The Confederate Flag of the CSS Virginia: The Stars and Bars were the first official flag of the Confederacy. Although a striking likeness is shared between this flag and to the Union’s “Stars and Stripes,” the symbols are representations of two nations at war; two very different places and mindsets. The Confederate Stars and Bars were flown from March, 1861, to May, 1863 and throughout that time this flag would gain stars at the same rate that the confederacy gained states into their union, until a final count of thirteen.
The Stars and Bars were flown as the Confederate Nation’s battle ensign during many battles f the Civil War, including the battle between ironclads, a world-changing battle that took place between the CSS Virginia and the US Monitor at Hampton Roads, Virginia. A battle ensign is the badge of a warship, worn before the ship enters battle, it is the indicator to enemies that conflict is on its way. This flag is the source of pride for its mother nation and for the crew aboard her; it is a source of hatred and fear for those who intend to battle against her.
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A battle ensign is always rescued, if possible, from a sinking ship and is bestowed with honor upon a senior officer. If the flag is derived from a battle ship with a particularly heroic history it is saved and displayed in a place where it can be admired and revered. The Stars and Bars of the CSS Virginia reside, for this reason, in the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond Virginia. This flag is the only surviving symbol of a warship that was in itself, a symbol for a new era in the methods of naval battle and ship construction.
The Stars and Bars of the CSS Virginia represent a war-ship of world altering consequences. The US Merrimack was a steam frigate, found by the confederate army after they overtook the abandoned Norfolk Navy Yard in 1861 after the commonwealth of Virginia seceded from the Union. The effort to completely destroy the yard was unsuccessful and the Merrimack lay, only half destroyed, in water too shallow for her to completely burn. Fortunately, the ships engines and hull had been spared from flame and remained mostly intact.
The confederates, namely Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen R. Mallory saw this as an opportunity; a plan was drawn up to salvage the only partially sunk and partially burned frigate Bourne Jar. , Joel K, “Iron vs… Oak” National Geographic . 01 Mar. 2006:137 . The fact that her engines were unharmed made the ship too valuable an asset to let waste and the Confederates knew that an ironclad ship would be an important tool, Mallory was quoted as saying “l regard the possession of an iron-armored ship as a matter of the first necessity.
Such a vessel at this time could traverse the entire coast of the United States, prevent blockades, and encounter, with a fair prospect of success, their entire Navy. “2 Quarantines, V, John.. “Proving the power of IRON over WOOD. ” Naval History. 01 Par. 2012:26. The US Merrimack, now in confederate hands, was armed, plated in an iron exoskeleton and outfitted with an iron ram on her bow. The ship was commissioned as the CSS Virginia in February 1862 but with all of the alterations, it was nearly impossible to maneuver.
Limitations aside, the ironclad was the Confederacy only hope in the battle against the feared US Monitor, a fast, agile and equally outfitted ironclad from the many Union newspapers reporting on the Virginia, it said “We learn, by the way of Washington, that the frigate Merrimac, which was sunk at the burning of the Norfolk Navy Yard has been raised, strengthened and armed by the Confederates, who have ad the audacity to make a trial trip in her, almost within gun shot of Fortress Monroe.
It is reported that the Merrimac is expected to become a formidable opponent when put in order for battle. “3 The Valley Spirit. “War and other News. ” 16, Cot. 1861 It would not be long before the Monitor met its Confederate counterpart and the anticipation would be put to rest. The final battle of the CSS Virginia took place at Hampton Roads, Virginia. The ship had seen battle there the day prior when it came up unexpectedly on the Union battleships the Congress and Cumberland. 4 Phillips, B. , Dwindle, “Notes on the Monitor-Merrimac fight. The Southern Bivouac.
March, The Southern Bivouac. March, thesis would be the first time that the confederate iron-clad would see real battle and Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan, knew that “The control of the Roads was critical to Lincoln blockade of southern ports and Union plans to attack the Confederate capital at Richmond. “l With this knowledge, Officer Buchanan prepared his crew to destroy the U. S. Ships. The Virginia managed to sink the Cumberland through the use of her bow-ram, which ripped open a hole large enough “to admit a horse and cart”4 into the side of the Union ship.
Also, she arced the Congress to send up a white flag, due to the fact that the artillery of the Union ships were no match for the strong shell of the confederate hull; every shot fired from the Virginia to the Congress had much more effect than those fired back. The two Union ships were boarded by the confederate army and prisoners were taken. Later this same afternoon the CSS Virginia met up with the US Minnesota, she was run aground in the middle of the channel but due to the ebb tide the Virginia let the ship escape until morning in fear of grounding herself and instead, spent the night in the south channel to Swell’s Point.
As dawn broke on the morning of March 9th a dawn was breaking, also, on a new day of maritime-battle. On this day the Virginia would wake to find that the Minnesota was no longer alone in the channel and was now being protected by the US Monitor who would act as a shield for the Minnesota because the loss of this ship would bring even more panic to the Union as confidence in the Navy would be tarnished slightly. For the entirety of the day the two ironclads would clash, the Minnesota would be untouched thanks to the Monitor and the end of the day would result in a veritable draw.
Neither warship would be able to feat the other although injuries were sustained on both sides, the Ironclads were both able to leave the battle under their own power and no white flag was ever flown. The two ships had differences in construction but where the Monitor lacked, the Virginia was strong and vice versa. The two powers were equally matched. There are three criterion for a ship to be called an “Iron-clad,” it must use steam propulsion, it must fire explosives and it must be covered in a skin of strong iron.
Prior to the Ironclad, war on the water was dependent on “ships on the line” and frigates; the heavy and strong and the light and fast. The “ships on the line: of the 17th and 18th centuries were the “big guns” of battle, these were the ships with the most heavy artillery most often, the heaviest ship of the line would be the battle victor. These vessels would carry more than one hundred guns and a crew of hundreds of men. Popularity; this new tactic caused navies worldwide to have to conform to a new tactic called a “line of battle. This “line” was a description of the configuration of warring ships; enemies would sit side by side now, instead of converging in large groups toward one another as they did in the 16th and early 17th centuries, and fire cannons abeam. Contrastingly, a frigate was a ship too small to fight on the battle line. These ships were valued for their invulnerability, they were armed, but not heavily and were used for patrolling. The frigate was in constant use and seeing constant action.
It was the frigate that would eventually morph into the iron-clad because their already light-weight would be suitable for the addition of more mass (in the form of armor. ) The first fight of iron-class was on March 9th 1862 and although it was not a tide-turning battle of the American Civil War and it did not result in an overwhelming victory for either the Union or the Confederacy it did two ere important things for the world and for the war.
The US Monitor was practically unscathed by the biting attempts of the Virginia to take it down but the damaged incurred by the Virginia to the Cumberland and Congress on the day before its scuttle with the Monitor sent the Union into a frenzy. So worried was the north, that an emergency cabinet meeting was called my President Lincoln to discuss the Virginia and what kind of threat she posed to the Union Navy. 5 Quarantines, V, John.. “The CSS Virginia: Sink Before Surrender. The senior U.
S Navy officer, Flag officer Louis M. Goldbricks, “was fixated on the Virginia and rumored to be suffering from “ram fever” or “Merrimac on the brain” due to the disruption the confidence that the confederate iron-clad brought to the Union. 6 Nichols, Roy F. , Robert Underworld Johnson, and Clarence Slough Blue. From Sumter to Shiloh: Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume 1 ; Being for the Most Part Contributions by Union and Confederate Officers. New York: T. Housefly, 1956. Print.
Also, and more importantly, the battle at Hampton Roads sent an important message to the world; it was witnessed by “tens of thousands of troops in ships and on shore, including military observers from Europe”l and for the first time the world powerhouses had a glimpse of what the naval warfare of the future would look like. Gone were the days where wooden behemoths were the key to success, no longer was it important to be able to haul weaponry en masses, hundreds of men weren’t necessary for Just one ship.
No longer would a small, wooden, agile ship have a chance at survival against the maritime battering ram called an “ironclad. ” The news was heard around the world as entire navies became obsolete in the course of a day. On this day, March 9th 1862 the powerhouses of Britain and France scrambled to rebuild their forces. On the subject of this changing world the London “Times” said “Whereas we had available for immediate purposes one hundred and forty-nine first-class war-ships, we now have two, these two being the Warrior and her sister Ironsides.
There is not now a ship in the English Ana apart from these two that it would not be madness to trust to an engagement with that little Monitor. ” 7 Frigates the world over would be reborn and ships of the line would fade into history. The Virginia was taken to dry dock after its engagement with the Monitor, and after repairs made it back out to patrol the eaters. The Virginia would patrol for a few months longer, waiting in vain for another chance at the Monitor. The Confederates would not get their much anticipated final Virginia and instead try to blockade them into the James River.
On the morning of May 10th, 1962 the Virginia and her crew would wake to find that all of Norfolk had been over-run by union troops. Their position as guard was no longer necessary and no one had bothered to tell them! Eventually and for the days following, the Virginia would be stripped of all but some ammunition, in the hopes that her twenty-two foot raft could be lessened to a much more manageable eighteen feet of depth in order for the ship to be able to make its way out of the James River; it was thought that the best option for the Virginia was to get her to Richmond to help in the defense of that city.
The draft was eventually achieved but at too much a cost, the fact had to be faced that the ship was no longer a sea-worthy vessel and in her lightened state she had two feet of unprotected hull showing above the waterline. In the end, under the command of Commodore Josiah Atonal the battle ship was grounded and burned in he harbor off of Carneys Island in order to prevent her capture by the Union Ana and her battle ensign was removed. The end of this iron-clad only signified the end of a single heroic ship.
Throughout the lifespan of the Virginia many iterations of the Confederacy battle ensign that would have been flown at her stern during conflict. The Stars and Bars of the Virginia have found their home in the Confederate White House, now known as the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. It is one of only two surviving artifacts from the ship at the museum (an original anchor was excused from the wreck in more recent years and decorated the lawn of the museum for a short time). The Confederate White House is a fitting place for these Stars and Bars to be housed, there, they Join a host of other artifacts of the American Civil War and are held in high esteem. The stars and bars of a ship could be argued to be the single best representation of the ship it flew on; it is the embodiment of the soul of the vessel because while it flies, it is clear to anyone that can see it of the heroic intention of it’s mother ship.
At the battle of Hampton roads, as the world watched he wooden navies of the world die and saw as a new age of iron-clad battle was ushered into the global arena, they without a doubt saw the red, white and blue confederate stars and bars flying high above the Virginia the entire time. The Virginia was the confederacy only answer to the iron-clad Monitor. Without it, the Monitor would have gone unchallenged and the confederacy would have been more swiftly beaten.