'Merrimack' sunk by 'Cumberland', 1862.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Plate taken from the 'Illustrated London News'. Towards the beginning of the American Civil War, in April 1862, the Unionists, driven out of Norfolk by the Confederates, set alight then sank the frigate 'Merrimack' by ramming her with the ironclad 'Cumberland'. The conflict escalated rapidly following this incident, culminating in naval battles involving heavily armoured steam ships, equipped with rotating turret-mounted guns. These developments aroused concern over the decline of the naval supremacy of Britain: the United Kingdom had only two ships which could have competed in such a conflict: the ironclad 'Warrior' and the 'Black Prince'.