Neither side could claim a victory in the Battle of Hampton Roads. The four-hour battle between the ironclads had been a stalemate. The Monitor had been hit 23 times, and the Virginia 20 times. Neither ship was badly damaged in the engagement. Although Lieutenant Worden was badly scarred, he survived, and eventually regained his eyesight. There were no other casualties. The day before, the Virginia had destroyed two powerful warships and killed or wounded hundreds of Union sailors. Why did the Union regard the battle as a victory? The threat posed by the Virginia had been countered. There was no longer any chance of her being able to break the Union blockade, and the industrial capacity of the North ensured the Union would win any ironclad arms race. The first day of the battle demonstrated the vulnerability of wooden ships, and made them obsolete as warships. It also highlighted the danger facing the Union blockading fleets. The second day ushered in the era of the armored warship, and demonstrated that any hopes the Confederates had entertained of breaking the maritime stranglehold around the Confederacy had been dashed. In a single, four-hour battle, the nature of naval warfare had been changed forever.

In a tactical sense, the Virginia still dominated Hampton Roads, and therefore controlled access to the James River. As General McClellan was planning an offensive against Richmond, and planned to use Fort Monroe as his base, the Confederate ironclad was a serious threat. She had won a strategic victory by her very existence. McClellan sought assurances from the Navy Department that the Monitor could hold the Virginia in check. McClellan moved his planned base of operations to the York River, out of reach of the ironclad. For its part, the Navy Department was reluctant to risk the Monitor in battle. Under her new captain, Lieutenant Thomas O. Selfridge, she was modified to incorporate improvements to the pilot house and smokestacks, and she was ordered to keep out of the way of her adversary. For its part, the Virginia was repaired, and she was issued with new, specially designed armor-piercing bolts. A new and improved ram was also fitted to her bow, and the missing gun port lids were finally fitted. As Buchanan was in hospital, Flag Officer Josiah Tattnal arrived to hoist his flag in the ironclad on 21 March. He was more than willing to renew the fight. Work also began on another casemate ironclad in the Norfolk Yard. Buchanan and Jones were both aware that the Monitor had proven to be the equal of the Virginia, but neither Tattnal, the Confederate Navy Department, the press, nor the Southern public would hear of it. For them, the Virginia was still the victor of the battle, and would eventually prevail over her opponents. Tattnal's orders were to "Strike when, how and where your judgment may dictate." On 4 April 1862, the Virginia-was ready to reenter the fray, and Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory

Civil War Fortress Monroe
Confederate Flag Officers Buchanan (left) and Tattnal pictured after the end of the Civil War. Both officers commanded the CSS Virginia. From "Battles and Leaders", 1894. (Hensley)

ordered Tattnal to launch an attack on the transports of the Army of the Potomac, which were lying at anchor in Hampton Roads. A week later, on 11 April, the Virginia sailed down the Elizabeth River, but the Union transports scattered and ran for the protection of Fort Monroe. Obeying orders to avoid battle, the Monitor also fled from Hampton Roads, and headed into Chesapeake Bay. The Union fleet hoped to lure the Confederate ironclad out into deep water, where they could surround her and overwhelm her by sheer numbers. The fleet included the Vanderbilt, whose sole purpose was to ram the Virginia. Tattnal refused to fall into the trap, and was content with holding Hampton Roads, and the capture of three Union transports. The Monitors crew was indignant. As one crewman put it, "I believe the Department is going to build us a big glass case to put us in for fear of harm coming to us." The Virginia 's reign of terror would not last much longer.

On 3 May, the Confederate Army in the Virginia Peninsula abandoned its defensive lines around York town, and slipped away. Faced with overwhelming numbers of Union troops, General Joe Johnston had no option but to retreat. Three clays later President Lincoln arrived at Fort Monroe, and on 8 May he discussed the Virginia with General Wool. While the President watched, a Union flotilla moved up to Sewell's Point and began shelling the Confederate batteries there. Suddenly the Virginia appeared, and the entire Union fleet turned tail and fled. Once again, the Monitor chose to flee rather than to fight. According to the Virginia's Lieutenant Wood, "it was the most cowardly exhibition I have ever seen." Lincoln was less than impressed, but General Wool had already planned a second attack. While the Virginia was distracted he slipped the new armored gunboat USS Galena and a few wooden warships past Newport News arid into the James River. The plan was to seal Norfolk off from Richmond. The following afternoon (9 May), under cover of a second naval demonstration, Wool ferried 6,000 men across Chesapeake Bay and landed them at Ocean View, to the east of Willoughby's Spit. A second wave of troops landed the following morning. The Union army now had a divisional-sized force of 10,000 troops in a position to outflank Sewell's Point, and poised to capture Norfolk itself. Although Confederate Major General Benjamin Huger commanded a similar number of troops, they were scattered between several defensive positions on both sides of the Elizabeth River. He had also been recalled to help in the defense of Richmond, and was in the process of abandoning Norfolk. By nightfall General Wool's troops had errterecl the city. The first the crew of the Virginia knew of the retreat came the following morning (10 May), when they noticed the emplacements on nearby Sewell's Point had been abandoned. Huger's retreating army destroyed the Norfolk Navy Yard, and the Virginia was left without a base. The ironclad had too deep a draft to escape up the James River to Richmond, although the rest of the flotilla managed to escape. Lieutenant Jones tried to lighten the ironclad, but by 1.00am on 11 May, it became clear the task was impossible. By lightening the ship, Jones had stripped her of most of her armor, which meant she was unable to attack the enemy fleet. Tattnal had no choice but to scuttle his ship. The Virginia was run aground off Craney Island, and her crew prepared the ship for destruction. Jones and Wood lit the fuse and rowed away. The once-proud ironclad caught light then exploded. Her

The USS Monitor foundered during a gale off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, early in the morning of 31 December 1862. The sidewheel gunboat USS Rhode Island is shown coming to her aid. Note the temporary modification to the ironclad's smokestack, to prevent waves dousing her engines. (Mariners)

Aftermath Gunship Attack

crew marched inland in the wake of Hnger's army, and their officers cursed the folly of both the army and their administration. The pride of the Confederate Navy had been destroyed.

Richmond seemed to be wide open, and the Union Navy immediately launched an expedition up the James River. The plan was to force their way as far as Richmond. The Monitor and the armored gunship Galena led the flotilla, and it seemed that nothing could stop them. The Union squadron was halted at Drewry's Bluff, some 15 miles below the Confederate capital. A fort had been built on top of the bluff overlooking the river, and Tattnal's sailors arrived just in time to help crew the heavy guns that had been placed there. The Jamestown was scuttled to block the river, and the defenders ranged their guns in just beyond the obstacle. On 15 May, the Monitor and Galena appeared and came under heavy fire. They soon found the bluff was too high for their guns to shell, while the plunging fire from Drewry's Bluff threatened to pierce the virtually unprotected decks of the Union ironclads. After four hours, the Monitor and its consorts limped away. Richmond had been saved.

The Monitor remained on the James River throughout McClellan's peninsular campaign, and covered the retreat of the Army of the Potomac. The new threat was the CSS Richmond, the ironclad that had been partially built in Norfolk, and then towed to Richmond to be completed. Captain Jeffers was replaced by Commander Bankhead, and on Christmas Day he received orders to steam south to join the blockade off Wilmington. Towed by the sidewheel steamer USS Rhode Island, the Monitor reached Cape Hatteras before she was overtaken by a storm. By the late evening of 30 December it became clear that the Monitor was sinking. The Rhode Island was called on to send boats, and Bankhead gave the order to abandon ship. The steamer was still trying to rescue the crew when the Monitor sank, taking four officers and 12 men clown with her. At 12.30am on 31 December 1862, the second of the two ironclads was no more. Her remains still lie in 220ft of water.

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Fort Powhatan (abandoned '-> 3 May)


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W Confederate defensive positions

<j Confederate positions 3 May

DO Confederate positions 5 May

DO Confederate positions 7 May

DO Union dispositions 5-7 May

Mob Jack S Bay

3 May: Confederate positions around Yorktown abandoned.

5-6 May: Confederate positions around Williamsburg abandoned.

6 May: President Lincoln visits Fort Monroe to urge attacks on Norfolk and Richmond. 6 May: Union amphibious landing near West Point repulsed.

7-14 May: Confederate army of Northern Virginia retreats in good order towards Richmond. Union movements in the peninsula were sluggish, and after the capture of Williamsburg on 8 May, the Army of the Potomac took two weeks to reach the Chickahominy River.

Night of 5-6 May: Evacuation of Norfolk by the James River Squadron.

8 May: Admiral Goldsborough's attack on Sewell's Point.

9. 8 May: Advance up the James River by Commander Rogers Squadron.

10. Virginia protects sea approaches to Norfolk until 10 May.

11. Afternoon of 9 May: General Wool lands a brigade of Union troops east of Willoughby's Point.

10 May: A second brigade is landed.

12. Afternoon 10 May: Norfolk surrendered.

13. Afternoon 10 May: Gosport Navy Yard abandoned.

14. Afternoon-Evening 10 May: General Huger abandons Norfolk and Portsmouth.

15. 04.00,11 May: CSS Virginia destroyed by her crew off Craney Island.

16. 13 May: Confederate blockships scuttled.

17. 15 May: Union Naval Advance up the James River halted at Drewry's Bluff.


5 miles




8 km

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