Showdown at Hampton Roads march 891862

Before abandoning the Norfolk Navy Yard in April, 1861, the Federals scuttled the vessels they left behind. However, the Confederates managed to raise the steam frigate Merrimac, which they converted to an ironclad, renaming her Virginia.

On March 8, 1862, Virginia, under the command of Captain Franklin Buchanan, left Norfolk. Her rapid conversion had left no time for a trial cruise, and she proved capable of barely six knots. Adding to her difficulties was her deep draft, which gave her a limited capacity to maneuver in the shoal water of Hampton Roads.

Among the Federal vessels in the Roads were two sailing frigates, Cumberland and Congress, both anchored near the mouth of the James River. Virginia steamed directly for Cumberland, opening fire at a distance of less than a mile. Cumberland returned fire, joined by Federal shore batteries, but they failed to stop Virginia's advance. Virginia fired a broadside at Congress, then rammed Cumberland beneath the waterline. Drawing off, she fired another broadside at Congress, then rammed Cumberland again. The Federal frigate sank almost immediately.

Still under fire from Virginia, Congress tried to get underway, but ran aground. Congress struck her flag, but in the confusion, Federal shore batteries continued firing. Virginia withdrew, leaving Congress a burning wreck. She blew up around midnight.

The following day Virginia left Norfolk

The crew of the Monitor relax on the ship's deck (below). Though enjoying the safety afforded them by armor-plating, in action the men fought in hot, crowded, and airless conditions.

Captain of the Monitor, John Warden., ¡in th'e -ukifo: a rear admiral (below). When a rifle-pointed shell exploded in the ship's conning- tottiet:, Wat den was temporarily blinded. Having recovered, from his injuries Warden was later able to acconipany -Lincoln on a tour of inspection.

Virginia engages Congress and sets her on fire. At 6.06pm Virginia returns to Norfolk

4.10pm: Monitor arrives from New York ^^ and takes up position near Minnesota

Midnight: Congress explodes

March 9, am: Virginia appears off Crane? Island steaming toward Minnesota

Monitor gets upsteam and places herself between Virginia and Minnesota. Monitor opens fire against Virginia

In trying to maneuver Minnesota runs ^^ aground jO) Action between ironclads continues until Franklin Buchanan, commander of the C.S.S. Virginia, 12.15pm. Virginia withdraws photographed in his U.S. Navy uniform before the war (above). Believing that his native state would secede, Buchanan resigned his commission in 1861; when Maryland did not join the Confederacy, the Secretary of the Navy refused to allow him to withdraw his resignation and Buchanan instead joined the Confederate navy. Wounded by a Union sharpshooter at Hampton Roads, he was not present at the duel between the Virginia and the Monitor.


USS Congrpsa

Willoughby's Bay

Sewell's Point

CSS Virgin ia Misreh »

Middle Ground

Craney I.

C.S.S. Virginia \ (scuUl'd May 11) (U.S.S. Mtrrimac)



Our vessel, The Virginia, has invented a new way of destroying the blockade. Instead of raising it she sinks it or I believe she is good at both, for the one she burned was raised to a pretty considerable height when the magazine exploded."

A Confederate soldier reporting on the destruction of the Cumberland and Congress.

stack of the Virginia bears the scars caused by the battery-fire at Roads (right).

Fori Monroe again, and made for the frigate Mimtesota, which was lying close to the Federal ironclad Monitor. Minnesota had gone aground in Hampton's shallow waters; prevented by her deep draft from approaching, Virginia opened fire on her from a distance. Monitor steamed ahead to place herself between Minnesota and Virginia. Virginia's captain hoped to range close enough to deliver a full broadside against the approaching Monitor, but about half a mile from the frigate, Virginia struck bottom, and it took 15 minutes to free her. Finally, the ironclad was close enough to deliver a broadside. Virginia's shot ricocheted off Monitor, with little effect, while the Federal shot did no more than rattle a few of Virginia's plates.

For four hours the two ironclads slugged it out. Never more than 200 yards apart, often with barely 30 yards between them, neither vessel was able to gain the advantage.

When Monitor's captain was hit by a flying fragment and taken below, Monitor briefly withdrew. In that time, Virginia came about and steamed toward Norfolk. The battle ended with both sides simultaneously withdrawing, and both claiming victory. In reality, history's first battle between ironclads was a draw.

McClellan's Peninsula Campaign april5-junei6 1862

General McClellan believed the shortest and safest route to Richmond was up the Peninsula flanked by the York and James rivers. Advancing on April 4, McClellan halted abruptly before Major General John B. Magruder's fortifications around York-town. Believing Magruder's scant 10,000 men actually outnumbered his 105,000, McClellan elected to besiege Yorktown. This gave General Johnston's Confederate army a chance to join Magruder.

Fearing that McClellan could flank the Yorktown defenses, Johnston abandoned the line on May 4. On the following day, McClellan clashed with Johnston's rearguard at Williamsburg, but could not force the Confederate army to engage. McClellan tried to flank the retreating Confederates by disembarking Franklin's division at Eltham's Landing on the York River On May 7, Hood's Confederate brigade attacked Franklin, halting him in his tracks.

With Johnston's retreat, the Confederates abandoned Norfolk and scuttled their ironclad, Virginia (originally the Federal steam frigate Merrimac). On May 15, Federal ships sailed up the James River for Richmond, but were checked by the strong fortifications and obstructions at Drewry's Bluff. Johnston established a defensive line near the capital. Unable to flank Johnston, and lacking the confidence to attack him, McClellan prepared for another siege.

The threat of Federal reinforcements from Fredericksburg spurred Johnston's 65,000 Confederates into action. The sudden reversal of the Federal march from Fredericksburg - and a powerful squall - focused Johnston's attack on McClellan's weak left. Striking south of the Chickahominy River on May 31, Johnston's offensive crumbled at Seven Pines (called Fair Oaks by the Union). The Confederates lacked direction or coordination, and when Federal reinforcements poured across the raging Chickahominy, the Confederates retreated on June 1. The Federals suffered 5,000 casualties; the Confederates 6,134. Among the wounded Confederates was General Johnston. President Jefferson Davis replaced the fallen officer with General Robert E. Lee.

Though supremely confident when given command of the Union forces, Gen. McClellan (right) proved to be over-cautious. When commenting on his performance Secretary Stanton stated that "If he had a million men, he would swear the enemy had two millions, and then he would sit down in the mud and yell for three."

\ Ashland C\S(alien

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