The Battle of Hampton Roads was a naval battle during the American Civil War that took place at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, with incursions and roundabouts in and around Cape Charles.
The Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia (ex- USS Merrimack) sorties from the Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth and attacks the Union fleet blockading the mouth of the James River. Her first target is USS Cumberland, which she sinks by ramming.
Virginia then attacks USS Congress, which puts up a stiff fight, damaging Virginia’s stack and two cannons, but without creating appreciable damage to her iron cladding. Congress’ captain intentionally runs the ship aground and surrenders.
While offloading prisoners, a Union shore battery at Newport News Point suddenly opens fire on Virginia. In reply, Virginia fires a red-hot shot into the stricken Congress, which explodes and burns to the waterline.
As Virginia begins her transit back to Norfolk for battle damage repairs, she commences a third attack, this time against USS Minnesota, whose captain tried to escape but ran aground on a sandbank.
Being late in the day, Virginia left her quarry for the night and continued down the Elizabeth River, with plans to complete the destruction of the Union fleet the next morning.
Meanwhile, the newly-commissioned USS Monitor is en route under tow from New York, and about to enter the Chesapeake at Cape Charles.