C.S.S. Virginia terrorizes Union navy - HISTORY
Year
1862

C.S.S. Virginia terrorizes Union navy

On this day in 1862, the Confederate ironclad Virginia wreaks havoc on a Yankee squadron off Hampton Roads, Virginia.

The C.S.S. Virginia was originally the U.S.S. Merrimack, a 40-gun frigate launched in 1855. The Merrimack served in the Caribbean and was the flagship of the Pacific fleet in the late 1850s. In early 1860, the ship was decommissioned for extensive repairs at the Gosport Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia. It was still there when the Civil War began in April 1861, and Union sailors sank the ship as the yard was evacuated. Six weeks later, a salvage company raised the ship and the Confederates began rebuilding it.

The project required some $172,000 to build an ironclad upon the Merrimack’s hull. A new gun deck was added and an iron canopy was draped over the entire vessel. The most challenging part of the construction came in finding the iron plating. Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Virginia,finally produced it, but the plant had to alter its operations to roll more than 300 tons of scrap iron for the 2-inch thick plating.

The Virginia was launched on February 17, 1862. On March 8, it steamed from Norfolk toward Union ships guarding the mouth of the James River at Hampton Roads. Rumors of the ironclad had circulated for several days among the Yankee sailors, and now they saw the creation first hand. The Virginia attacked the U.S.S. Cumberland, firing several shots into her before ramming the Federal ship and sinking it. The other Union ships fired back, but the shots were, in the words of one observer, “having no more effect than peas from a pop-gun.” Ninety-eight shots hit the Virginia, but none did significant damage. The Virginia then attacked the U.S.S. Congress, which exploded when fires caused by the Confederate barrage reached the powder magazine. The Virginianext ran the U.S.S. Minnesota aground before calling it a day.

It had been the worst day in U.S. naval history and signaled the end of the wooden ship era. But help was on its way–the next day, the Virginia fought the most famous naval duel in history with the U.S.S. Monitor, a Union ironclad that was able to fight the Confederate ship to a draw.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Egypt opens the Suez Canal

Following Israel’s withdrawal from occupied Egyptian territory, the Suez Canal is reopened to international traffic. However, the canal was so littered with wreckage from the Suez Crisis that it took weeks of cleanup by Egyptian and United Nations workers before larger ships ...read more

Anglo-Ottoman force takes Abukir Bay

During the Napoleonic Wars, combined British and Ottoman Empire forces successfully establish a foothold in French-occupied Egypt at Abukir Bay. In taking the strategic naval port, some 1,100 British soldiers perished, including Sir Ralph Abercromby, the commander of the ...read more

February Revolution begins

In Russia, the February Revolution (known as such because of Russia’s use of the Julian calendar) begins when riots and strikes over the scarcity of food erupt in Petrograd. One week later, centuries of czarist rule in Russia ended with the abdication of Nicholas II, and Russia ...read more

February Revolution begins in Russia

In Russia, the February Revolution (known as such because of Russia’s use of the Julian calendar) begins on this day in 1917, when riots and strikes over the scarcity of food erupt in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg). By 1917, most Russians had lost faith in the leadership ability ...read more

U.S. Marines land at Da Nang

The USS Henrico, Union, and Vancouver, carrying the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade under Brig. Gen. Frederick J. Karch, take up stations 4,000 yards off Red Beach Two, north of Da Nang.First ashore was the Battalion Landing Team 3/9, which arrived on the beach at 8:15 a.m. ...read more

Thieu orders force withdrawal

South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu orders the withdrawal of South Vietnamese forces from the Central Highlands. In late January 1975, just two years after the cease-fire had been established by the Paris Peace Accords, the North Vietnamese launched Campaign 275. The ...read more

Ali battles Frazier for heavyweight championship

On March 8, 1971, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier meet for the “Fight of the Century” at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The bout marked Ali’s return to the marquee three-and-a-half years after boxing commissions revoked his license over his refusal to fight in the Vietnam ...read more

Emmet Dalton goes to prison

Emmet Dalton, the only survivor of the Dalton Gang’s disastrous attempt to rob two Kansas banks, begins serving a life sentence in the Kansas State Penitentiary.Born in 1871, Emmet was the youngest of the three Dalton brothers, who banded together to pursue a life of crime. ...read more

MTV’s highest rated series premieres

On this day in 1993, the Music Television Network (MTV) airs the first episode of the animated series Beavis and Butthead, which will go on to become the network’s highest-rated series up to that point.Beavis and Butthead offered audiences rude and crude buddy humor in the ...read more

Mount Etna erupts

On this day in 1669, Mount Etna, on the island of Sicily in modern-day Italy, begins rumbling. Multiple eruptions over the next few weeks killed more than 20,000 people and left thousands more homeless. Most of the victims could have saved themselves by fleeing, but stayed, in ...read more

The Lonely Hearts Killers are executed

The Lonely Hearts Killers, Martha Beck and Raymond Martinez Fernandez, are executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison in New York. The strange couple had schemed to seduce, rob and murder women who placed personal ads in newspapers. Beck and Fernandez boasted to killing ...read more