The first clash of iron-fortified ships was between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia on March 9, 1862. It was a historic battle.
The Virginia was once known as the frigate Merrimack. However, the steamship was taken by the Confederacy and retrofitted with iron plates. the Union Navy saw how magnificent she was in battle and decided to make one of their own.
The Union’s wooden vessels did not stand a chance against the Virginia when she attacked on March 8, 1862. She took them down without much effort, but the Monitor came on to the scene that evening.
The two ironclad ships fought the next morning, drawing spectators from both sides. Each direct hit was answered with another one, but neither could make it through the iron sides. The battle was rather slow, but one hit from Virginia blinded the Monitor’s captain.
The Monitor moved to shallow water to recover, and the Virginia chose to retreat. The fight was over, but it left a lasting impact on naval warfare.
The Fate Of the First Ironclads
On May 11, 1862, the Virginia was destroyed when her captain, flag officer Josiah Tattnall III, had her scuttled so the Union would not capture her.
The Monitor lasted longer. On December 29, 1862, she headed south to fight but ran into a storm off Cape Hatteras coast. She did not fare well in the storm being rocked and rolled by the waves. The ship began to spring leaks, and the engine flooded.
Her crew tried to get help, but the ship and 16 of the 62 men on board were lost, sinking into the ocean’s depths. She was found in 1974 when an exploratory expedition found her location. The ship officially became a marine sanctuary on January 30, 1975.