This was one of the most famous naval battles of the Civil War. Up until then the naval ships were built of wooden hulls, as they were around the world. But this battle showed how clearly inapropriate that practice had now become. One vessel... the USS Cumberalnd was of wooden hull and was sunk in 15 minutes. While some damage was done to its enemy... the Virginia, it had an iron protective coating from the waterline up and thus proved almost impregnable to the wooden vessel. After the battles of the 7th and 8th, word travelled aroung the world that the days of the wooden ship were over. In Britain it was said that 149 ships of the line, most powerful vessels, had been reduced to two ships following thees two days of battle. The Brit's went a step further and ordered that they would no longer produce any wooden hulled vessesl of war.
There were a number of Canadians involved in this two day, historic event. At least two were on shore batteries, one for the North and one for the South. It is possible that a Canadian played a role in the supervision of the contruction of the Virginia. Several Canadians were on the Congress and the Minnesota of which you will hear shortly. The Virgina only lost 2 sailors in the two days of battle. The first man was born in New Brunswick Canada. He was a spounger on one of the bow guns and after it fired he went to his duties swamping out the barrel. In the process he stuck his head out the port hole and was seen by one of the men on the Monitor and shot dead.
As mentioned on Friday, the Virginia fired upon the Congress and the Minnesota. (The Brother of the Virgina's commander was also a naval officer... and he was on the Congress, so you now see brother firing against borther, an oft repeated situation during the war.) Both vessels received several shots from the Virginia, and returned fire. But. the union shells just bounced off the sides of the Virginia. The day before her sides were greased to cause any striking shells to simply bounce off, and they did. The Virginia then concentrated her attention of the Cumberland. Getting in where she could attack the Cumberland in its side with her below-water ram. As it did this both vessels again fired into each other. But it was the ram that cause about a 7' hole in her side and within minutes she sunk taking about 125 lives with her.
Seeing this happen the USS Congress moved into shallower ground and deliberately grounded her so that the Virginia could not get close to her and also ram her. The Virginia retaliated by now firing heated cannon balls at the Congress and thus, set her ablaze. The Virginia wanted to turn her attention of some of the other Union vessels but quickly realized that the tides were turning against her... quite literaly. As they lowered the ship was lifted in the water and thus exposed some of her hull that WAS NOT iron clad, and thus vulnerable.
The Virginia therefore backed out of further battle and took refuge at Sewell's point for the night. (Where another Canaians was manning guns ashore for the Confederates) The next morning the Virginia planned to come along side the Minnesota and destroy it but it discovered that now on site was the new Union weapon.... another ironclad... called the USS Monitor. And it was itching to get into the battle and protect the Minnesota and the rest from further destruction.
The Virginia also had the problem with not hanging around when the tides turned against it. And the Monitor had the inability to hoist the guns very much and thus.. .when the enemy gets too close it cannot drop the barrel far enough to take aim.
Complicating this both vessels were now iron clads and for two hours they chased each other about firing lots of shells and being as close as 50 yards at times and generally just agravating their enemy, neither causing much damage.
The Virginia was also very clumsy to steer and to get into a position to ram required the enemy to stay still while it went forth... backed up and jockied around to get in the right angle to make the ram work. And the Monitor had no intention in sitting still.
By day's end, and the tides again changed, both vessles decided to call it quits and went off in opposite directions.
The Monitor took about 25 hits and the Virginia took about 150 cannon ball stikes. In fact one fellow would later comment that the smoke stack was so damaged that a flock of crows could fly through without much inconvenience.
Within a few months the Virginia was cut off by advancing Union trrops and thus scuttled herself to avoid being captured. The Monitor would later be lost when its tow line snapped in a storm. A few years back it was discovered and its tower was raised. There was quite a lot of media coverage for the event. Inside the tower they located at least one skeleton laying below one of the cannons.
There have been several books written about the famous battle and make for a great reading.
And like so many other Civil War battles Canadians were very much there and dying with the Americans, and on both sides.