USS Cumberland vs CSS Virginia
Launched 5/24/1842, sunk 3/8/1862
The USS Cumberland was the first traditional wooden warship to battle an iron clad. On May 24th, 1842, the CSS Virginia steamed north from the Gosport Navy Yard towards the Union blockade at Hampton Roads Virginia. At approximately 3:00 PM, the Virginia engaged the Union blockade ship USS Cumberland. It was a calm, windless day. The Cumberland lay at anchor off the coast of Newport News point. Without wind or tide, the Cumberland could not maneuver.
The Virginia avoided the Cumberland’s guns by approaching its starboard bow. Only the Cumberland’s forward swivel gun could be turned to fire at the Virginia; its broadside guns were useless. The first shot fired from the Virginia’s forward gun struck the Cumberland’s starboard bow hammock netting; destroying the gun and killing/wounding 9 of the gun’s crew. The Virginia took a position approximately 300 yards off the Cumberland’s starboard bow and proceeded to fire broadsides into the stationary target. Only the Cumberland’s forward pivot gun and 1st division guns (trained at maximum angle) could return fire, but the Cumberland’s cannons proved ineffective against the Virginia’s armor plate. The Virginia continued to fire for approximately 15 minutes. It then turned and rammed the Cumberland, punching a hole in the starboard bow. The Cumberland quickly started to settle nose-down. The force of the sinking Cumberland pushed the bow of the Virginia underwater, swamping her forward deck, and caused the Cumberland to list to port. The Virginia became temporarily locked in place with the sinking ship. Eventually, the Virginia’s ram broke off and the Virginia retreated to a broadside position alongside the Cumberland’s starboard. For unknown reasons, it remained motionless alongside the Cumberland. This gave the Cumberland an opportunity to return fire with its broadside guns. The Cumberland fired 3 broadsides into the Virginia at less than 100 yards. It destroyed 2 of the Virginia’s starboard guns and damage unarmored portions of the ship, but the Union guns could not penetrate the Virginia’s armor. The Virginia hailed the Cumberland asking them to surrender, but the Cumberland refused to strike her colors and continued to fire until her guns were underwater.
This scene represents the end of the battle. The Cumberland is sinking, but the stern guns are still operational and firing as the Virginia moves on to its next victim, the USS Congress.