Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Other Virginia: CSS Virginia II

CSS Virginia II

       Everyone remotely interested in the American Civil War has some understanding about the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack). A lot less have heard of the Confederate Ironclad called the CSS Virginia II. Construction on this ship which was classified as an ironclad-ram, began in the spring of 1862 in Richmond, Virginia. Thirty-thousand dollars was raised by the Richmond chapter of the "Ladies Aid and Defense Society". Although, such a large portion of money was raised by women, the Virginia II never acquired the nickname that was given to the CSS Palmetto State in Charleston Harbor. Money for the Palmetto State was raised by the women of Charleston and therefore it was called the "Ladies Gunboat". 

CSS Virginia II blueprints

       The sleek warship was finally ready for launch after a year of construction. It slid into the water in June of 1863 among prolonged cheers. Sadly, because of shortages, she wouldn't be battle ready until the spring of 1864. She would see her first major action at Trent's Reach in January of 1865. The Confederate intentions at Trent's Reach was to break through the Federal Navy and attack City Point, Virginia, General Grant's supply depot for the Army of the Potomac. 

USS Onondaga

       Despite two days of bitter fighting, the Confederate fleet, which consisted of the CSS Virginia II, CSS Fredericksburg, and the CSS Richmond were forced to withdraw. The Federal Navy had one ironclad available called the USS Onondaga accompanied by several gunboats. The Onondaga had withdrawn downriver, the captain afraid to engage the three Confederate ironclads alone. The next day, General Grant ordered the Onondaga back upstream with the gunboats to attack the Confederate flotilla. 
       During the night, at ebb tide, the Virginia II and the Richmond became grounded. The Onondaga arrived and opened fire on the two grounded ships, neither of which could return fire because of they're position. Just as the Onondaga began to close with the two ironclads, the tide rose enough for them to float free. After a brief engagement, the Confederate ironclads retreated upriver while the Onondaga returned downstream toward City Point. 
       The Onondaga had been hit once by the Virginia II which seemed to cause some damage. The Onondaga had hit the Virginia II seven times without much effect, but the Virginia II had been hit by cannon fire over seventy times from the Federal forts ashore and was in bad shape. Her engine was leaking steam and it became obvious she couldn't re-engage the Federal navy without repairs. The Confederate ships had fired almost fifteen-hundred rounds during the two days of action. 

Riddled smokestack of the Virginia II

       Two months after the battle, all three Confederate ironclads were scuttled to prevent capture as General Lee evacuated Richmond and Petersburg. The Virginia II was supposed to be as formidable as her namesake the Virginia. She carried 150 officers and men and was supposed to obtain a speed of ten knots, the fastest of the Confederate built ironclads. The ship carried three 7" Brooke rifles and one 10" Brooke smoothbore. Her weakness was in her armor plating. Originally intended to carry 6" of iron as a shield, because of shortages, she carried 5" on her sides and stern. She was a sleek ship with armor at various angles. Had she been employed earlier in the war, she may have made a diffference. The CSS Virginia II rests today under the twenty feet under the silt opposite from Drury's Bluff. 


  1. The CSS Richmond was the vessel whose construction was begun in spring 1862. It was initially informally referred to as the Virginia II (as it was the second ironclad). However, it was given the name of Richmond. It was for this vessel that the ladies collected money.

    The vessel that was (later) named CSS Virginia II began construction in 1863. The pictures are of this vessel.

    Another picture of the Virginia II can be found at

  2. Why would the confederates design the Virginia 2 to be able to fire only one gun in any direction?