Ironclad Ships

When Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, it took with it what would soon be one of the South's most valuable assets: the Union's shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia. One of the biggest weaknesses the Confederates had was their lack of a naval yard, since almost all of the shipyards were in the Union's northeastern states. The Portsmouth Shipyard was where much of the Union's fleet was repaired, and when Virginia left the Union, everything at the shipyard became the property of the Confederate army, including the Merrimack, one of the Union navy's biggest and most powerful ships.

Union sailors burned everything they could before they left the shipyard to the Confederates, including the Merrimack, but the ship sank to the river bottom while it was burning, and so it only burned down to the deck. The Confederates dredged the ship up from the river and discovered that it was still usable. They decided to try something new: to build a ship covered in iron so that cannonballs and shells would bounce off the sides rather than smash them to pieces.

The Confederates built a new structure on top of the ship's deck that had wooden sides two feet thick. On top of that, they lay two layers of 2-inch-thick iron. Ten cannons were placed inside the -

john ericsson, designer of the monitor

John Ericsson was born in Sweden in 1803 and was a skilled engineer and inventor. He received a patent when living in England for his invention of the screw propeller, which changed the way ships navigated at sea. He also invented a steam engine, rotating turret, and even a deep-sea sounding device.

Ericsson moved to the United States to work for the U.S. navy, and in 1844 designed the USS Princeton, a modern warship propelled by a screw propeller. Unfortunately, when the guns of the ship exploded in front of government naval officials, the secretaries of state and navy were killed. It wasn't Ericssons fault, but he retired from working for the navy for a long time after that. He was called back into service during the Civil War, and convinced Abraham Lincoln that his odd design for the Monitor would be effective against the Confederate's ironclad ship. He was right, and the rest is history.

ship, their barrels sticking out of narrow openings in the iron-covered sides. One soldier who described the ship said it looked "like the roof of a very big barn belching forth smoke as from a chimney on fire."

The Confederates renamed their new ship the Virginia and planned to attack the Union warships in the waters off Norfolk, Virginia, then steam up the Potomac River and attack Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, Union spies told the Union navy about the ironclad ship the Confederates were building, and the Union set to work on its own ironclad.

CSS Virginia (1862-1862), wash drawing by Clary Ray, 1898.

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Responses

  • Ilta
    How big were the ships at fort sumter?
    4 years ago

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