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TWO IRONCLAD vessels showered each other with shot in Hampton Roads 150 years ago today--and changed the course of naval warfare.
The Confederates salvaged the USS Merrimack, scuttled by retreating Union forces, and refitted her with metal. Then the renamed CSS Virginia destroyed two Union sailing frigates on March 8, 1862.
But a newly built Union ironclad, dubbed "a cheesebox on a raft" by its designer, arrived that night from Brooklyn, N.Y. Her revolutionary revolving turret held two Dahlgren guns. The next morning, she turned those guns on the Virginia. For four hours, the two ironclads battled, cannonballs bouncing off their plating, doing very little damage to one another. Finally, both retreated.
The two vessels soon met their end: the Confederates scuttled the Virginia, and the Monitor sank off Cape Hatteras later that year, sending 16 seamen to a watery grave. Now, parts of the Monitor have been recovered and can be viewed at the Mariners Museum in Newport News.
After the great Battle of Hampton Roads, the world's navies took note and more ironclads were built. The era of strictly wooden vessels was coming to an end.