Sunday, March 9, 1862

The following is taken from Catesby ap Roger Jones's (Executive Officer of the CSS Virginia) publication for the Southern Historical Society, October, 1874. [Mabry]


At 8 A. M. we got under way, as did the Patrick Henry, Jamestown and Teaser. We stood towards the Minnesota and opened fire on her. The pilots were to have placed us half a mile from her, but we were not at any time nearer than a mile. The Monitor[8] commenced firing when about a third of a mile distant. We soon approached, and were often within a ship's length; once while passing we fired a broadside at her only a few yards distant. She and her turret seemed to be under perfect control. Her light draft enabled her to move about us at pleasure. She once took a position for a short time where we could not bring a gun to bear on her. Another of her movements caused us great anxiety; she made for our rudder and propeller, both of which could have been easily disabled. We could only see her guns when they were discharged; immediately afterward the turret revolved rapidly, and the guns were not again seen until they were again fired. We wondered how proper aim could be taken in the [very[E17]] short time the guns were in sight. The Virginia, however, was a large target, and generally so near that the Monitor's shot did not often miss. It did not appear to us that our shell had any effect upon the Monitor. We had no solid shot. Musketry was fired at the lookout holes. In spite of all the care of our pilots we ran ashore, where we remained over fifteen minutes. The Patrick Henry and Jamestown, with great risk to themselves, started to our assistance. The Monitor and Minnesota were in full play on us. A small rifle gun on board of the Minnesota, or on the steamer alongside of her, was fired with remarkable precision.

When we saw that our fire made no impression on the Monitor, we determined to run into her if possible. We found it a very difficult feat to do. Our great length and draft, in a comparatively narrow channel, with but little water to spare, made us sluggish in our movements, and hard to steer and turn. When the opportunity presented all steam was put on; there was not, however, sufficient time to gather full headway before striking. The blow was given with the broad wooden stem, the iron prow being lost the day before. The Monitor received the blow in such a manner as to weaken its effect, and the damage was to her trifling. Shortly after an alarming leak in the bows was reported. It, however, did not long continue.

Whilst contending with the Monitor, we received the fire of the Minnesota,[9] which we never failed to return whenever our guns could be brought to bear. We set her on fire and did her serious injury, though much less than we then supposed. Generally the distance was too great for effective firing. We exploded the boiler of[E19] a steamer alongside of her.

The fighting had continued for over three hours. To us the Monitor appeared unharmed. We were therefore surprised to see her run off into shoal water where our great draft would not permit us to follow, and where our shell could not reach her. The loss of our prow and anchor, and consumption of coal, water, etc., had lightened us so that the lower part of the forward [end of the[E20]] shield was awash.

We for some time awaited the return of the Monitor to the Roads. After consultation it was decided that we should proceed to the Navy Yard, in order that the vessel should be brought down into the water and completed. The pilot[s[E21]] said that if we did not then leave that we could not pass the bar until noon of the next day. We therefore at 12 M. quit the Roads and stood for Norfolk. Had there been any sign of the Monitor's willingness to renew the contest we would have remained to fight her. We left her in the shoal water to which she had withdrawn, and which she had not left until after we had crossed the bar on our way to Norfolk.

The official says" "Our loss is two killed and nineteen wounded. The stem is twisted and the ship leaks; we have lost the prow, starboard anchor and all the boats; the armor is somewhat damaged, the steampipe and smokestack both riddled, the muzzle of two of the guns shot away; the colors were hoisted to the smoke-stack, and several times cut down from it." None were killed or wounded in the fight with the Monitor. The only damage she did was to the armor. She fired forty-one shots. We were able to receive most of them obliquely. The effect of a shot, striking obliquely on the shield was to break all the iron, and sometimes to displace several feet of the outside course; the wooden backing would not be broken through. When a shot struck directly at right angles, the wood would also be broken through, but not displaced. Generally the shot were much scattered; in three instances two or more struck near the same place, in each [case[E22]] causing more of the iron to be displaced, and the wood to bulge inside. A few struck near the water-line. The shield was never pierced, though it was evident that two shots striking in the same place would have made a large hole through armor, wooden backing and everything[E23].


[8] She was 173 feet long and 41 feet wide. She had a revolving circular iron turret eight inches thick, nine feet high and twenty feet inside diameter, in which were two eleven-inch guns. Her draft was ten feet.

[9] She was a screw steam frigate of 3,200 tons, mounting forty-three guns of eight[, 9-[E18]] and ten-inch calibre. She fired 145 ten-inch, 349 nine-inch, and 35 eight-inch shot and shell, and 5,567 pounds of powder. Her draft was about the same as the Virginia.


Transcription notes:

[E17] "very" is inserted here in the United Service version.

[E18] "9-" is inserted here in the United Service version.

[E19] "We blew up a steamer" in the United Service version, "We exploded the boiler of a steamer" in the Mabry version.

[E20] "end of the" is inserted here in the United Service version.

[E21] The United Service version uses the plural form while the Mabry version uses the singular.

[E22] "case" is inserted here in the United Service version.

[E23] The United Service version has "through everything", the Mabry version has "through armor, wooden backing and everything."


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