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The Rise and Fall of CSS Virginia – Gallery

By Stephen W. Sears
8/28/2009 • MHQ Online Extras


Did a radical new Confederate gunship foil McClellan’s plan to end the Civil War in 1862? Images of the CSS Virginia and USS Monitor.

In late 1861, conventional wisdom, North and South, posited that he who controlled Hampton Roads in Virginia controlled the fate of the nation. And achieving that dominion, or so it was supposed, depended on the outcome of the clash of two ironclads—CSS Virginia and USS Monitor—terrifying new weapons that were poised to forever change the face of naval warfare. The stakes increased with every moment as the two sides raced to complete their deadly vessels. At risk for the Union was its hold on Hampton Roads, the spacious roadstead at the foot of the Chesapeake Bay that controlled access to Norfolk via the Elizabeth River, to Suffolk via the Nansemond River, to Richmond via the James River, and to the Virginia Peninsula formed by the James and York rivers. Fort Monroe, at the tip of the peninsula, lay secure in Union hands and served as the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron’s base. For the Federals, losing control of Hampton Roads would not only irretrievably damage their navy’s blockade but would also lay waste to General in Chief George B. McClellan’s best-laid plan to capture Richmond. His grand campaign depended on outflanking the Confederate army then encamped at Manassas, 25 miles southwest of Washington, by way of the lower Chesapeake. McClellan wanted to land the Army of the Potomac at Urbanna, a small tobacco port on the Rappahannock River, and from there march some 50 miles straight to Richmond. To support and supply such a campaign required using the York River and perhaps the James as well, which in turn required the navy’s continued control of Hampton Roads.

To read the entire article, “The Rise and Fall of CSS Virginia” by Stephen W. Sears, with additional photographs pick up a back issue of the Spring 2009 issue of Military History Quarterly!

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6 Responses to The Rise and Fall of CSS Virginia – Gallery

  1. Ronald H. Bork says:

    Dear Sirs: Might I humbly ask your opinions? In the drawing of the C.S.S. Virginia under construction, (picture 316) you’ll notice a man standing on the planks between ship and shore. Would you conclude from his clothing and movement or lack of, that he was a foreman or superintendant overseeing the work? Might you also conclude that he has a beard of light color? Perhaps grey or red?
    Could the items in his hands be blue-prints of the ships plating that is now being applied?
    If so, I ‘m thinking that it might be the superintendant of Tredgar’s rolling mill, Uri Haskins, my ancestor. He oversaw the production & mounting of her plates. His crew kept breaking their drill bits on her four inch plates.

  2. Nicholas Wood says:

    That’s an interesting bit of speculation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. Taking photographs wasn’t the hobby then that it is today, and one of the traits of a good photographer was trying to get the principals into the pictures. But it’s just so tiny, and we have no information on who the people might be. Sorry.

  3. M Tyson says:

    I don’t have access to the picture published here. However, most of these were drawn decades after the battle, so any resemblance to a person would have had been accidental or done from other images of the person.

    I thought the punching (vs drilling which was tried early) was done at Tredgar and not at the Navy Yard. The plates were two inches thick (two rows of them for a total of 4″). It would have been unusual for your relative to have been at the drydock. His name was not listed in this set of workers:

    Re the image, see the set at
    NH58712 was probably painted in the late 1890s and published in 1906 (EV White’s book). NH42222 was published in 1907 (Fiveash). NH314 is very similar to the image from Century Magazine (1884).
    NH314 was obviously not done in person (missing quarter gun ports).
    NH58712 was painted by a crewman (Richardson), but he would not have been witness to the construction before March 1862 (but was for the late March finishing of the plating). He clearly had forgotten some details by the time he painted it. I believe NH42222 may be one of a serious of copies of the Richardson paintings.

    There is no known photograph of the CSS Virginia. Many images have been published that are clearly inaccurate. Many images are slightly modified copies of others (to avoid copyright prosecution), making it difficult to figure out which came first and which are done by those that were actual witnesses.

    Mabry Tyson

  4. M Tyson says:

    Ah… I found out how to see the images here. The image is indeed NH4222 (picture 13 of 14 above). As I stated, I believe this is one of a series (sorry for the typo above) of copies of Ben Richardson’s works. He copyrighted his images and fought to enforce his copyright, but sadly he wound up having to give the paintings to his lawyer to cover his legal fees. (The paintings are now owned by Chrysler Museum & last I knew some were on display at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.) The person on the plank in question is slightly changed from Richardson’s painting.

    ERRATA: There are various errors in the captions associated with the images.

    Picture 11: This is NOT the original Monitor. (Note the rivet pattern and the size of the gun ports as compared to Picture 3 (which is the original Monitor)). The Library of Congress has the wrong info, which dates back to 1911.

    Picture 14 and 12: Captain Buchanan was NOT wounded in “the fight” (with the Monitor). He was wounded the day before by musket fire from shore, at which point he gave command to Lieut. Catesby ap Roger Jones. Buchanan was taken to the hospital about 6AM on the day of the battle with the Monitor and was not even on board the Virginia during the battle. Jones was in command throughout the battle with the Monitor.

    Picture 3: That is as seen from the stern, not the bow. Note the pilot house at the far end (bow) of the ship.

  5. Ronald H. Bork says:

    Dear Sirs: I am indeed impressed! What a wealth of information has come to me as a result of posting a comment on this web-site of yours.
    Thank you Mr. Tyson, and Mr. Wood for your kind assistance!
    As a boy, I heard the story that when Uri’s men broke a drill bit, he had them start a new one on top of the broken one until they punched through. I assumed is was due to the thickness of the iron plates. Perhaps it could have been on the locating of the bolt holes in the old hull of the Merrimac riddled with nails, etc. My Mother just remembers that the plating proved to be a very frustrating undertaking for Uri.
    The man in question in the print, does it appear to you that he is wearing a hat? I have a photograph of Uri, circa 1900, with him, his beard, and a hat which I think might be called a Derby?
    Being Canadian, Uri is reported to have said, that he had nothing against the Northerners, and hid in the woods so as not to be pressed into the defense of Richmond.
    Now to see about viewing the print in person. Thank you very much.

  6. Bart Armstrong says:

    Uri was a Canadian???? where was hge from?


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