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Posts Tagged ‘1862’

As I type, the end of another year is just a few hours away.  I’ve managed to do a small piece each December 31st, so it only seems appropriate to continue the tradition.  And since the previous two “year-enders” had to do with endings (the breakup of AT & T and Thomas Jefferson’s resignation as our country’s first Secretary of State), I should write something involving some sort of beginning.

Who am I kidding?  Let’s talk about the USS Monitor…but only for a minute.

Many of you are already familiar with the battle fought between the Monitor and the CSS Virginia (which was actually the USS Merrimack in Confederate garb) in March of 1862.  As the first battle fought between ironclads, it pretty much ended in a draw, which shouldn’t be that big of a surprise since both had cannon capable blowing holes in wooden ships, but not in each other.

Anyways, two months after their engagement (the Battle of Hampton Roads), the Virginia was scuttled by Confederate forces to keep it from falling back into the hands of the Union.

And as 1862 came to a close, the life of the Monitor ended as well.  On December 31, 1862, she was being towed in the Atlantic Ocean just off Cape Hatteras.  The seas were rough that evening and the Monitor, designed for river travel, couldn’t handle the conditions.  She foundered and sank about 16 miles from shore.  It’s a bit ironic that the first two ironclads, built to dominate in war, both met their demise in circumstances that had pretty much nothing to do with the Civil War in which they fought.

So that’s it…pretty simple this evening.  2010 is nearly over.  I hope it’s been a great year for you, and I wish you a wonderful…and very safe…New Year.

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If you mention the CSS Virginia around a bunch of computer nerds (like me), they’re liable to get all excited, albeit for the wrong reasons.  They’ll probably suppose that it’s a new-fangled add-on that will make development of Cascading Style Sheets easier and more enjoyable.  You can easily crush their hopes with a two-part response.  First, tell them that nothing exists that will ever make CSS easier or more enjoyable.

If the angry mob doesn’t immediately pummel you to death with their pocket protectors, or maybe write some software that exiles you to Katmandu, you can deliver the second part of the response…Today’s History Lesson.

The CSS Virginia was a Confederate States Ship.  Yep, the Confederacy had a navy.  Now maybe one or two of the nerds is listening.  Then mention that, before it was the Virginia, it was called the Merrimack…the USS Merrimack…as in United States Ship.  Tell the nerds that the Confederate government took the ship from the Union.  Better yet, say the Conderates “pirated” the ship, because piracy is a big deal in computer circles.  By now, you should have a small, but captive, audience.

When Virginia left the Union in 1861, Union forces were ordered to destroy the naval base at Portsmouth before departing.  Included in that destruction was the destruction of the frigate Merrimack, so she was torched.  But she sank before being completely burned out, and was subsequently raised by the Confederates to clear the harbor for operations.  So the whole “piracy” thing is a bit of a stretch.

But then it was discovered that the Merrimack’s hull and running gear was still serviceable.  So it was chopped and channeled, given a louvered hood and thrush pipes,…well, not really.  But it was highly modified, covered with heavy armor plating, and converted to an ironclad.  Tell the computer guys that the Confederates didn’t just patch the old ship, they did a ground-up rewrite of the code and gave it a new name.

And then the CSS Virginia was released, and fought that famous battle with its northern counterpart, the USS Monitor, in March of 1862, which pretty much ended in a draw.  And that was the last time the Virginia would fire her guns in anger.  Union forces moved back into Virginia (the state) and occupied Norfolk on May 10th.  The CSS Virginia, still undergoing repairs, was not ready for ocean travel, and had too deep a draft to move up-river.

So, in computer parlance, the Confederates crashed their own hard drives.  In historical language, the guns were removed, and on May 11, 1862, she was filled with explosives and set afire.  And this time, the damage was complete.  The fire reached the powder magazines and blew the CSS Virginia apart.

Recommended reading: The Civil War: A Narrative–Fort Sumter to Perryville, Vol. 1

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