Photo Credit: The USS Monitor in the background moves to protect U.S. warships in Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, from the CSS Virginia in the foreground in a modern painting. The two ironclads pounded each other in an anticlimactic naval battle.
Clash of the Civil War Ironclads
A “barracks roof” and a “cheese box” met in March 1862 at Hampton Roads. The pioneer ironclads pounded each other with their heavy guns.
By David A. Norris
Smoke swirled amid the thunderous noise that roared from powerful Dahlgren guns and Brooke rifles. Thousands of spectators along the shore watched the two most dangerous warships in the world at each other at point-blank range. Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones hoped that his Virginia would overcome the Monitor and clear the U.S. Navy from Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Jones was startled to see a party of his gunners standing idle. Confronting Lieutenant John R. Eggleston, Jones asked, “Why are you not firing, Mr. Eggleston?”
“Why, our powder is very precious, and after two hours’ incessant firing I find that I can do her about as much damage by snapping my thumb at her every two minutes and a half,” replied the lieutenant.
Eggleston was right. Alone, either ship could have cut a swath through any of the world’s navies. Matched against each other, heavy explosive rounds fired by one combatant simply bounced off the sides of the other. Shell after shell burst uselessly in the air. Others splashed into the water, throwing nothing more harmful than a little salt spray through the gun ports.
On March 9, 1862, the Union and Confederate navies fought the first naval action in history between two ironclad vessels, the Monitor and the Virginia. Both combatants at the Battle of Hampton Roads represented remarkable leaps in naval technology. Less than one year before the battle, no one could have possibly dreamed that these two ships would meet and alter