Lt. Thomas O. Selfridge Jr. on the sinking of the USS Cumberland
It was a battle of wood versus iron, the USS Cumberland versus the CSS Virginia, in what would become a defining battle in naval history. No one quite knew how a fleet of wooden battleships would perform against the new ironclad ships until the Civil War sea battle of March 8, 1862. By the end of the day, the answer was clear.
Before dark, the USS Cumberland was sunk, the USS Minnesota had been grounded, and the USS Congress surrendered only to be burned. The ironclad of the Confederacy rendered the wooden Union fleet obsolete. Thomas O. Selfridge Jr., a commander who was onboard the Cumberland during the attack, wrote his recollection of the battle 23 years later with piercingly vivid details of his brave fellow shipmates.
Throughout his account, Selfridge refers to the CSS Virginia as the Merrimack, the name of the ship before Confederate forces salvaged the vessel from the abandoned Navy Yard in Norfolk, Virginia.