02491 - CSS Virginia II Smokestack; Richmond, Virginia, April 1865 [LC-DIG-cwpb-02491]
The CSS Virginia II was the namesake of her more famous predecessor The CSS Virginia. That ship began life as the USS Merrimack (sometimes spelled Merrimac) and was commissioned in 1856. In early 1860 she was in need of repairs and was decommissioned. With repairs nearly complete, the Navy planned to return her to active service when fighting began at Fort Sumter. The chief engineer lit the boiler in an attempt to escape Norfolk Naval Yard but it was too late. Several secessionists had sunk boats leading to the harbor exit and the Merrimack was trapped. To avoid capture, the ship was set ablaze and the entire upper structure (above the water) was destroyed. Desperate for ships of her own, the Confederacy seized the opportunity to raise what was left and constructed armor plate on top to form the first steel warship, the CSS Virginia.
Both sides immediately saw the advantage of iron clad warships. When the first Virginia was scuttled after the battle with the Monitor, a new Virginia was commissioned. Begun in 1862, she was not commissioned until 1864. Much of the delay was in raising funds and finding sufficient iron and steel. When she finally was put in service, she suffered from a series of mechanical problems. By August, she was able to serve as a river gunboat along the Dutch Gap area of the James River. In late October, she was patrolling the river and was surprised to find that the Union army had completed fortification of Cox Hill. During her retreat, the smokestack was riddled with fire and suffered severe damage.
While the smokestack suffered greatly, the rest of the ship was able to sustain at least seven hits with 100-Pound conical bolts, barely causing dents. In late January 1865, the Virginia II, along with the CSS Richmond and CSS Fredericksburg attempted to bypass obstructions that had been placed in the river. Run aground, while trying to navigate the blocked river she had to wait till late morning for high tide to make her escape. This gave the Union Navy time to bring in the USS Onondaga (a double turreted monitor class) to finish her off. Heavily damaged, she managed to escape and return for Richmond. Her smokestack was completely destroyed and removed. Much of the armor and wooden framework also required repairs. By April, she was ready to sail again but during the fall of Richmond on April 3rd, she was destroyed. The smokestack that had been removed after the January engagement was still lying in the repair yards when the Union took the city.