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Whispers of War
Civil War Era Coins
by Mike Sussman

The Battle of Hampton Roads during the Civil War in often called either the Battle of the Monitor and Merrimack or the Battle of the Ironclads. It was the most important naval battle of the war from the standpoint of the development of the navies. Fought over a period of two days, March 8th to 9th in 1862, it took place just before the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay. The battle was fought because the Confederacy tried to break the Union blockade of Norfolk and Richmond Virginia, which had prevented international trade with the CSA.

The battle was significant because it marked the first time that ironclad warships met in combat. Built from remnants of the USS Merrimack, the CSA’s ironclad CSS Virginia was opposed by several conventional Union Navy wooden-hulled ships. The Virginia destroyed two of them and was about to attack the third, the USS Minnesota. However, darkness came, and the Virginia withdrew to care for her wounded including her captain, Franklin Buchanan.

During the night the ironclad USS Monitor arrived to defend the Minnesota. When the Virginia came back to renew the battle, the Monitor intercepted her. The two ships fought for about three hours with neither able to significantly harm the other. It ended when the Virginia returned to her home port for repairs and strengthening, and the Monitor returned to defending the Minnesota. The blockade remained, and the ships did not fight again.

The worldwide attention on the battle had immediate effects on navies of the world. Britain and France stopped building wood-hulled ships. Others followed. A new type of battle ship was produced based on the principle of the Monitor. They used a small number of heavy guns mounted so they could fire in all directions. Rams were also included in the design of warships for the rest of the century.
Today there are medals made from metal of one of the ironclads. Known as relic medals, they are among the many medals and tokens of the era. There are also modern world coins that commemorate the battle.

The Civil War Campaign Medal is the first campaign service medal of the U.S. military. It was awarded to members of the U.S. military who served on either side of the Civil War. It was first authorized in 1905 for the fortieth anniversary of the end of the Civil War. The Army Civil War Medal displayed an engraved image of Lincoln while the Navy and Marine Corps versions depicted the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia’s battle of Hampton Roads.


Civil War Era Coins - Civil War Coins - U.S. Coronet gold $20 double eagle

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