Battle of Hampton Roads

Barrycdog

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The Battle of Hampton Roads, often referred to as either the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack (or Merrimac) or the Battle of Ironclads, was the most noted and arguably most important naval battle of the War Between the States 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.

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 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 men of the 4th Georgia Regiment were witness to the famous naval battle from Camp Jackson near Norfolk, Va. Pvt. Jack Felder wrote to his mother on March 11th describing the battle on the 8th; the “Meramack or Virginia now called made its appearance by two gunboats the Buford and Raleigh they made their way up the roads to New Port News when the Virginia came in gun shot of the two blockading frigates the Cumbolan and Congress they fired two broad side at her but she paid no attention to them she passed between the Congress and the Newport News batteries under tremendous heavy firing from both sides. After she had got beyond the vessels she turned came back and struck the Cumberland with the ram which is in the front and sunk her immediately. After which she turned her attention to the Congress which in the meantime had hoisted sails and beached her self near the battery. The Virginia then ran up in very short distance fired several guns and compelled her to hoist the white flag. Our men the boarded her taking several prisoners under tremendous fire of infantry and where several of our men were wounded in the attempt. The fight lasted from two o’clock in the evening until about eight at night. At ninc the Congress was set on fire by our forces. The fire lasted until two o’clock when the explosion of the Magazine was heard, it seem to throw the fire for miles in the air it made the protest show I ever witnessed. Say to Pa I wished for him at least a thousand times during the engagement. It was the pretest sight I ever beheld.”

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.
 

Peter Y

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Oct 7, 2013
Thanks for posting all this, seen some of it before but not all.

My GG Grandfather, Capt. John J Young C.S.A., and G Grandfather Sgt. Walter Young were at this battle.
 
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Mark F. Jenkins

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I disagree that it was the "most important" naval battle of the war. I'd assign that honor to Farragut passing the forts below New Orleans, defeating the Southern defending flotillas, and capturing the city.

The impact on foreign navies, while significant (there were British and French observers present), is usually overstated. Britain and France were already in an ironclad-building arms race, and that had more influence on them than seeing a couple of coastal vessels duke it out across the Atlantic. (It was of professional interest, of course.)
 

rebelatsea

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I disagree that it was the "most important" naval battle of the war. I'd assign that honor to Farragut passing the forts below New Orleans, defeating the Southern defending flotillas, and capturing the city.

The impact on foreign navies, while significant (there were British and French observers present), is usually overstated. Britain and France were already in an ironclad-building arms race, and that had more influence on them than seeing a couple of coastal vessels duke it out across the Atlantic. (It was of professional interest, of course.)
Mark, I totally agree with you on both points.
Indeed as far as the design of Ericsons ship was concerned, Captain Cowper Coles and the other advocates of turret ships on this side of the pond thought he was taking the wrong course.
In the context of seagoing warfare they were right, in the context that the monitors were used, Ericson was right.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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Indeed as far as the design of Ericsons ship was concerned, Captain Cowper Coles and the other advocates of turret ships on this side of the pond thought he was taking the wrong course.

The thing I can't quite figure (unless it's something as simple as ego and obstinacy, both of which Ericsson had in spades) is why he was so insistent on the central-spindle arrangement for the turret mechanism. Both the Eads and Coles designs, supported by 'spheres'/bearings on the circumference, seem so obviously superior... of course, this is hindsight and perhaps it wasn't quite as obvious at the time. :O o:
 

Carronade

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Good question. The only advantage I can think of is sealing the 'turret ring' when the turret is lowered. Having to raise the turret for combat must have put quite a strain on the mechanism.
 

Mark F. Jenkins

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IIRC, the sailing vessels (Congress and Cumberland) were closer, just off Newport News; the Minnesota and others were farther down the Roads, closer to Fortress Monroe.

In any case, Capt. Franklin Buchanan understood (incorrectly, as it turned out) than the Cumberland had been fitted with some new rifled armament that he considered among the most threatening to the Virginia; the thought was if the Southern ironclad could face those, she could face about anything the Union could throw at her. So it was his intent from the beginning to make for the Cumberland first.

The Minnesota-first scenario would be interesting to game out, though. In the time it would have taken the Virginia to get down the roads toward her, the Federals might have had a chance to follow their original plan, which was essentially to have all their ships basically mob the ironclad and smother her with broadsides. By starting at the far end of the line, though, Buchanan avoided their attempted concentration.

(Buchanan's wounding on March 8 and his surrender to Farragut at Mobile Bay tend to mask his true abilities. Although hot-tempered, he was in the first rank of Navy captains in terms of experience and capability.)
 
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rebelatsea

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That turret raising idea is present right from Ericson's first proposals in the 1840s. I think I've said before ,but he designed what became known as the monitor type warship to combat fortresses, not other ships and disapproved of the use of his vessel that way, perhaps seeing it and his reputation disappearing into the depths of Hampton Roads! He also fought bitterly against multiple turrets : " as unnecessary as two suns in the sky" he is reputed to have commented.

Cowper Coles' turrets began life as truncated cones atop a structure with inclined sides. Originally only this cone shaped shield with the gunport cut through it was intended to rotate, and was specifically designed for breechloaders. It then mutated into the cylindrical form sunk into the upper or weather deck and much larger in diameter in order to accommodate muzzle loading guns. They rotated on coned rollers moving over a coned path.
James B Eads turrets were almost identical to Coles, but rotated on giant ball bearings rolling in a hollow track. I believe initially these were surplus 32pdr cannon balls.
 

andy19k10

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Apr 6, 2013
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Virginia Beach, Virginia
Full size replica of Monitor at Mariner's Museum.
 

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JPK Huson 1863

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Pretty cool to have someone whose ancestor was at Hampton Roads. I don't suppose he wrote something home about it in a letter ? That's just hoping, enough to know he was there.

As usual, the conversation went beyond my depth ( meaning ability to participate : ) )- but I always have gotten a kick out of Ericsson and Worden's back and forths- Worden, who could hardly be called a wussy, kind of was called one by Ericsson when he spoke of how awful conditions were on board the Monitor. Worden says something along the lines of well, if Ericsson thinks it's so wonderful, he should come spend a day there, and Ericsson inferring a real man would would find nothing wrong with his invention. The comment by Mark on Ericsson's ego made me recall that exchange- he must have been a pip. You just get the impression, reading the passages, that if Ericsson said or thought something, it was more than carved in stone, it was created by God along with the rest of the universe.
 
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