Wednesday, March 9, 2016


JFK+50:  Volume 6, No. 1883


Hampton Roads, Virginia (JFK+50) A century and 54 years ago today, March 9, 1862, two warships clad in iron fought each other to a draw off the coast of Hampton Roads.  The Monitor of the Union Navy and the Virginia of the Confederate Navy began their duel at 9 o'clock in the morning.

The battle, which lasted four hours, ended with neither ship gaining an advantage or sustaining serious damage.  The Virginia, originally a Union frigate called the Merrimack that had been captured and converted to an ironclad by the Confederates, was a stark contrast to the Monitor, designed by Swedish engineer John Ericsson.*

The Monitor, unlike most warships before her, had only two guns.  They were Dahlgren's mounted in a cylindrical turret covered with iron.  The turret, powered by steam, rotated 360 degrees.  A weakness, however, was that the ship's pilot house was so positioned to prevent the guns from firing directly forward.

According to Eyewitness to History,

"the atmosphere inside the...turret was only one step removed from that of Hell.  Insufferably hot, the air filled with choking smoke while the deafening sound of Confederate cannon shot...reverberated through the chamber."

The following eyewitness statement by S. Dana Green was published in Century Magazine in 1888..."The fight continued with the exchange of broadsides as fast as the guns could be very short range."

The Battle of the Ironclads, Eyewitness to History states, "rang the death-knell of wooden ships as fighting vessels."

*John Ericsson (1803-1889) was born in Langbanshytlan, Varnland (Sweden).  He moved to England in 1826 where he invented mechanisms based on steam.  

Ericsson submitted his ironclad ship design to the US Navy during the Civil War & the Monitor was turned out from plans to reality in about 3 months.  JE is regarded as one of the most influential mechanical engineers in history.  He died on the anniversary of the Battle of the Ironclads, March 8, 1889. 


"The Battle of the Ironclads, 1862," Eyewitness to History,

The Monitor and Merrimack
The First Fight Between Ironclads
by Jo Davidson (1886)
Louis Prang & Co., Boston
Library of Congress Image

The Monitor 
Hampton Roads, Virginia
July 9, 1862
War Photograph & Exhibition Company
Library of Congress Image

The Virginia
by Clary Ray (1898)
US Navy Art Collection
Washington, D.C.
US Naval Historical Center Image