THE FIRST FIGHT OF IRON-CLADS.
BY JOHN TAYLOR WOOD, COLONEL, C. S. A.
1802 SHIPS - LEFT SIDE
1862 SHIPS - RIGHT SIDE
THE engagement in Hampton Roads on the 8th of March, 1862, between the Confederate iron-clad Virginia, or the Merrimac (as she is known at the North), and the United States wooden fleet, and that on the 9th between the Virginia and the Monitor, was, in its result, in some respect the most momentous naval conflict ever witnessed. No battle was ever more widely discussed or produced a greater sensation. It revolutionized the navies of the world. Line-of-battle ships, those huge, overgrown craft, carrying from eighty to one hundred and twenty guns and from five hundred to twelve hundred men, which, from the destruction of the Spanish Armada to our time, had done most of the fighting, deciding the fate of empires, were at one universally condemned as out of date. Rams and iron-clads were in future to decide all naval warfare. In this battle old things passed away, and the experience of a thousand years of battle and breeze was forgotten. The naval supremacy of England vanished in the smoke of this fight, it is true, only to reappear some years later more commanding than ever. The effect of the news was best described by the London "Times," which said: "Whereas we had available for immediate purpose one hundred and forty-nine first-class war-ships, we have now two, these two being the Warrior and her sister Ironside. There is not now a ship in the English navy apart from these two that it would not be madness to trust to and engagement with that little Monitor." The Admiralty at once proceeded to reconstruct the navy, cutting down a number of their largest ships and converting them into turret or broadside iron-clads.
The same results were produced in France, which had but one sea-going iron-clad, La Gloire, and this one, like the Warrior, was only protected amidships. The Emperor Napoleon promptly appointed a commission to devise plans for rebuilding his navy. And so with all the maritime powers. In this race the United States took the lead, and at the close of the war led the others in the numbers and efficiency of its iron-clad fleet. It is true that all the great powers had already experimented with vessels partly armored, but very few were convinced of their utility, and none had been tried by the test of battle, if we except a few floating batteries, thinly clad, used in the Crimean War.