ACW Types - Pg 1

First of all, on this page, we include a potted history of the 'battle of the ironclads' and of the two vessels which played prominent roles.

CSS Virginia/Merrimac
This vessel started life as the Merrimac, one of 7 major warships set alight when the Gosport Navy Yard, Virginia, had to be abandoned. Confederate forces were on time to extinguish the flames and take over the finest yards in the country. The sunken Merrimac was raised from the mud of the river bed and work got under way to convert her - from an original oak framed steam frigate into an ironclad.

The transformed Merrimac, renamed CSS Virginia, was sheathed with nearly 800 tons of 1 and 2 inch thick iron plate hammered onto her 2-inch casemate of oak and pine. A 2,500-pound iron ram was added to the prow, 2 feet underwater. Now approaching 4,000 tons and top heavy, manoeuverability was a problem. Nevertheless, she was devastating and on March 8, 1862, Hampton Roads, sank two frigates, damaged other Union vessels, and caused heavy loss of life.

USS Monitor
While work was being carried out on the conversion of the Merrimac, the US Congress took steps to produce their own ironclads. The result was a new type of ironclad, designed by John Ericsson. Made up of two hulls, with the lower hull containing the machinery, furnaces, etc and the upper hull standing only 18 inches out of the water, presenting a smaller target area and a single turret which revolved to give an all round field of fire. The design also made possible, very heavy armour plating in those areas were it was most needed: 5" on the sides where they were exposed above the water level and 8" on the single turret.

With a draft of 10feet, she moved well, particularly in shallow rivers. Her unusual design allowed the sea to wash freely over the deck, minimising roll.

The Historic Battle of the Ironclads
The Battle of Hampton Roads was the first naval engagement in which steam powered, iron-armored ships were involved. On March 8, 1862, the CSS Virginia (Merrimac) had almost broken the Federal blockade of the Chesapeake Bay. On the following day, March 9, the Virginia battled for four and one-half hours with the USS Monitor at point-blank range. The battle ended in a draw.

Of immediate note, the Federal blockade was preserved; but the battle kept Union General George McClellan's invading army from using the James River in its march up the Virginia peninsula to Richmond.

Of far-reaching import, the battle signalled that the era of wood and sail had ended, and the age of iron and steam had begun. Wooden ships driven by sail were on their way out; steam-propelled, steel-hulled warships would become the navies of the future.


ACW Types, Pg 2 (forward)