CSS Virginia

(insert image and caption here
Career
Ordered:1861
Laid down:1862
Fate:scuttled by crew
General Characteristics
Displacement:approx. 3200 tons (the data differ, 800 tons is unlikely)
Length:275 feet
Beam:38.6 feet
Draft:22 feet
Speed:9 knots
Complement:320 officers and men
Armament:two 7" rifles
two 6" rifles
six 9" Dahlgren smoothbores
two 12-pounder howitzers
Armor:Iron

CSS Virginia was an ironclad warship of the Confederate States Navy during the American Civil War.

When the Commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, one of the important federal military bases threatened was Norfolk Naval Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia. Accordingly, the order was sent to destroy the base rather than allow it to fall into Confederate hands. Unfortunately for the Union, these orders were bungled. The steam frigate USS Merrimack sank before she completely burned. When the Confederates entered the yard, they raised the Merrimack and decided to use her engines and hull to build an ironclad warship.

This new ship was named the CSS Virginia. She had an iron deck and casement, four inches thick. She mounted ten cannon, one in front and rear and four on each side. The Merrimack's engines, now part of the Virginia, were not in good working order and had not been improved by being submerged in the James River. The addition of a number of tons of iron did not improve the situation.

On 8 March 1862, the Virginia set out for Hampton Roads, where part of the Union blockading fleet was anchored. The wooden ships of the fleet proved no match for the ironclad, and the USS Congress and USS Cumberland were destroyed. The USS Minnesota ran aground trying to avoid the Virginia. It being late in the day, the Virginia left with the expectation of returning the next day and completing the destruction of the Union fleet.

Later that night, the USS Monitor arrived. This Union ironclad had been rushed to Hampton Roads in hopes of protecting the Union fleet and preventing the Virginia from threatening Union cities.

The next day, 9 March 1862, the world's first battle between ironclad warships took place. The smaller and nimbler Monitor was able to outmaneuver the Virginia, but neither ship proved able to damage the other very much. Finally, the Virginia retreated up the James River, leaving the Monitor and the rest of the Union fleet in possession of the "battlefield."

During the next two months, the Virginia made several sorties to Hampton Roads hoping to draw the Monitor into battle. The Monitor, however, was under orders not to engage the Virginia and refused to fight.

Finally on 10 May 1862, advancing Union troops threatened to capture Norfolk. The Virginia was unable to retreat further up the James River due to her deep draft. So she was ordered burnt to keep her from being captured. Early on the morning of 11 May 1862, the flames reached her magazine and the ship was destroyed by a great explosion.


A version from http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/v/virginia.htm to be merged.

The ironclad ram CSS Virginia was built at Boston Navy Yard as the frigate USS Merrimack, and commissioned February 20, 1856, Captain G. J. Pendergrast, USN, in command.

Departing Boston she cruised in West Indies and European waters in 1856-57. Following brief repairs she sailed in October 1857 as flagship of the Pacific Squadron, cruising the Pacific coasts of South and Central America until November 1859. Returning east, she decommissioned at Norfolk, Virginia, February 16, 1860. On April 20, 1861, in the confusion following the outbreak of the Civil War, retiring Union forces burned Merrimack to the water line and sank her to preclude capture by the Virginia militia.

The Confederates, in desperate need of ships to challenge the Union Navy's superiority at sea, raised Merrimack and rebuilt the hulk as an ironclad ram, according to a design prepared by naval constructor Lieutenant J. M. Brooke, CSN. Commissioned as CSS Virginia on February 17, 1862, the ironclad was one of a series of efforts -- including blockade runners and submersibles -- intended to whittle away at the effectiveness of the Union Navy's blockade of the Confederacy.

Despite an all-out effort to complete her, Virginia still had workmen on board when she sailed out into Hampton Roads on March 8, 1862. Supported by CSS Raleigh and Beaufort, and accompanied by Patrick Henry, Jamestown, and Teaser, the Confederate warships challenged the Union forces there. Flag Officer F. Buchanan, CSN, commanding Virginia, singled out as first victim the sailing sloop USS Cumberland, anchored west of Newport News, in part to test Virginia's armor against a 70-pounder rifle. In taking position Virginia passed USS Congress and exchanged broadsides, suffering no injury while causing considerable damage to the Union frigate. She crossed Cumberland's bows, raking her with a lethal fire, and finished off the wooden warship with a thrust of her iron ram to conserve scarce gunpowder. Cumberland sank with colors flying, taking 121 men (one third of her crew), and part of Virginia's ram down with her.

Virginia then turned her attention to Congress, which grounded while attempting to close. Opening fire from a distance, and assisted by the lighter ships of the James River Squadron, Virginia forced Congress to haul down her colors. As Beaufort and CSS Raleigh approached Congress to receive the surrender of her crew, Federal troops ashore, not understanding the situation, opened a withering fire and wounded Buchanan, who retaliated by ordering hot shot and incendiary shell fired into Congress. The latter, ablaze and unable to bring a single gun to bear, hauled down her flag for the last time. She burned far into the night and exploded about midnight.

Virginia did not emerge unscathed. Her riddled stack limited her speed -- and she was already slow to begin with -- two of her large guns were out of order, several armor plates were loose, and her ram had been lost in Cumberland. Nevertheless, the ironclad went on to attack Minnesota, but because of depth of water could not close the range to do that steam frigate serious damage. Virginia then turned back and anchored that night at Sewell's Point for repairs. Flag Officer Buchanan was taken ashore to the hospital and Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones, CSN, who had conned the ironclad after Buchanan had been wounded, assumed command.

On the following morning Virginia returned to battle. During the previous night, however, the Union ironclad Monitor had arrived in Hampton Roads after a hazardous trip from New York. The two warships fought a long, inconclusive battle on March 9 -- the first ever fought between powered ironclads -- and Virginia was forced to retire from the area.

On March 25, Flag Officer J. Tattnall, CSN, took command of Virginia and, with the ironclad as his flagship, sought to deny the James River to Union forces. Although the ironclad helped checkmate Union forces for the next several weeks, the Confederates eventually failed to prevent Federal landings at Yorktown or Union operations on the Peninsula. Forced to evacuate Norfolk, Virginia, the Confederates tried to take Virginia up the James River but her draft was too deep. The crew ran her ashore near Craney Island, fired and destroyed her on May 11, 1862.


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