Hampton Roads


1st Lieutenant
Aug 4, 2007
Marshfield Missouri
Naval history was made on March 8, 1862, when the first Confederate ironclad steamed down the Elizabeth River into Hampton Roads to attack the woodensided U.S. blockading fleet anchored there. Built on the hull of the U.S.S. Merrimac (which had been scuttled and burned when the Federals abandoned the Gosport Navy Yard in April, 1861), the new warship had been christened C.S.S. Virginia, but in common usage retained its original name. After ramming and sinking the twenty-four-gun woodenhulled steam-sailing sloop Cumberland, the Merrimac headed for the fifty-gun frigate Congress. An awestruck Union officer watched the one-sided fight as the Merrimac fired "shot and shell into her with terrific effect, while the shot from the Congress glanced from her iron-plated sloping sides, without doing any apparent injury."
The results of the first day's fighting at Hampton Roads proved the superiority of iron over wood, but on the next day iron was pitted against iron as the U.S.S. Monitor arrived on the scene. It was just in time to challenge the Merrimac, which was returning to finish off the U.S. blockading squadron. The Confederate ironclad carried more guns than the Union Monitor, but it was slow, clumsy, and prone to engine trouble. The Union prototype, as designed by John Ericsson, was the faster and more maneuverable ironclad, but it lacked the Rebel vessel's brutish size and power. The Merrimac's officers had heard rumors about a Union ironclad, yet, according to Lieutenant Wood: "She could not possibly have made her appearance at a more inopportune time for us...... Lieutenant S. Dana Greene, an officer aboard the Monitor, described the first exchange of gunfire: "The turrets and other parts of the ship were heavily struck, but the shots did not penetrate; the tower was intact, and it continued to revolve. A look of confidence passed over the men's faces, and we believed the Merrimac would not repeat the work she had accomplished the day before." Neither ironclad seriously damaged the other in their one day of fighting, March 9, 1862 though the Merrimac was indeed prevented from attacking any more of the Union's wooden ships. A new age of naval warfare had dawned.

AS the result of this battle--showing as it did the power of the ram and the ironclad--revolutionized the navies of the world, a detailed account of it will be given in the words of the author, himself an eye-witness and participant, as published in "Recollections of a Naval Officer:"
"About the 6th of March, 1862, the Merrimac being ready to go out, the Norfolk papers published an article to the effect that she was a failure, and would not be able to accomplish anything. It was intended, of course, to deceive the enemy, who we knew regularly received our papers. The United States squadron then in Hampton Roads consisted of the following vessels, viz.: The Congress and Cumberland, lying off Newport News, and the Minnesota, Roanoke and St. Lawrence, at anchor below Old Point. There were also below Old Point the store-ship Brandywine, the steamers Mt. Vernon and Cambridge, and a number of transports and tugs. These, however, took no part in the subsequent engagement. The Congress was a sail frigate of 1,867 tons, old measurement, mounting 50 guns, principally 32-pounders, with a crew of 434 men; the Cumberland was a large corvette (a razee) of 1,700 tons, old measurement, mounting 22 9-inch Dahlgren guns, with a crew of 376 men; the Minnesota was a large steam frigate of 3,200 tons, old measurement, mounting 43 guns, 9-inch and 11-inch Dahlgrens, with a crew of about 600 men. The Roanoke was similar to the Minnesota, and the St. Lawrence to the Congress.
"Newport News is on the left bank of the James river, six and one-half miles above Old Point, and twelve miles from Norfolk. The enemy had a large number of guns mounted there to protect the mouth of the river, with a large garrison. At Sewell's point, three and one-half miles from Old Point, the Confederates had a powerful battery to protect the entrance to the Elizabeth river, which also in a measure commanded the approach to Newport News; but the main ship channel is at a distance of two or two and one-half miles from it. At Sewell's point was mounted the only 11-inch gun we had in the Confederate States.
"Everything being ready, it was determined by Commodore Buchanan to make the attack on the 8th day of March. The last signal inserted in our signal books was, 'Sink before you surrender!"


In The "Monitor" Turret
S. Dana Greene, Commander, U. S. N., Executive Officer of the Monitor

The keel of the most famous vessel of modern times, Captain Ericson's first iron-clad, was laid in the ship-yard of Thomas F. Rowland, at Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in October, 1861, and on the 30th of January, 1862, the novel craft was launched. On the 25th of February she was commissioned and turned over to the Government, and nine days later left New York for Hampton Roads, where, on the 9th of March, occurred the memorable contest with the Merrimac. On her next venture on the open sea she foundered off Cape Hatteras in a gale of wind (December 29th). During her career of less than a year she had no fewer than five different commanders; but it was the fortune of the writer to serve as her only executive officer, standing upon her deck when she was launched, and leaving it but a few minutes before she sank.
So hurried was the preparation of the Monitor that the mechanics worked upon her day and night up to there hour of her departure, and little opportunity was offered to drill the crew at the guns, to work the turret, and to become familiar with the other unusual features of the vessel. The crew was, in fact, composed of volunteers. Lieutenant Worden, having been authorized by the Navy Department to select his men from any ship was in New York harbor, addressed the crews of the North Carolina and Sabine, stating fully to them the probable dangers of the passage to Hampton Roads and the certainty of having important serving to perform after arriving. The sailors responded enthusiastically, many more volunteering than were required. Of the crew Captain Worden said, in his official report of the battle, "A better one no naval commander ever had the honor to command."


The Story Of The Confederate States Ship "Virginia" (Once Merrimac.)
Her Victory Over the Monitor.
By Col. William Norris, Chief of Signal Corps and Secret Service Bureau, Confederate States Army.

Published 1879. Republished From The One Copy Surviving the Destruction Of The Edition.

An article in the Army and Navy Journal, June 13th, entitled The "Monitor" and the "Merrimac," is one of the very choicest specimens yet produced of the Northern mode of manufacturing history. A grand victory is claimed for the "Monitor," whereas a more palpable, undeniable defeat shall never have been recorded in naval history. The proofs are being prepared by those who were actors in the drama, who will produce facts and figures, chapter and verse, bearings and distances. In the meantime here is a brief statement (written hastily and from memory), by a Confederate soldier, who, from a safe position saw the fight. It is intended only as a light four-pounder rocket; several 200 pound chilled bolts, conical, will follow. We must now settle all disputed questions and reach the facts, for it is time that the great fight should pass into history.
It remains to be seen whether it would not have been wiser in the Federals to have remained content, with our tacit acquiescence (to our shame be it said), in their brazen claim, as at first slowly and insidiously set up, to a "drawn battle."
And here I would observe that the writer shows the stereo-typed Yankee passion for ringing all the changes upon the word .
"Rebel" and its compounds. Now, we Confederates, often see in print "the foul dishonoring word" (only less offensive than traitorous renegade), and hear it sometimes used in a general collective way, but individually applied, and vice voce, we never hear it. Curious!!
And first, a few words as to the Virginia. The Federals, previous to their flight from Norfolk, had burnt all the United States Government vessels; and we, taking from the mud the hulk of the frigate Merrimac, built over it a roof of two-inch iron plates, and cleaning up the hull and overhauling the engines, we formally named the new craft "Virginia," as we hauled her out of dock, and that model sailor and gentleman, the gallant Buchanan, took command. She was put up in the roughest way; but the fatal defect in her construction was, that the iron shield extended only a few inches below the water-line. A shell or two amidships, between wind and water (she had no knuckle), and her career was closed. She drew 22 feet of water, was in every respect ill-proportioned and top-heavy; and what with her immense length and wretched engines, (than which a more ill-contrived, spraddling and unreliable pair were never made,--failing on one occasion while the ship was under fire,) she was little more manageable than a timber-raft.
In his report to Com. Tattnal, April 5th, '62, Chief Engineer Ramsay said:....."The engines gave out yesterday, as had occasion to report to you, after running only a few hours; and as I cannot insure their working any length of time consecutively, I deem it my duty to make this report......
Each time that we have gone down to the Roads I have had to make repairs, which could not have been done aboard ship very well, or, if done at all, would have required a great deal of time."


Operations In Southeastern Virginia
January 11-March 17, 1862
Extract from Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy
Concerning the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac

DECEMBER 1, 1862.

It was the intention and constant effort of the Department and contractors that the Monitor should be completed in the month of January, but there was delay in consequence of difficulties incident to an undertaking of such novelty and magnitude, and there were also some slight defects, which were, however, promptly remedied, and she left New York early in March, reaching Hampton Roads on the night of the 8th.
Her arrival, though not as soon as anticipated, was most opportune and important. For some time the Department had heard with great solicitude of the progress which the insurgents had made in armoring and equipping the large war-steamer Merrimac, which had fallen into their hands when Norfolk was abandoned. On the afternoon of the 8th of March this formidable vessel, heavily armored and armed and fully prepared to operate both as a ram and a war steamer, came down the Elizabeth River, accompanied by several smaller steamers, two of them partially armored, to attack the vessels of the blockading squadron that were in and about Hampton Roads. When the Merrimac and her attendants made their appearance the Congress and the Cumberland, two sailing vessels, were anchored off Newport News, and the remaining vessels were in the vicinity of Fortress Monroe, some 6 miles distant. The Minnesota, the Roanoke, and the St. Lawrence got immediately under way and proceeded toward the scene of action.
The Congress, being nearest to the Merrimac, was the first to receive her fire, which was promptly returned by a full broadside, the shots falling apparently harmlessly off from the armored side of the assailant. Passing by the Congress, the Merrimac dashed upon the Cumberland, and was received by her with a heavy, well-directed, and vigorous fire, which, like that of the Congress, produced unfortunately but little effect. A contest so unequal could not be of long continuance, and it was closed when the Merrimac, availing herself of her power as a steam ram, ran furiously against the Cumberland, laying open her wooden hull, and causing her almost immediately to sink. As her guns approached the water's edge her young commander, Lieutenant Morris, and the gallant crew stood firm at their posts, delivered a parting fire, and the good ship went down heroically, with her colors flying. Having thus destroyed the Cumberland, the Merrimac turned again upon the Congress, which had, in the mean time, been engaged with the smaller rebel steamers, and after a heavy loss, in order to guard against such a fate as that which had befallen the Cumberland, had been run aground. The Merrimac now selected a raking position astern of the Congress, while one of the smaller steamers poured in a constant fire on her starboard quarter. Two other steamers of the enemy also approached from James River, firing upon the unfortunate frigate with precision and severe effect. The guns of the Congress were almost entirely disabled, and her gallant commanding officer, Lieut. Joseph B. Smith, had fallen at his post. Her decks were strewn with the dead and dying, the ship was on fire in several places, and not a gun could be brought to bear upon the assailants. In this state of things, and with no effectual relief at hand, the senior surviving officer, Lieutenant Pendergrast, felt it his duty to save further useless destruction of life by hauling down his colors. This was done about 4 o'clock p.m. The Congress continued to burn till about 8 in the evening and then blew up.
From the Congress the Merrimac turned her attention to the remaining vessels of the squadron. The Roanoke had grounded on her way to the scene of the conflict; and although she succeeded in getting off, her condition was such, her propeller being useless, that she took no part in the action. The St. Lawrence also grounded near the Minnesota and had a short engagement with the Merrimac, but suffered no serious injury, and on getting afloat was ordered back to Fortress Monroe.



1st Lieutenant
Aug 4, 2007
Marshfield Missouri
Report of Maj. Gen. John E. Wool,
U. S. Army, commanding Department of Virginia.
Concerning the Battle of the Ironclads

Fort Monroe, Va., March 9, 1862.

Commanding the Army, Washington, D.C.
[Similar report to Secretary of War.]

GENERAL: Two hours after I sent my hurried dispatch to the Secretary of War last evening the Monitor arrived, and saved the Minnesota and the St. Lawrence, which were both aground when she arrived.
The Merrimac, supported by the Yorktown and Jamestown, commenced an attack on the Minnesota (still aground) early this morning, and after a contest of five hours was driven off in a sinking condition by the Monitor, aided by the Minnesota, and towed by the Jamestown and Yorktown toward Norfolk, for the purpose, no doubt, of getting her, if possible, in the dry-dock for repairs.
It is reported that Magruder is approaching Newport News with a large force of infantry. I have re-enforced that post with three regiments, a light battery of six pieces, and a company of dragoons. The command will consist altogether of over or about 8,000 men. My command consists altogether of 10,000 effective men.
The Cumberland was sunk, and we lost more than one-half of her crew. The Congress surrendered, but the crew was released and the officers taken as prisoners. The Minnesota has got off, but it is reported she is in a sinking condition.
It is to be hoped that I will be largely re-enforced, including two additional light batteries. The Monitor is far superior to the Merrimac. The first has only two guns, while the Merrimac has eight.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Report of Maj. Gen. Benjamin Huger, C. S. Army, commanding Department of Norfolk.
Concerning the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimac

Norfolk, Va., March 10, 1862

General S. COOPER,
Adjutant and Inspector General.

SIR: I telegraphed yesterday to the Secretary of War the fact of the naval engagement on the 8th and 9th instant. As the battle was fought by the Navy, Flag-Officer Forrest will no doubt report to the Navy Department the result of the engagement.
The batteries at Sewell's Point opened fire on the steamers Minnesota and Roanoke, which attempted on the 8th to pass to Newport News to the assistance of the frigates attacked by the Virginia. The Minnesota ran aground before reaching there. The Roanoke was struck several times, and for some cause turned around and went back to Old Point.
The two sailing vessels (Cumberland and Congress) were destroyed--the first sunk and the other burned by the Virginia--and on the 9th the Minnesota, still aground, would probably have been destroyed but for the iron-clad battery of the enemy called, I think, the Monitor. The Virginia and this battery were in actual contact, without inflicting serious injury on either.
At 2 p.m. on yesterday, the 9th, all our vessels came up to the navy-yard for repairs. The Virginia, I understand, has gone into dock for repairs, which will be made at once. This action shows the power and endurance of iron-clad vessels; cannon-shot do not harm them, and they can pass batteries or destroy large ships. A vessel like the Virginia or the Monitor, with her two guns, can pass any of our batteries with impunity. The only means of stopping them is by vessels of the same kind. The Virginia, being the most powerful, can stop the Monitor; but a more powerful one would run her down or ashore. As the enemy can build such boats faster than we, they could, when so prepared, overcome any place accessible by water. How these powerful machines are to be stopped is a problem I cannot solve. At present, in the Virginia, we have the advantage; but we cannot tell how long this may last.

I remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major-General, Commanding.


eport of Confederate Secretary of the Navy
Concerning the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac

April 10, 1862.

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the Confederate States:

I herewith transmit to Congress a communication from the Secretary of the Navy, covering a detailed report of Flag-Officer Buchanan of the brilliant triumph of his squadron over the vastly superior forces of the enemy in Hampton Roads, March 8 and 9 last.



SIR: I have the honor to submit herewith [a] copy of the detailed report [No. 7] of Flag-Officer Buchanan of the brilliant triumph of his squadron over the vastly superior forces of the enemy in Hampton Roads, on March 8 and 9 last, a brief report by Lieutenant Jones of the battle of the 8th having been previously made.
The conduct of the officers and men of the squadron in this contest reflects unfading honor upon themselves and upon the Navy. The report will be read with deep interest, and its details will not fail to arouse 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 her 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.
When the flag-officer was disabled the command of the Virginia devolved upon her executive and ordnance officer, Lieut. Catesby Ap R. Jones, and the cool and masterly manner in which he fought the ship in her encounter with the iron-clad Monitor justified the high estimate which the country places upon his professional merit. To his experience, skill, and untiring industry as her ordnance and executive officer the terrible effect of her fire was greatly due. Her battery was determined in accordance with his suggestions, and in all investigations and tests which resulted in its thorough efficiency he was zealously engaged.


Report of Flag-Officer Franklin Buchanan, C. S. Navy.
Concerning the Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac

Norfolk, Va., March 27, 1862.

Secretary of the Navy.

SIR: Having been confined to my bed in this building since the 9th instant, in consequence of a wound received in the action of the previous day, I have not had it in my power at an earlier date to prepare the official report, which I now have the honor to submit, of the proceedings on the 8th and 9th instant of the James River squadron, under my command, composed of the following-named vessels: Steamer Virginia, flag-ship, ten guns; steamer Patrick Henry, Commander John R. Tucker, twelve guns; steamer Jamestown, Lieut. Commanding J. N. Barney, two guns; and gunboats Teazer, Lieut. Commanding W. A. Webb; Beaufort, Lieut. Commanding W. H. Parker; and Raleigh, Lieut. Commanding J. W. Alexander, each one gun. Total, twenty-seven guns.
On the 8th instant, at 11 a.m., the Virginia left the navy-yard (Norfolk), accompanied by the Raleigh and Beaufort, and proceeded to Newport News, to engage the enemy's frigates Cumberland and Congress, gunboats, and shore batteries. When within less than a mile of the Cumberland the Virginia commenced the engagement with that ship with her bow gun, and the action soon became general, the Cumberland, Congress, gunboats, and shore batteries concentrating upon us their heavy fire, which was returned with great spirit and determination. The Virginia stood rapidly on toward the Cumberland, which ship I had determined to sink with our prow if possible. In about fifteen minutes after the action commenced we ran into her on her starboard bow. The crash below the water was distinctly heard, and she commenced sinking, gallantly fighting her guns as long as they were above water. She went down with her colors flying.


How the Cumberland Went Down

by Moses S. Stuyvesant, Lieutenant-Commander, U.S. Navy
(First Published 1892)

As an historical event, the sinking of the United States ship Cumberland, by the rebel ironclad steamer Merrimac, March 8, 1862, was not of great importance. It had no influence upon the campaign in progress, nor did it teach us anything before unknown in the science of naval warfare. It was an episode merely, but will nevertheless always have place in the history of the memorable rebellion, and will doubtless serve as an inspiration to coming generations as long as we shall have a flag to fight under.

One who was at the time a very young officer, holding but a subordinate position on board the Cumberland, may be permitted to relate, briefly, a history of heroism and patriotism not often equaled in the records of battles.

The Cumberland was one of the old sailing frigates, cut down, or razeed, as the term was, and rated in the navy resister as a sloop of war. She carried for those days, a formidable battery, consisting of a 10-inch pivot gun forward on the spar deck, a rifled 80-pounder Dahlgren gun aft, and on the gun deck, in broadside, 22 9-inch guns. She was a great favorite among the older officers, being, an excellent sea vessel - comfortable, speedy, and easily handled in all weather. Full sparred, she carried a 11 "cloud" of canvas, requiring necessarily a large crew, which numbered about 350, and contained a large proportion of trained men-of-warsmen. The Cumberland was probably the last thorough representative of the navy of former days, when the people fostered it, when tars were tars, and seamanship had its value.



1st Lieutenant
Aug 4, 2007
Marshfield Missouri
Being Correspondence Pursuant to the Actions of the C.S.S. Virginia (Merrimack) and U.S.S. Monitor,
as well as other vessels which took part

Union Documents
From the Official Records of the Navies


March 8-9, 1862

Being Correspondence Pursuant to the Actions of the C.S.S. Virginia (Merrimack) and U.S.S. Monitor,
as well as other vessels which took part

Confederate Documents
From the Official Records of the Navies


Services of the Virginia (Merrimack)

By Captain Catesby Ap. R. Jones, CSN
From: Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XI, Richmond, Va., January to December, 1883. Pages 65-74

[The following deeply interesting narrative of the gallant and accomplished executive officer of the Virginia was prepared for our Society not long before his lamented death. It will be found to dispose of most conclusively the claim of the Monitor for prize money.]

When on April 21st, 1861, Virginia took possession of the abandoned navy-yard at Norfolk, they found that the Merrimack had been burnt and sunk. She was raised; and on June 23d following, the Hon. S. R. Mallory, Confederate Secretary of the Navy, ordered that she should be converted into an iron-clad, on the plan proposed by Lieutenant John M. Brooke, C. S. Navy.

The hull was 275 feet long. About 160 feet of the central portion was covered by a roof of wood and iron, inclining about thirty-six degrees. The wood was two feet thick; it consisted of oak plank four inches by twelve inches, laid up and down next the iron, and two courses of pine; one longitudinal of eight inches thickness, the other twelve inches thick.

The intervening space on top was closed by permanent gratings of two-inch square iron two and one-half inches apart, leaving openings for four hatches, one near each end, and one forward and one abaft the smoke-stack. The roof did not project beyond the hull. There was no knuckle as in the Atlanta, Tennessee and our other ironclads of later and improved construction. The ends of the shield were rounded.



2nd Lieutenant
Nov 9, 2010
Chesapeake, VA
If you are ever in the Hampton Roads area, be sure to visit The Mariners' Museum in Newport News. One of its key exhibitions is the Monitor Center, which includes the outstanding exhibition "Ironclad Revolution" as well as the preservation area in which the actual turret, engine and guns of the Monitor are being preserved and studied. Walking the deck of a lifesized mock-up of the USS Monitor, viewing the construction of the CSS Virginia via full-sized reconstructions of sections of the ship, and seeing the actual remnants of the Monitor really add to one's knowledge and understanding of the Battle of Hampton Roads gained through reading books and reports.

The Museum also offers group tours. I am coordinating a tour of my local Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) Camp for the weekend of the 150th anniversary of the battle (March 8-9). Having been through the Monitor Center with my son before, I know my Camp will have a great event.

If you can't visit the museum personally, you can do it virtually via their excellent website. The Monitor Center's history webpage contains links to many articles including several first-hand accounts of the battle. For more info, see http://www.marinersmuseum.org/uss-monitor-center/uss-monitor-center


Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
May 12, 2010
Now Florida but always a Kentuckian
Great Post. I have recommended the Mariner Museum on this forum. As exnavypilot points out, the Monitor Center is a must see if you are in the area. We enjoyed it and the whole museum.


1st Lieutenant
Aug 4, 2007
Marshfield Missouri
On the night of Saturday, April 20, 1861, the United States naval authorities evacuated the navy yard at Gosport, Va. This was one of the most extraordinary proceedings of the war. Whether the commandant of the yard was perplexed by the indecisive instructions of the authorities at Washington, or whether he was simply panic-stricken, remains a mystery to the present day. The large corvette Cumberland and the steamer Pawnee, both in commission, were there; and by keeping the latter in the lower harbor to prevent the Confederates from obstructing the channel, and the Cumberland with her broadsides sprung upon Norfolk and Portsmouth, both towns would have been overawed. The yard was under the heavy batteries of the Pennsylvania and the Merrimac, to say nothing of a force of marines. It was simply out of the power of the Confederates to capture the place. They had no heavy guns to mount in batteries, even if they could have erected them under the broadsides of the Cumberland. "The spirit of madness and folly prevailed; and I know of no better exhibition of it than the fact that while they [the United States forces] were trying to get out, our people were actually trying to keep them in by obstructing the channel! One would suppose that we would have been only too glad to see them depart. And no sooner had the United States given up this yard than they commenced making preparations to recapture it.
Prof. J. K. Soley says:

"Though a few shops and houses were burnt, the work was done so hurriedly that the best part of the valuable material at the yard fell into the hands of the enemy. The dry-dock was not destroyed, as the fuse failed to ignite the powder; but whether from accident or from the work of other hands has never been discovered. The magazine, with great numbers of loaded shells, and 150 tons of powder, had already been seized. Two thousand guns of all descriptions were left practically uninjured, 300 of them being new Dahlgren guns of various calibers. Besides the guns, machinery, steel plates, castings, construction materials, and ordnance and equipment stores in vast quantities came into the possession of the Confederates; and severe as the loss of so much material would have been by itself to the Federal government, it was rendered tenfold greater by supplying the necessities of the enemy."