The battle at Hampton Roads was part of the Peninsula Campaign that lasted from March to August of 1862.
There was a total of five ships engaged in the battle. From the US Navy, there were four ships, the USS Congress, USS Minnesota, USS Cumberland, and the USS Monitor. The CS Navy had one ship, the CSS Merrimack. On March 8, 1862, the CSSMerrimack steamed into Hampton Roads. She proceeded to sink the USS Cumberland and then ran the USS Congress aground.
Captain Buchanan then set his sights on the already handicapped USS Minnesota. The USS Minnesota was run aground on one of the shores. Capt. Buchanan did not know, but the USS Monitor was lying in wait, ordered to protect thewounded USS Minnesota.
Lt. Worden steamed out into the middle of the bay to meet the CSS Merrimack. The USS Monitor fired first in a drawn out battle that lasted about four and a half hours. “They fired shot, shell, grape, canister, musket and rifle balls doing no damage to each other” (Lavy 3).
After four and a half hours, the CSS Merrimack withdrew due to falling tides. The USS Monitor did not make chase because of a crack in the turret. The results of the battle were inconclusive, neither side could claim victory. The estimated casualties resulting from the battle were extensive.
The Union lost about 409 sailors and the Confederacy lost about 24 sailors. The battle was so impressive tothe leaders of both the Union and the Confederacy, that they contracted their Naval yards to have more ironclad ships built. Additions to the Confederate fleet included the CSS Tennessee, a 209 foot long blockade runner with four broadside cannons and pivoted cannons at the bow and stern. Additions to the Union Navy included the USS Carondelet.
Armed with thirteen guns and stationed on the Mississippi, she was a formidable opponent. Prior to the building of the USS Monitor, the USS New Ironsides was built. “It was the strongest ship ever built by the Northern Navy” (Lavy 4). Wooden ships were now obsolete. Ironclad ships began to roll out of ship yards more often than their wooden counterparts. “The invention of ironclads in the Civil War set examples for the future of ship building in the United States” (Lavy 5).
The ironclads were at an advantage over the wooden ships of the two Navies because of their superior technology. Ironclads could withstand hours of battering by artillery, and they could be used to cut traffic lanes through mine fields. Their armor could resist the blast from a mine considerably better than any wooden ship could. They could also carry more powerful guns.
Due to their increased stability in the water these massive ships could easily endure the recoil of a huge cannon. Another useful characteristic of the ironclads was their ability to be used in ramming missions. The hull of the ship would not be compromised by a hit associated with ramming a wooden vessel. Because of Civil War technology, the United States has never built another wooden battleship since the introduction of the ironclads. Every armed conflict since then has seen more and more improvements in the way ironclad ships were built.
The introduction of multiple massive turrets in the late 1800s improved the firepower dramatically. Later renovations included improved power plants and more devastating weapons. Perhaps the greatest renovation came in the pre-World War I era with the introduction of the aircraft carrier. Today, ironclad ships are so advanced that they are scarcely bigger than the ironclads used in the Civil War, but they are hundreds if not thousands times more powerful.