Iron Souvenir Square Taken from the CSS Virginia’s Original Plating
Iron Souvenir Square Taken from the CSS Virginia’s Original Plating – At the onset of the Civil War Centennial, in 1961, Albemarle Paper Company of Richmond, Va. occupied what remained of the original structures of Tredegar Iron Works. In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, Albemarle made an unknown number of square sheets, stamped “Merrimac 1861” from original Merrimac / Virginia iron plates still in possession of Albemarle, so-called leftovers from Tredegar. These small squares, measuring 1.25” x 1.25”, were given out and sold during the Centennial; they are now quite rare – we have had only one other. This is an opportunity to have an actual piece of the CSS Virginia’s original plating.
*The CSS Virginia was an ironclad ship in the Confederate navy during the American Civil War (1861–1865). The first American warship of its kind—prior to 1862, all navy vessels were made of wood—it was constructed in order to attack the ever-tightening Union blockade on the Confederacy’s major Atlantic ports and harbors. The CSS Virginia‘s launch in March 1862 provided one of the first truly unmistakable signs of a revolution in naval warfare that would transform the conduct of war at sea during the nineteenth century. It quickly met its match, however, in a hastily constructed, Swedish-engineered Union ironclad, the USS Monitor, at the Battle of Hampton Roads (1862). By April 1862, the Confederacy’s 3,500 miles of coastline were largely lost (only Wilmington, North Carolina, and Charleston, South Carolina, remained under Confederate control), and in May of that year, the Virginia was intentionally destroyed.
The CSS Virginia was constructed from the burned hulk and salvaged machinery of the USS Merrimack, a ship imperfectly scuttled by retreating Union forces and subsequently salvaged at Norfolk’s Gosport Naval Yard in April 1861. A steam-powered frigate constructed in Massachusetts in June 1855, the Merrimack had once carried forty guns and had seen service in the West Indies and Pacific before being sent to Norfolk for repairs and refitting early in 1860.
Soon after the Merrimack was raised, the Confederate secretary of the navy, Stephen R. Mallory, issued what at that point in naval history was a remarkable order: that it be converted into an ironclad ship. The Union navy was debating the idea of ironclads, but perhaps because it was more tradition-bound than its Confederate counterpart, it had not acted. The Confederacy, however, moved quickly, modifying the operations of the Tredegar ironworks in Richmond enough to enable it to produce the two-inch-thick iron plates necessary to meet the specifications outlined by designer Lieutenant John M. Brooke. Iron covered, the ship measured 275 feet long 38.5 feet across its beam, and 27.5 feet deep. It was angled such that cannon shot would harmlessly bounce off its sides. Outfitted with ten guns and resembling a floating barn roof, the ship was rechristened the CSS Virginia and released from dry dock into the Elizabeth River on February 17, 1862.
*From The Encyclopedia of Virginia (Virginia Foundation for the Humanities)