The Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack is famous because it was the first clash between ironclad warships. This battle changed the future of naval warfare. It took place on March 8, 1862 and March 9, 1862.
First Battle of Iron Ships of War by Henry Bill
What is the name of the battle?
This battle is often referred to by a number of names. Most historians call it the Battle of Hampton Roads because it took place in a body of water called Hampton Roads in Virginia. However, the battle was fought between two famous ironclad ships called the Monitor and the Merrimack. As a result, the battle is sometimes called the Battle of the Ironclads or the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack.
What is an ironclad?
The ironclad was a new kind of warship first used in the Civil War. Previous warships had been built out of wood. These ships could be easily sunk by cannonballs. Ironclad warships, however, were protected with an outer armor made of iron. They were much more difficult to sink with cannonballs.
The Merrimack was originally one of the largest ships in the Union Navy. However, it was captured by the Confederates. Union soldiers set the ship on fire, but the Confederates managed to save the hull of the ship. The confederates rebuilt the ship with a steam powered engine and iron armor. They renamed the ship the Virginia.
Upon hearing about the South's new ironclad ship, the North hurried to build their own. With the help of inventor John Ericsson, the north quickly built the Monitor. The Monitor was completely protected with iron armor. It only had two cannons, but these cannons were on a revolving turret, allowing them to be aimed directly at an enemy ship.
Who were the commanders?
The Merrimack (Virginia) was commanded by Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan. Buchanan was hit by a bullet in the thigh during the battle when he went on the deck of the ship to fire his gun at the shore.
The Monitor was commanded by Captain John Worden. He was also injured during the battle when a shell from the Merrimack exploded just outside the Monitor's pilot house.
On March 8, 1862, the Merrimack entered into battle against the wooden Union ships at Hampton Roads. The Union cannons fired shot after shot at the Merrimack with no success. The cannonballs bounced right off. The Merrimack then took aim at the Union ship the USS Cumberland. It smashed its iron ram right into the side of the ship. The Cumberland sunk. Then the Merrimack went after the USS Minnesota, damaging the ship and forcing it to ground. After hours of fighting, the Merrimack returned to Norfolk for the night.
The next day, the Merrimack returned to Hampton Roads. This time, however, the Monitor had arrived and was waiting on it. The two ironclads fought for hours. They fired cannonball after cannonball at each other, but they could not sink each other. Eventually both ships left the battle.
The battle itself was inconclusive with neither side really winning. However, the ironclad warships had proven their value in battle. No longer would wooden ships be viable in war. The battle had changed the course of naval warfare.
Interesting Facts about the Battle of the Ironclads
The Merrimack (Virginia) was destroyed by Confederate soldiers when the Union took over the port at Norfolk, Virginia in 1862.
The Monitor sank during a storm off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina on December 31, 1862.
The wreck of the Monitor was located in 1973 and some of the ship was salvaged.
Several more ironclads were built by both sides during the Civil War.