Miscellaneous Notes

CSS Virginia's Flags

If you look at many of the paintings and models of the CSS Virginia, you will notice that some show her with one flag and some with two.  Usually the flags shown are incorrect. A reporter from the Norfolk Day-Book was on the Harmony and sailed out with the Virginia on March 8, 1862. H. DeHaven Manley of the Congress also reports the admiral's flag was forward, but the Cumberland's pilot A.B. Smith reported it as aft.

Most texts seem to indicate the Virginia only had one flag during the battle. A.B. Smith reported the Cumberland guns shot off one of the two flags.

In one report, after the flag had been shot away, the Union sailors thought the Virginia was surrendering until they saw someone risking his life by bringing up a new flag.

Our smoke-stack was riddled, our flag was shot down several times and was finally secured to a rent in the stack.

H. Ashton Ramsay
"The Most Famous of Sea Duels: The Story of the Merrimac's Engagement with the Monitor," and the Events That Preceded and Followed the Fight, Told by a Survivor. Harper's Weekly. February 10, 1912, 11-12.

On March 9, 1862, without Flag-Officer Buchanan onboard, the Virginia would not have flown the Flag-Officer's pennon (pennant). The Monitor Paymaster William Keeler said that Virginia "had a black flag flying during the fight. This was the Commodore's flag." He indicated that when the Virginia first came out on March 9, he was still on the deck when the distant Virginia fired its first shot into the Minnesota. After that, he was not in a position to see the Virginia. On March 10, Lt. Selfridge who had survived from the Cumberland took command of the Monitor until March 13. Since Keeler didn't record this down until at least March 11, his statement might possibly be a reflection of what Selfridge reported from his vantage point on March 8. Keeler wrote on March 11, "his [Selfridge's] description of the fight [on the Cumberland] as we were at the supper table last night was intensely interesting." A few sentences later he indicated he was writing a "detailed account of the whole thing which I will send home as soone as complete." It was in this "detailed account" that he mentioned the black flag. The pennant was flown on a flagstaff just aft of the pilot house, forward of the smokestack.

Buchanan would have used a red pennant as he was not the senior Flag Officer. Tattnall was the senior Flag Officer and would have used a blue pennant. The pennant would have been a plain flag in the usual shape (approximately 4x3). (Broad pennants (which are very long) had been used some years earlier but were not in use at this time.)

[Flag]When the Virginia was burned, Lt. Littlepage rescued the flag. It is an 11-star version of the Stars and Bars. At least one of the models of the Virginia shows it with the Naval Battle Flag (the Southern Cross, often mistakenly referred to as the Stars and Bars) which didn't come into use until 1863. This flag was flown on the aft part of the shield.

Interestingly, Ramsay says (referring to the destruction of the Virginia):

Still unconquered we hauled down our drooping colors, their laurels all fresh and green, with mingled pride and grief, gave her to the flames, and set the imminent fires roaring against the shotted guns.

H. Ashton Ramsay
"The Most Famous of Sea Duels: The Story of the Merrimac's Engagement with the Monitor," and the Events That Preceded and Followed the Fight, Told by a Survivor. Harper's Weekly. February 10, 1912, 11-12.

It must be that his reference to "laurels" is figurative rather than to some aspect of the flag. This quote is very similar to one of William Norris in his 1878 Southern Historical Society Papers article.

[First Naval Jack flag]While in port, the Virginia probably flew the Naval Jack. This flag is often shown as one of the two flags on the Virginia. Littlepage's drawing of the Virginia before the battle shows the jack as being on a third flagstaff on the false bow.

USS Minnesota

The USS Minnesota, almost destroyed by the Virginia, went on to have a long career. She was finally destroyed by fire (intentionally) in Eastport, Washington County, Maine.

Blocking Elizabeth River?

Confederate General Huger suggested on March 13, 1862, that the Elizabeth River be completely blocked to prevent ironclads from entering the harbor, but also keeping the Virginia out of Hampton Roads! (OR Ser. I Vol. IX, p 65)!

On the same day, the Union also considered doing the same thing (ORN Ser I Vol VII, p 102-3), to keep the Virginia in port, but rejecting it because of the guns at Sewell's Point which would require the use of the Monitor but that was too risky.

Robert E. Lee & the Destruction of the Virginia

Just a week before Norfolk was captured by the Union and the Virginia was destroyed, Robert E. Lee wrote that if Norfolk fell, the Virginia must be destroyed. He suggested a run to the York River if possible.

Reactions to the Battle

The were many and varied reactions to the Battle of the Ironclads. Myrta Lockett Avary describes her reactions

One day I was out shopping when I saw everybody running toward the quay. I turned and went with the crowd. We saw the Merrimac swing out of the harbor - or did she crawl? A curious looking craft she was, that first of our ironclads, ugly and ominous.

She had not been gone many hours when the sound of guns came over the water followed by silence, terrible silence, that lasted until after the lamps were lit. Suddenly there was tumultuous cheering from the quay. The Merrimac had come home after destroying the Cumberland and the Congress.

"Well for the Congress!" we said. Her commander had eaten and drunk of Norfolk's hospitality, and then had turned his guns upon her - upon a city full of his friends. Bravely done, O Merrimac! But that night I cried myself to sleep. Under the sullen waters of Hampton Roads slept brave men and true, to whom Stars and Stripes and Southern Cross alike meant nothing now. The commander of the Congress was among the dead, and he had been my friend - I had danced with him in my father's house. Next day, the Monitor met the Merrimac and turned the tide of victory against us. Her commander was John L. Worden, who had been our guest beloved.

From the electronic copy of A Virginia Girl in the Civil War, 1861-1865: Being a Record of the Actual Experiences of the Wife of a Confederate Officer (Ed. by Myrta Lockett Avary) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.

Merrimac & Monitor in Literature

The battle of the Monitor and the Virginia was an important event in the American collective experience. At the time and in the early 1900's the battle was much discussed. There were many popular published accounts but the battle also was covered in literature.

Commemorations of the Battle

There were many events commemorating this battle. Of particular note was the Merrimac-Monitor Building built for the Jamestown Tercentennial in 1907. This exterior of the building looked somewhat like a battleship while the interior was a large circular description of the battle. Similar buildings were constructed soon after in Seattle (for the Alaskan-Yukon Exposition, 1909), in Chicago (1908), Philadelphia (1926) and in Denver. One of the Virginia's crew reported going to a cyclorama that gave an incorrect retelling of the battle. When he objected, the man who did the retelling basically told him that he was just telling the people what they wanted to hear.

In "Some Photographs of Luminous Objects" by Wallace Goold Levison in Scribner's Magazine, Vol. 9, Issue 6, June 1891, pp. 765-773, is an photograph of a fireworks reenactment of the Monitor-Virginia battle at Manhattan Beach in 1887.

On July 4, 1862, a pyrotechnic reenactment of the Monitor-Virginia battle was staged in New York. Another fireworks celebration of the battle was staged March 6, 1865, at Union Square, New York.

Genealogy can Bring the Family Together

To see a touching story of how having this information on the Internet has helped others, please see this article in the Ancestry Magazine. The author exchanged email with us in 1998 as he sought further information about his ancestor.

Disney's America

In 1993, the CEO of Walt Disney, Michael Eisner, announced plans for Disney's America "to create a unique and historically detailed environment celebrating the nation's richness of diversity, spirit and innovation" on a 3,000-acre site in Prince William County, Virginia. Amongst the exhibits was the "Civil War Fort was to have plunged guests into the most turbulent time in American history, and outside its ramparts the historic battle of the Monitor and Merrimac was once again to have been fought."

The park ran into a lot of controversy and Disney abandoned the project rather than trying to have an amusement park shrouded in controversy. (In my opinion, it is a shame they weren't able to do this, perhaps in a different location.)

Robot Wars 1862

If you watch the "Robot Wars" programs on TV, you may enjoy this excerpt from the diary of William Howard Russell for the date March 19, 1862. He had just arrived Ft. Monroe.

"Captain Hardman showed me a curious sketch of what he called the Turtle Thor, an iron-cased machine with a huge claw or grapnel, with which to secure the enemy whilst a steam hammer or a high iron fist, worked by the engine, cracks and smashes her iron armor. 'For,' says he, 'the days of gunpowder are over.'"

William Howard Russell. My Diary North and South. Boston: T. O. H. P. Burnham. 1863.

Electronic copy in the Making of America collection at the University of Michigan.

Damage to the Monitor

When the Monitor came up for repairs [to Washington Navy Yard], before leaving for Charleston, Dahlgren examined her and was astonished to find that a man of her builder's cleverness had committed the error of exposing the flat surface of the turret to a direct blow instead of slanting its sides and thereby reducing the effect of a hit. His examination persuaded him that the vessel could not long stand the battering of an 11-inch gun. A 10-inch shot had done considerable internal damage, and four or five hits on the side had dished the armor considerably.

Round-shot to Rockets: A History of the Washington Navy Yard and U.S. Naval Gun Factory. Taylor Peck. United States Naval Institute. Annapolis. 1949. p145

The Virginia largest guns were IX-inch Dahlgrens, but the most powerful were the 7" Brooke rifles, which probably did the damage mistakenly ascribed to 10-inch shot.

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