CSS Virginia (1861)

Contemporary artwork of Virginia. US Navy Historical Center photo.

Ship Class
Ship Type
Laid Down

After the steam frigate USS Merrimack was scuttled 20 April, 1861, her wreck was raised, and the resource-strapped Confederacy drew up plans to convert her remains to an ironclad ram. Renamed CSS Virginia, she was 275 feet (83.8m) long, displacing 4,000 tons, with a top speed of 6 knots. Armament consisted of two 7" (178mm) and two 6.4" (160mm) Brooke rifles, six 9" (229mm) Dahlgren smoothbore guns, and a pair of 12-pounder howitzers. Virginia completed 7 March, 1862, and deployed the next day to attack the Union blockade in Hampton Roads, part of the Chesapeake Bay. After successfully sinking the USS Cumberland and Congress, Virginia withdrew due to falling tide. When she returned the next morning, she was intercepted by the USS Monitor, and the two ironclads fought a running battle. While neither was able to seriously damage the other, Monitor forced Virginia to withdraw without completing her mission. Virginia was slightly rearmed in anticipation of another go with Monitor, but she never saw combat again, being scuttled for the second time to avoid capture by the Union on 11 May.