Bang-Clang Day commemorates the Battle of Hampton Roads, a Civil War battle that took place on March 9, 1862. The battle is significant not because of its outcome, but because it marked the first battle between ironclad ships, ushering in a new era of naval warfare. On the Confederate side was the Virginia, formerly the USS Merrimack, and on the Union side was the Monitor.
The Merrimack had been a 40 gun frigate: it took float in 1855, served in the Caribbean, and was the flagship of the Pacific fleet in the late 1850s. In early 1860 it came in for repairs in Norfolk, Virginia, and that's where it was when the Civil War began in April 1861. It was sunk by the Union as they evacuated, and raised and rebuilt by the Confederates as the Virginia. The old hull and engines remained, and it was given powerful guns and heavy armor. The new ship took float in February 1862.
The USS Monitor was designed by Swedish engineer John Ericsson. It had a low profile, it's flat iron deck sitting just 18 inches above water. But, it did have a cylindrical turret that rose from the middle of the ship. Besides the 18 inches that sat above water, there were 11 feet of ship that sat underwater, giving the ship the ability to go into shallow harbors and rivers. Just like the Virginia, it was commissioned in February.
The South had been trying to break the Union blockade of southern ports, which had been in place since the start of the war. On March 8, the Virginia sunk two Union ships and ran one aground in Hampton Roads, an area in southeastern Virginia. The Monitor arrived in the Chesapeake Bay to engage its southern counterpart. The battle began the morning of March 9 and lasted four hours. The ships circled each other, and cannonballs bounced off of them. Neither ship was badly damaged, but the Monitor was able to stop the Virginia from continuing to sink other ships; after the battle, it headed back to Norfolk.
Within the year both ships were destroyed. Two months after the battle, the Union invaded the James Peninsula, and the Confederates scuttled the Virginia as they retreated. The Monitor sank in bad weather at the end of 1862 off of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Its wreck was discovered in 1973. Many of its artifacts are now displayed at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia.
How to Observe Bang-Clang Day
The day could be celebrated by visiting the Mariners' Museum and seeing artifacts from the Monitor. More could be learned about the battle by reading a book about it, or by watching a film such as Ironclads.