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 CSS
Merrimack 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 the
wounded 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 to
the 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.