By Callie Oettinger
March 9, 1862 saw the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac (CSS Virginia)—one of the most well-known battles of the Civil War and the “first battle between ironclad war ships.”
From John R. Eggleston, featured in Blue & Gray at Sea: Naval Memoirs of the Civil War, edited by Brian M. Thomsen:
“Being one of the lieutenants of the Virginia (Merrimac) during the whole of her career under the Confederate flag, I give the following account from my own knowledge of what took place in that famous battle of the Confederacy, for it is as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday.
“When the Federals evacuated the Norfolk Navy-Yard immediately after the passage by Virginia of the ordinance of secession, they set fire to the public property there. This included the largest battleship then in the world, viz: the Pennsylvania, of 120 guns, used as a receiving ship, and several valuable vessels lying in ordinary—that is, stripped of their rigging and spars and roofed over and put in charge of caretakers. Among these was the frigate United States, which, under command of Decatur, had captured the British frigate Guerriere, and the then modern steam frigate Merrimac. For some reasons the Federals did not set fire to the old frigate, and when the Confederates afterward tried to sink her as an obstruction in the channel below Norfolk, it was found impossible to cut through her hard live oak timbers. . . .
“When the Merrimac was put in commission she was rechristened the Virginia. . . .”
The Merrimac started down river March 8th, where it met with the Cumberland among others.
More from Eggleston:
“With the first light of the morning of Sunday, March 9 1862, we looked eagerly out over the bay. There was the Minnesota lying aground. . . .
“We ‘piped’ to early breakfast, and when it was over we weighed anchor and steamed toward the Minnesota to renew the battle. The Monitor came boldly out to meet us, and then began the first battle between ironclads.”
CALLIE OETTINGER was Command Posts’ first managing editor. Her interest in military history, policy and fiction took root when she was a kid, traveling and living the life of an Army Brat, and continues today.