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[155]

The “Virginia

When those two queer-looking craft — the “Monitor” and the “Virginia” ( “Merrimac” )--approached each other in Hampton Roads on Sunday morning, March 9, 1862, much more hung in the balance to be decided than the mere question of which should win. These were no foreign foes that opposed each other, but men of the same race, and the fighting-machines which they brought into action epitomized the best judgment of men that had been trained in the same navy. The fact that ironclad vessels were to engage for the first time in a momentous conflict was of minor significance. Europe had already taken a long step toward the employment of armor plate; not its place in naval warfare, but the manner in which it was to be given effectiveness by American brains, was at stake. Of these two new armored knights of the sea, the “Virginia” (the first to be begun) was the more directly the result of native thought and circumstance. Her hull was all that was left of one of the gallant old fighting frigates built soon after the United States became a nation. The men who planned and superintended her construction were skilled officers of the old navy — John L. Porter and William P. Williamson. Her armament was prepared by another veteran, John M. Brooke, and consisted in part of his own invention, the Brooke rifled gun. She was built at a national navy-yard at Norfolk; and had this not fallen into the hands of the Confederates at the beginning of the war, the remodeled “Merrimac” would never have appeared in Hampton Roads to teach the wooden ships of the old navy the bitter lesson that their usefulness was on the wane and soon to be at an end. The era of the modern warship had come.

The Norfolk navy-yard: where the “Virginia” was built

John M. Brooke, C. S. N.: designer of the “Virginia's” armament


 

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