The Clash of the Ironclads
Railroad routes to Richmond was still controlled by the Confederate army. The Union navy tried to reach the Confederate capital by water. However, the water route up the James River to Richmond was guarded by a Confederate warship, the ironclad Virginia.
The Virginia began its life as an American navy vessel. Union troops had sunk the wooden ship, the Merrimack, when they abandoned the Norfolk, Virginia, navy yard after the start of the Civil War. Confederate troops raised the Merrimack, renamed it the Virginia, and refitted the wooden vessel with iron sides for protection.
On March 8, 1862, the Virginia sank two Union ships off Hampton Roads and forced three others aground off the coast of Virginia. The next day, when the Virginia sailed out to destroy one of the ships it had run aground, it was met by a Union ironclad, the Monitor, The Monitor was built of iron as well as covered with iron.
The two ships battled off Hampton Roads for more than three hours. The Monitor, the smaller of the two, moved quickly compared to the Virginia. But neither ship's guns harmed the other, so protected were they by their new fittings of iron. The first battle ever between ironclads ended in a draw, or without a clear winner.
Unfortunately, by the end of 1862 both ships met a sad end. When Norfolk was captured by Union troops, the Confederates set fire to the Virginia rather than let her be captured by the North. The Monitor sank during a storm on the last day of the year, 1862.