Action between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia
9 March 1862


At dawn on 9 March 1862, CSS Virginia prepared for renewed combat. The previous day, she had utterly defeated two big Federal warships, Congress and Cumberland, destroying both and killing more than 240 of their crewmen. Today, she expected to inflict a similar fate on the grounded steam frigate Minnesota and other enemy ships, probably freeing the lower Chesapeake Bay region of Union seapower and the land forces it supported. Virginia would thus contribute importantly to the Confederacy's military, and perhaps diplomatic, fortunes.

However, as they surveyed the opposite side of Hampton Roads, where the Minnesota and other potential victims awaited their fate, the Confederates realized that things were not going to be so simple. There, looking small and low near the lofty frigate, was a vessel that could only be USS Monitor, the Union Navy's own ironclad, which had arrived the previous evening after a perilous voyage from New York. Though her crew was exhausted and their ship untested, the Monitor was also preparing for action.

Undeterred, Virginia steamed out into Hampton Roads. Monitor positioned herself to protect the immobile Minnesota, and a general battle began. Both ships hammered away at each other with heavy cannon, and tried to run down and hopefully disable the other, but their iron-armored sides prevented vital damage. Virginia's smokestack was shot away, further reducing her already modest mobility, and Monitor's technological teething troubles hindered the effectiveness of her two eleven-inch guns, the Navy's most powerful weapons. Ammunition supply problems required her to temporarily pull away into shallower water, where the deep-drafted Virginia could not follow, but she always covered the Minnesota.

Soon after noon, Virginia gunners concentrated their fire on Monitor's pilothouse, a small iron blockhouse near her bow. A shell hit there blinded Lieutenant John L. Worden, the Union ship's Commanding Officer, forcing another withdrawal until he could be relieved at the conn. By the time she was ready to return to the fight, Virginia had turned away toward Norfolk.

The first battle between ironclad warships had ended in stalemate, a situation that lasted until Virginia's self-destruction two months later. However, the outcome of combat between armored equals, compared with the previous day's terrible mis-match, symbolized the triumph of industrial age warfare. The value of existing ships of the line and frigates was heavily discounted in popular and professional opinion. Ironclad construction programs, already underway in America and Europe, accelerated. The resulting armored warship competition would continue into the 1940s, some eight decades in the future.

This page features images of the 9 March 1862 action between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack and persistently mis-identified in accounts of this battle by that name or as "Merrimac").

Additional pictorial coverage of this action

Other images of the ships involved:


Click photograph for larger image.

Photo #: NH 45973

USS Monitor in action with CSS Virginia, 9 March 1862


Aquarelle facsimile print of a painting by J.O. Davidson.

Collection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 62KB; 740 x 610 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 1053

Battle between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia in Hampton Roads, Virginia, 9 March 1862


Lithograph by Closson Blake, after a painting by W.F. Halsall, depicting the two ironclads engaging at close range.

Collection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 69KB; 740 x 390 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 1275

Engagement between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia, 9 March 1862


Contemporary print by C. Parsons, New York, after a drawing by J. Davies.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 112KB; 740 x 475 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 59211

USS Monitor and CSS Virginia in battle, 9 March 1862


Halftone reproduction of an artwork, published in Fiveash's "Virginia-Monitor Engagement", Norfolk, Virginia, 1907.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 145KB; 740 x 435 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 59217

"'Virginia' Engaged in Battle with the 'Monitor', in Hampton Roads, March 9, 1862"


Halftone reproduction of an artwork, copyrighted by G.S. Richardson, 1906, depicting the action between CSS Virginia and USS Monitor.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 118KB; 740 x 640 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 65686-KN (Color)

USS Monitor vs. CSS Virginia, 9 March 1862

Painting by Rear Admiral John W. Schmidt, USN(Retired), 1967-68, located at the Marine Midland National Bank, Troy, New York.

Courtesy of the Marine Midland National Bank.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 39KB; 740 x 290 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 84512-KN (Color)

"The Ironclads"

Painting by Raymond Bayless, depicting the battle between CSS Virginia (foreground) and USS Monitor (at right). USS Minnesota is also shown, in the left middle distance.

Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. Donation of Raymond Bayless, 1975

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 76KB; 740 x 560 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 42207

"The First Naval Conflict Between Iron Clad Vessels."

"In Hampton Roads, March 9th 1862."

Lithograph by Endicott & Company, New York, 1862, after a drawing by C. Parsons, depicting the battle between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (ex-USS Merrimack). Other elements shown in the central image include Sewalls Point, CSS Jamestown, CSS Yorktown and "Rebel Tugs in the left distance; and USS Cumberland (sunken), USS Congress (burning, USS Minnesota and Newport News in the right distance.
Shown around the central image are a portrait of John Ericsson, a view of Ericsson's caloric engine, a "sectional view" of CSS Virginia's casemate, and seven scenes on board USS Monitor. Engraved versions of the latter are reproduced as (counter-clockwise from upper left) Photo #s: NH 58850; NH 58854; NH 58856; NH 58855; NH 58851; NH 58857; NH 58858.

Donation of F.L. Stickney, 1933. Another copy, without the stain in the lower right, was in the collection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 87KB; 740 x 510 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 45963

Monitor Montage, signed by Thomas Fitch Rowland


It includes photographs of the "Monitor Shiphouse" and USS Puritan on the building ways at the Continental Iron Works, Greenpoint, New York, and an artwork of the battle between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia.

The original was in the Office of Naval Records & Library Collection at the National Archives, circa the early 1960s.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 94KB; 740 x 610 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 42208

"Merrimac and Monitor Duel"


Photograph by McCaffrey's Elite Photo, New York, of an artwork depicting the 9 March 1862 battle between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (ex-USS Merrimack). This scene was apparently one of a group entitled "Merrimac and Monitor Naval Battle", exhibited in New York City during the 19th Century.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 70KB; 740 x 490 pixels

 
Photo #: NH 42212

"Desperate Encounter Between the Ericsson Battery 'Monitor' 2 Guns, and the 'Merrimac' 12 Guns"

"In Hampton Roads, March 9th 1862."
"In Which the 'Monitor' was Victorious. The 'Merrimac' Being Finally Towed Off in a Disabled Condition"

Contemporary print, depicting the action between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (ex-USS Merrimack).

Collection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 122KB; 740 x 565 pixels

 


For higher resolution images Obtaining Photographic Reproductions





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