The CSS Virginia was constructed from the burned hulk and salvaged machinery of the USS Merrimack, a ship imperfectly scuttled by retreating Union forces and subsequently salvaged at Norfolk's Gosport Naval Yard in April 1861. A steam-powered frigate constructed in Massachusetts in June 1855, the Merrimack had once carried forty guns and had seen service in the West Indies and Pacific before being sent to Norfolk for repairs and refitting early in 1860.
The Virginia suffered a battering in the course of its engagements with the Cumberland and the Congress, and when it received fire from Union shore batteries, Buchanan fired hot shot on the surrendered Congress in a retaliatory attempt to set the ship on fire. While directing the firing of the Congress, though, Buchanan suffered a leg wound that forced him to turn command over to Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones, a Virginian who had served on the Merrimack before the war. (The "ap" in Jones's name is Welsh and means "son of.") Jones turned his ship toward the frigate USS Minnesota, which had already run aground in the course of maneuvering against the rest of the James River Squadron. Due to the lateness of the day, however, he decided to break off the fight shortly after making contact with the Minnesota. The Confederates fully expected to resume their rampage against the Union fleet the following morning.
April 1861 - During the American Civil War, the USS Merrimack, a steam-powered frigate carrying forty guns, is salvaged after Union naval commanders attempted to scuttle it months earlier at Norfolk's Gosport Naval Yard. It would later be used to construct the CSS Virginia.
February 17, 1862 - The USS Merrimack, having been converted into an ironclad ship, is rechristened the CSS Virginia and released from dry dock into the Elizabeth River.
March 8, 1862 - At the Battle of Hampton Roads, the ironclad CSS Virginia experiences combat for the first time at the mouth of the James River at Hampton Roads, where it meets several wooden warships of the Union's North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, sinking one and damaging several others.
March 9, 1862 - The CSS Virginia engages with the Union's ironclad, the USS Monitor, at the mouth of the James River. The battle lasts for more than four hours. While neither ship gains a decisive advantage, it is a strategic victory for the Union because the Virginia is unable to destroy any more of the Union's wooden fleet.
April 11, 1862 - Almost a month after its battle with the Union warship USS Monitor, the CSS Virginia pulls out of Norfolk to engage the Union navy, but is no longer effective.
May 8, 1862 - The CSS Virginia pulls out of Norfolk for the third time in its short life, and again it sees little engagement.
May 11, 1862 - Confederates destroy the CSS Virginia after the fall of Yorktown because it draws too much water to navigate up the James River and in order to ensure that it would not fall into Union hands.
- Civil War, American (1861–1865)
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First published: October 30, 2008 | Last modified: September 7, 2016