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Civil War Ironclads: Topics in Chronicling America

In 1861, Ironclads were created and deployed to the naval battlefields to destroy wooden ships. This guide provides access to material related to "Civil War Ironclads" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.


"Merrimac Ramming the Cumberland." March 7, 1902. Dakota Farmers' Leader. (Canton, SD), Image 4. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

“There is now building at the Continental Iron Works a formidable iron battery, which will probably prove a novel and efficacious implement of war,” reported the December 24, 1861 Cincinnati Daily Press. The iron-clad proved to be a novel invention indeed as it displaced the wooden warships of previous years and ushered in a new era of naval warfare. Iron-clads were key in the various naval engagements of the Civil War. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.


October 12, 1861 One of the first iron-clads deployed in combat, the CSS Manassas, fights Union warships on the Mississippi River at the Battle of the Head of Passes.
December 1861 Continental Iron Works begins the construction of a new iron-clad, by the design of Swedish inventor John Ericsson, which would later be named the USS Monitor.
March 9, 1862 The first battle between iron-clads, mainly the USS Monitor of the Union and the CSS Virginia (formally known as the USS Merrimack) happens at the Battle of Hampton Roads.
May 15, 1862 Battle at Fort Darling where 5 Union ships, including the USS Monitor sail up the James to test Richmond defenses. Gun batteries at Fort Darling force the ships to retreat.
April 15, 1863 Union ironclads attack Charleston but are turned back. At least one is sunk.
May 1864 A reported 20 European ironclads, built by the French and British, will arrive by late June in the South.