Courtesy of our friends at History.com, I am pleased to begin each and every day of the week here at Bulldog Pundit with a snippet of some important event that occurred on this date sometime in the past. Some events might come readily to mind while others may take a bit of effort to recall. Not all are historically portentous and some may even seem whimsical. Nevertheless, each and every one is a grain in the hourglass of human history.
Yawn all you like, but this day in history was a pivotal one because it witnessed the world’s first battle between ironclad warships. On March 9, 1862 the age of wooden walls and iron men came to an official end: an arms race ensued that would continue for the next century and finally end with the development and deployment of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
During the American Civil War, the CSS Virginia, a captured and rebuilt Union steam frigate formerly known as the Merrimac, engages the USS Monitor in the first battle between iron-fortified naval vessels in history.
The Confederate navy’s addition of iron plates to the captured USS Merrimac steam frigate temporarily made it an unstoppable force in the disputed waters of the Civil War. After seeing the Merrimac in action, the Union navy constructed its own ironclad, the USS Monitor. On March 8, 1862, the Virginia attacked a Union squadron of wooden-hulled vessels in Hampton Roads off the Virginia coast. The USS Congress, a frigate, and the USS Cumberland, a sailing sloop, were easily sunk by the Virginia, which suffered no noticeable damage. Late that night, the USS Monitor arrived in the area. With its deck nearly at the water level, the Monitor had an unassuming appearance, but it was a formidable match for the Confederate ironclad.
On March 9, the two vessels engaged each other, and both the Monitor and the Virginia suffered direct hits that failed to penetrate their iron shells. Finally, after four hours, a cannon blast from the Virginia hit the Monitor‘s pilothouse, temporarily blinding the ship’s captain, Union Lieutenant John L. Worden. The Virginia was thus allowed to escape to Norfolk, Virginia, and the Battle of the Ironclads ended in a draw. Two months later, the Virginia was trapped in Norfolk by advancing Union forces, and its Confederate crew blew up the fearful vessel rather than allow it to fall into Union hands.