CSS Virginia was the first steam-powered ironclad warship of the Confederate States Navy during the American Civil War. This ironclad warship participated in the Battle of Hampton Roads in March 1862, against the Union’s USS Monitor. The battle between CSS Virginia and USS Monitor went down in history as one of the most notable battles in naval history as it was the 1st battle between ironclads.
CSS Virginia actually came from the scuttled USS Merrimack. When the Commonwealth of Virginia withdrew from the Union in 1861, the Union abandoned Gosport Navy Yard. The Union force gave orders to destroy the navy yard rather than to let it fall into the hands of the Confederate. However, not everything was destroyed. The USS Merrimack sank in shallow water. When the Confederates took control of Gosport Navy Yard, the base commander, Flag Officer French Forrest, ordered his men to salvage what was left of USS Merrimack.
Since the lower hull and machinery of USS Merrimack were not damaged, Secretary of Navy Stephen Mallory chose her to be converted into an ironclad. She was also the only large ship with intact engines available to the Confederate government in the Chesapeake Bay area. Lieutenant John Brooke and John L. Porter were commissioned to design and work on the ship. They envisioned the ship as a casemate ironclad. Porter was responsible for the over-all conversion while Brooke was in-charge of her iron plate and weaponry. The Navy’s Chief Engineer William P. Williamson was responsible for the ship’s machinery.
The Union forces were also building an ironclad ship of their own, so the designer of CSS Virginia equipped her with a ram since her weapons or guns would not suffice to harm such a ship.
CSS Virginia’s casemate had 14 gun ports, three of which were found in the bow and stern each. There were also 4 gun ports on each broadside. The bow and stern pivot guns, 2 rifles, were 178cm caliber and weighed 6,600kg each. On each broadside were 2 rifles. There were also Dahlgren guns mounted on each of the broadside.
Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan was the commanding officer of CSS Virginia. He arrived only a few days before sailing. CSS Virginia was put in commission and equipped by Executive Officer Lieutenant Catesby Roger Jones.
USS Merrimack became CSS Virginia when she was restored and outfitted as an ironclad.