ships met ignominious ends.

What was important about the Battle between the Merrimack Virginia and the Monitor quizlet? ›

Merrimac was the Confederate vessel used in Battle of the Monitor and Merrimac, the first engagement between ironclad ships; fought at Hampton Roads, Virginia, on March 9, 1862. After the firing on Fort Sumter, Lincoln proclaimed a naval blockade of the South. This plan was aimed to strangle the South economically.

What was the first major Battle in the Civil War? ›

The first Battle of Bull Run (also called the first Battle of Manassas) was the first major land battle of the Civil War. Following President Abraham Lincoln's orders, the Union Army under General Irvin McDonnell marched from Washington, D.C., to seize the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.

Why did the Confederacy decide to build the CSS Virginia? ›

The first American warship of its kind—prior to 1862, all navy vessels were made of wood—it was constructed in order to attack the ever-tightening Union blockade on the Confederacy's major Atlantic ports and harbors.

Where is the CSS Virginia now? ›

Now it's tucked away in a Civil War exhibit at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. The bell from the USS Merrimack-turned-CSS Virginia sits behind plexiglass under a “Battle of Hampton Roads” sign, next to a cannonball from the same ship.

How many guns did the CSS Virginia have? ›

CSS Virginia was a 4,500-ton steam screw propelled ironclad ram warship of 12 guns. She was rebuilt in 1862 by the Confederate States Navy from the scuttled hulk of the USS Merrimack during the "War Between the States" - the American Civil War.

Who won the battle between the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia? ›

In one of the most famous naval battles in history the Union Monitor defeated the Confederate Virginia. It was the first battle between two steel navy ships and marked the end of the wood based navy.


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