CSS Virginia Timeline


June 14

USS Merrimack, a steam screw frigate called a “magnificent specimen of naval architecture,” launches at Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston, Massachusetts.

June 21

USS Merrimack‘s machinery arrives at Charlestown Navy Yard for installation.


February 20

USS Merrimack is commissioned.

February 25

USS Merrimack leaves Boston Harbor for her first cruise.


February 16

USS Merrimack arrives at Gosport Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia and is immediately placed in ordinary for an overhaul and repair of her engines.


March 31

U.S Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles orders 250 men from Brooklyn Navy Yard to reinforce Gosport Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia.

April 10

Welles orders Flag Officer Charles Stewart McCauley, whose job is to command Gosport Navy Yard, to get the USS Merrimack to sea.

April 14

Commander James Alden and Chief Engineer Benjamin Franklin Isherwood arrive at Gosport Navy Yard. Isherwood immediately begins to work on the Merrimack‘s engine system.

April 18

Isherwood completes repairs to the USS Merrimack and proclaims the frigate ready for sea. McCauley denies approval for the Merrimack to leave Gosport.

Flag Officer Hiram Paulding is ordered to take command of Gosport Navy Yard. Paulding leaves Washington Navy Yard with 100 marines on board the 8-gun steamer USS Pawnee.

Virginia Governor John Letcher orders Major General William Booth Taliaferro of the Virginia Militia to Norfolk to occupy Gosport Navy Yard.

April 20

The Federals burn and abandon Gosport Navy Yard.

The Merrimack is sunk in order to preclude capture.

April 21

Confederates occupy Gosport Navy Yard. The Richmond Press gloats over the supplies and facilities acquired stating, “we have enough to build a navy of iron-plated ships.”

April 22

The Federals burn and abandon Gosport Navy Yard.

Captain Franklin Buchanan, Commandant of Washington Navy Yard, resigns from his U.S. Navy commission.

May 10

Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Russell Mallory advises the Confederate Congress that, “I regard the possession of an iron-armored ship as a matter of the first necessity.”

May 18

A contract is issued to raise the scuttled USS Merrimack from the Elizabeth River.

May 30

USS Merrimack is raised and moved to Gosport’s Dry Dock #1.

June 3

Mallory instructs Lieutenant John Mercer Brooke to develop an ironclad design for construction in the South.

June 23-24

A report on Confederate homefront design is completed by Lieutenant John Mercer Brooke, Naval Constructor John Luke Porter, and Chief Engineer William Price Williamson. The panel recommends that the Merrimack be transformed into an ironclad.

July 11

The Confederate Congress appropriates $172,523 for the reconstruction of the Merrimack into an ironclad. Secretary of the Navy Mallory orders Flag Officer French Forrest to begin the transformation.

August 7

Confederate troops, commanded by Major General John Bankhead Magruder, burn Hampton, Virginia, to preclude its use by Union forces.

August 12

Mallory orders Lieutenant John Mercer Brooke to conduct iron-plating tests.

September 2

Brooke and Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones conduct iron-plating-shot proof tests and experiments at Jamestown Island.

October 12

Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones reports to Secretary of the Confederate States Navy Stephen Russell Mallory about the iron-plating tests on Jamestown Island. This report forces Tredegar Iron Works to re-work its machinery to produce 2-inch iron plate.

November 11

Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones is named executive officer of the Merrimack.

November 18

Chief Surgeon Algernon Garnett is detailed to serve as surgeon of the Merrimack.

November 25

The Secretary of the Confederate States Navy approves the first armor plate for shipment to the Gosport Navy Yard for use on the Merrimack.

Lieutenant John Taylor Wood is detailed to the Merrimack and assigned the task of recruiting crew members.

December 3

Officers John Randolph Eggleston, Henry H. Marmaduke, Marshall P. Jordan, and E.A. Jack are detailed to the Merrimack.

December 7

Captain Reuben T. Thom’s Company C, CS Marine Corps arrives at Gosport Navy Yard and is assigned to guard the Merrimack.

December 26

Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan visits Gosport Navy Yard to review the Merrimack‘s conversion.


January 10

United States Flag Officer Louis M. Goldsborough orders the tugs Zouave and Dragon to remain constantly in company with the USS Congress and USS Cumberland so as to tow them into an advantageous position in case of an attack from the Merrimack.

January 11

Gosport Navy Yard’s blacksmiths and finishers sign a public testament volunteering, “to do any work that will expedite the completion of the Merrimack, free of charge, and continue on until eight o’clock every night.”

January 25

Flag Officer French Forrest writes Major General Benjamin Huger: “I have just learned that one of the enemy’s vessels has been driven ashore with several hundred gallons of oil on board. We are without oil for the Merrimack.”

January 27

Workman finish iron plating the Merrimack.

February 7

Lubricating oil for the Confederate ironclad arrives from Richmond.

February 11

Food and other supplies are stored on the Merrimack.

February 13

The Merrimack floats in dry dock for the first time. Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones notes immediately that there are serious problems with the still incomplete warship.

February 17

Merrimack launches, is commissioned and re-christened as the CSS Virginia.

February 23

When the Union hears that the Merrimack has finally been launched, Captain Gershom Jacques Henry Van Brunt, Commander of the USS Minnesota, advises the Navy Department that, “the sooner she gives us the opportunity to test her strength the better.”

February 24

Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan is named Commander of the Confederate James River Defenses with the CSS Virginia as his flagship.

February 25

Flag Officer French Forrest reports that the lack of gunpowder will delay the CSS Virginia‘s sortie.

Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones advises Lieutenant John Mercer Brooke that the naval constructor had miscalculated the ironclad’s displacement, causing the Virginia to ride too high in the water.

February 28

Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan arrives at Gosport Navy Yard to assume his command. He finds that the Virginia is still not ready for combat.

March 3

Major General John Bankhead Magruder advocates that the Virginia be deployed as a floating battery guarding the James River from Union forces.

March 7

The CSS Virginia is ready for sea trials, but a heavy gale keeps the unseaworthy ironclad at Gosport Navy Yard.

March 8

1:30 PM

The Virginia drops her towline from the CSS Beaufort and enters Hampton Roads at high tide.

The Virginia takes out three Union transports and destroys the USS Congress with hot shot and shell. (For more information, see The Battle of Hampton Roads timeline).

March 9

After multiple attempts at damaging the USS Minnesota and Monitor, the CSS Virginia retires to the Elizabeth River as the tide will not allow the huge ironclad to strike again.

March 10

The CSS Virginia is placed in a dry dock for repairs.

March 29

Flag Officer Josiah Tattnall arrives at Gosport Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, to assume command of the Virginia while she is still in dry dock.

April 4

The Virginia leaves dry dock after the completion of significant repairs and improvements.

April 11

The Virginia enters Hampton Roads. Federal transports flee the harbor to the protection of Fort Monroe. USS Monitor stays in the channel but does not accept the Virginia‘s challenge.

May 8

CSS Virginia steams down the Elizabeth River from Gosport Navy Yard to contest the Navy’s advance and stays out of Hampton Roads hoping to engage USS Monitor.

May 10

7:00 AM

The Union army completes landing at Ocean View, Virginia.

8:00 AM

John Pembroke Jones, Flag Lieutenant of the CSS Virginia, reported to Flag Officer Tattnall that the Confederate Flag no longer flies over the Sewell’s Point batteries.

5:00 PM

Major General John E. Wool’s troops occupy Norfolk.

7:00 PM

Gosport Navy Yard is abandoned and in flames.

The Virginia attempts to travel up the James River toward Richmond by lightening the huge ironclad of coal, ballast, and anything except guns and ammunition.

May 11

CSS Virginia pilots realize that reducing the weight has made the Virginia, “no longer an ironclad” and that the ship has to be scuttled.

2:00 AM

The Virginia steams across the mouth of the Elizabeth River from Sewell’s Point to Craney Island and is grounded.

4:58 PM

The CSS Virginia is scuttled.

The CSS Virginia‘s crew is sent to Richmond, Virginia.

May 12

The CSS Virginia‘s crew arrives in Richmond, to reinforce Drewry’s Bluff.

May 13

Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones is ordered to report with the Virginia‘s crew to Commander Ebenezer Farrand at Drewry’s Bluff.


May 29

Lieutenant Catesby ap Roger Jones is appointed Commander for gallant and meritorious conduct aboard the CSS Virginia.