The Battle of Hampton Roads, also known as the Battle of Ironclad or the Battle of Monitor and Virginia, was an important battle in the Civil War. It was the beginning of the transition from wooden ships to iron ships.
Prior to this two-day showdown, naval forces around the world, including 19th-century naval superpower Great Britain, used wooden ships. However, after the battle, iron ships began to rapidly replace their wooden predecessors. So why was this battle so important and why did it spark the shift to iron ships? Find out in this historical tale.
some historical background
Although wooden ships dominated sailing for much of recorded history, many ancient civilizations experimented with incorporating iron into their ship designs. For example, according to Wikipedia’s “Atake Ship”, the ancient Japanese used iron in their hulls to enhance their fire resistance. But true ironclads did not surface until his 19th century, when industrialization and technological progress arrived. Wooden ships have been used for maritime transport for centuries, but they have been very inefficient. They headed in the direction of the wind and could easily be sunk in terrible sea storms (the ones the Atlantic Ocean is known for). Instead, it led to steamships and ironclads that allowed the captain to decide where the ship was going.
Another side of this is the American Civil War. Faced with the bleak prospect of a divided America, Abraham Lincoln and his war generals aimed to bring a swift and definitive end to the war.One way was with the Anaconda Project. According to American History Central, General Winfield Scott proposed a plan to blockade the ports and bays of the South, thereby cutting off much-needed trade between the South and foreign countries. Scott hoped to strangle the South and force them to accept the surrender terms the Union forces had drawn up.
Making iron cladding
Lincoln approved the Anaconda Plan and sent Northern ships to surround the southern ports and harbors. The blockade quickly embarrassed the Confederates. The South had little to no industry and was heavily dependent on imports from Britain and France. They needed a way around the blockade. A solution came in the form of an abandoned Confederate ship called the Merrimack. When Virginia seceded from the Union Army, Union forces stationed at the Gosport Navy Yard hurriedly withdrew from the area now in rebel territory (according to the Virginia Encyclopedia).
Yankee soldiers destroyed many of their own ships to prevent them from falling into Confederate hands. His one of these ships was her USS Merrimack. Unfortunately for the North, they did a pretty poor job of destroying Merrimack. They managed to burn most of the ship down, but her hull remained mostly intact, giving the rebels something to do: they built entirely of iron on top of the Merrimack’s hull. The ship was built and renamed CSS Virginia. They also attached a ram to her ship. (Remember the last part, we’ll come back to it later.)
Virginia immediately caused terror in the Union ranks. The Confederates sent ships to Hampton Roads, where they broke the Union blockade, allowing the Confederates to conduct unhindered trade and commerce with foreign countries, causing great trouble in the North. Union desperately needed a solution, and it was quick.
enter the monitor
The monitor was John Erickson’s crazy invention. An American prodigy, he was already working in the Swedish and British armies when Ericsson moved to New York to help design the monitors in his trust’s Battlefield USS Monitor: Cheesebox on a Raft. said to have been an established war engineer. Political intrigue and machinations nearly derailed the project (you can read about it in this source), but in the end he managed to get the USS Monitor built and hastily sent to Hampton Roads, where Virginia was north. It prevented them from destroying the military’s navy.
On March 8, 1862, the giant CSS Virginia sailed to Hampton Roads to attack the Union blockade navy stationed there. Virginia’s Captain Franklin Buchanan decided to target the USS Cumberland, according to the American Battlefield Trust. Once close enough to her prey, Virginia literally plunged into Cumberland, punching a huge hole in her side. (Remember the ram I mentioned earlier?) But while she was trying to remove the ram of the Virginia, her ram broke. Virginia then turned her attention to the USS Congress. The crew aboard the Union ship panicked and Congress ran aground nearby, the American Battlefield Trust reports. After losing Ram, Virginia attacked Congress with relentless artillery, setting it ablaze. Congress inevitably surrendered, but Franklin Buchanan was wounded by Union fire from Yankee soldiers on the beach as he was about to accept a formal surrender. The Confederates aboard the Virginia decided that this was their end and retreated to safety on the Elizabeth River.
The next day, March 9, the American Battlefield Trust reported that the CSS Virginia sailed into the bay ready to wreak new havoc on the Union wooden ships. The ship headed for the USS Minnesota and began firing, but before it could destroy yet another Union ship, the Confederates aboard the ship noticed a strange raft-like vessel near Minnesota. This ship was the aforementioned USS Monitor, North Korea’s response to Virginia’s terrorism. The two ironclads faced off in what the American Battlefield Trust called “hand-to-hand combat.” [cannonball] slug festival. Both ships were ironclads, but neither side equipped their ships with the artillery necessary to damage the iron ships. Like wooden cannons, i.e. iron ships with wooden ship cannons and ammunition.
Afterwards, Virginia may have grown weary of the protracted nature of the duel and frustrated with the difficulty presented by the monitor (which was not an easy kill), and tried to ram the monitor. , but the smaller Union ships “[turned] Sharp to avoid blows. A few hours later, an explosion from a Confederate shell blinded the monitor’s captain, John L. Warden. Union soldiers embarking[disengaged] and [headed] Due to the safety of the shallow waters, an area the larger Virginia could not enter (unless the Confederates were deliberately trying to run the ironclad aground), and the battle was over.
Sadly, the two ironclads never fought again. The Confederates destroyed Virginia and fled the shipyards to prevent Union forces from taking possession of them. The monitor was destroyed in a storm near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Nevertheless, the battle left its mark on American history and changed naval warfare forever.
The Battle of Hampton Roads, while inconclusive, changed naval warfare forever. It convinced shipbuilders of the inherent inferiority of wooden ships, and in the years that followed, the Union and Confederate navies began building metal warships. The North outperformed the South in this regard and may have contributed to winning the Civil War. Iron fever quickly spread around the world as foreign naval powers began building metal ships. By World War I, steel ships had completely replaced wooden ships.