Skip to comments.Confederate Ironclad May Have Been Found (CSS Virginia aka Merrimac)
Posted on 04/30/2003 4:53:48 PM PDT by SpringheelJack
PORTSMOUTH, Va. -- An underwater survey found what might be remnants of the Confederate ironclad warship Virginia, the former USS Merrimack that fought the Union's ironclad Monitor in the 1862 battle that redefined naval warfare.
"It would be a stroke of incredible luck to discover it after all these years," said Dick Hoffeditz, curator of the Virginia War Museum in Newport News.
The underwater survey, for the proposed construction of a marine terminal on the Elizabeth River, describes two shipwrecks in the area and says there is "a distinct possibility" that they might be parts of the Virginia and of a schooner that hit the submerged wreck and sank next to it.
The Monitor and the Virginia -- which was built on part of the salvaged hull of a Union sailing ship, the USS Merrimack -- fought a pounding battle near Newport News on March 9, 1862.
It was the first clash of wooden ships armored with steel plates to repel cannon balls. Most historians consider the four-hour battle a draw.
On May 11, 1862, the Virginia ran aground near Craney Island. After the crew was evacuated, the ship was set afire, detonating the 16,000 pounds of black powder in the ship's magazine. Documents show that salvage companies later removed two boilers and parts of the wooden hull.
What was left of the ship was again blown up, and some sections were dragged to the Navy Yard in Portsmouth.
Several parts of the Virginia survive in museums, including dented armor and the ship's wheel at the Mariners' Museum, and an anchor and part of a propeller shaft at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond.
The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has called for a follow-up investigation to decide if the wreck spotted in the survey is the Virginia. If it is, federal and state laws require that the ship's remains be removed before any dredging can take place.
The Monitor sank at the end of 1862, landing upside down in 240 feet of water, 16 miles off Hatteras, N.C. A joint Navy and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration team has raised the Monitor's turret and other parts.
The Mariners' Museum in Newport News has custody of Monitor artifacts.
On the Net:
Monitor Center: http://www.monitorcenter.org
Mariners' Museum: http://www.mariner.org/
|Reece Young, left in photo above, and Eric Moore stand atop a boiler off Craney Island in March. The boiler may belong to the ironclad CSS Virginia, below. Photo by Steve Earley / The Virginian-Pilot.
| Special report: Raising the Monitor turret
Or was it?
A recent underwater survey for APM Terminals Virginia, the company that hopes to build a new marine terminal on the Elizabeth River, describes two shipwrecks near the project and says there is ``a distinct possibility'' that they might be parts of the Virginia and a schooner that hit the submerged warship and sank next to it.
APM Terminals is a subsidiary of the giant Danish company that owns Maersk Sealand ship line.
Those associated with the possible discovery are cautious about drawing conclusions, but the idea that even parts of the ship might be found fires their historic cannons.
``It probably wasn't completely salvaged,'' said John Broadwater, manager of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Monitor recovery project. ``I'm pretty well convinced there's more there.''
Jay Taylor, a Norfolk psychologist and environmental activist who has followed the Maersk proposal closely, said that with all the attention the Monitor has received locally, ``it's only right that we preserve the Virginia, too.''
Broadwater couldn't agree more. ``That would be really exciting,'' he said.
The Virginia Department of Historic Resources has called for a follow-up investigation to decide if the wreck is the Virginia, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
If it is, federal and state laws require that the ship's remains be removed before any dredging can take place, the corps says.
With the Mariners' Museum in Newport News having custody of Monitor artifacts, the possibility that parts of the Union ship's rebel counterpart might be recovered from local waters could be a historic windfall.
``It would be a stroke of incredible luck to discover it after all these years,'' said Dick Hoffeditz, curator of the Virginia War Museum in Newport News.
In a related investigation, Bill Cofer, president of the Virginia Pilot Association, went out recently with chart makers from NOAA's Ocean Service to examine an ancient ship's boiler that could be seen at low tide about one mile north of the Virginia wreck site.
Pilot apprentices took measurements of the rusted, red hunk of metal, still bristling with rivets, and sent them to historians for study.
Cofer has long been intrigued by the notion, spoken of by generations of pilots, that this was one of the Virginia's massive boilers. ``In all likelihood, it is not the boiler,'' Cofer said. ``But it's such a fascinating story, to think there may be something left.''
Before getting the go-ahead to build the terminal, Maersk must win approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Peter Kube, project director for the corps in charge of writing the project's environmental assessment, said if the new survey indicates the wreck is the Virginia, there must be a plan to bring up as much of the wreck as possible before dredging.
If it's in an area that won't be disturbed, Kube said, the wreck could be buried to keep it from being harmed.
The APM report -- which calls for an investigation of the shipwreck sites -- was prepared by the Williamsburg Environmental Group. Efforts to reach the report's author were unsuccessful.
Officials at APM Terminals, based in Charlotte, couldn't be reached late Tuesday for comment.
The Monitor and the Virginia -- once known as the Merrimack -- fought a pounding battle in Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862. This was a day after the Virginia sank two wooden Union ships and was coming back that morning to wreak more havoc.
The four-hour struggle ended in what most historians consider a draw. But they say it forever changed the nature of naval warfare.
The Monitor was to sink in heavy seas off Cape Hatteras at the end of the year. Its opponent had already met its fate.
With Union forces moving toward Norfolk and Portsmouth, Confederate commanders wanted to move the Virginia up the James River toward Richmond, but the ship, with a draft of more than 20 feet, couldn't pass over the flats opposite Jamestown Island, according to Jeff Johnston, a researcher with NOAA's Monitor project.
Early on the morning of May 11, 1862, the Virginia ran aground near Craney Island. The island was then a fraction of the size of the current Corps of Engineers landfill.
After the crew was evacuated, the ship was torched, and, after it burned for an hour, 16,000 pounds of black powder in the ship's magazine exploded. At least one large section of its iron casement was sent flying.
Surviving documents show that salvage companies removed two huge boilers and parts of the wooden hull.
``The ladies of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Norfolk acquired several sections of these live oak timbers,'' Johnston said. ``The wood was turned over to a J.M. Freeman for manufacturing canes.''
What was left of the ship was again blown up, not once but twice, and sections dragged to the Navy Yard in Portsmouth. The June 2, 1876, edition of the Virginian, forerunner of The Virginian-Pilot, reported that ``the Navy Yard was crowded with parties curious to look at the remains of the once famous old vessel.''
Several parts of the Virginia have shown up in museums. Sections of dented armor and the ship's wheel are at the Mariners' Museum; an anchor and part of a propeller shaft are at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond; a purported ship's bell is at the Chrysler Museum; and armor plates are at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in Portsmouth.
There's an old joke, Johnston observed, that if all the Virginia's artifacts, real and imagined, were assembled in one place, ``you could probably build two vessels.''
Staff writer Carolyn Shapiro contributed to this report. Reach Paul Clancy at email@example.com or 222-5132.
Yeah, sinking an unseaworthy vessel in a storm with the crew aboard looks brilliant compared to running it aground.
And of course the persistent jokes about artifacts that weren't found (but should have been), such as the bumper sticker saying "Thurmond for Senate".
Ships sink in storms, it was a fact of life during the period. It was impossible to forcast them so the Union Navy has nothing to apologize for. And the crew abandoned the Monitor before sinking and were taken onboard the escorting ship.
Type "hunley" into the keyword search here on FR and you'll find a handful of threads about the recovery and artifacts.
After the war Mr. Cropley filed a claim with the Southern Claims Commission but passed away before a verdict was rendered. His sons pressed the case and they were awarded the value of the net and other items that were confiscated. He had seven sons so the settlement was divided seven ways with each receiving a share, except for the youngest who had joined a Confederate cavalry regiment. Mr. Cropley was English by birth and lived in Georgetown, D.C. (he leased the land in Virginia, and ironically the owner was a staff officer under Gen. Longstreet), and had never denounced his loyalty to the U.S. during the war.
All for naught as it turns out. The Virginia was barely seaworthy and drew so much water that she would have had a problem making Chesaspeak Bay to begin with much less navigating in the open waters. Almost all the confederate rams had that problem.
Are you sure on that? I've seen pictures of 4:
And for all you illegal alien felons who don't speak English, that's: Sí, sé. Perdimos (agradezca a dios). Una casa dividida no puede estar parada. Ahora, estamos parados juntos.
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