CSS Virginia "A Floating Barn Roof"
On April 17, 1861, three days after the fall of Fort Sumter, the state of Virginia seceded from the Union. The Next day, the U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry was abandoned by its garrison. The elderly Capt. Charles S. McCauley, commander of the Gosport Navy Yard near Norfolk, was convinced his post was about to be stormed by the Rebels and ordered the navy yard and eight of the 11 ships at Gosport to be burned and the facility abandoned. The armory was subsequently taken over by Virginia troops.
The most powerful of the ships burned was the warship USS Merrimac, a 3,500-ton screw frigate mounting 40 guns that had been launched in 1855. She was raised by the Confederates and cut down to the berth deck, which became the waterline of the new ship to be constructed. Seventy feet of each end was covered over, and a seven-foot-high citadel, or casemate, with sides slanting at 45-degree angles, was built on the midship section. The top of the citadel was about 20 feet wide and was covered over with an open grating that admitted light and air to the gundeck. The slanting sides of the citadel, made of pitch pine and oak two feet thick, had ports for 10 guns. The Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond provided rolled iron plates two inches thick and eight inches wide to cover the sloping sides in two layers, the first bolted through the wood horizontally and the second vertically. A cast-iron prow, projecting four feet, was added to be used in ramming and smashing gaping holes in the sides of wooden Union ships. Two steam engines were in poor condition and had been scheduled for overhaul before they were submerged for several weeks. Rebel engineers made them run, but the engines were unreliable and could move the ship only ponderously.
Building the ironclad warship took almost a year, but on March 8, 1862, the newly christened CSS Virginia, resembling "a floating barn roof", steamed out into Hampton Roads- straight toward the blockading Union ships.
Fascinating Fact: The first orders for the CSS Virginia's captain, Franklin Buchanan, were to make a trial run to test the ship. Instead, he put a boatload of workmen ashore and steamed out to fight, single-handed, the entire blockading squadron.
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