The Battle of Hampton Roads: Summary, Causes & Consequences

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: The Battle of Shiloh: Conflict, Outcome & Generals Involved

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 The Civil War at Sea
  • 1:00 Building the Ironclads
  • 3:27 The Battle of Hampton Roads
  • 5:50 Consequences of Hampton Roads
  • 7:29 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Daniel Vermilya
The Battle of Hampton Roads was a naval battle that occurred off the coast of Virginia on March 8 and 9, 1862. It featured the ironclad warships the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, and helped to usher in a new era of naval warfare.

The Civil War at Sea

While names such as Gettysburg, Antietam, and Shiloh are familiar to many students of American history, most Americans would likely be unable to name a single naval battle from the American Civil War. Yet, naval actions played a very important role in the Civil War.

Union and Confederate gunboats clashed on America's rivers, and Union ships blockaded the Southern coast for several years during the war, forcing the Confederacy to rely on blockade runners and marauders to supply its armies and civilians. The war ushered in a new type of ship, the ironclad, which in turn ushered in a new age of naval warfare. Nowhere was this new type of naval warfare on display more than at the Battle of Hampton Roads, fought on March 8 and 9 of 1862, where two ironclad ships met in battle and led the way into a new era of naval warfare.

Building the Ironclads

When the Civil War began in April 1861, the Union government in Washington decided to launch a blockade of the Confederacy, hoping that preventing ships from reaching Southern ports would deprive the South of the materials it would need to fight and survive. In response, Southerners began building and developing ships to either fight the Union blockade or slip past it.

Some of these ships were brand new in naval warfare. Rather than the traditional wooden ships, ships were now being developed with iron on the sides to protect them during battle, gaining the name ironclads. These ships were also powered by steam, making them more mobile than traditional wooden warships. These ironclads, built and developed by both sides, changed how naval operations occurred during the Civil War and beyond.

For the Confederacy, one of their leading ironclad ships was the CSS Virginia. The Virginia was built from the remnants of a destroyed Union ship, the USS Merrimack, and thus, it is sometimes referred to as the CSS Merrimack. Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen Malloy, was a proponent of developing and using new ironclad ships to defend the South, and the Virginia was a part of this effort. The Virginia was constructed in Richmond at the Tredegar Iron Works in the summer of 1861, and was officially launched and commissioned the CSS Virginia in February 1862.

In the North, the Union government had an easier time building a fleet of ironclad ships. The North had significantly more industry than did the South, and thus, the materials for making warships and maintaining them were easier to find. With the backing of Congress, Union Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, began developing these ironclads in August 1861, and the first one to be finished was the USS Monitor.

The Monitor had a rather distinctive design. Most of the ship was flat and nearly level with the surface of the water, making it a difficult target to hit in battle. Most noticeable was the lone gun turret on the Monitor, which stuck out from the water and spun in order to fire on enemy ships.

The Battle of Hampton Roads

Once the CSS Virginia was launched, it went right to work at damaging the Union blockade. The Union's wooden warships were no match for the newly built and designed Confederate ironclad. On March 8, 1862, the Virginia entered the waters near Hampton Roads, Virginia, and engaged several Union warships that were a part of the blockade along the Virginia coast. Accompanied by several other Confederate vessels, a few of which were also ironclads, the Virginia soon did great damage to the Union fleet.

The Virginia rammed the USS Cumberland, quickly sinking the ship, killing and wounding 150 sailors. The Virginia then pursued the USS Congress, eventually capturing the ship. For the CSS Virginia and the Confederate navy, March 8, 1862, was a day of great successes. Perhaps the only drawback that day was when the Virginia's captain, Franklin Buchanan, was wounded by an exploding artillery shell, forcing Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones to take command and lead the ship for the rest of the Battle at Hampton Roads.

The following day, March 9, when the Virginia resumed its attacks on the Union fleet, the USS Monitor was ready to engage its ironclad counterpart. The Monitor had arrived in Hampton Roads on the night of the 8th and was ordered to protect the Union fleet off the coast. For several hours that day, the Monitor and the Virginia engaged in battle, firing directly into each other's iron sides. The armor which covered each ship protected them from the shells, meaning that neither ship gained an advantage over the other.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account