March 9, 1862: It was the second year of the American Civil War, and the confederacy had acquired a frigate by the name of the U.S.S. Merrimack. They altered the ship, heavily armoring it and adding significantly more firepower, turning it into a formidable ironclad ship, the C.S.S. Virginia. The boat absolutely pummeled wooden Union ships, firing from its 14 gun ports, destroying the U.S.S. Cumberland, defeating the U.S.S. Congress and running the U.S.S. Minnesota to the ground — all a day’s work.
The next morning, on March 9, 1862, the Virginia came head to head with the Union’s new ironclad, the U.S.S. Monitor. It was a steamship with an extremely low profile, only 18 inches above water. This would mark the first battle between ironclad ships, and would usher in a new era of naval warfare.
Upon seeing the strange Monitor when it arrived, the Virginia opened fire. From there, the two ironclad ships began to circle each other — a knife fight in the water. They fired countless rounds, all of which wound up plinking off each other’s armor. Both had armor far superior to most of the ships of that day, but neither had the guns to match.
For hours they circled around each other, firing into each other’s armor and making slow, but damaging progress on each other. One round flew into the pilot house of the Monitor, injuring the ship’s captain, John Worden. They had to briefly retreat in order to change command and re-enter the fight, but during this time the Virginia had thought they had one, and had begun to sail home. The Monitor then assumed the Virginia was retreating, and due to the need for repairs chose not to pursue, thinking they too had won — a sort of anti-climactic ending, though both ships likely wished for the battle to be over at that point anyway.