Around 3pm on March 8th 1862 the CSS Virginia entered Hampton Roads from the Elizabeth River. She found on the other side of Hampton Roads five Union warships, the USS Congress, Cumberland, Minnesota, Roanoke and St Lawrence. All five of these Union ships were of conventional wooden construction. Three of the ships, the Congress, Cumberland, and Roanoke were sailing ships at the mercy of the wind to move.
As the Virginia sailed towards the Union ships she was described as a “roof of a very big barn belching forth smoke as from a chimney on fire." Turning west the Virginia steamed passed the USS Congress, ignoring the other ships and shore batteries firing on her. She rammed the USS Cumberland on the starboard side. The Cumberland began to go down, but her crew continued to fight refusing to surrender.
The Virginia tore off her iron ram as she backed away from the Cumberland to take the fight to the USS Congress. The Confederate ship settled into an hour long battle, firing into the Congress’ hull, and causing many casualties. The Union ship raised a white flag, but as the Confederates were taking off the Congress’ crew they were hit with gunfire from shore. The commanding officer of the Virginia, Captain Franklin Buchanan ordered the Congress set a fire; she exploded about 2am when the fire reached her powder magazines.
The Virginia had, had the muzzles shot off two of her guns, and many of her external fitting had been knock off, but she was still battle worthy. There had been about 24 casualties on board the Virginia, including Buchanan.