When a Confederate officer on board the Virginia fired his cannon at the pilothouse of the Monitor , the shot set in motion events that remain murky 150 years later.
The four-hour duel between the Monitor and Virginia on 9 March 1862 was frustrating for both ships, as neither was able to inflict significant damage to the other. At around midday the Monitor ’s commanding officer, Lieutenant John L. Worden, tried to disable the Confederate ironclad by ramming her rudder. He missed, but the attempt put the Union ship’s pilothouse directly under the muzzle of the 7-inch Brooke rifle commanded by Lieutenant John Taylor Wood, who fired. The cannon’s 100-pound shell damaged the structure, breaking one of the 9-by-12-inch iron bars of which it was made and dislodging its 2-inch-thick roof plate. Moreover, the Brooke rifle’s blast and projectile’s impact injured Worden, who could no longer command. This was the pivotal moment in the battle.