National Geographic : 2006 Mar
barrel to barrel. The Virginiaeven rammed the Monitor, to no avail. Neither could gain an advantage until at last a Confederate gunner scored a direct hit on the Monitor's pilothouse, blinding Worden. Blood streaming down his face, Worden turned the ship over to Samuel Dana Greene, his 22-year-old executive officer. Worden's charge to Greene was straightforward: "Save the Minnesota-ifyou can." Jones, seeing the Monitor retreat into shoal water where he could not follow, believed she had given up the fight, and he turned his atten tion back to the Minnesota. But once again the tides and his pilots thwarted him, keeping him a mile from his target. The Virginiawas leaking at the bow and had burned so much coal that it had risen more than a foot, exposing its vulner able hull above the waterline. Conferring with his officers, Jones reluctantly left the Minnesota and headed back to Norfolk for repairs. After assessing damage to the Monitor and finding her sound, Greene returned to the fray, only to find the Virginia steaming for home. Lieu tenant Worden was seriously injured, and the crew hadn't slept in nearly three days. Greene's orders were explicit: Protect the Minnesota. He headed back to the stricken ship, believing the Virginia in full retreat. Civil War buffs still argue about who won the Battle of Hampton Roads. Most historians call it a draw, although Symonds qualifies the term. "The battle was certainly a draw in the tactical sense, but in the strategic sense it was a clear Union victory. The Monitorneutralized the of fensive potential of the Virginia,which allowed the Union Navy to remain in Hampton Roads." The two ironclads never fought again, and neither survived the year. Two months after the standoff, Union troops retook Norfolk, and Catesby Jones himself lit the powder train that blew up the Virginiato keep her out of enemy hands. Seven months later the Monitor, never built for rough seas, sank in a storm off Cape Hatteras, taking 16 men down with her. More than 140 years later I stood atop make shift scaffolding and stared down the barrel of history-two barrels to be exact. The turret of the Monitor,the first rotating gun turret in the world, sat upside down in a steel tank on the back lot of the Mariner's Museum in Newport News, Virginia. Recovered from the wreck site in 2002 through the combined efforts of the U.S. Navy and the National Oceanic and Atmospher ic Administration (NOAA), the turret will soon be the centerpiece of a 30-million-dollar exhib it scheduled to open next year. The importance of the 120-ton artifact hit home for NOAA historian Jeff Johnston the moment it entered its former battleground. "When we brought the recovery barge carrying the turret back into the Roads, Fort Monroe gave us a 21-gun salute," says Johnston. The honor was for the remains of two Union sailors found inside the turret, but the salute could as well have been for all the men who fought and died on those fateful days in March 1862. The barge then headed past Sewell's Point-a former mooring of the Virginia near what is now home base to half the U.S. Navy's aircraft carriers toward the great shipyard that still builds the most advanced warships in the world, and finally to a dock in Newport News, a few hundred yards from where the men of the Cumberlandwent down fight ing for their ship and the future of the nation. The smoke of battle has legacies of the great conflict long cleared, but can still be seen in this old Navy town. Walk the decks of the U.S.S. Wisconsin, a World War II era battleship now anchored at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum on the Norfolk waterfront, and see the sloped armor and rotating turrets innovations evolved from the early ironclads. More importantly, perhaps, the battle changed the nature of naval warfare itself. No longer would sailors fight in the grand tradition of Admiral Lord Nelson, blasting away at each other from unprotected decks in full view of their enemy. As one officer who fought aboard the Monitor noted ruefully, "There isn't danger enough to give us glory." [ % Photo Gallery View a rendering of the sunken U.S .S. Cumberland and other Web-exclusive images plus related links at ngm.com/0603. IRON VS. OAK 147 Civil War buffs still argue about who won the battle. Most historians call it a draw. The two iron clads never fought again, and neither survived the year.