That night around midnight, the Monitor finally arrived and approached the Minnesota. The next morning the Merrimack approached the Minnesota and began to exchange broadsides. The Monitor took a course in-between the two ships and approached the Merrimack. The Monitor opened fire with it’s two 11 inch guns from about 600 yards taking the Merrimack by surprise. The Merrimack then turned its attention to the Monitor and they began to exchange volleys. The next two hours, at ranges as close as 50 yards, the ships exchanged cannon fire. At one point Captain Worden was looking out a small window when it was hit by a cannon ball. The Captain took metal fragments in his eyes blinding him. He had to be taken below and later recovered his eye sight. He was followed by Lieutenant Green who took control of the ship.
Both ships were being pushed to their limits. The Merrimack began to take on water that cause it to be lower in the waterline. In addition, their stack and vent pipes were riddled causing the ship to only to manage 4 knots of speed. The Monitor’s central turret went up to 140 degrees due to the over taxing of the ventilation systems.
At 10:30 A.M. the Merrimack ran aground and became stuck. The Monitor took up position to fire on the stern of the boat. The Merrimack stoked up it’s engines to the danger point to get the power they needed to break free of the ground. The Merrimack attempted to ram the Monitor but the faster Monitor was able to maneuver away causing the Merrimack to skim the back of the boat. The Monitor took advantage of the close quarters and shot their 11 inch guns at point blank range that caused the crew of the Merrimack to be knocked off their feet.
The collision created a small leak in the Merrimack. The Merrimack turned back toward the Minnesota again. Again the Monitor maneuvered between the two ships screening the Minnesota from the Merrimack’s guns. At one point, the Merrimack attempted to board the Monitor, but quicker Monitor was able to keep a distance to thwart the boarding. Due to the continued leakage, the Merrimack under Lieutenant Jones decided to withdraw from the battle.
By the end of the battle, the Merrimack took over 150 cannon ball hits from the various Union ships including over twenty from the Monitor’s large 11 inch guns. The Monitor on the other hand received 22 hits from the Virginia.
On May 11th, the Merrimack was cut off by advancing Union army units. The ship was not sea worthy to venture out to the rough seas of the Atlantic. The captain decided to set fire and sink the ship to keep it out of the Union hands.
The Monitor was ordered to join a blockade in North Carolina and went down in bad weather in the Atlantic. The ship was discovered in 1973 by Gordon Watts and Dorothy Nickolson. In 2002 the gun turret was recovered and resides in the Mariners Museum at Newport News.
Though both ships did not survive the war, their legacy lived on. The South built 22 ironclads after the Merrimack design. The North built 60 ironclads which were larger versions on the original Monitor. The new ships had 15 inch guns that were more than a match for the southern ironclads. The last Monitor type ship in service to the Navy was retired as late as 1926. These ships evolved into the modern battleships used in the First and Second World Wars.