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THE BATTLE OF HAMPTON ROADS

NARENDRAN SAIRAM HISTORY PAPER MARCH 19th, 2009

"The Navy has both a tradition and a future--and we look with pride and confidence in both directions." -Admiral George Anderson, CNO, 1 August 1961.

“If it weren't for the Civil War, I could own you.” My college comments jokingly in relevance to my color. But little does he understand that his statement is true at the core. I would be a slave in this country was it not for the Civil War. That being said, it is safe to say that the Civil war was one of the most important wars in the history of the United States. Among the numerous battles of this war and hundreds of heroic acts, there is one particular battle that is very important to note. A battle that changed the face of naval warfare, modern trade and transportation. The Battle of Hampton Roads. The Battle of Hampton Roads was the first battle between the first ironclads war ships of the US. It took place between the Confederate ship CSS Virginia and Union ship USS Monitor. Once the South had definitively established it's status as an enemy of the North, as a Confederacy instead of as part of the Union, The North put in place a stratagem. The plan was to cut off all communications and modes of help for the South.(“Battle of Hampton Roads, Confederate Military History.”) At the time, the most profitable trade partner of the South at this time was Britain. The South created most of its revenue by selling cotton to Britain. The North, planned to stop this trade by blockading the ships of the Confederacy and patrolling the coast so that no British ship could enter the south.. This plan was put into effect immediately and numerous Union ships began monitoring the the Confederate coast. In response to this move, the Confederacy began making plans to defeat the North in naval battles. The problem was that the south possessed neither the man power nor the technology to defeat the ships of the technologically advanced, industrial North. A feverish search began. A search for something to defeat the North. It was during this search for a new way to defeat the Union Navy, that a new idea emerged. One of the major Northern ports was Newport, Virginia. At this point in the war, Virginia was still a Union state but many people speculated that it would soon secede. And what happened? Virginia seceded and along with it, the North lost its port. In the Newport shipyard, the North had stationed a

ship. A ship that had proudly been called the 'Best Union war Ship.' But as Virginia seceded, the northern troops in Newport, set fire to the shipyard, burning the 3200 ton ship. Two hundred and seventy five feet in length, armed with forty guns, the USS Merrimac burned. (Trotter, William R. The Fires of Pride A Novel.) In desperate need of ships, the Confederacy, raised the dead USS Merrimac and rebuilt it. In the July of 1861, Confederate Navy Secretary Stepehn Mallory, proposed a design for the rebuilding of the USS Merrimac and on the third of February, a year later, the CSS Virginia sailed out of Newport, two inch thick iron hulls shimmering and a battle ram sticking out of it's front. What had once been the pride of the North was now the savior of the South. Once out on the open ocean, the CSS Virginia initiated it's rampage, abrogating the Union ships that dared to cross its path, with ease. Meanwhile the North was making it's own changes to it's ships. As soon the North learned of the Confederacy's plans to make an armored ship, Federal Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles put forth a proposition to the Congress for the North to build its own ships. On August 3rd, 1861, the Congress approved the proposal and appointed a board, the Ironclad Board, to review and select a design from the seventeen that were submitted. The Board selected the design of Swedish engineer and inventor, John Ericsson. (Trotter, William R. The Fires of Pride A Novel.) Ericsson's Monitor, which was built at Ericsson's yard on the East River in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, incorporated many new and striking design features, the most significant of which were her armor and armament. Instead of the large numbers of guns of rather small bore that had characterized warships in the past, Ericsson opted for only two guns of large caliber. These were mounted in a cylindrical turret, twenty feet in diameter, nine feet high, covered with iron eight inches thick. The whole rotated on ball bearings, and was moved by a steam engine that could be controlled by one man. By the time, the CSS Virginia sailed out from Newport, the USS Monitor sailed out from Brooklyn.("Battle of Hampton Roads, Confederate Military History.")

On the 8th of March, CSS Virginia sailed up the Elizabeth River, into Hampton Roads and wreaked havoc. At the Hampton roads, were stationed two Union ships, USS Cumberland and USS Congress. CSS Virginia rammed the USS Cumberland sinking the forty two gun warship without ever retaining a scratch. She then proceeded to its next kill. An awestruck Union officer watched the onesided fight as the Merrimac fired "shot and shell into her[Congress] with terrific effect, while the shot from the Congress glanced from her iron-plated sloping sides, without doing any apparent injury." (Poyer, David. That anvil of our souls a novel of the Monitor and the Merrimack.) After taking out the USS Congress and USS Cumberland, the Confederate ship retreated only to return the next day to destroy the rest of the blockading squadron. On the ninth day of March, in the year of 1862, the first naval battle of the United States Civil war broke out between the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor. Both pioneering pieces of technology went against another in a fierce battle. (Trotter, William R. The Fires of Pride A Novel.) As the Confederate ships returned tolling their bells of destruction, the USS Monitor arrived on site. To the South the USS Monitor was just rumor. To them the USS Monitor looked like a joke because of it's extremely small size. James Barron Hope said she looked like a "cheese-box." The battle was described by many on site as the battle between the giant and the pygmy. While th CSS Virginia was a good twenty two feet in length, the USS Monitor was only ten feet and thereby far more maneuverable than the CSS Virginia.(Poyer, David. That anvil of our souls a novel of the Monitor and the Merrimack.) The CSS Virginia was also at another disadvantage. On the previous day, she had damaged her ram while engaging the USS Congress and her damaged ram had no effect on the USS Monitor. The ships engaged each other in a shower of hostile fire. 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." (Trotter, William R. The Fires of Pride A Novel.) The Confederate Military History say that the battle between the ironclads lasted a full three hours during which both sides suffered no casualties and both ships were sailing at the end of three hours. But it seems that after three hours the USS Monitor retreated deeper into harbor roads. The CSS Virginia took this as a retreat and left the scene back to Norfolk.( "Battle of the Ironclads (Hampton Roads) Official Records and Battle Description.") The Battle of Hampton Roads, was a major breakthrough in the realm of modern naval warfare. Both ships involved in this battle have their own characteristics with their advantages and like all pioneering ideas these were flawed in their own ways. But nevertheless, the sailing of these ships led to the floating of ships like the Titanic. This battle marked the transition from traditional wind powered ships with their high masts and sails to steam powered ships. This change changed the face of naval warfare and eventually the face of trade and transportation.

BIBLIOGRAPHY • "Battle of Hampton Roads, Confederate Military History." The American Civil War Home Page. 19 Mar. 2009 <http://www.civilwarhome.com/CMHHampton%20Roads.htm>. • "Battle of the Ironclads (Hampton Roads) Official Records and Battle Description." The American Civil War Home Page. 19 Mar. 2009 <http://www.civilwarhome.com/ironclad.htm>. • Poyer, David. That anvil of our souls a novel of the Monitor and the Merrimack. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005. • Trotter, William R. The Fires of Pride A Novel. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2003.