CGN 38 was the eighth ship to bear the name VIRGINIA. Of the seven previous ships, five were US Navy ships and two served the Confederate States Navy. Each of these ships has left her mark on history and a few helped change the course of naval warfare and the history of sea power.
The first USS VIRGINIA was one of the original thirteen frigates built for the Continental Navy. Her length from figurehead to taffrail was 148 feet and her beam was 34 feet, four inches. She had 28 guns and her hull was coated with Pennsylvania fine crude oil mixed with pitch. She was ready for sea in 1777, but was captured by the British in 1778. She served in the Royal Navy for nearly ten years thereafter.
The next USS VIRGINIA was a sailing vessel engaged in the service of the U. S. Revenue Service from 1798 until 1801. The third USS VIRGINIA was a 74 gun ship of the line. She was ready for launch in 1821 and placed in reserve. The need for her service never arose and as a result she was broken up in September of 1884.
Perhaps the most famous of all ships named VIRGINIA was originally the wooden-hulled steam frigate USS Merrimac. She was burned and scuttled in the Norfolk Navy Yard in 1861 as Union troops attempted to destroy or burn all that could be used by the Confederate forces advancing through Virginia. The Confederate Navy raised her up and she was rebuilt into an ironclad ram, commissioned CSS VIRGINIA (see Note 1 below). In 1862, CSS VIRGINIA engaged the US frigates Congress and Cumberland blockading the Chesapeake at Hampton Roads. After inflicting a fearful slaughter on the gun crews of the Congress, the CSS VIRGINIA rammed the Cumberland, causing that ship to sink off of Point Comfort. CSS VIRGINIA retired up the James River for repairs, having received only minor damage during the engagement. On 9 March 1862, the Union Ironclad Monitor arrived in Hampton Roads. At 8 am, CSS VIRGINIA and USS Monitor engaged, thus opening a new era in naval warfare: The Era of the Ironclads. At noon, VIRGINIA disengaged and hauled off to Norfolk, ending the first battle between iron ships, with neither one winning a victory. CSS VIRGINIA was destoyed at Craney Island in May of 1862 to prevent her from falling into the hands of the advancing Union forces.
The fifth ship named VIRGINIA was another Ironclad of the Confederate Navy, CSS VIRGINIA II. She saw limited action in the James River as a mobile gun platform for General Lee in defense of Richmond. She was destroyed by Confederate forces in April 1865, prior to the evacuation of Richmond.
The sixth USS VIRGINIA was a captured Spanish blockade runner. She was renamed and outfitted for war. She cruised off the Carolinas in search of Confederate raiders until July 15, 1863. Later in the war, she joined the West Gulf Blokading Squadron at New Orleans. From the time of her capture until she was sold in November of 1865, she captured or destroyed fourteen enemy vessels.
The seventh ship named VIRGINIA was the battleship USS VIRGINIA (BB-13). She was launched under the sponsorship of Miss Gay Montague, daughter of the the Governor of Virginia, on April 5, 1904. In September and October of 1906, she was part of the fleet stationed off Havana, Cuba, ready to protect lives during the insurrection. On December 16, 1907, USS VIRGINIA was one of the sixteen great white battleships which passed in review before President Theodore Roosevelt as they set out on their famous world cruise. The circumnavigation of the globe led the Great White Fleet to many countries on their 48,000 mile goodwill mission. USS VIRGINIA later served the country throughout World War I and afterwards was used as a bombing target to display the effectiveness of aircraft against naval vessels.
This conversion took place in what is now Dry Dock #1 at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the oldest drydock in North America and still in use today. The latest USS VIRGINIA was decommissioned in Dry Dock #4, about a two minute walk away. (back)