Description of the C.S.S. Virginia

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The CSS Virginia was one of the earliest ironclad fighting ships. Its easy destruction of several wooden ships on March 8, 1862, signaled the end of the era of wooden naval vessels.

When the Union decided to blockade the South, the Confederacy knew it needed to strengthen its navy. A number of designs for ironclad ships had been proposed and some ironclads had been

The USS Merrimack, commissioned in 1856, was burned to the waterline when the Union forces abandoned the Norfolk Naval Yards in April 1861. The Confederacy raised the ship a few weeks later and rebuilt her with iron plate armor based upon a design by Lt. J. M. Brooke, CSN. The ship was commissioned as the CSS Virginia in February 1862. Limited supplies and the new design delayed her sailing until March 8, 1862.

The Virginia was 275 feet long with a 38.5 foot beam and a draft of 22 feet. Between the sluggish engine and the deep draft, the Virginia was difficult to maneuver. There are different reports as to her ordnance. Lt. Wood reports that there were two 7-inch Brooke rifles, two similar 6-inch Brooke rifles, and six 9-inch Dahlgren smooth-bore broadside. (The Dictionary of American Ships adds two 12-pound howitzers.) The original specifications for the Virginia called for eight 9-inch rifled Dahlgren shell guns, two 7-inch Dahlgren pivot guns. (See the picture of a Dahlgren gun and more about the Heavy Artillery of the Civil War.)

After the battle with the Monitor, the Virginia was repaired in Portsmouth at the Gosport Naval Yard, and patrolled Hampton Roads. The Monitor was under orders not to engage the Virginia and so stayed under the protective guns of Fortress Monroe.

When Norfolk was being evacuated by the Confederates, the Virginia was lightened in an attempt to sail up the James River. However, her deep draft was still too much. With the wooden hull exposed, the ship was not battle-worthy. On the night of May 11, 1862, Flag Officer Tattnall ordered her grounded off Craney Island and set fire.

 

Armament information

According to Civil War Naval Ordnance:

Type

Bore diameter

Material

Weight of tube, lbs

Length of boar, inches

Max. diameter, inches

Type of projectile

Weight of projectile, pounds

Weight of charge, pounds

Range, yards at 5รป elevation

Time of flight, seconds

Height above plane, feet

9" Dahlgren

9

Iron

9,000

107.3

27.2

Shell

72.5

10

1,710

5.96

10.75

6.4" Brooke

6.4

Double banded Iron

10,675

117

29.3

Shot

95

8-10

2,2001

--

--

7" Brooke

7

Double banded Iron

15,300

121

32.2

Shot

110

10-13

2,2001

--

--

11" Dahlgren

11

Iron

15,700

131.2

32

Shell

136

15

20

1,712

1,975

5.81

--

10

10

1 Estimated from other rifle ranges.

Draft information

According to testimony by the Naval Constructor, John L. Porter, during the court-martial of Josiah Tattnall, the draft of the Virginia, after conversion and adding armor, the draft was 17' forward, 18' aft. With supplies and armament added (for her initial sailing on March 8), she was 20' 10" forward, 21' 6" aft. (Porter doesn't mention adding ballast to correct a miscalculation on the buoyancy, but that must have been between these two measurements.) After further armor was added after the battle with the Monitor, he estimates the draft to be 22' forward, 23' aft.


More information on the C.S.S. Virginia


Model of the CSS Virginia


CSS Virginia
Copyright 1997 by Mabry Tyson