Hot Blood and Cold Ink: How Newspapers Twisted the
Battle between the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor
by Mark Hopson

© 2006 Mark Hopson

Originally Submitted for History 330: Professional Seminar
Professor Melanie Perreault

“Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper.” – Orwell, George. “Looking back on the Spanish War.” London: New Road, 1943. 

Thousands of spectators looked on with squinted eyes or binoculars from the grassy shore.  Officers cramped in the hot, dark confines of an iron shell yelled out orders to exhausted subordinates.  Shrieking cannons and the last utterances of dying soldiers filled the air of a normally quiet bay, and “everything was in fragments, black or red—burnt or bloody.”[1]  This astonishing scene was the naval battle between the CSS Virginia and the USS Monitor at Hampton Roads, Virginia, in March of 1862.  It was only one year into the United States Civil War, and these two revolutionary ships, known as ironclads, were the latest creations of the budding mechanical age.  This was the most important naval encounter of the Civil War, and it indisputably changed naval warfare forever. 

Because a decisive victory on the waves was impossible, the Union was determined to win the victory with ink on processed tree pulp.  By the 10th of March, newspapers across the Union and Confederacy claimed victory and diligently reported the “facts” to their readers.  In actuality, each newspaper reported the facts in order to influence the thoughts and emotions of its readers.  The Northern papers wrote to suppress fear, and the Southern papers wrote to temper courage.  However, newspapers like the New York Times, the New York Herald, and the Baltimore American became a tool for Lincoln’s government in the process.  They aided the Union’s war efforts through their reports, and they became the first to create myths about the events at Hampton Roads and weave a victory for the Monitor.

After the smoke and body parts had been cleared from the bowels of the two ships, it was unclear as to whether the hulking Virginia or the streamlined Monitor had emerged victorious.  The opinions of the crew and the populace were mixed on all sides.  However, both the Union and Confederate newspapers were quick to act, and each claimed victory for their “gallant” seamen.  Even though Northern newspapers called the battle a complete success for the Monitor, by all accounts the Virginia decimated the Union blockade.  The Virginia sank the Cumberland, destroyed the Congress, and caused the Minnesota to run itself aground.  The Monitor’s appearance was the only force that kept the Virginia from destroying every Union force at Hampton Roads.  As the Charleston Mercury reported, “French officers watching the Merrimac performances, and heard them say she could shell out and take possession of Fortress Monroe in less than 60 hours.”[2]  During the two-day battle, the Union lost over 400 men, while the Confederates lost only 24.[3]  It was a pyrrhic victory for the Union forces at best.

The battle began on March 8, 1862, when the Virginia left its harbor at Norfolk and traveled up the Elizabeth River into Hampton Roads.  The shoreline of Hampton Roads was actually split between the Union and Confederate forces.  On the Northern side were a handful of Union forces stationed at Newport News and Fort Monroe.  The Confederates controlled the Southern side closest to Norfolk and had batteries and troops stationed on Sewell’s Point.  On the Union side, a large Federal fleet comprised of frigates, steamers, and various wooden ships, and supported by heavy cannons, acted as a blockade.  For months, the Confederates had been unable to break the blockade, but they had created a plan that included the most radical advance in their military technology during the war, the ironclad.

On the morning of March 8th, Hampton Roads was filled with ships.  The Union’s blockade fleet consisted of over a dozen ships.  The major power of the blockade came from some of the navy’s finest steam powered frigates, including the Congress, Cumberland, and Minnesota.  There were also a handful of foreign frigates from England and France, and naval personnel from these ships became international observers to the battle, a situation for which no one at Hampton Roads was prepared.  Around noon of that day, the crew of the Congress first spotted the Virginia.  They saw the Virginia being towed towards them by one of the two Confederate steamers, the Beaufort, which accompanied it.[4]  Upon seeing the Virginia heading towards the Union’s fleet, an officer of the Congress went below deck to tell the ship’s surgeon, Dr. Edward Shippen, “There comes the Merrimac at last.”  The surgeon, who “reading a lately received newspaper with much interest,” replied, “Don’t interrupt me; I am busy.”  The officer then grabbed his sword and revolver and rushed back to the deck, which made the surgeon reconsider the announcement.  However, it would be more than an hour after this initial sighting before the battle finally commenced.  When he later began to treat the wounded, Shippen wrote, “Operations where now out of the question…Whole quarters of the human frame were torn away from some bodies—a head, a right shoulder, and entire legs and arms from others.”[5]

As soon as the Virginia steamed closer to the Union forces, it headed straight for the Cumberland, ramming it at full speed as the frigates’ shells bounced off the Virginia’s iron plates.  The Cumberland sank soon after around 3:30 in the afternoon, and the Virginia turned its guns onto the Congress.  The scene was pure chaos, and there were cannons being fired from all directions.  In addition to the cannons of the major combatants, the Union frigates and the Virginia, there was fire coming from both the Union and Confederate batteries on shore as well as the dozen or so smaller fighting vessels.  At this point, the captain of the Congress decided to run her aground in shallower water to prevent the Virginia from ramming it like it had the Cumberland.[6]  After exchanging fire for about an hour, it became apparent to the captain of the Congress that his shells had no effect, and he surrendered.  The Confederate officer in charge of the Virginia, an extremely traditional seaman, accepted the Congress’s surrender and sent a boarding party over to accept the Captain’s sword.  Before it could accept the Congress’s formal surrender, however, the Confederate boarding party came under fire from Union troops on shore and was forced to retreat. 

These Union soldiers on the shore, members of an Indiana regiment, had hoped to help their beaten comrades on the Congress.  Instead, they actually ended up hitting and killing a number of both Union and Confederate sailors with Minnie balls from Lincoln’s army.[7]  This breach of naval conduct enraged Captain Buchanan of the Virginia so much that he ordered the Congress to be set on fire by incendiary shells rather than accept her surrender.  Specifically he said, “Destroy that damned ship!”[8]  The Congress burned as the sun set on Hampton Roads, and the Virginia set out to destroy the Minnesota before retiring for the day.  Unfortunately for the Confederates, it was low tide, and this made it impossible for their ship to get close enough to the grounded Minnesota for their cannons to be effective.  The crew of the Virginia decided not to risk running aground themselves as night fell, and they retired closer to the Elizabeth River and the safety of the Confederate artillery at Sewell’s Point.[9]

As the Congress burned through the night of March 8th, the Monitor arrived at Hampton Roads to the sight of their ruined comrade.  As the sun rose on March 9th, the Virginia steamed back to the Union side of the Hampton Roads to finish the previous day’s work.  As they steamed closer to the helpless Union frigates, the sight of Ericsson’s bizarre looking ironclad welcomed them.  The Virginia fired the first shots of the day aimed, not at the Monitor, but at the barely afloat Minnesota.  The Virginia steamed directly towards the crippled Union frigate, but the Monitor steamed forward to block the Confederates’ advance.  As thousands watched, the two ironclads engaged each other, and a comparison to Roman gladiators or European jousters seems appropriate and has been used numerous times.[10] 

The Virginia was over 270 feet in length and was armed with over half dozen heavy guns, but its unsteady engine and deep draft made it difficult to maneuver in close quarters.  The Monitor was a significantly smaller ship and only had two guns on its rotating turret, but it was much faster and consistently outmaneuvered the Virginia.  The two ships circled each other for hours, constantly firing their guns.  Sometimes they were so close that their hulls were touching as the shells bounced off their iron.  This futile waltz was suddenly cut short when the Virginia ran aground.  When the Virginia finally freed itself, it rammed the Monitor at full speed, which actually caused the worst damage the Virginia suffered all day.  The fight continued as both sides realized that neither was doing any real damage to the other.  The most damaging blow the Monitor received came about halfway through the third hour of the fight when the Virginia’s guns struck the Monitor’s pilothouse, blinding the ship’s captain.  After this, the Monitor moved to shallow water out of the Virginia’s range.  Around the same time, the Virginia decided to return to the Confederate’s side because the tide was getting dangerously low.  Having lasted for five hours, the battle was over.[11]

Now that the naval battle was over, the press of the both the North and South loaded their own cannons and began the battle of words for public opinion.  Because neither the Virginia nor the Monitor sank the other, it caused speculation and manipulation from both sides as to who had won the battle.  Neither the Confederate nor the Union newspapers provided fully accurate accounts of the events at Hampton Roads.  One of the reasons for this inaccuracy was that the American newspapers, unlike the British press, only ran a single account of the events, no matter whether it was from a correspondent, combatant, or observer.  One-sided accounts rarely tell the whole story and do not provide readers with enough facts to understand the whole truth. 

On 10 March, the New York Times ran headlines like “The Rebel Vessel Forced to Haul Oft” and “The Monitor Uninjured.”[12]  In comparison, the Norfolk Day-Book’s headlines read “Sinking of the Cumberland” and “The Federal Loss Heavy.”[13]  From the headlines alone, it becomes clear that each side biased its reporting to favor the ironclad of its respective government.  Each newspaper claimed victory for the ironclad it favored and provided its readers with the specific details to support that victory.  For example, the Baltimore American wrote, “The Merrimac received three shots, which must have seriously damaged her. Soon after receiving the third shot, the Merrimac turned toward Sewell’s Point, and made off at full speed.”[14]  The Norfolk Day-Book article from the 10th read, “In a word, having accomplished all that they designed—and having no more material to work upon, our noble vessels left the scene of their triumphs and returned to the navy yard here.”[15]  Each paper created an explanation behind the events to support its own version of the battle’s outcome.  These explanations became the subjective truth for the region of the country served by the paper.

Times, participants, and casualties are just a few of the inaccuracies in a long list of errors printed in both the Northern and Southern papers.  For example, both Northern and Southern papers inaccurately claimed that the opposing ironclad was sinking by the end of the battle.  The Raleigh Standard’s article from the 10th read, “A terrific battle ensued until two P.M.,” and that when the Virginia rammed the Monitor, it caused “the Yankee iron monster to head instantly for Old Point, with all hands at pumps, in a supposed sinking condition.”[16]  Meanwhile, the New York Herald’s article from March 10th read that there were “three iron-clad vessels on the part of the rebels,” and that the Monitor “after a gallant and brilliant engagement of five hours’ duration succeeded in beating off the three and sending the Merrimac back to Norfolk in a sinking condition.”[17]  While the Standard inaccurately claimed that the Monitor was badly damaged, the Herald went even further and reported that the Monitor fought off, not one, but three Confederate ironclads.  Such a report was just ridiculous.  The Monitor and the Virginia, neither of which had been fully completed when launched, were the only working ironclads in the entire country, let alone the battle of Hampton Roads.  However, the motivation for the New York newspapers dissemination of such inaccurate information is much more important than the report itself.  The reason that Northern papers claimed a heroic victory for the Monitor was to quell the fear of the people in harbor cities.

The Raleigh Standard’s article touched on this Northern panic at the end an article that read, “The Merrimac is a perfect success. She is a terror to the Yankees, and will visit them again soon.”[18]  The New York Times elaborated further when it wrote that “visions were freely indulged in, of the Merrimac running the blockade of the fort, getting to sea, entering New York harbor, and burning all the shipping at your docks and holding your city at its mercy.”[19]  People in New York City and the other major harbor cities along the Eastern seaboard were terrified, after the news of March 8th, to learn that wooden ships were completely helpless against this new ironclad.  Almost everyone was sure that the Virginia would head unchallenged up the coast and destroy everything in its wake, and this fear was well founded.  The Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen R. Mallory, wrote to Buchanan on the 7th of March, “I submit for your consideration the attack of the New York by the Virginia.  Once in bay, she could shell and burn the city and the shipping… The Brooklyn, [New York] navy yard and its magazines and all the lower part of the city would be destroyed, and such an event, by a single ship, would do more to achieve our immediate independence than would the results of many campaigns.”[20]

Despite Northern newspapers’ best attempts, the people’s fear still lingered.  The March 16th edition of the New York Herald stated that the Confederates “have no less than eight of these impenetrable sea monsters nearly ready, and that in a few days they will set sail in company and inflict a blow upon the North which will entirely change the present aspect of the war.”[21]  The fear of the Virginia was so widespread that the Secretary of the Union Navy, Gideon Welles, had actually sent orders on March 5th to “Direct Lieutenant Commanding John L. Worden, of the Monitor, to proceed immediately to Washington with his vessel.”[22]  Luckily, Worden made the decision to ignore these new orders.  As soon as the ship was ready, Worden and the Monitor traveled to Hampton Roads with all immediate haste.  Worden’s decision to steam to Hampton Roads instead of Washington is one of the reasons he was considered a hero amongst the populace in the North.  It is also the reason why President Lincoln personally visited him as he recovered from his wounds received on the 9th of March.[23]

The New York Times flatly explained, “Secretary Stanton gave orders this morning that the fullest reports of the Hampton Roads affair should be allowed to pass over the lines, so as to save the people of Northern cities from any vague fears.”[24]  This article shows how the government used the newspaper to influence its people.  The Union Admiralty intended such articles to have a positive psychological benefit for Northern cities, but the tactic did not work.  Fears of a Confederate naval attack on a major harbor city in the Northeast remained in the people’s minds, and those fears were only diminished when a Union victory in the war became inevitable.

If the Northern papers embellished and misreported the facts to quell the fears of the populace, then the Confederate papers did the same to keep their Southern honor in tact.  No matter who had actually won the naval battle, the Confederate papers were determined to make it clear that the Confederate Navy was a more honorable and gallant institution than the Union.  The first sentence of the Day-Book’s article read, “The 8th and 9th day of the present month have been branded illustrious in the annals of this war of all warfare—by the conspicuous gallantry of Southern seaman, displayed on Southern waters.”[25]  The Southern papers continually exaggerated the “gallantry” of their sailors, even though both Union and Confederate sailors committed courageous acts.  For example, there were the actions of Captain Buchanan who ignored his own safety to return fire at the Indiana regiment from the exposed deck of the Virginia.  This is indeed an example of “conspicuous gallantry,” but the word “gallant” was cheapened by the fact that it appeared so many times in multiple Southern papers.  These newspapers hammered words like “gallant” and “noble” into the heads of their readers and used them in almost every description of Confederacy’s sailors and military actions.

Another feature of the South’s noble character was their sense of humility.  Papers like the Norfolk Day-Book showed this sense of Southern humility to their brothers in the North by praising the “gallant” conduct of Union sailors.  Even though it was a rare admittance, it was the kind of recognition never made in the New York Times, New York Herald, or Baltimore American.  When writing about the actions of the Cumberland’s crew, the Day-Book stated, “A gallant man fought that ship---a man worthy to have maintained a better cause.”  The paper basically praised these Union sailors for fighting like they were from Richmond instead of Boston.  However, Northern bravery was still eclipsed by the Confederates, as emphasized by the Day-Book that wrote the sunken Cumberland was “at once a monument and an epitaph of the gallant men who fought her.”[26] 

Although the main focus of Northern Papers was to try to soothe the minds of their readers, they did occasionally dabble in creating Northern heroes.  The Baltimore American certainly embellished the facts when they claimed that the sunken Cumberland was “a memento of the bravest, most daring, and yet most hopeless defense that has ever been made by any vessel belonging to any navy in the world. The men fought with a courage that could not be excelled.”[27]  Obviously, the Confederates, who prized their honor above all else, disagreed and took an opportunity to attack such lofty claims by citing the more ignoble actions of the Union.

Several of the casualties sustained by the Confederate forces at Hampton Roads came when Union soldiers fired their rifles at the Beaufort while it was accepting the formal surrender of the Congress.  It is interesting because this event, a clear breach of naval conduct, never appeared in the New York Times or the New York Herald, and the American only mentioned it in passing.  The latter paper read, “At this moment the members of an Indiana regiment at Newport News, brought a Parrott gun down to the beach and opened fire upon the rebel tug.”  The American article also suggested that the surrender was due to confusion rather than actual defeat stating, “Some of the men, supposed to number about forty, thinking the tug was one of our vessels, rushed on board.”[28] 

However, Southern papers were quick to chronicle the incident.  It became a way for Southern papers to show their fighting men as the nobler creatures and, at the same time, demonize Union soldiers about whom they earlier had written, “a bullet sent from a shot gun will kill a Yankee; a pike will let out his soul if he has any.”[29]  The Day-Book devoted an entire section of their article to the “dastardly” actions of the Union soldiers on shore.  In it, they described Jack Robinson, the Captain of the Gun for the Beaufort who was killed by shots from Union soldiers on shore, as being “a noble specimen of a man who has since gone where the weary are at rest—a gallant man, a brave seaman.”[30]  The Charleston Mercury did not mention the specific incident that caused Captain Buchanan’s injury, but it stated, “The flag of the United States frigate Congress, and the sword of her commander, are now in our Navy Department,” and that the Confederate Congress has congratulated all for “their unsurpassed gallantry in the late action.”[31] 

The South’s nobility and honor even extended to their women.  In an article on March 12th, the Charleston Mercury ran an article entitled “The Gunboat Question.”  The article described the collective fundraising efforts of Southern women to help create more ironclads, and stated that the editors of the Charleston Courier had received “contributions amounting to upwards of $2,000.”  “The ladies, we know,” the article read, “will be glad to learn that their example has animated the men of Charleston to set on foot a movement for the speedy completion of an iron-clad gunboat of the most formidable character.”[32] 

As the Northern papers fought to assure the people in coastal cities that total annihilation was not at hand, the Southern papers were asserting their better character and nobility.  Both of these purposes were meant to strengthen the will of their readers and the causes of their armies.  Such attempts are a testament to the importance of the Battle at Hampton Roads for the nation.  Unfortunately, neither Northern nor Southern newspapers provided enough motivation for their readers or their armies to make a final, decisive push towards victory and peace.  It took another four years of bloody, inhumane combat for the war to end.  When the Union finally emerged triumphant, their singular version of the Battle at Hampton Roads, and the history of the war itself, became the accepted truth.  This was a daunting feat, which could never have been accomplished had Northern newspapers not laid the first bricks during the war.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Europe was equally abounded with news of the American naval battle.  Foreign observers from England and France were a semi-constant presence during the majority of the war.  Their representatives could be found at both land and naval battles, and they were witness to the Battle at Hampton Roads.  The Charleston Mercury ran a story about such foreign reactions to the Virginia on March 8th that read, “She is thought to be almost impregnable, and French officers who have visited her have pronounced her a more formidable engine of war than either the Warrior or the La Gloire.”[33]

To cover the actual details of the battle, The Times of London reprinted stories from both Union and Confederate news sources.  This balance provided a more accurate and unbiased report, although many in England favored the Confederacy.  The first stories about the battle between the two ironclads did not actually appear in print for London readers until weeks after the battle.  To explain any gaps or discrepancies between what the British public may have already heard, The Times first article began with the simple preamble that the accounts of the Southerners “somewhat differs from the Federal accounts of it.”[34]

Across the ocean, the English press seemed to pay little attention to who was victorious in the battle.  Instead, their attention was wholly focused on the existence of such iron monstrosities and the lack of them in their own navy.  At the time, England was the greatest naval power in the history of the world with a massive wooden fleet.  After the Battle of Hampton Roads, it became clear to everyone in England that their once mighty navy could be reduced to splinters by a few ironclads.  For centuries, England had tied its imperial prowess to its naval capabilities.  The importance of naval power to this small island can best be described in the anthem “Rule Britannia!”  Written in the mid 1700s, it reads, “Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves; Britons never shall be slaves.”  Naval superiority was a keystone of British culture.

One of the lasting legacies of the Battle at Hampton Roads is the pivotal role it played in the naval arms race between the world’s major powers in the last decades of the 19th century.  The sound of shells bouncing off the armor of the American ironclads acted as a global bell that began a new race for control of the seas.  This worldwide naval arms race culminated with the dreadnought class of warships launched during the devastating First World War.  In 1862, the clash between the American ironclads off the Virginia coast caught the island nation of England by surprise.  Its global empire, which rested mainly on its naval prowess, was not yet fully secure.  England’s Admiralty was deeply concerned about the ramifications of these new ships, and some of them even wrote to the editors of The Times with personal comments and views on the subject.[35]  These seamen were well aware that the French, one of England’s longtime foes, had also witnessed the power of this new technology.[36]  As one British subject wrote, “After what has occurred and is still occurring in America, it is hardly necessary to point out the innumerable ways these vessels can be of service for every purpose of war.”[37]  One “obedient servant” thought the issue was more urgent.  He wrote to the editor of the Times; “This action between the ships of the Federal and Confederate States is a matter of the gravest importance to this country.”[38]  Different plans and proposals abounded in the British press, but one general consensus remained.  After the events at Hampton Roads, the British Government and Navy had to catch up and surpass their distant cousins immediately.

In 1912, on the 50th anniversary of the Battle at Hampton Roads between the Monitor and the Virginia, a man named Robert L. Preston wrote a letter to the Washington Post.  The subject of his letter was a lengthy dissemination of historical evidence that proved the Monitor did not defeat the Virginia; in fact, the Virginia was clearly the victor.  Preston also argued that the Virginia was robbed of its due credit as the ship that revolutionized naval warfare.  Both of these honors were thrust onto the Monitor because “misrepresentations, disseminated soon after the engagement, have been repeated and reiterated by subsequent writers, who have simply assumed former statements without investigation, until they have formed one of the numerous crystallizations of history.”[39]

One hundred forty five years after the battle between the Virginia and the Monitor, a new museum is being erected only a few miles from Hampton Roads.  The new museum is called the “USS Monitor Center” and has been dedicated to preserving the memory of the Monitor.  Artifacts from the ship that at one time carried the hope of a frightened and anxious people will once again be on display for the adoring public.  Hopefully, the museum, unlike its name suggests, will not perpetuate the myths and falsehoods of the battle between the Monitor and Virginia.  Decades of damage have already been done, as pointed out in Preston’s letter to the Post.[40]  Instead, it should preserve the real history of the Battle at Hampton Roads that “need no aid of the rhetorician’s art.”  Events “that stand out in their simple grandure above all ornament, and rise to a dignity which discards all pompous phrases.”[41]

Each ship, the Monitor and the Virginia, suffered from engineering flaws and made tactical errors that prevented either one from claiming a sure victory.  For over a century, the Monitor has been celebrated as the noble victor of the fateful encounter.  The Virginia has been painted as an evil rebel monster whose destruction was widely celebrated in the North.  This smear campaign was first carried out by Northern newspapers and then propagated throughout the country. 

The truth is that the Monitor should have only been able to claim a draw at best, but the Union newspapers aided its claim of victory.  The Virginia’s destruction of the wooden blockade the day before was the true spark that set off a powder keg, forever changing the course of naval history.  However, Northern newspapers also helped to steal that recognition away from the Confederates.  There were victories and defeats on the water by both sides those two days, but on the land and in the press, the North won the war.  It would seem that “crystallizations” are indeed hard to remedy because the country still considers the Monitor a heroic protagonist that defeated its rebel rival the Virginia.  The Monitor won the battle, preserved the Union, and changed the world leaving the accomplishments of the Virginia a ghost in the annals of time for historians to discover.


Primary Sources

Buchanan, Franklin Captain.  “Report of Flag Officer Buchanan to Secretary Mallory.” 

The War Times Journal: Official Records of the Confederate Navy.  <>.  [accessed November 2004].

Eggleston, John R.  “Captain Eggleston’s Narrative of the Battle of the Merrimac.”

Southern Historical Society Papers 41, 1916.  166-178.

Greene, Samuel Dana.  “In the Monitor Turret.”  Century Magazine 29, March 1885,


Keeler, William Frederick.  ed. Robert Daly.  Aboard the USS Monitor: 1862 (The

Letters of Acting Paymaster William Frederick Keeler, U.S. Navy To his Wife,

Anna.  Menasha, Washington: George Banta Co., 1964.

Mallory, Stephen M.  “Telegram to Flag Officer Buchanan.”  The War Times Journal:

Official Records of the Confederate Navy.  <>.  [accessed November 2004].

Mercury (Charleston).  8 March-13 March 1862.

Moore, Frank.  The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, Vol. 4, The

Baltimore American.  New York: G.P. Putnam, 1862.

New York Herald, 10 March-16 March 1862.

New York Times.  10 March 1862.

Ramsay, Ashton H.  “The Most Famous of Sea Duels: The Story of the Merrimac’s

Engagement with the Monitor,” Harper’s Weekly, 10 February 1912, 11-12.

Roger Jones, Catesby ap.  “The Virginia, the First Confederate Ironclad, Formerly the

United States Steam Frigate Merrimac.”  Southern Historical Society Papers, 1883, 65-75.

Standard (Raleigh).  10 March 1862.

Stimers, Alban C.  “Letter to Ericsson.”  Scientific American 6, no. 13, 23 March 1862, 2-


Times (London).  10 March-23 April 1862.

Welles, Gideon.  “Telegram to Captain Worden.”  The War Times Journal: Official

Records of the Union Navy.  <>.

[accessed November 2004].

Wood, John Taylor.  “The First Fight of Ironclads.” Century Magazine 29, March

1885.  738-754.

Secondary Sources 

Davis, William C.  Duel Between the First Ironclads.  Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole

Books, 1975.

“Hampton Roads.”  Heritage Preservation Services: American Battlefield Protection

Program.    <>.  [accessed November 2004].

Preston, Robert L.  “Did the ‘Monitor’ or the ‘Merrimac’ Revolutionize Naval Warfare?” 

William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine 24, no. 1 (July 1915): 58-66.


[1]               Dr. Edward Shippen, “The Late Naval Battle,” The London Times, 31 March 1862, col. E, p. 12.

[2] “Richmond News and Gossip,” The Charleston Mercury, 13 March 1862, 2.

[3] “Hampton Roads,” Heritage Preservation Services: American Battlefield Protection Program [online], <>, November 2004. Within a year of the battle, both ships had been destroyed.  The Virginia was scuttled by her own crew rather than be captured by the Yankees, and the Monitor sank in a storm off the Carolina coast. 

[4] Captain Franklin Buchanan, “Report to Secretary Mallory,” The War Times Journal, 27 March 1862.

[5] Dr. Edward Shippen, “The Late Naval Battle,” The London Times, 31 March 1862, col. E, p. 12.  The article carried by the Times was actually a lengthy letter written by Shippen, who had suffered a concussion during the Congress’ engagement with the Virginia.  Shippen’s letter also appeared in Century Magazine.

[6] H. Ashton Ramsay, “The Most Famous of Sea Duels: The Story of the Merrimac’s Engagement with the Monitor,” Harper’s Weekly, 10 February 1912, 11-12.

[7] The article reads, “men wounded under the white flag yonder desecrated by the Yankees…a Yankee shot through the head, all bloody and ghastly, killed in the inhuman fire of his own people.” “Sinking of the Cumberland,” The Norfolk Day-Book, 10 March 1862, 2. The article reads, “men wounded under the white flag yonder desecrated by the Yankees…a Yankee shot through the head, all bloody and ghastly, killed in the inhuman fire of his own people.”

[8] John R. Eggleston, “Captain Eggleston’s Narrative of the Battle of the Merrimac,” Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol 41, 166-178. Buchanan stood exposed on the deck, as he had several times during the day, and returned fire with his rifle at the Union soldiers on shore. During this, Buchanan was seriously injured by a Minnie ball to the thigh and passed command of the Virginia to Lt. Catesby ap Jones. Ap is Welsh for “son of.”

[9] Captain Franklin Buchanan, “Report to Secretary Mallory,” The War Times Journal, 27 March 1862; H. Ashton Ramsay, “The Most Famous of Sea Duels: The Story of the Merrimac’s Engagement with the Monitor,” Harper’s Weekly, 10 February 1912, 11-12; John Taylor Wood, “The First Fight of Ironclads,” Century Magazine, Vol. 29, March 1885, 738-754.

[10] The Monitor’s designer was a Swedish-American named John Ericsson, and many initially called the ship the “Ericsson Battery.” Commander John M. Brooke of the Confederate Navy is credited with designing the conversion of the Merrimack into the Virginia.  The most popular analogy that the two ironclads were medieval knights or Roman gladiators appears in several media sources including books on the subject, newspapers, and eyewitness accounts.

[11] Samuel Dana Greene, “In the Monitor Turret,” Century Magazine, Vol. 29, March 1885, 734-763; Catesby ap Roger Jones, “The Virginia, the First Confederate Ironclad, Formerly the United States Steam Frigate Merrimac,” Southern Historical Society Papers 9, 1883, 65-75; Alban C.  Stimers, “Letter to Ericsson,”  Scientific American 6, no. 13, 23 March 1862, 2-3; William Frederick Keeler, “Letters of Acting Paymaster William Frederick Keeler, U.S. Navy To his Wife,” Aboard the USS Monitor, March 1862, 26-51.

[12] “Desperate Naval Engagements in Hampton Roads,” The New York Times, 10 March 1862, 1.

[13] “Sinking Cumberland,” Day-Book, 10 March 1862, 1.

[14] Frank Moore, The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, The Baltimore American, (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1862) Vol. 4, 273-276.

[15] “Sinking Cumberland,” Day-Book, 10 March 1862, 3.

[16] “To the Editor of the Standard,” The Raleigh Standard, 10 March 1862.

[17] “Exciting News from Fort Monroe,” New York Herald, 10 March 1862, 1.

[18] “Editor Standard,” Standard, 10 March 1862.

[19] “The News in Washington,” New York Times, 10 March 1862, 1.

[20] S.R. Mallory to Captain Buchanan, 7 March 1862, The War Times Journal: Official Records of the Confederate Navy [online], <>, November 2004.

[21] “Our Baltimore Correspondence,” the New York Herald, Mar 16 1862, 1.

[22] Gideon Welles to Captain Worden, 5 March 1862, The War Times Journal: Official Records of the Union Navy [online], <>, November 2004.

[23] “The Monitor and the Merrimac,” London Times, 3 April 1862, col. F, 7.  Such an esteemed visit is ironic, because Worden never recovered sight in one eye and his subordinate, Peter Williams, received the Medal of Honor instead of him.

[24] “News in Washington,” New York Times, Mar 10 1862, 1. Edwin M. Stanton was Lincoln’s Secretary of War.

[25] “Sinking Cumberland,” Day-Book, 10 March 1862, 1.

[26] “Sinking Cumberland,” Day-Book, 10 March 1862, 2.

[27] Frank Moore, Rebellion Record: Diary Events, Baltimore American, 273-276.

[28] Frank Moore, Rebellion Record: Diary Events, Baltimore American, 273-276.

[29] “Richmond News and Gossip,” Charleston Mercury, 13 March 1862, pg 1.

[30] “Sinking Cumberland,” Day-Book, 10 March 1862, 2.

[31]  “News by Telegraph,” Charleston Mercury, 12 March 1862.

[32] “The Gunboat Question,” Charleston Mercury, 12 March 1862.

[33] “Description of the Merrimac,” Charleston Mercury, 8 March 1862. The Warrior and the La Gloire were the first ironclads constructed by the British and French, respectively, and created in the years before the American Civil War broke out.  The French built their La Gloire by 1859 and a shocked England quickly responded by building the Warrior. Many in both England and France saw such ships as impractical novelties, but that changed forever after the battle at Hampton Roads.  In fact, Harper’s Weekly carried published an article on February 9, 1861 about the two iron warships.

[34] “The Confederate Account of the Great Naval Fight,” (London) Times, 1 April 1862, col. E, 9.

[35] G.R. Sartorius, “The Steam Ram,” (London) Times, 23 April 1862, col. A, 11.  The letter is signed “G.R. SARTORIUS, Admiral.”

[36] The French deserve the credit for creating the first modern ironclad, although examples and prototypes appear throughout naval history, but this battle brought such machinations to the forefront of the world.  In the newspapers of America and England, suspicion and fear of foreign iron vessels abounded.

[37] Sartorius, “The Steam Ram,” Times, 23 April 1862.

[38] W.L., “The Naval Action Off Fort Monroe,” (London) Times, 29 March 1862, col. C, 7.

[39] Robert L. Preston, “Did the ‘Monitor’ or the ‘Merrimac’ Revolutionize Naval Warfare?,” William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Magazine, Vol. 24, No. 1, July 1915, 58-66.

[40] Preston’s final thoughts were that “If fairy tales are necessary, serve them up to the little tin soldiers and the chocolate-cream general, who have feasted on them so long. The real soldiers have no taste for them, and the children of the country need plain and simple food.”

[41] “Sinking Cumberland,” Day-Book, 10 March 1862, 1.


Back to List of Winners


Student Excellence in Writing
Sponsored by the Writing Across the Curriculum Program
and the University Writing Center at Herb's Place
Salisbury University