Battle of the Monitor and Merrimac


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Up | The Battle of Fort Sumter | Battle of Rich Mountain | First Battle of Bull Run | Second Battle of Bull Run | Battle of the Monitor and Merrimac | Battle of Shiloh | Battle of New Orleans | Battle of Fair Oaks (Seven Pines) | Harper's Ferry | Battle of Antietam | Battle of Fredericksburg | Battle of Chancellorsville | Siege of Vicksburg | Battle of Gettysburg | Battle of Chickamauga | Battle of Chattanooga | Battle of the Wilderness | The Battle of Spotsylvania | The Battle of Cold Harbor | Siege of Petersburg | Battle of Atlanta | Sherman's March to the Sea | The Richmond Campaign

The Monitor and The Merrimac

Up | Pictures of the Monitor and Merrimac

Monitor and Merrimac. At the moment when the Confederates evacuated Manassas a strange naval battle occurred in Hampton Roads. The Confederates had raised the sunken Merrimac in the Gosport navy yard and converted it into an iron-clad ram, which they called the Virginia, commanded by Captain Buchanan, late of the United States navy. She had gone down to Hampton Roads and destroyed (March 8, 1862) the wooden sailing frigates Congress and Cumberland, at the mouth of the James River, and it was expected she would annihilate other ships there the next morning. Anxiously the army and navy officers of that vicinity passed the night of the 8th, for there appeared no competent human agency near to avert the threatened disaster.

Map of Hampton Roads


Meanwhile another vessel of novel form and aspect had been constructed at Greenpoint. L. I., N. Y., under the direction of CAPT. JOHN ERICSSON, who used Theodore R. Timby's invention of a revolving turret. It presented to the eye, when afloat, a simple platform, sharp at both ends, and bearing in its centre a round Martello tower 20 feet in diameter and 10 feet in height, made, as was the rest of the vessel, of heavy iron. It presented a bomb-proof fort, in which were mounted two 11-inch Dahlgren guns. The hull of this vessel was only 8 1/2 feet in depth, with a flat bottom, and was 124 feet in length, and 34 feet the greatest width at top. On this hull rested another, 5 feet in height, that extended over the lower one 3 feet 7 inches all around, excepting at the ends, where it projected 25 feet, by which protection was afforded the anchor, propeller and rudder.  The whole was built of 3 inch iron, and was very buoyant.  Its exposed parts were guarded by a wall of white oak, 30 inches in thickness, on which was laid iron armor 6 inches in thickness.

 A shot to strike the lower hull would have to pass through 25 feet of water, and then strike an inclined plane of iron at an angle of about 10. The deck was well armed also.

Such was the strange craft that entered Hampton Roads from the sea, under the command of LIEUT. JOHN L. WORDEN, unheralded and unknown, at a little past midnight, March 9, on its trial trip. It had been named Monitor. It had been towed to the Roads by steamers, outriding a tremendous gale.


Worden reported to the flag officer of the fleet in the Roads, and was ordered to aid the Minnesota in the expected encounter with the Merrimac in the morning. It was a bright Sabbath morning. Before sunrise the dreaded Merrimac and her company came down from Norfolk. The stern guns of the Minnesota opened upon the formidable iron-clad, when the little Monitor, which the Confederates called in derision a " cheese-box," ran out and placed herself by the side of the huge monster.

She was like a  pigmy by the side of a giant.  Suddenly her mysterious citadel began to revolve, and from it her guns hurled ponderous shot in quick succession. The Merrimac answered by heavy broadsides, and so they struggled for some time without injuring each other. Then the Monitor withdrew a little to seek a vulnerable part of her antagonist, while the Merrimac pounded her awfully,

Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac

Battle of the Monitor and the Merrimac  at Hampton Roads

sometimes sending upon her masses of iron weighing 200 pounds at a velocity of 290 feet per second. These struck her deck and tower without harming them, and conical bolts that struck the latter glanced off as pebbles would fly from solid granite. The Merrimac drew off and attacked the Minnesota. Seeing the latter in great peril, the Monitor ran between them. A most severe duel ensued, and as a result the Merrimac was so much disabled that she fled up to Norfolk, and did not again invite her little antagonist to combat. Worden was severely injured by concussion in the tower of the Monitor, and for a few days his life was in peril. This class of vessels was multiplied in the National navy, and did good service. A comparison of the appearance of the two vessels may be made in looking at the engraving of the New Ironsides and Monitor. The New Ironsides was a powerful vessel built in Philadelphia. It had a wooden hull covered with iron plates four inches in thickness.

Her aggregate weight of guns was 284,000 lbs., two of them 200-pounder Parrott guns. She had two horizontal steam-engines, and was furnished with sails. At her bow was a formidable wrought-iron ram or beak. She was accidentally set on fire and destroyed at her moorings at League Island, below Philadelphia, Dec. 15, 1866.

The New Ironsides and Monitor



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