William Formby Halsall (American, 1841-1919), circa 1869
The battle of Hampton Roads between the U.S.S. Monitor and C.S.S. Virginia showing the U.S.S. Minnesota in the background. indistinctly signed and dated lower left. oil on canvas, en grisaille 17-1/2 x 34 in. (44.4 x 86.3 cm.)
The Battle of Hampton Roads, was the most noted and arguably most important naval battle of the American Civil War. It was fought over two days, March 89, 1862, in Hampton Roads, where the Elizabeth and Nansemond Rivers meet the James River just before it enters Chesapeake Bay. The battle was a part of the effort of the Confederacy to break the Union blockade, which had cut off Virginia's largest cities, Norfolk and Richmond, from international trade.
The major significance of the battle is that it was the first meeting in combat of ironclad warships. The Confederate fleet consisted of the ironclad ram CSS Virginia (built from the remnants of the USS Merrimack) and several supporting vessels. On the first day of battle, they were opposed by several conventional, wooden-hulled ships of the Union Navy. On that day, Virginia was able to destroy two ships of the Federal flotilla, USS Congress and USS Cumberland, and was about to attack a third, USS Minnesota, which had run aground. However, the action was halted by darkness and falling tide, so Virginia retired to take care of her few wounded which included her captain, Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan and repair her minimal battle damage.
Determined to complete the destruction of the Minnesota, Catesby ap Roger Jones, acting as captain in Buchanan's absence, returned the ship to the fray the next morning, March 9. During the night, however, the ironclad USS Monitor had arrived and had taken a position to defend Minnesota. When Virginia approached, Monitor intercepted her. The two ironclads fought for about three hours, with neither being able to inflict significant damage on the other. The duel ended indecisively, Virginia returning to her home at the Gosport Navy Yard, and Monitor to her station defending Minnesota. The ships did not fight again, and the blockade remained in place.
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