CSS Virginia

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CSS Virginia was a steam-powered ironclad warship of the Confederate States Navy during the American Civil War, built as a casemate ironclad using the remains of the scuttled USS Merrimack in 1862. She was one of the participants in the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862 opposite the USS Monitor. The battle is chiefly significant in naval history as the first battle between two ironclads.


USS Merrimack becomes CSS Virginia

When the Commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861, one of the important federal military bases threatened was Gosport Navy Yard (now Norfolk Naval Shipyard) in Portsmouth, Virginia. Accordingly, the order was sent to destroy the base rather than allow it to fall into Confederate hands. Unfortunately for the Union, the execution of these orders was bungled on 20 April. The steam frigate USS Merrimack sank in shallow water before she completely burned. When the Confederate government took possession of the yard, the base commander, Flag Officer French Forrest, contracted on 18 May to salvage the wreck of the Merrimack. This was completed by 30 May and she was moved into the shipyard's only graving dock where the burned structures was removed.[1]

The wreck was surveyed and her lower hull and machinery were undamaged so she was selected for conversion into an ironclad by Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Navy, as she was the only large ship with intact engines available to the Confederacy in the Chesapeake Bay area. Preliminary sketch designs were submitted by Lieutenants John Brooke and John L. Porter, each of which envisaged the ship as a casemate ironclad. Brooke's design showed the ends of the ship as submerged and was selected, although detailed design work would be done by Porter as he was a trained naval constructor. Porter had overall responsibility for the conversion,[2] but Brooke was responsible for her iron plate and armament while William P. Williamson, Chief Engineer of the Navy, was responsible for the ship's machinery.[3]

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