WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — The Civil War posed a great challenge to the Confederate Navy, facing a Union Navy that was well established with many more ships. They needed a solution that would allow them to gain ground and compete; enter the ironclad class.
Much like it sounds, the irconclads were wooden vessels lined with armor to be more resiliant under cannonfire. These were steam powered, and loaded with large caliber cannons, but also could be used to "ram" other ships from the side.
The first ironclad was the CSS Virginia. Converted from a Union frigate, the Virginia proved to be a powerful new weapon. In March of 1862, the Virginia brought down two wooden Union vessels. Then, the Union Monitor – another ironclad – emerged. These two fought to a draw, but the battle proved the ironclads were the way of the future.
A dozen or so Confederate ironclads were built in North Carolina during the war. Right here in Wilmington, the CSS North Carolina and CSS Raleigh were built on the Cape Fear River, and served to give the South a fighting chance against the Union ships.
In the end, the efforts weren't enough to overhwlem the North, but the emergence of the ironclads proved to be an important innovation in naval warfare.