This is still under construction. More to come. Information from Buchanan's report, Jones's SHSP
article, Ramsay's Harper's Weekly article, Newton's
SHSP article, etc. Secondary sources such as books by Davis,
Amadon, Campbell and Hoehling, are referenced her pending my
gathering their sources.
This timeline is still being built and so is not properly
organized. Stay tuned...
9 AM: USS Cumberland sees Confederate
steamers anchored at Smithfield Point. (Morris)
11 AM: Virginia left Navy Yard in
favorable weather against the last half of the flood tide,
accompanied by Beaufort and Raleigh. (Buchanan, Jones)
Speed was 8 or more knots/hour. (Ramsay) Speed was 4 1/2
miles/hour (Newton). Harmony following behind (Campbell).
Beaufort and Raleigh in front. Harmony following.
11 AM: Sailors aboard the
Cumberland had left their clothes to dry on the rigging. (Ramsay,
12:30 PM: Beaufort tows the Virginia as
her hull drags bottom. abreast of Craney Island (Newton, time from
Ramsay). Towing finished as they pass the Craney Island
12:30 PM: The tug Zouave, at a
wharf, sees smoke from the approaching ships (Davis)
12:30 PM: The Congress sees the
approaching Confederate vessels (Amadon).
12:40 PM: Congress sees Virginia and three small gunboats
12:40 PM: Cumberland sees three
vessels headed toward Sewell's Point, orders hands to quarters
(Amadon). (Time from Davis), signals the Zouave to come
12:40 PM: USS Mt. Vernon, off
Hampton Creek, sights the approaching fleet and signals to
blockading fleet at Old Point Comfort. (Amadon) Mt. Vernon had its
engines disassembled and eventually wanted to be towed to
Upon reporting to the
Cumberland, the Zouave is told to head to Pig Point to
investigate. After going less than 2 miles, they see the
Confederate vessels and fire 6 rounds in their direction (more as
a signal) and then is signalled by the Cumberland to return
Virginia sends last mechanics
off at Craney Island by a boat. Heads toward South
Channel. (Campbell). The Beaufort and Raleigh cross Craney Island
flats while the Virginia follows the Elizabeth River channel and
then turns into the South Channel of Hampton Roads.
1:05 PM: Mt. Vernon fires shot
towards Virginia to alert fleet which hadn't seen her signals.
1:10PM: Roanoke answers signal.
1:30 PM: Virginia is no longer
towed. Raleigh and Beaufort on port side of the Virginia for
As the Virginia rounds into view
of Hampton Roads, the Minnesota starts up her engines. The
Congress shakes out her topsails. (Ramsay)
1:10-2PM: St. Lawrence,
Roanoke, Minnesota sail from Old Point Comfort towards Newport
News. (Minnesota's Van Brunt's report indicates they saw the
Confederate ships at 12:45PM.) Roanoke, with disabled engines, was
being towed by the tugs Dragon and Young America. (Hoehling)
(Ramseur indicates that the tugs came to get Roanoke (who
apparently didn't have tugs before) after his shells from Sewell's
Point disabled her as she was headed towards the fight after the
Cumberland was sunk.)
Roanoke couldn't see the initial battle with the Cumberland (land
being in the way). When it finally got far enough to see, the
Cumberland was careened over and the James River fleet had joined
the battle. (Marston) St. Lawrence gets underway at 2:30 in tow of
Cumberland swings around on her
anchor so starboard was towards Virginia.
2:20 PM: Congress is about 3/4
mile on the starboard bow (to the east) of the Virginia.
(Phillips) Beaufort fires on the Congress. (Newton, time from
Newton) This was without orders (Davis). (Hoehling claims that the
Virginia signalled "Close Action" first.) Beaufort was on port bow
of Virginia then fell back.
2:20PM+: Patrick Henry,
Jamestown, Teaser start coming down the James River. (Jones)
2:40 PM: Virginia fires bow
gun at Cumberland, less than 1 mile distant (Buchanan, Jones,
time from Newton. Jones implies this is before exchanging
shots with Congress)
2:40PM+: Return fire by all
batteries afloat and ashore.(Jones)
Congress fired a single solid
shot at the Virginia, Virginia replied with a volley of grape
shot. (Hoehling) Eggleston, on the Virginia, indicates that the
Congress fired a broadside (35 guns) initially and then Virginia
replied with its 4-gun broadside. Pendergrast indicates the
Virginia opened fire at 2:10PM and passed on the starboard side
about 300 yards off, each ship giving one
broadside. More shots are traded by the Virginia
with the Congress as opportunities present. (Davis)
Beaufort continues to
engage the Congress (until Congress surrenders).
Raleigh helps for a while with the
Congress but its gun gets
disabled and so she withdraws. (Newton, Davis)
Virginia and Cumberland exchange
fire. Camp Butler also exchanges fire with the Virginia. A shell
hits the wharf (from Congress?). Virginia fires a broadside into
the Cumberland (Hoehling).
A strong wind was blowing from
Ragged Island towards Newport News, preventing the sounds of the
fight being heard at Ragged Island (Colston)
Shell explodes in the
Virginia's stack. (Ramsay)
Cumberland to surrender and is denied.(Ramsay)
< 3PM: Within 15 minutes of
initial fire on the Cumberland, Virginia rams Cumberland on the
starboard side, near the bow (Jones).
Because of the flood tide, the Cumberland's bow was "fairly
presented to us."
At the same time as the
ramming, the bow pivot-gun was fired into the Cumberland.
Return fire killed one and
wounded another on the Virginia. This was also when the muzzles of
two guns were blown off.
(Phillips) Prow stays in and
starts to drag the Virginia down. The Virginia swings so the two
ships are mostly parallel. Virginia's starboard side was towards
the Cumberland. (Davis) Stern is towards Congress. 3 shots are
fired at the Congress (Campbell) A wave rolls the Cumberland and
the Virginia pulls free, losing the prow in the Cumberland.
Cumberland starts to sink slowly,
bow first (Ramsay)
Cumberland fights until
her guns are below water. (Jones)
Virginia is between the
Cumberland and Congress (Ramsay).
3:35PM: Lt. Morris orders
everyone to abandon ship on the Cumberland. (Morris)
3:40PM: Cumberland sinks 40 minutes
after ramming. (Ramsay) (Ramseur indicates 27 minutes but it isn't
clear when that time starts.) Phillips indicates that the
Cumberland sank about 15 minutes after the Virginia left her, and
before the Virginia had turned around.
3:40PM+: Ebb tide is
3:40PM+: The channel by the
Cumberland was too narrow to turn around. (Phillips) Virginia
passes batteries on James River going upstream, preparing to turn
toward the Congress.
Crew of Congress cheers, thinking
the Virginia is leaving.
3:40PM+: A large transport
steamer alongside the wharf was blown up. (Buchanan, Hoehling
implies this did not happen.)
A schooner is sunk. (Buchanan)
Another schooner is
A shell hits Gen. ???'s
headquarters and he is covered by debris.
3:50PM+: Virginia turns, passes the
batteries again heading downstream, and heads towards the
Congress. (Jones) The maneuver (upstream, turn, downstream) takes
about 30 minutes (Amadon).
3:55PM+: Congress, slips
cables, makes sail, intentionally runs ashore bow on. (Jones)
Zouave was towing the Congress. Congress aground 100 yards off
batteries at Signal Point. (Davis indicates the Congress doesn't
actually run aground until after the Virginia is firing on
4PM: Patrick Henry,
Jamestown, Teaser arrive. (Jones) Patrick Henry had passed closer
to the James River batteries than expected (< 800 yards).
The fire from the
batteries struck a gun crew on the Patrick Henry killing one and
wounding two (Hoehling).
Roanoke, under tow of the Dragon,
has passed Sewell's Point. It was damaged by the battery fire and
its return fire was ineffectual (Hoehling).
St. Lawrence, under tow of the
Cambridge, was nearing the Mystic, towed by the Kingston.
Mystic fires at Sewell's
Point but its shells land short. (Hoehling) Mystic decides to
avoid the Virginia and return to Ft. Monroe (Hoehling).
Patrick Henry was briefly towed out
of the fight (boiler hit by shot, killing four) but returned and
fought further. (Buchanan)
Minnesota reached Sewell's
Point a few minutes before 2PM and exchanged shots with the
batteries (Hoehling). After being shot at from Sewell's Point five
times, the Minnesota got further away until she was out of
range. (Ramseur) Minnesota's mainmast was crippled by a shot
from Sewell's point and returned fire from the broadside and
forecastle pivot guns. (Van Brunt)
Shortly after getting out of
range of Sewell's Point, the Minnesota ran aground 48 minutes
before the Congress surrendered. (Ramseur) Minnesota ran aground
1.5 miles from Newport News. The tide was running ebb and the
Minnesota tried to force its way over the soft bottom. Van Brunt
saw the Cumberland go down in 15 minutes. (Van Brunt) Minnesota
runs aground in the North Channel,1.5 miles distant, and fires on
Virginia as do the batteries. (Buchanan, Jones) (Davis says the
Minnesota ran aground on Middle Ground.) The Minnesota took the
swash (middle) channel and grounded half way between Old Point
Comfort and Newport News (Wood).
Virginia takes position off
Congress's quarter, two cables' length (1200 - 1400 feet)
distant. (Jones) (Newton indicates 200 yards). (About 2:30PM per
Van Brunt) Pendergrast indicates the time was 3:30 and the
distance was 150 yards off the stern. Pendergrast indicates that
the Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson approached from up the
James river and did great damage.
Virginia quickly silences
Congress's guns. (Jones)
4:20PM Lt. Smith, commanding
the Congress is killed. Lt. Pendergrast is now in
4:45 PM: Congress
raises white flag (Jones) (one half-mast on the main, another on
the spanker gaff -- Phillips) and hauled down her colors
(Buchanan--however, see below; time from Davis). (3:30PM per Van
Brunt) (Newton indicates the white flag was about 4PM) (Marston
indicates the colors came down at 3:50PM).
Buchanan and several
officers stand on the upper grating (Ramsay).
Teaser and the other James
River boats were engaging the Minnesota (Davis)
Beaufort sends a boat with
two midshipmen and crew to the Congress (Newton)
Beaufort (and Raleigh (Jones,
Phillips)) is hailed by the Virginia and ordered to remove the
wounded and burn the Congress. (Buchanan)
Beaufort goes alongside the port
side of the Congress. They notice that the Stars and Stripes were
still flying. The colors are taken down by one of the midshipmen
of the Beaufort and put aboard the Beaufort. (Newton)
Lt. Pendergrast and
Captain William Smith surrendered their swords to Captain Parker
of the Beaufort. Raleigh joins the Beaufort on the more protected
starboard side to assist in removing prisoners. (Newton)
Officers of Congress
instructed return to ship to assist wounded. (Newton)
Musketry from shore killed
or wounded several men on board the Beaufort and killed ten of the
thirty prisoners on the Beaufort (Newton)
Beaufort and Raleigh leave the
Congress and attempt to return fire to the shore (Newton).
Congress fires on Beaufort
Beaufort heads towards Norfolk
with the wounded and prisoners. (Buchanan)
Shore fire on the Virginia
and the Virginia returned it while waiting to see the Congress
start burning. (Buchanan)
Buchanan, not knowing why the
Congress hadn't been burned, orders a boat from the Virginia to go
burn the Congress, covered by the Teaser. (Buchanan)
More fire on the boat (50
yards from Congress (Newton)) by the shore and Congress (still
under white flag) causing injuries. (Buchanan)
In response to the fire
on the boat under the white flag, Buchanan orders hot shot fired
at the Congress to burn her. (Jones) Virginia backed up towards
the Congress to fire (Davis) Apparently Virginia also fires
at the shore batteries (but not at boats carrying crew from
Buchanan, incensed by the fire
under the white flag, gets a carbine and fires from the hurricane
deck. (Phillips) Buchanan is wounded by fire from shore (Buchanan,
Remained near the Congress
to prevent recapture. (Jones)
prisoners to Harmony and returns to action (Campbell).
The Minnesota opened fire on
the Virginia at one mile's distance (after having run aground).
Virginia occasionally fired at
the distant Minnesota. The gunboats engaged the Minnesota. (Jones)
Three Federal gunboats were also involved (Ramseur). One shot from
the Virginia, off the Minnesota's starboard bow, passes through
the hull. The Jamestown and Patrick Henry were on the port bow and
stern and caused the most damage with rifled guns. Minnesota's
10-inch pivot gun was fired at the Virginia (Van Brunt)
towards the St. Lawrence, Roanoke, Minnesota. (Ramsay) (4PM per Van
St. Lawrence, Roanoke, Minnesota all
run aground on the flats north of the channel. (Amadon). Sewell's
Point batteries fire on these ships. Rip Raps and Ft. Wool
answered. (Campbell). The Minnesota was closest to Newport News
(7-8 miles from Ft. Monroe per Marston), St. Lawrence to its rear,
and Roanoke still further east. (Newton). St. Lawrence and
Roanoke ran aground not far above Fort Monroe (Wood). St.
Lawrence grounds not far from the Minnesota (Hoehling)
The Roanoke attempts to pass
Sewell's Point. Six rounds were fired at her, the fifth struck
her. (Ramseur) She apparently had run aground. [Note that she
was within range when she ran aground while the Minnesota was out
of range.] Marston indicates that the batteries fired on the
Roanoke "both coming and going" past Sewell's Point. He seems to
imply he ran aground (in 3.5 fathoms) between 3:50 and 5:00.
Roanoke signalled distress and
two tugs carried her back to Ft. Monroe (Ramseur) She is
towed back to Fortress Monroe. (Hoehling)
St. Lawrence is fired on (no
material damage) by Sewall's Point and returns fire. The Congress
had already surrendered, Minnesota is being engaged.
5:00 St. Lawrence passes the
Roanoke (after Roanoke is off the bottom) but then runs aground.
Then heads down the harbor (Marston). When near the
Minnesota, the St. Lawrence runs aground and opens fire on the
Virginia. One shot from the Virginia causes extensive damage.
(Purviance) St. Lawrence fires
on Virginia. (Jones)
[?1:40 PM:] High
tide. St. Lawrence and Roanoke refloat. Minnesota stays
aground. (Amadon, time from Wood article in Battles and Leaders,
may be an editorial comment).
Virginia fires several shells at
the St. Lawrence, damaging her. Young America pulls the St.
Lawrence free. St. Lawrence fires a broadside at the Virginia about
a half-mile away. (Purviance) Cambridge towed the St. Lawrence to
Ft. Monroe (Hoehling).
Minnesota hard aground but
could not get near enough to destroy her (guns range only a mile).
Virginia occasionally fires
canister and grape in reply to musketry from the
6:07 PM: Sunset. The moon is almost
directly overhead and half illuminated (first quarter).
Dusk: The Virginia leaves. (Jones)
Pilots said it was no longer safe to remain. Return is by the
south channel. (Buchanan)
6:30 PM Virginia fires on
Minnesota when passing the other side of the Middle Ground. (Jones,
time from Campbell) (7PM per Van Brunt and Phillips)
Virginia fires at St. Lawrence. St.
Lawrence fires several broadside. (Jones, Buchanan)
8:00 PM Virginia and squadron
anchors off batteries at Sewell Point. (Jones, time from
9:00 PM The Monitor entered Hampton
Roads and anchored by the Roanoke. (Davis) Monitor anchored at the
Horseshoe shoals, 10 miles east of Ft. Monroe (Hoehling). Marston
says he heard at 8PM that the Monitor arrived.
10:00 PM Tide commenced to
run flood. Minnesota crew and tugs strived to free her until 4AM
11:00 PM Monitor sails for the
Minnesota (Davis) Lt. Greene goes ahead in a cutter to the
11PM: Virginia pilot believes he
sees the Monitor illuminated by the burning Congress. (Jones) (This
doesn't seem likely as the Monitor's path would not be near the
Congress. Ramsay indicates the Virginia did not know the Monitor
to be there otherwise solid shot would have been loaded on
Lt. Greene returns to the
Monitor just before the Congress explodes. (Hoehling)
About 1AM (Eggleston who was on
watch at the time; A few minutes after midnight per Buchanan;
Around 2AM per Colston; nearly 1AM per Phillips, 1AM per Marston):
Congress's magazine explodes.
2 AM: Monitor pulls alongside the
Minnesota. (Van Brunt, 1AM per Davis)
1:53 AM: Moonset
2 AM: High tide. Minnesota attempts
to get free, Monitor backs off for an hour to give room.
Phillips reports: two killed,
two officers and one man seriously wounded, fourteen men so
slightly injured as to be able to return to duty the next day. All
the stanchions, iron railings, boat davits, and light work swept
away, smoke-stack cut to pieces, two guns without muzzles, 98
indentations on the plating.