Civil War ship CSS Virginia

History: CSS Virginia

The hulk of the steam frigate USS Merrimack was found on April 20, 1861. At that time, the Norfolk Navy Yard was evacuated by Federal forces and Virginia authorities took over it. The ship has sunk and was burned to the waterline, but the lower hull and machinery were perfectly intact. For the rest of the year and some of 1862, the Confederate States Navy raised, docked, and turned the ship into a new war ship that promised to be better than all the current war ships the Union has had.

The ship was named the CSS Virginia in mid-February of 1862. She was one of the strongest ships around at the time. She had iron armor that made her completely invulnerable to the regular gunfire. She contained ten funs, a seven-inch pivot-mounted rifle on each end, a broadside of two six-inch rifles, and six nine-inch smoothbores. Her greatest weapon was the iron ram that was attached to her bow. This made her a weapon all on her own.

The first battle Virginia went into was on March 8, 1862 going down the Elizabeth River. She demonstrated her power over the wooden ships by sinking the U.S. Navy and shelled the Congress into complete submission. This battle made the officials of the Federal Government in Washington D.C panic because they were now convinced that Virginia could easily destroy they Union sea power and posed a serious threat to the coastal cities. However, they did not know that she did indeed have weaknesses. Her major weakness and limitation was that she had limited operational capabilities. She has a deep draft, a weak onboard power plant, and very bad sea keeping and this restricted her to only be able to use deep channels in calm water around the inland waterways. She could not go out to sea.

Virginian met her match on her next battle on Hampton Roads when she battles the steam frigate Minnesota. Minnesota was the Unions own iron ship, the USS Monitor. They two fired away at each other, without any mortal damage. Eventually, both called it quits and a draw early in the afternoon on March 9, 1862. This was the second historic battle that Virginia went into.

The two ships spent the next two months under repair. Virginia was being repaired and strengthened at the Norfolk Navy Yard and once again entered the Hampton Roads for battle on April 11 and May 8. However, there was no more battle with the Monitor. The Confederates at that time began to abandon their positions in the Norfolk area and Virginia was in threat of losing her home and base. A big effort was put into lightening the ship enough to be able to move her up the James River. However, the effort failed and on May 11, the formidable ironclad queen was destroyed by her own crew near Craney Island. Craney Island was about six miles from where she had come to greatness through the battle of March 8 and 9. The wreckage of the CSS Virginia was mainly removed throughout the next ten years, between 1866 and 1876.


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