Friday, March 9, 2012

Monitor vs Virginia 150 -- March 9, 2012

150 years ago the USS Monitor met the CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads in the first battle of ironclad ships.  Virginia was built on the hull of the steam frigate USS Merrimack, which had been burnt when the Confederates took the Norfolk Navy Yard in 1861. In response, the Union initiated a crash program to build three ironclad warships. The Monitor, designed by Swedish-American engineer John Ericsson, was the most radical design.

Virginia had torn through a squadron of Union wooden ships the day before.  Monitor was a more formidable opponent.  However, each ship, firing solid shot, was unable to inflict major damage on its opponent and the result of the four-hour battle was a draw.

In May, the Union recaptured Norfolk.  Virginia could not escape past the blockade into the Atlantic and could not retreat up the James River because of her excessive draft.  Her crew was forced to blow her up.

The Monitor, which was not built for the open ocean, sank in December in a storm off of Cape Hatteras while being towed south for blockade duty.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph #: NH 50954.

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