Monitorvirginia

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Sam Vermilyea
The Industrial Effect on Naval Warfare in the Civil War

The Civil War began during America’s industrial age. America’s cities were teeming with factories and railroads. Industry encouraged the development of new technologies. Coal powered steam engines propelled riverboats from port to port. Railroads provided quick passage and domestic trade from city to city. Factories effectively produced large quantities of goods. Industrialization provided Americans with new opportunities and experiences. As a result of this industrialization, wartime technologies also improved. Muskets were rifled, artillery pieces grew larger, and ships were coated with iron armor. Industrialization and technology were transforming warfare, and the Civil War was their catalyst. The Civil War ironclads, the Monitor and Virginia, were direct results of American industrialization. The Monitor and Virginia not only revolutionized naval warfare at Hampton Roads, but they changed the sailor’s experience in battle.

Many Civil War historians have written standard accounts of the Battle of Hampton Roads. The standard accounts generally describe the battle from a new perspective, based on letters or a memoir of a different sailor. Bern Anderson’s By Sea and by River: The Naval History of the Civil War is considered the best standard account of Civil War ironclads. Anderson’s book focuses on the naval blockade in the South, and the Battle of Hampton Roads. In the 1980s, Merrit Roe Smith’s Military Enterprise and Technological Change: Perspectives on the American Experience builds upon Anderson’s book. Smith argues for the affects technological development has on human values and conflicts. Smith uses the experiences of the Monitor and Virginia’s crews to exemplify the technological affects. Most recently, Craig L. Symonds’ Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles That Shaped American History discussed the impact industrialization had on the Civil War. Symonds argued industrialization introduced the world to modern total war. He used the Virginia and Monitor as examples of industrial destruction. Symonds argued that industrialization not only changes the machines of war, but the men of war as well.

The sunrise on March 9, 1862 revealed the previous day’s results of the Battle of Hampton Roads. The charred wooden ribs of the USS Congress were visible. The top-masts of the USS Cumberland protruded above the waterline, as the ship sat at the bottom of the bay. The USS Minnesota remained fixed, where it had run aground the day before. The Union blockade at Hampton Roads suffered a devastating defeat the previous day. The destruction came at the hands of the Confederate ironclad, the CSS Virginia. The Virginia’s iron armor proved too strong for the Union’s cannons to penetrate. The Cumberland and Congress’ shells fell helplessly into the bay, as the Virginia sunk the Union vessels. The Minnesota ran aground as it retreated to the safety of its’ port. With the tide now falling, the Virginia returned to the Elizabeth River. Of the Cumberland’s 376 men, the Virginia killed 121. The Congress lost 110 of its’ 434 men. The Confederate ironclad suffered relatively little. It lost 2 men and a score were injured. As the sun set on March 8, 1862, two Union warships were sunk, and over 200 Yankee sailors were dead. The Virginia’s smoke stack had a few holes. Its’ iron casing was dented, but the Confederate ironclad was ready to return to the fight. The following morning, the Virginia set out to continue its’ destruction of the Union blockade. Industrialization changed of naval warfare. The coal-powered steamships replaced the frigates and sloops. The new machines of war were armed with larger rifled cannons. Naval guns grew from seven to fifteen inches. Rifling extended the shells range and accuracy. Warships were armored. March 8, 1862 marked the passing of an era and the birth of another. The traditional rules of naval warfare were gone. The ideals of...
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