March 9, 1862: Monitor and the Merrimac

Posted on March 9, 2011
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.

Rear Admiral Thomas O. Selfridge’s Address on the March 8, 1862, battle of the U.S. Frigate Cumberland and the Merrimac (CSS Virginia) Credit: National Archives.

Rear Admiral Thomas O. Selfridge’s Address on the March 8, 1862, battle of the U.S. Frigate Cumberland and the Merrimac (CSS Virginia) Credit: National Archives.

 

 “The Sinking of the Cumberland by the Iron Clad Merrimac, off Newport News, Virginia, March 8th, 1862. Cumberland went down with all her Flags flying: destroyed but not conquered.” Copy of lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1862. Credit: National Archives.

“The Sinking of the Cumberland by the Iron Clad Merrimac, off Newport News, Virginia, March 8th, 1862. Cumberland went down with all her Flags flying: destroyed but not conquered.” Copy of lithograph by Currier & Ives, 1862.
Credit: National Archives.

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.”

Naval Engagement in Hampton Roads. Merrimac and Monitor. March 1862. Copy of print by J. Davies after C. Parsons, 1863. Credit: National Archives.

Naval Engagement in Hampton Roads. Merrimac and Monitor. March 1862.
Copy of print by J. Davies after C. Parsons, 1863. Credit: National Archives.

 

The Original Monitor after her Fight with the Merrimac. Near the port-hole can be seen the dents made by the heavy steel-pointed shot from the guns of the Merrimac. Credit: National Archives.

The Original Monitor after her Fight with the Merrimac.
Near the port-hole can be seen the dents made by the heavy steel-pointed shot
from the guns of the Merrimac. Credit: National Archives.

 

Monitor and Merrimac. Air–Yankee Doodle Dandy. Johnson, Song Publisher. Credit: Library of Congress.

Monitor and Merrimac. Air–Yankee Doodle Dandy. Johnson, Song Publisher. Credit: Library of Congress.

Side Elevation of the U.S.S. Monitor. Credit: National Archives.

Side Elevation of the U.S.S. Monitor. Credit: National Archives.

 

 


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.

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