Today we’re taking a closer look at our model of CSS Virginia. The diorama shows a specific point in time on the morning of March 9, 1862, but Virginia was involved in heavy fighting with the Union flotilla on March 8—and we had to make sure we included the evidence!
As we researched the fight between CSS Virginia and USS Monitor, we had to remember that Virginia had already seen action the day before. This meant we had to pay careful attention to details about damage she sustained, so we could include it on our model of the ship.
The most obvious damage is to the smokestack. During her fight with USS Cumberland, Virginia’s smokestack became riddled with shot. The next day, as the Confederate ironclad faced Monitor, the damaged smokestack, which her surgeon asserted “would have permitted a flock of crows to fly through it without inconvenience,” could not draw enough fresh air to feed the engines properly.
The least obvious damage is that caused when Virginia’s ram twisted off from her bow. When Virginia rammed Cumberland, her ram became stuck as the wooden ship sank. The tide turned the ironclad nearly parallel to her victim, and the ram, improperly secured to the hull due to a damaged casting, twisted off. We portrayed the absence of the ram on our model of Virginia. Unfortunately, the ram was situated below the waterline, so this detail is hidden from sight on our diorama.
What other damage was done to Virginia on the first day?
The barrels of two of Virginia’s guns were torn off by shots from Cumberland. The crews continued to work the damaged guns on Virginia, but they had to beat out flames in the casemate’s wooden backing after each shot.
The damaged barrel of one gun, on Virginia’s port (left) side.
In the background of this photo is the breech of the other damaged gun, with the wooden backing blackened to portray damage from the flames.
Shots also swept away the ironclad’s boats. We show remnants of the boats’ supports and davits to indicate their former presence.
On the bow, Virginia carried two anchors. One was shot away on March 8, and the anchor chain whipped backward into the casemate, injuring men and causing damage.
Even Virginia’s flagstaff suffered damage, and her crew used a spar to hold the flag.