On March 8, 1862, the epoch-making Confederate Ironclad VIRGINIA (transformed from the salvaged U.S.S. Frigate MERRIMACK) at the abandoned yard of Newport News, Virginia), steamed into Hampton Roads and opened a new era in naval history. This painting depicts the first engagement of ironclad warships in what is widely known as the battle of the MONITOR and MERRIMACK.
In this extremely rare period Civil War painting A.C. Stuart shows four of the five warships involved in the two-day battle. While MONITOR defends the grounded U.S.S. MINNESOTA, the mast tops of the U.S.S. CUMBERLAND still show, having been sunk by VIRGINIA the evening before. There is no sight of her other casualty, the Frigate U.S.S. CONGRESS, whom after ramming, required the VIRGINIA to retire for repairs. When she came back out the next morning, the MONITOR was laying in wait, with the white tents of the Federal camp in sight lining the shore.
It is recorded that during the 3½-hour battle that followed each ironclad was struck more than twenty times, and both sides lost lives despite the fact that neither hull was breeched. The Confederacy, having to retreat from Norfolk, tried to run MERRIMACK up the James River, but her draft was too deep, and she was run aground and set on fire. A few months later MONITOR was lost at sea in a heavy storm on New Year's Eve 1862. Stuart's paintings of their epic meeting is a visual record by an artist with first-hand knowledge of the vessels involved.
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