By James M. Powles March 8, 1862, dawned sunny and mild at Hampton Roads, Virginia. To the men of the Union blockading squadron, the day seemed like any other. At Gosport Navy Yard, near Norfolk, the Confederates had constructed an ironclad vessel on the hull of the partially destroyed USS Merrimack. Renamed CSS Virginia, the ironclad was reportedly ready to challenge the Union blockaders. Standing watch off Newport News for this supposedly indestructible ironclad were the 24-gun sloop of war Cumberland and the 50-gun frigate Congress. At 12:45 pm, lookouts sighted Virginia, accompanied by two smaller Confederate vessels, heading into Hampton Roads from the Elizabeth River. Both Union warships immediately cleared for action. "The Carnage was Frightful" On board Cumberland was Lieutenant Thomas O. Selfridge, an aggressive and fearless 26-year-old United States Naval Academy graduate. In charge of the forward battery of six guns, he would soon face the brunt of Virginia’s raking fire. Around 2:30 pm, Virginia bypassed Congress and headed straight toward Cumberland, her captain having decided to ram the more heavily armed sloop of war. Cumberland opened fire as soon as her guns could be brought to bear, but she took a terrible pounding as Virginia moved across the warship’s bow to get into position to ram. Selfridge ran from gun to gun, firing as fast as he could, but to no avail. Cumberland’s shells bounced harmlessly off the ironclad’s sloping sides. Meanwhile, Vir


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