A terrible scene of carnage The second attack on the Congress

It was now around 3.20pm. The Virginia had destroyed or damaged two powerful enemy warships, and was relatively unscathed. She was also facing in the opposite direction from the rest of the Union fleet. She continued bombarding the shore, destroying both the wharf and General Mansfield's headquarters. The Virginia had to turn to port, but it would take about SO minutes to turn the ungainly ironclad through 180 degrees. In the meantime she provided enough of a distraction to allow the James River flotilla to steam past the Union batteries at Newport News. Following Buchanan's orders, Captain John R. Tucker's flagship, the CSS Patrick Henry, was "standing down James River under

Although inaccurate, as it combines both days of the battle into one scene, this lithograph gives a fair impression of the scene near Newport News Point on the first day, as the survivors from the Cumberland struggled ashore. In the foreground Brigadier General Mansfield is shown surveying the carnage. (Mariners)

Sloop Point Fire

The sinking of the USS Cumberland, after the CSS Virginia pulled away, leaving a huge hole in the side of the wooden sloop. The Cumberland's gunners continued firing as long as they could before the vessel sank. (US Navy)

full steam, accompanied by the Jamestown and Teaser. They were all nobly into action, and were soon exposed to heavy fire of the shore batteries." The Patrick Henry was hit several times, but managed to continue on with only minor damage, screening her consorts which were on her starboard side. The trio of gunboats continued on to the mouth of the Elizabeth River and the protection afforded by the batteries on Sewell's Point.

While the Virginia was busy attacking the two warships off Newport News, the other major warships in the blockading squadron tried to come to their aid. The Minnesota ran aground about VA miles east, of Newport News Point. As the tide was ebbing, there was no chance of moving her for six hours. The Roanoke was duly towed back under the guns of Fort Monroe, while the St. Lawrence ran aground, but at least she was in a position where she could support the Minnesota. Buchanan recalled the problems he encountered turning his flagship. "I was obliged to run the ship a short distance above the batteries ... Thus we were subjected twice to the heavy guns of all the batteries in passing up and down the river, but it could not be avoided."

By 4.00pm she was back in position, her broadside facing the stern of the stranded Congress. The frigate was still on fire, and her decks were still filled with dead and wounded sailors. At a range of 150 yards the ironclad raked the frigate, overturning her remaining stern-firing guns and according to the ship's doctor, "Men were being killed and maimed every minute." He recalled how a line of cooks arid stewards who were passing ammunition up from the hold were "raked by a shell, and the whole of them killed or wounded " Captain Smith was amongst the casualties; killed by a splinter that sliced into his head. Lieutenant Austin Pendergast and Commander William Smith were now in command, and after almost 30 minutes of this carnage, the officers decided to surrender. Two white flags were raised and the Virginia ceased firing. It was just after 5.00pm. On the ironclad, Lieutenantjones ordered his men to remain at their posts while Flag Officer Buchanan and several officers climbed onto the spar deck. Ramsey noted, "a pall of black smoke hung about the ships and obscured the clean-cut outlines of the shore. Down the river were the three frigates St. Lawrence,

A shell from the CSS Virginia penetrates the hull of the wooden sloop USS Cumberland and explodes inside her sick bay. Most of the wounded were unable to escape from below decks when the sloop sank. (Hensley)

Mine Creek BattlefieldFort Monroe

Around 12.20am during the night of 8/9 March, the Congress finally exploded, after having burned all evening. It provided a dramatic finale to the events of the previous day, which demonstrated the vulnerability of wooden warships to modern shells. (VWM)

Roanoke and Minnesota The masts of the Cumberland were protruding above the water. The Congress presented a terrible scene of carnage." A small boat was sent from the Virginia to the Congress, in itself a miracle given the damage to the deck fittings of the ironclad. Next, the Beaufort arrived to take the frigate's surviving officers off as prisoners, then burn the enemy ship. She was followed by the Confederate tug Raleigh, The two tugs had scarcely come alongside the Congress when they came under heavy fire from the shore. General Mansfield refused to support the frigate's peaceable surrender, and fired his batteries, supported by the rifle fire of two infantry companies. He ordered a subordinate to "send down marksmen and do not permit them to board the Congress." His actions were effectively a death warrant for the wounded sailors on board the frigate. Lieutenant Parker on the Beaufort recalled that bullets were hitting his tug "like hail." He withdrew to join two other Confederate tugs (Harmony and Teaser) that had just reached the scene,

Jack: "Mr. Secretary! Mr. Secretary! Wake up! Here's the Mcrrimac got out and sunk the Cumberland and taken the Congress!"

Mr. Secretary [Wellesl: "Ah! (yaw/is) you don't say so? I must get Morgan lo buy some more boats then!"

A contemporary cartoon in Leslie's Weekly ridicules the seeming lack of preparedness of Gideon Welles and the Navy Department to meet the threat posed by the CSS Virginia. The cartoon appeared before news of the clash between the ironclads had reached Washington. (Private Collection)

intent on capturing prisoners. The Patrick Henry made an attempt to divert the shore batteries, but her engines were hit by a shot from the Minnesota, releasing scalding steam into her engine room. The Jamestown towed her into Norfolk. By this time Flag Officer Buchanan had seen enough. He was still standing on the Virginia's spar deck, watching the drama unfold. He ordered Jones lo "plug hot shot into her and don't leave her until she's afire!" Just then he was hit in the groin by a rifle bullet. As he was carried below, he cried out: "That ship must be burned! They must look after their own wounded, since they won't let us!" Several heated shot were fired into the Congress, which was blazing from stem to stern. The crew abandoned ship while many of the wounded succumbed to the flames. Others escaped overboard, to be rescued by soldiers from the 20th Indiana. Paymaster Buchanan emerged unhurt but dazed, as did the surgeon, Dr. Shippen. An English observer described the burning Confess as a "helpless, hopeless charnel house."

Lieutenant Jones was now in command of the Virginia, and as the Congress was clearly burning, he turned his attention to the stranded Minnesota, 114 miles away to the east. He quickly realized that the ironclad's draft was too deep to allow her to approach within close range of the Union frigate. He opened fire on the Minnesota, but it was getting harder to see the target as dusk approached. His pilots advised him to abandon the attack, as the water levels were dropping, and it was getting dark. Reluctantly Jones ordered his helmsman to steer toward the mouth of the Elizabeth River. It was 6.80pm, by 8.00pm the ironclad was riding at anchor, protected by the Confederate guns on Sewell's Point. Buchanan and the other wounded were taken ashore, along with the bodies of the two crewmen who had been killed. Union prisoners were

RIGHT This somewhat stylized impression of the battle between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia on 9 March gives a good impression of the geography of Hampton Roads and the appearance of the ships that were there. At center left (18) is the French sloop Gassendi, lying between the main Union fleet and Sewell's Point. Newport News Point is shown in the upper right of the picture. (Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.)

sent under guard to the Norfolk hospital, and Jones and his officers inspected their vessel for damage. The crew ate their evening meal around midnight, while Jones finished his report on the action. The Confederates had just inflicted a humiliating defeat on the US Navy, the worst day in its history since the capture of the USS Chesapeake in 1812. Over 2,650 sailors had been killed, and almost as many were wounded. The Navy had also lost two powerful warships, and the rest of their fleet lay exposed and vulnerable. Captain Gautier reported that; "Panic appeared to take possession of everyone. Several vessels changed their anchorage, and all held themselves in readiness to stand out to sea at the first movement of the enemy." Although the St. Lawrence was refloated, the Minnesota remained hard aground. She would be the obvious target when the Virginia resumed her attack in the morning.

The Congress had continued to burn all evening, and just after 12.30am she exploded "like a tremendous bombshell, and with a roar that could be heard for miles around." A Confederate witness described the end of the Union warship in "an enormous column of fire." A Union observer recalled that the sight "went straight to the marrow of our bones." Jones recounted that by the light of the flames, a Confederate pilot on the Virginia noticed "a strange-looking craft, brought out in bold relief by the light of the burning ship, which he at once proclaimed to be the Ericsson". His sighting was dismissed, and Jones continued to plan a second sortie to finish the piecemeal destruction of the entire blockading flotilla. In fact the pilot was correct. As the Congress burned, the Monitor steamed into Hampton Roads. After reporting to the squadron commander on board the Roanoke, Lieutenant Worden's ironclad was ordered to guard the Minnesota. When the battle was

Mine Creek Battlefield
Captain Gersholm Jaques Van Brunt, USN, the Commanding Officer of the USS Minnesota, had the unenviable task of facing the CSS Virginia in an immobile wooden frigate. His vessel was saved by the actions of the USS Monitor on 9 March. (US Army Military History Institute)
Sketch The Battle Hampton Roads

This contemporary sketch gives a good impression of the location of the Cumberland (left) and the Congress (right) in relation to Newport News Point, although the Minnesota is depicted too close to the Congress. She grounded 11/ miles east of the frigate. (Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA.)

resumed the following morning, the Confederate ironclad would meet Ericsson's Monitor. Instead of fighting against unprotected wooden warships, the Virginia would be fighting another ironclad.


The first clash between the ironclads, Sunday 9 March 1862

In the predawn darkness, the Virginia s officers examined their ship. Surgeon Philipps wrote: "1 found all her stanchions, iron railings, boat davits and light work of every description swept away, her smokestack cut to pieces, two guns without muzzles, and 98 indentations on her plating, showing where heavy iron shot had struck, but glanced off without doing any injury." Water was also seeping in through a crack in the bow, caused when the iron ram had been wrenched off. Only Lieutenant Jones and the pilot knew of the possible presence of the Monitor, and everyone seemed to believe that the Minnesota would be the only real opponent that morning. The crew ate breakfast, which included "two jiggers of whiskey," then prepared for action. On the other side of Hampton Roads the Monitor had spent the night anchored alongside the Minnesota, "like some undersized sheepdog in the shadow of a very large but partially incapacitated ram." As the skies lightened, the crews of both vessels scanned the opposite sides of the Roads. Lieutenant Rochelle on the Patrick Henry observed that: "The Minnesota was discovered in her old position, but the Minnesota was not the only thing to attract attention. Close alongside of her lay such a craft as the eyes of a seaman never looked upon before - an immense shingle floating on the water, with a gigantic cheesebox rising from its center; no sails, no wheels, no smokestacks, no guns. What could it be"? Some thought it was a water raft, or a floating magazine. Others though she might be the Monitor. Lieutenant Jones seemed in little doubt. He told Lieutenant Hunter Davidson of "his determination to attack and ram her, and to keep vigorously at her until the contest was decided." On the Monitor, Lieutenant Worden spotted the "Merrimack" with several consorts at anchor off Sewell's Point. He also ordered his men to breakfast, then prepared his ship for action. Captain Jaques Van Brunt of the Minnesota was also getting his ship ready to face the Virginia. A cluster of tugs and small boats was busy removing her stores, baggage, even her paychest, in

This contemporary sketch gives a good impression of the location of the Cumberland (left) and the Congress (right) in relation to Newport News Point, although the Minnesota is depicted too close to the Congress. She grounded 11/ miles east of the frigate. (Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA.)

Fidel Castro Misiles Cuba

A highly inaccurate view of the interior of the gundeck of the CSS Virginia appeared in the contemporary French publication Le Monde Illustré. The breech-loading gun, its carriage and even the uniforms are incorrect, but it retains something of the flavor of conditions inside a casemate battery. (Author's Collection)

order to try to lighten the ship. There was a general assumption that she would he destroyed just like the Cumberland and Congress. Around 6.00am, Van Brunt saw the enemy "coming down from Craney Island." His men raced to their guns.

The Virginia had indeed slipped her mooring off Sewell's Point just before 6.00am, but a heavy bank of fog lay over Hampton Roads, and Lieutenant Jones wanted to wait until the tide had risen and the fog dispersed. lie remained in station off the Point, while the sidewheel gunboats Patrick Henry and Jamestown, and the tug Teaser'\ome(\ him. By 8.00am conditions had improved, and Jones conned his ship in the direction of Fort Wool preceded by the two gunboats before curving back toward the stranded Minnesota. The Union frigate lay two miles to the northwest, across the Roads. On the French sloop Gassendi, Captain Gautier reported that: "at eight-o-clock the fog completely disappeared." Van Brunt and Lieutenant Worden saw the move, and exchanged a last

Uss Monitor Interior

A highly inaccurate view of the interior of the gundeck of the CSS Virginia appeared in the contemporary French publication Le Monde Illustré. The breech-loading gun, its carriage and even the uniforms are incorrect, but it retains something of the flavor of conditions inside a casemate battery. (Author's Collection)

The interior of the turret of the USS Monitor. Although somewhat inaccurate it was evidently based on experience, as the depiction of the gunport stoppers and their attendant pulley system is accurately shown. (VWM)

3. 8.10AM. USS Monitor raises her anchor and steams to intercept the Virginia.

2. 8.10AM. The Confederate flotilla alters course towards the USS Minnesota.

Southeast Creek Confederacy

1. 6.00AM. CSS Virginia and her consorts slip their moorings. 8.00AM As the fog clears the Confederate flotilla gets underway.

3. 8.10AM. USS Monitor raises her anchor and steams to intercept the Virginia.

2. 8.10AM. The Confederate flotilla alters course towards the USS Minnesota.

1. 6.00AM. CSS Virginia and her consorts slip their moorings. 8.00AM As the fog clears the Confederate flotilla gets underway.


9 March 1862, 6.00am-10.00am, viewed from the southeast. CSS Virginia returns to finish off the Union blockading squadron, in particular the USS Minnesota. The Virginia is intercepted by the Union ironclad USS Monitor, however, and their epic confrontation begins. Wind is 5mph from the west throughout the morning.

5. 8.35AM. Both vessels close within 300 yards of each other. They circle each other for the next 90 minutes in this general area, exchanging broadsides.

6. 11.35AM. The Virginia runs aground two miles from the Minnesota. The Monitor takes up a position astern of her.

4. 8.25AM. The Virginia opens fire on the Monitor. Her consorts retire under the guns of the batteries on Sewell's Point. The Monitor returns fire ten minutes later.

5. 8.35AM. Both vessels close within 300 yards of each other. They circle each other for the next 90 minutes in this general area, exchanging broadsides.

6. 11.35AM. The Virginia runs aground two miles from the Minnesota. The Monitor takes up a position astern of her.

4. 8.25AM. The Virginia opens fire on the Monitor. Her consorts retire under the guns of the batteries on Sewell's Point. The Monitor returns fire ten minutes later.


1 USS Monitor

2 USS Minnesota - aground

3 USS Dragon (tug)

4 USS Roanoke - at anchor

5 USS St. Lawrence - at anchor

6 USS Vanderbilt at anchor

7 Gassendi (French sloop) - at anchor

8 Union batteries


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

Css Raleigh

This atmospheric engraving is probably the most accurate depiction of conditions inside the turret of the USS Monitor that was produced by contemporary artists. Eighteen men and two 15,7001b guns and their slide carriages were crammed into the 20ft diameter space. The conditions during action could only be described as "hellish". (VWM)

This atmospheric engraving is probably the most accurate depiction of conditions inside the turret of the USS Monitor that was produced by contemporary artists. Eighteen men and two 15,7001b guns and their slide carriages were crammed into the 20ft diameter space. The conditions during action could only be described as "hellish". (VWM)


In this contemporary depiction of the scene inside the USS Monitor's turret, the gun crew is shown peering out through the gun port, waiting for the CSS Virginia to appear in their line of sight. (Hensley)

OPPOSITE BOTTOM Although inaccurate, this detailed engraving shows the final moments of the battle, just before a shot from the stern gun of the CSS Virginia hit the USS Monitor's pilot house. Although several other ships are included in the scene, the closest wooden vessel to the action was the USS Minnesota, stranded over a mile to the north. (VWM)

few words before ihey went into action. The captain of the Minnesota told Worden: "If I cannot lighten my ship off, I will destroy her." Worden replied: "I will stand by you to the last if I can help you." Van Brunt's thoughts on the Monitor probably mirrored those of Dr. Shippen, watching from Fort Monroe: "she seemed so small and trifling that we feared she would only constitute additional prey for the leviathan."

When the Virginia was a mile away from the Minnesota, the Union vessel opened fire with her stern guns. Others claim that the Virginia fired first, while Captain Tucker commanding the Virginias consorts recorded that his gunboats opened the engagement. William Keeler, the paymaster of the Monitor, was watching from the ironclad's deck, and wrote that the Virginia fired, and "a shell howled over our heads and crashed into the side of the Minnesota.'''' Worden ordered everyone to go below. It was shortly before 8.30am. After the Virginia fired, Worden reported that: "I got underway as soon as possible and stood directly for her, with the crew at quarters, in order to meet and engage her as far away from the Minnesota as possible." Van Brunt wrote that the Monitor "laid herself right alongside of the Merrimack, and the contrast was that of a pigmy to a giant." As Ashton Ramsay, the Virginia's Chief Engineer recalled, "suddenly to our astonishment a black object that looked like... a barrelhead afloat with a cheesebox on top of it moved slowly out from under the Minnesota and boldly confronted us."

In the Monitor's turret, Lieutenant Greene supervised the loading of the twin llin. Dahlgrens with solid shot. Each gun was crewed by eight men, while Greene and Acting Master Louis N. Stodder supervised their operation. These two men had some idea of what was going on, as they could see out of the gunports. The only other viewpoint on the Monitor was the pilot house, where the Pilot, Samuel Howard, and the Quartermaster, Peter Williams, accompanied Lieutenant Worden. Williams manned the ship's wheel. As the speaking tube linking turret to pilot house had broken down, Worden in the pilot house and Greene in the turret could only communicate by message carriers in the berth deck. Paymaster Keeler volunteered to maintain the link between the two parts of the ship. He was assisted by Captain's Clerk Daniel Toffey. Greene called down: "Paymaster, ask the captain if I shall fire!"


INTERIOR OF USS MONITOR'S TURRET, 9 MARCH, 1862 The twenty-foot diameter turret of the small Union ironclad was crammed with two 11 in. Dahlgren smoothbore guns on low-slung, sliding iron carriages, and their crew of eight men apiece. In addition, an engineering rating manned the crank located between the guns which operated the turret's steam-powered rotation mechanism. In the foreground, Lieutenant Samuel Dana Greene, USN is shown peering out through the tiny gunport, waiting for the CSS Virginia to appear in front of his guns. He elected to fire the guns himself, one at a time, and evolved the stratagem of turning the turret away from the enemy ship to reload, then rotate it until the enemy came into view before opening fire. Although smoke and fumes escaped through the gratings in the turret roof, the interior of the turret was a claustrophobic space, particularly when the effectiveness of its protection had still to be proved in battle. (Adam Hook)

The reply came back: "Tell Mr. Greene not to fire till I give the word, to be cool and deliberate, to take sure aim and not waste a shot". The gunboats peeled away from the Virginia as the two ironclads approached each other, returning to lie underneath the guns on Sewell's Point. As the Frenchman Gautier put it: "they were seen to abandon the attack and retire under the batteries of Sewell's, leaving the Merrimack to defend alone the honor of their young flag." When the two were within

Pictures Battle Sewell Point

This representation of the battle between the two ironclads on 9 March contains a number of errors, but it accurately shows the superficial damage inflicted on the deck fittings of the CSS Virginia. Her smokestack, deck rails and boat davits had been severely damaged during the previous day's engagement. (Hensley)

100 yards of each other, Worden turned the Monitor so her bows faced upstream, taking the way off the ship. He then gave the order to open fire. Greene decided to fire the first shot himself. "I triced up the port, ran out the gun, and taking deliberate aim, pulled the lockstring." The Monitor shuddered under the impact. Observers thought the first shot hit the Virginia "plumb on the waterline." Jones was in the process of turning his ship to starboard, which presented his full broadside to the enemy. Both ships were now parallel to each other, but headed in opposite directions; the Monitor facing west and the Virginia east. He gave the order to fire. According to Greene, it was "a rattling broadside ... the turret and other parts of the ship were heavily struck, but the shots did not penetrate; the tower was intact, and it continued to revolve."

Greene later wrote that "a look of confidence passed over the men's faces, and we believed the Merrimack would not repeat, the work she had accomplished the day before." One gunner even thought the Confederates were firing canister at them, as the shots "rattled on our iron decks like hailstones."

Worden recalled that "at this period I felt some anxiety about the turret machinery, it having been predicted by many persons that a heavy shot with great initial velocity striking the turret would so derange it as to stop its working; but finding that it had been twice struck and still revolved as freely as ever, I turned back with renewed confidence and hope, and continued the engagement at close quarters; ever)' shot from our guns taking effect on the high sides of our adversary, stripping off the iron freely." This was the ultimate test of Ericsson's invention. Beth the Monitor's hull and turret , armor were proof to the rifled shot fired by her opponent.

Worden "passed slowly by her, within a few yards, delivering fire as rapidly as possible and receiving from her a rapid fire in return, both from her great guns and musketry - the latter aimed at the pilot house, hoping undoubtedly to penetrate through the lookout holes and to disable the commanding officer and the helmsman."

Although the Virginia maintained a heavy fire, its shot seemed to be incapable of damaging the Monitor. Officers in the attendant flotilla of Confederate vessels near Sewcll's Point were heard to say "the unknown craft was a wicked thing, and that we better not get too near her." It was becoming increasingly apparent that the Virginia had met her match. This ineffectiveness frustrated Jones, who recalled, "she and her turret appeared to be in perfect control. Her light draft enabled her to move about us at pleasure. She once took position for a short while where we could not bring a gun to bear on her." Jones would have been relieved to know that the heavy smoothbore guns on the Monitor were firing using reduced charges, a safety precaution that reduced velocity at short range. The Monitor was firing 1681b solid roundshot using 151b of gunpowder to propel the shot, two thirds of the normal charge. This reduction in powder was made in accordance with the instructions of Captain John A. Dahlgren, the inventor of the Monitor's guns, and the Chief of Naval Ordnance. He was concerned that the guns could burst if fired using a larger charge, but subsequent tests proved the reliability of his guns.

If the Monitor had used full charges of gunpowder, her shots might have had more chance of penetrating the Virginias lighter armor. Ramsay recalled that; "we hovered about each other in spirals, gradually contracting the circuits until we were within point-blank range, but our shell glanced from the Monitor's turret just as hers did from our sloping sides". These sloping sides were angled inward at 35 degrees from the vertical. The Virginias designer, John L. Porter, and ordnance expert, John M. Brooke, worked out that this was the optimal angle of deflection to confound incoming roundshot, while retaining enough space inside the casemate to house the battery. The same angle was used in almost all subsequent Confederate casemate ironclads, as the theory was proved in battle. The 1 lin. roundshot fired by the Monitors two guns tended to strike the casemate, and were then deflected upwards by the slope. This significantly reduced the effect of the impact, and rendered the Virginia relatively impervious to enemy fire. The weakness with the casemate design was also becoming apparent. Two layers of two-inch-thick metal plate protected her casemate. These were bolted into place on top of a wooden frame, and although the armor was thick enough to

Another stylized 20th-century depiction of the Battle of Hampton Roads, this painting manages to include the sinking of the CSS Cumberland into an otherwise correct representation of the second day's battle. (Casemate)

Captain The Monitor IroncladCaptain The Monitor Ironclad
ABOVE The wounding of Lieutenant Worden in a contemporary engraving. The explosion that wounded the Monitor's captain also ripped open the armored plating protecting the ironclad's pilot house. (US Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD.)

ABOVE, RIGHT Photographed some months after the battle, the turret of the USS Monitor still bears the scars of battle. Note the improved pilot house in the background, built to replace the simple box structure destroyed during the battle. The officers posing for the photo are Lieutenants A.B. Campbell (left) and L.P. Flyle, USN (right). (US Navy)

withstand the enemy shot, each hit caused damage to the retaining bolts. Both Worden and Greene noticed this, and thought it possible that by concentrating their fire at a particular spot, sections of the armor plating could be shot away. Another problem with the Virginia was her armament. Two of her 9in. smoothbores had been damaged in the previous day's battle, and although they could still be fired even though their muzzles had been shot away, they were wildly inaccurate. The minor damage to her forward-facing 7in. Brooke rifle had been repaired by the time the battle began, and the piece appeared to function normally during the engagement with the Monitor.

More serious was her shortage of appropriate ammunition. The previous day, when she sailed out to fight, the wooden ships of the blockading squadron, her solid cast-iron roundshot had been left behind, as it was less effective against unarmored opponents. Her ammunition had not been replenished, and when she steamed into battle against the Monitor she only had explosive shells in her magazines, apart from canister, which was an anti-personnel projectile. She also had the facilities to fire heated shot, which proved useful the day before, but was of no value in her fight against another ironclad. As her Chief Engineer related: "If we had known we were to meet her, we would have been supplied with solid shot for our rifled cannons." Another officer wrote: "our only hope to penetrate the Monitor's shield was in the rifled cannon, but as the only projectiles we had for those were percussion shells, there was barely a chance that we might penetrate our adversary's defense by a lucky shot." Jones was well aware of the problem, and although he had every faith in the superb rifled guns that had been designed by John M. Brooke, he knew that only a very lucky shot would have any effect on his opponent. Later in the day a shot from one of his Brooke rifles would prove his faith was well placed. If his guns were relatively ineffective against the Monitor, Jones still retained the perfect means of destroying the wooden frigate Minnesota, so this remained his priority throughout the morning. Similarly, Wördens objective was to keep the Virginia as far away from the frigate as possible. To the observers lining both shores of Hampton Roads, the duel between the two ironclads appeared ferocious. William E. Rogers of the 10th New York Regiment felt that "truly this odd little craft was no match for this great monster. They closed in, however, and a curtain of smoke settled clown over the scene with the Confederate batteries on Sewell's Point, Pig Point and Craney Island in the fray. With breathless suspense we listened to this firing, but could see nothing for the clouds of smoke. We heard the whistle of the shells and the shot, and we could recognize the shots of the Monitor. One takes no note of time under such circumstances. How long that first round lasted before the firing ceased I have no idea. When the thunder ceased, oh! We thought the 'cheesebox' had gone to the bottom. Gradually the smoke lifted and there lay the two antagonists, backing, filling and jockeying for position, then at it again, and again the cloud of smoke which settled over their struggle hid them from view."

The conflict was also a confusing one for those taking part. In the Virginia, Ramsay recalled that "on our gun deck all was bustle, smoke, grimy figures and stern commands, while down in the engine and boiler rooms the sixteen furnaces were belching out fire and smoke, and the firemen standing in front of them like so many gladiators, tugging away with devil's claw and slice-bar, inducing by their exertions more and more intense combustion and heat. The noise of the crackling, roaring fires, escaping steam, and the loud and labored pulsations of the engines, together with the roar of battle above, and the thud and vibration of the huge masses of iron which were hurled against us produced a scene and sound to be compared only with the poet's picture of the lower regions."

Conditions were as bad, if not worse, on board the Monitor, and at one stage Lieutenant Worden had to clamber out onto the open deck to look around, assess the damage inflicted on his ship, and to get his bearings. This display of calm bravery under fire was typical of the man who Acting Master John Webber described as being "as cool as a man playing a game of chess." While he was standing there he was subjected to volleys of musket fire from the Virginia, the bullets flying "as thick as hailstones in a storm". He noted the turret bore the dents from the conical shells fired by the Virginias Brooke rifles. The 681b projectiles created 4in. dents in the sides of the turret, but failed to cause any real damage. Even these non-penetrating shots could be dangerous, although the armor was sufficient to protect the turret crew. Acting Master Stodder was busy operating the machinery that rotated the turret. As he leaned against the turret side the structure was hit by one of these non-penetrating rounds. lie was stunned by the vibration, and had to be carried below, suffering from concussion. He was replaced by Chief Engineer Alban C. Slimers, the man who had supervised the ironclad's construction on behalf of the Navy Department. Although her armored protection proved more than adequate, other features of Ericsson's design proved less reliable. The lack of communication between turret and pilot house was a significant problem, and however quickly messages could be relayed from one position to the other, it was still too slow to be able to react to events with any degree of alacrity. Another problem was that both the Paymaster and the Captain's Clerk

Pilot House Uss Monitor Hit
Lieutenant John Taylor Wood, CSN fired the last shot of the battle. The conical shell fired from the CSS Virginia's stern 7in. Brooke's Rifle hit the USS Monitor's pilot house and wounded Lieutenant Worden. (VWM)
Uss Monitor James River

The crew of the USS Monitor photographed on the James River four months after the battle. The higher smokestacks shown in the photograph were added after the battle. (Mariners)

were not real sailors or gunners, so lacked the technical vocabulary to perform their job properly. As Lieutenant Greene later described it: "The situation was novel: a vessel of war was engaged in desperate combat with a powerful foe, the captain, commanding and guiding, was enclosed in one place, and the Executive Officer, working and fighting the guns, was shut up in another."

Lieutenant Greene described the situation inside the Monitors turret. "My only view of the world outside the tower was over the muzzles of the guns, which cleared the ports by only a few inches. When the guns were run in, the portholes were covered by heavy iron pendulums, pierced with small holes to allow the iron rammer and sponge handles to protrude while they were in use. To hoist these pendulums required the entire gun's crew and vastly increased the work inside the turret." Eighteen men were trapped inside a smoke-filled metal box 20ft in diameter, and filled with two massive guns. They were also under near-constant fire, as marksmen tried to fire in through the gun ports, and the Virginia s shells tried to penetrate the turret, the rounds clanging into its sides and shaking the whole structure. Green recalled that: "the effect upon one shut up in a revolving drum is perplexing, and it is not a simple matter to keep the bearings. White marks had been placed upon the stationary deck immediately below the turret to indicate the direction of the starboard and port sides, and the bow and the stern; but these marks were obliterated early in the action. I would continually ask the captain, 'How does the Merrimac bear?' He replied 'On the starboard beam', or 'on the port quarter", as the case might be. Then, the difficulty was to determine the direction of the starboard beam or port quarter, or any other bearing."

The gun crews had no idea where the enemy was most of the time, let alone which direction their own ship was pointing. After a few rounds, Greene developed a solution that solved both the problem of the cumbersome gun port covers and the confusion over direction. "It finally resulted, that when a gun was ready for firing, the turret would be

Another photograph of the crew of the USS Monitor relaxing on deck while at anchor in the James River. The photograph was taken on 9 July, exactly four months after her clash with the CSS Virginia. (US Navy)

started on its revolving journey in search of the target, and when found it was taken 'on the fly', because the turret could not be accurately controlled." In other words, Greene's solution was to keep the gun port covers open all the time. When a gun had fired, he ordered the turret to be turned, so the open ports faced away from the enemy. Protected by the bulk of the turret itself, the gun was then reloaded and run out again. Greene would then give the order to turn the turret, and he peered through the small gap around the muzzle until the Virginia filled his view. He then pulled the lanyard and fired the gun. During the action he elected to fire each gun himself, moving constantly from gun to gun throughout the action.

Below the Monitor's turret, Paymaster Keeler was unable to see the action develop, but he heard everything, and both Worden and Greene kept him abreast of developments as they relayed information from one part of the ship to the other. Keeler wrote: "The sounds of the conflict were terrible. The rapid fire of our guns amid the clouds of smoke, the howling of the Minnesota's shells, which were firing broadsides just over our heads (two of her shots struck us), mingled with the terrible crash of solid shot against our sides (not from the Virginia) and the bursting of shells all around us. Two men had been sent down from the turret, knocked senseless by balls striking outside the turret while they happened to be in contact with the inside wall of the turret". In a letter to his wife Anna, he recalled some of the orders passed back and forth. "Tell Mr. Greene that I am going to bring him 011 our Starboard beam, close alongside," or, "They're going to board us, put in a round of canister." He also passed on Worden's comments about the shooting; "That was a good shot, went through her waterline," or, "That last shot brought iron from her sides".

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