Saturday, March 9, 2013

U.S.S. Monitor battles C.S.S. Virginia, March 9,  1862
On March 9, 1862, the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia fought to a draw off Hampton Roads, Virginia. The ships pounded each other all morning but their armor plates easily deflected the cannon shots, signaling a new era of steam-powered iron ships.

The Battle of Hampton Roads, often referred to as either the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack (or Virginia) or the Battle of Ironclads, was the most noted and arguably most important naval battle of the American Civil War from the standpoint of the development of navies.  The battle was a part of the effort of the Confederacy to break the Union blockade, which had cut off Virginia's largest cities, Norfolk and Richmond, from international trade.

The major significance of the battle is that it was the first meeting in combat of ironclad warships. The Confederate fleet consisted of the ironclad ram CSS Virginia (built from the remnants of the USS Merrimack) and several supporting vessels. On the first day of battle, they were opposed by several conventional, wooden-hulled ships of the Union Navy. On that day, Virginia was able to destroy two ships of the Federal flotilla, USS Congress and USS Cumberland, and was about to attack a third, USS Minnesota, which had run aground. However, the action was halted by darkness and falling tide, so Virginia retired to take care of her few wounded — which included her captain, Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan — and repair her minimal battle damage.
Determined to complete the destruction of the Minnesota, Catesby ap Roger Jones, acting as captain in Buchanan's absence, returned the ship to the fray the next morning, March 9. 
CSS Virginia
During the night, however, the ironclad USS Monitor had arrived and had taken a position to defend Minnesota. When Virginia approached, Monitor intercepted her. The two ironclads fought for about three hours, with neither being able to inflict significant damage on the other. The duel ended indecisively, Virginia returning to her home at the Gosport Navy Yard for repairs and strengthening, and Monitor to her station defending Minnesota. The ships did not fight again, and the blockade remained in place.

The battle received worldwide attention, and it had immediate effects on navies around the world. The preeminent naval powers, Great Britain and France, halted further construction of wooden-hulled ships, and others followed suit. A new type of warship was produced, the monitor, based on the principle of the original. The use of a small number of very heavy guns, mounted so that they could fire in all directions was first demonstrated by Monitor but soon became standard in warships of all types. Shipbuilders also incorporated rams into the designs of warship hulls for the rest of the century.

USS Monitor
After the Confederates were forced to destroy the Virginia in early May, Monitor sailed up the James River to support the Army during the Peninsula Campaign. The ship participated in theBattle of Drewry's Bluff later that month and remained in the area until she was ordered to join the blockaders off North Carolina in December. She foundered while under tow during a storm off the coast of Cape Hatteras on the last day of 1862.
 Her wreck was discovered in 1973 and has been partially salvaged. Monitor's armament, gun turret, engine and other relics are on display at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia

A century and half after their deaths aboard one of history’s most famous warships, two sailors from the USS Monitor were laid to rest at sunset, March 9, 2013 on a hillside in Arlington National Cemetery.

In what might be the last funeral of the American Civil War, the two shipmates were buried with elaborate military honors, their flag-covered caskets carried on horse-drawn caissons as a throng of dignitaries, crew descendants and bystanders looked on.
Facial reconstruction of the two unknown sailors from USS Monitor
The burial came on a blustery afternoon that was one day short of the 151st anniversary of the Union ship’s legendary battle in Hampton Roads, Va., with the Confederacy’s CSS Virginia, formerly the USS Merrimack.
It followed a crowded religious service at the Ft. Myer chapel adjacent to the cemetery, where eulogists called them brave sailors and noble souls and sang them a Navy hymn. A painting of the Monitor sinking stood in the front of the chapel, flanked by two tall candles.
The sailors were two of the 16 men who perished when the Monitor sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras in 1862. The Navy said a gravestone bearing the names of all 16 men will be erected later.
The lost 16 sailors were a kind of cross section of mid-19th-century America: three African Americans, two natives of Ireland, one each from Scotland, England, and Wales, and a coal heaver from Maine, among others.
Almost 10 months after the March 9, 1862, Hampton Roads battle, the two sailors buried Friday were aboard the Monitor when it sank in a gale off the North Carolina coast on Dec. 31, 1862. The ship capsized and settled on the bottom upside down.
In 2002, more than a century after the ship sank, the almost-complete skeletons were found, one on top of the other, amid a tangle of huge guns and debris in the turret.

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