A moment of terrible suspense The battle of maneuver

After two hours of dueling, both captains were beginning to realize that they had little chance of damaging their opponent through gunfire alone. While Jones had the option of trying to maneuver closer to the Minnesota to attack her, both captains could also try to ram their opponent. The duel

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THE HAMPTON SHORE

MIDDLE GROUND SHOAL

7. 12.10AM. A lucky shot from the Virginia strikes Monitor in the pilot house and Lt Worden is wounded. Monitor retires to shallow water.

6. 12.05AM. The Monitor and Virginia try to ram each other again. Virginia's crew are foiled in a boarding attempt.

8. 12.15PM. Virginia fires last shots then retires toward Sewell's Point.

3. 11.45am. Virginia's first attempt to ram the Monitor fails.

THE BATTLE OF HAMPTON ROADS

9 March 1862, 11.40am-12.15pm, viewed from the southeast. With Virginia having freed herself, the two vessels make various attempts to ram and board each other. A lucky shot strikes the pilot house of the USS Monitor, wounding Lt Worden. The Monitor retires to shallow water and, with the water levels falling, Virginia retires towards Sewell's Point. Wind is 5mph from west-northwest; it shifted at around 10.15am.

4. 11,55AM The Monitor retires to shallow water and replenishes her ammunition supplies from lockers on her berth deck.

5. 11.55AM. The Virginia opens fire on the Minnesota and the Dragon.

1.11.40AM. Monitor pours fire into the bow of the grounded Virginia.

HAMPTON ROADS

UNION

1 USS Monitor

2 USS Minnesota - aground

3 USS Dragon (tug)

4 USS Roanoke

5 USS St. Lawrence

6 USS Vanderbilt

7 Gassendi (French sloop) - at anchor

8 Union batteries

CONFEDERATE

A CSS Virginia B Confederate consorts CSS Patrick Henry, CSS Jamestown, CSS Raleigh. CSS Teaser C Confederate batteries

4. 11,55AM The Monitor retires to shallow water and replenishes her ammunition supplies from lockers on her berth deck.

5. 11.55AM. The Virginia opens fire on the Minnesota and the Dragon.

1.11.40AM. Monitor pours fire into the bow of the grounded Virginia.

HAMPTON ROADS

2. 11.40AM. The Virginia's consorts obey a signal to come to her aid, but retire to safety when they see the Virginia free herself.
1862 Uss Virginia Rudder System Picture

The Union blockading fleet, including the USS Monitor, is shown retiring behind the guns of Fort Monroe during the sortie of the CSS Virginia on 8 May 1862 in this early 20th-century rendition. (US Navy)

continued, but instead of a contest between two ships steaming in circles around each other, around 11.00am Jones and Worden began to try other stratagems. Of the two ships, the Monitor was by far the more maneuverable, and Worden decided to try to ram the stern of her opponent, hoping to damage her screw (propeller) or rudder. If the Virginia could be disabled, then the Monitor could find a blind spot and pour fire into her without danger. First, Worden had to deal with a logistical problem. His guns had run out of ammunition, and in order to replenish the supplies within the turret, he had to disengage, and steam away from his opponent. Shot was brought up out of the hold, and while this was going on, Jones edged his ship closer to the Minnesota. Both he and his pilot were unsure of how deep the water was beneath their keel, and by the time they had charted a course to get as close to the wooden frigate as they could, the Monitor-was steaming back into the fray. Worden made a dash for the Virginia's stern, but missed by just two feet. Jones also decided to break the circling pattern adopted by the two ships in an attempt to attack the Minnesota. He steered northwest, forcing the Monitor to chase after him, and try to cut in between the Virginia and the stranded frigate. Just at that moment, in Lieutenant Jones's words, "In spite of all the cares of our pilots, we ran ashore". The surgeon, Dr. Phillips, was less reluctant to place blame: "the pilot purposely ran us aground nearly two miles off from the Minnesota, fearing that frigate's terrible broadside." This was a potential disaster for the Confederates, and Worden was quick to take advantage of their plight. He laid his ship alongside the Virginia so that the smaller ironclad lay beneath the muzzles of the Confederate

The Union blockading fleet, including the USS Monitor, is shown retiring behind the guns of Fort Monroe during the sortie of the CSS Virginia on 8 May 1862 in this early 20th-century rendition. (US Navy)

Willoughby Spit Norfolk 1922
Union troops under the command of General Wool shown embarking at Fort Monroe for the amphibious assault on Norfolk. A beachhead was established on Willoughby's Spit, visible in the left background. (Casemate)

OVERLEAF

THE CSS VIRGINIA ATTEMPTS TO RAM THE USS MONITOR, 9 MARCH 1862 After the first hour or so of duelling between the two ironclads, both commanders were running out of options. It had become clear that the under-charged propellant used on the USS Monitor was insufficient to allow its 11 in. roundshot to penetrate the Virginia's armor. Similarly, the hollow shells used on the CSS Virginia were unable to do more than dent the turret of her opponent. Lieutenant Catesby ap Jones had just pulled his ship off a mudbank, and found that the Monitor was lying off his bow. He ordered for full steam in an attempt to ram his adversary, but without his iron ram, he was reluctant to damage his own ship. Consequently he reversed his engines immediately before the collision, and the glancing blow to the Monitor did little damage. Although accounts vary (one claims the blow struck the Monitor's starboard beam), the scene depicts the Virginia striking a glancing blow to the Monitor's stern, on her port quarter. (Adam Hook)

guns. As Van Brunt described it; "the contrast was that of a pygmy to a giant." Phillips recalled that "she directed a succession of shots at the same section of our vessel, and some of them striking close together, started the timbers and drove them perceptibly in ... she began to sound even7 chink in our armor - every one but that which was actually vulnerable, had she known it." He was referring to the waterline. As the Virginia burned coal, she became lighter, and consequently her protective knuckle at the bottom of the casemate rose closer to the surface. It was designed to extend almost three feet below the waterline. After two days of fighting, it was only six inches below the surface. As Ramsay reported: "Lightened as we were, these exposed portions rendered us no longer an ironclad, and the Monitor might have pierced us between wind and water had she depressed her gun." Worden was oblivious to the opportunity this presented.

With the Virginia aground, Jones tried everything he could to move her off the mud bank. Ramsay was the man of the moment. "We lashed down the safety valves, heaped quick-burning combustibles into the already raging fires, and brought the boilers to a pressure that would be unsafe under ordinary circumstances. The propeller churned the mud and water furiously, but the ship did not stir. We piled on oiled cotton waste, splits of wood, anything that would burn faster than coal. It seemed impossible that the boilers could stand the pressure we were crowding upon them. Just as we were beginning to despair, there was a perceptible movement, and the Merrimack slowly dragged herself off the shoal by main strength. We were saved." To the crew, this seemed a miracle. By placing everyone at risk by straining the engines and boilers almost beyond endurance, Ramsay managed to develop enough reverse thrust to drag the vessel back into open water.

Minutes before, Jones had ordered his yeoman to signal the wooden consorts lying off Sewell's Point. When Captain Tucker saw the signal "my screw is disabled", he realized that by going to the rescue of the ironclad, he would be sacrificing his ship. As his Executive Officer, Lieutenant Rochelle, put it, "No wooden vessel could have floated twenty minutes under the fire the Virginia was undergoing, but if her propeller was disabled it was necessary to tow her back to the cover of our batteries, so the Patrick Henry and Jamestown started to make the attempt." The crews of the two gunboats must have been immensely

Major General Benjamin Huger

Major General Benjamin Huger, the commander of the Department of Norfolk, abandoned the city and destroyed the Navy Yard without informing Flag Officer Tattnal, who commanded the CSS Virginia at the time. His actions led directly to the loss of the ironclad. (Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA.)

Major General Benjamin Huger, the commander of the Department of Norfolk, abandoned the city and destroyed the Navy Yard without informing Flag Officer Tattnal, who commanded the CSS Virginia at the time. His actions led directly to the loss of the ironclad. (Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA.)

relieved lo see the ironclad pull herself off without help. While all this was going on, Lieutenant Jones passed through the ship, visiting every gun crew. He noticed that the division of two smoothbore guns commanded by Lieutenant J.R. Eggleston had ceased firing. When asked why his guns were not returning the fire of the Monitor, Eggleston replied with the perfect summation of the gunnery duel: "Why, our powder is very precious, and after two hours incessant firing I find that I can do her about as much damage by snapping my thumb every two minutes and a half." Jones decided not to press the matter. What Eggleston had said was perfectly true.

If it was too difficult to approach the Minnesota without running aground, and if his gunnery was ineffective, Jones had one other tactical option. He could ram the Monitor. Using the ship herself as a weapon had worked well the day before, but the Cumberland was a stationary target, and as one critic on board put it, the Virginia "was as unwieldy as Noah's Ark." It took the better part of an hour to maneuver into a position where the Virginia could ram her opponent. After a run of half a mile, Jones was on target. Worden called out to Keeler: "Look out now, they're going to run us down! Give them both guns!" He also turned the ship, which almost escaped the collision completely. What followed was described by the Paymaster as "a moment of terrible suspense." The Virginia caught the Monitor a glancing blow, "nearly throwing us from our feet," as Keeler recalled. Jones had reversed the engines immediately before impact, which reduced the effect of the collision on both ships. The Monitor "spun around like a top." All he managed to do was to dent the hull of the Monitor, but the blow produced a leak in the bow of the Confederate vessel. As the Virginia plowed past the Monitor, Greene fired both his guns, driving in the armor protecting the stern of the casemate. A second hit in the same spot would probably have penetrated the hull. Jones was more concerned with the leak, and rigged pumps to deal with the flooding. He was also running out of options. For a moment he considered boarding. A group of volunteers was organized, led by Captain Reuben T. Thom, commander of the Virginias marines. Thom planned to jump onto the Monitor when the opportunity presented itself.

Unable to escape up the James River to the safety of Richmond because of her deep draft, the Virginia was burned and scuttled by her own crew off Craney Island early on the morning of 11 May 1862. (Hensley)

Once on board his men would throw a coat over the slits in the pilot house, and jam the turret using metal spikes. Worden obviously took the threat seriously, as at one stage he ordered Greene to load his guns with canister. He had seen the boarding party gathering on the Virginia's spar deck. The Monitor dropped astern, and the opportunity passed. Thom ordered his men back to their guns. About this time the Confederate ensign was shot away, raising a cheer from the Union soldiers watching the fight from the shore. A replacement ensign was rigged and the fight continued, with Jones edging as close as he dared to the Minnesota. One shot struck the boiler of the tug USS Dragon, which was lying alongside the frigate. Other shots burst inside the Minnesota, and fires were started, although these were soon extinguished. It was now around noon. The two main protagonists had been fighting for 314 hours. The basic tactical situation remained the same: Jones wanted to attack the Minnesota, and Worden wanted to protect her. At that stage the Monitor passed close to the stern of the Virginia, almost catching her screw for a second time. As the smaller ship passed by, Lieutenant John Taylor Wood fired a 7in. Brooke rifle at the Monitors pilot house. The shell scored a direct hit, blowing off one of the plates that protected the position. WThen the shell struck, Worden was peering out through the vision slit. The explosion blinded the Monitors captain. Worden fell back, but could still sense the bright light and cool air coming from the hole in the armor. Miraculously, the helmsman was unhurt. Keeler saw "a flash of light and a cloud of smoke." Racing through the ship, he heard the captain call out: "My eyes. I am blind." He called for medical aid, and while Worden lay there, he ordered the helmsman to alter course to starboard, and head for shallow water, where the Virginia couldn't follow. He thought the damage to the pilot house was serious enough to break off the fight. Lieutenant Greene arrived, and assumed command. As he was carried below, Worden begged his replacement to "save the Minnesota if you can." It was 12.15pm.

Monroe Mine Minnesota

The Battle of Drewry's Bluff, 15 May 1862. After nearly four hours, the battered ironclads Monitor and Galena were forced to retreat, abandoning their attempt to force a route to Richmond by way of the James River. Harper's Weekly, 31 May 1862. (Hensley)

Jones guessed something was amiss, and the Monitor was running from the fight. On board the Minnesota, Van Brunt realized his protector was out of the battle, and he prepared for the worst. The attack never came. The tide was ebbing, and as the water levels went down, the Minnesota gained a new protector. The Virginia had a draft of 22ft, and the area she could safely operate in was getting smaller by the minute. The pilots argued that the wooden frigate was too far away, and Jones complained that the "pilots will not place us nearer the Minnesota, and we cannot run the risk of getting aground again." He could only get. within a mile of the enemy frigate, and the tide was still falling. He called his officers together and presented them with the situation. His ship was leaking, the crew was exhausted, and they were unable to fight either the Monitor or the Minnesota. He proposed a return to Norfolk. Almost all of his officers agreed, although Jones noted: "had there been any sign of the Monitor's willingness to renew the contest we would have remained to fight her". Ramsay said the news was a "wet blanket," and claimed that Jones "ignored the moral effect of leaving the Roads without forcing the Minnesota to surrender." Jones ignored his protests, and ordered the helmsman to set a course for Sewell's Point and the mouth of the Elizabeth River. Lieutenant Wood had fired the last shot in the Battle of Hampton Roads.

Both ironclads returned to their respective berths, and were met with a hero's welcome. The Monitor had limped from the battleground, but remained undefeated. After four hours of battle, neither ship could claim a victory.

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