The Battle of Hampton Roads Timeline

March 6, 1862

Last gunpowder shipment arrives for the CSS Virginia

Captain Thomas Kevill and 31 members of the United Artillery (Co. E, 41st Virginia Volunteer Infantry) muster on board the CSS Virginia, filling the ironclad’s roster.

11:00 AM

Monitor taken under tow by USS Seth Low in New York en route to Hampton Roads, Virginia.

4:00 PM

Monitor and Seth Low join gunboats USS Currituck and USS Sachem. Just as the Monitor steams out of communication range, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles changes the Monitor’s orders and directs the ironclad to steam to Washington, D.C. Orders are transmitted from New York to Hampton Roads where they await the Monitor’s arrival.

March 7, 1862

CSS Virginia is ready for sea trials. A heavy gale keeps the ironclad at Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Major General Bankhead Magruder advises Captain Franklin Buchanan that the Army of the Peninsula will not cooperate with the Virginia‘s planned attack on Newport News Point.

Gales strike USS Monitor along New Jersey coast nearly sinking the ironclad.

General Joseph Eggleston Johnston completes the withdrawal of his Confederate army from Manassas to Fredericksburg.

March 8, 1862

8:00 AM

Major General George Brinton McClellan meets with President Abraham Lincoln to discuss operations of the Army of the Potomac.

10:00 AM

The Virginia‘s casemate is coated with a thick layer of “ship’s grease” to help deflect shot.

10:30 AM

McClellan holds a “council of war” with his generals and the majority agrees to strike against the Confederate capital at Richmond by way of the Chesapeake Bay.

11:00 AM

Buchanan hoists his flag officer’s red pennant over the Virginia and orders the ironclad to cast off. Workmen dash off the ship without completing many minor details.

12:30 PM

The Virginia‘s trial run down the Elizabeth River proves that the ironclad is as unmanageable as a “water-logged” log. The slow warship runs so close to the river bottom that a towline from the CSS Beaufort is needed to help the ironclad round a bend in the river.

1:30 PM

The CSS Virginia drops its towline from the Beaufort and enters Hampton Roads at high tide.

2:20 PM

Virginia and her consorts, CSS Beaufort and CSS Raleigh, exchange fire with Union forces at Newport News Point.

2:55 PM

Virginia and the 52-gun sailing frigate USS Congress trade salvos. The shot bounces off the ironclad like “pebble stones.” Hot shot and shell ignited fire on the hapless Union frigate and the Congress appears critically damaged.

3:00 PM

USS Monitor, towed by the USS Seth Low, passes Cape Henry and enters the Chesapeake Bay.

3:05 PM

The Virginia breaks through the anti-torpedo obstructions surrounding the Cumberland and rams the sloop in its starboard quarter. The Cumberland immediately begins to sink, trapping the Virginia‘s ram within her.

3:06 PM

The Virginia‘s ram breaks off and the two ships continue to fire at each other for the next 30 minutes.

3:10 PM

USS Minnesota runs aground off Salter’s Creek.

3:35 PM

Lieutenant George Upham Morris orders his men to abandon ship as the Cumberland sinks.

3:40 PM

The Virginia, because of its deep draft and poor steering, is forced to go up the James River to turn around. While executing this maneuver the ironclad destroys three Union transports anchored along a wharf.

4:10 PM

The Virginia steams to within 200 yards of the stranded Congress and then shells the helpless frigate.

4:20 PM

Lieutenant Joseph B. Smith, acting commander of the Congress, is struck and killed by a shell fragment. Command of the Congress is entrusted to Lieutenant Austin Pendergrast.

4:40 PM

USS Congress surrenders.

5:00 PM

As Confederate gunboats Raleigh and Beaufort board the Congress to complete the frigate’s surrender and destruction, rifle and cannon fire from Camp Butler forces the Confederates away from the frigate. Lieutenant Robert Dabney Minor is critically wounded when trying to row one of the Virginia‘s cutters to the Congress.

5:20 PM

Buchanan, engaged by the Union’s actions under a flag of truce, is severely wounded while standing atop the Virginia. He orders his crew to plug hot shot into the Congress “until she glows.” Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones assumes command of the Virginia.

5:45 PM

The Congress is destroyed by hot shot and shell. The Federal frigate is burning from “stem to stern.”

6:00 PM

Jones steers the ironclad back into Hampton Roads to strike at the grounded Union frigates. Shot from the Virginia damages the USS Minnesota and USS St. Lawrence.

8:00 PM

Darkness and the receding tide compel Jones to take the Virginia back to Sewell’s Point. As the burning Congress sends an eerie glow across Hampton Roads, Jones vows to destroy the Federal fleet the next day.

9:00 PM

USS Monitor enters Hampton Roads. Lieutenant Worden meets with Captain John Marston, of the USS Roanoke and acting commander of Union naval forces in Hampton Roads. Marston revokes orders to send the Monitor to Washington, D.C., and orders the ironclad to defend the USS Minnesota.

10:00 PM

Lieutenant John L. Worden writes his wife, “The Merrimac has caused sad work amongst our vessels. She can’t hurt us.”

11:00 PM

USS Monitor anchors next to the Minnesota.

March 9, 1862

2:00 AM

Captain Van Brunt attempts to float the USS Minnesota at high tide, but the frigate will not move.

5:30 AM

The crew of the Virginia “began the day with two jiggers of whiskey and a hearty breakfast.”

6:00 AM

The Virginia slips her moorings at Sewell’s point, but cannot enter Hampton Roads due to heavy fog.

8:00 AM

The Virginia is finally able to enter Hampton Roads.

8:30 AM

Virginia fires the first shot of the day. Lieutenant Hunter Davidson fires the stern 7-inch Brooke rifle at the USS Minnesota at a range of 1,000 yards. The Monitor moves to intercept the Virginia.

8:35 AM

The Monitor and Virginia begin circling each other, testing their opponent’s armor.

10:05 AM

Monitor breaks off action and steams into a shoal (Hampton Flats) to reload ammunition.

10:10 AM

Lieutenant Jones has already realized that the Virginia has the wrong ammunition with which to fight the Monitor. He heads his ironclad toward the Minnesota.

10:15 AM

The Virginia begins shelling the Minnesota; but, leaking at its bow due to the loss of its ram the day before, it runs aground.

10:30 AM

The Monitor begins shelling the Virginia, testing “every chink in [her] armor.”

11:15 AM

The Virginia frees itself from the shoal and makes preparations to ram the Monitor.

11:45 AM

The Monitor eludes ramming, but is hit with a glancing blow. This maneuver takes the Monitor away from action. The Virginia moves again toward the Minnesota. The Minnesota and Dragon are shelled. The Dragon, the tow assigned to the Minnesota, is severely damaged.

12:10 PM

The Monitor attempts to ram the Virginia. A steering malfunction causes the Monitor to miss the fantail of the Virginia. As the Monitor passes the stern of the Virginia, the Monitor’s pilothouse is struck by a shell from the 7-inch Brooke rifle commanded by Lieutenant John Taylor Wood. Lieutenant Worden is wounded and the Monitor breaks off action temporarily.

12:30 PM

The Virginia retires to the Elizabeth River as the tide will not allow the huge ironclad to strike the Minnesota again. Lieutenant Samuel Dana Greene assumes command of the Monitor and brings the Union ironclad back into action but does not pursue the Virginia.