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Hampton Roads The Battle of the Ironclads Naval history was made on March 8 1862 when the first Confederate ironclad steamed down the Elizabeth River into Hampton Roads to attack the woodensided US blockading fleet anchored there Built on the hull of the USS Merrimac which had been scuttled and burned when the Federals abandoned the Gosport Navy Yard in April 1861 the new warship had been christened CSS Virginia but in common usage retained its original name After ramming and sinking the twenty-four-gun woodenhulled steam-sailing sloop Cumberland the Merrimac headed for the fifty-gun frigate Congress An awestruck Union officer watched the one-sided fight as the Merrimac fired shot and shell into her with terrific effect while the shot from the Congress glanced from her iron-plated sloping sides without doing any apparent injury The results of the first days fighting at Hampton Roads proved the superiority of iron over wood but on the next day iron was pitted against iron as the USS Monitor arrived on the scene It was just in time to challenge the Merrimac which was returning to finish off the US blockading squadron The Confederate ironclad carried more guns than the Union Monitor but it was slow clumsy and prone to engine trouble The Union prototype as designed by John Ericsson was the faster and more maneuverable ironclad but it lacked the Rebel vessels brutish size and power The Merrimacs officers had heard rumors about a Union ironclad yet according to Lieutenant Wood She could not possibly have made her appearance at a more inopportune time for us Lieutenant S Dana Greene an officer aboard the Monitor described the first exchange of gunfire The turrets and other parts of the ship were heavily struck but the shots did not penetrate the tower was intact and it continued to revolve A look of confidence passed over the mens faces and we believed the Merrimac would not
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