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[17]

The First iron-clad Monitor.

Hon. Gideon Welles.
The Navy of the United States, at the commencement of Mr. Lincoln's administration, was feeble, and in no condition for belligerent operations. Most of the vessels in commission were on foreign service; only three or four, and they of an inferior class, were available for active duty. Neither the retiring administration nor Congress seemed to have been aware of the actual condition of public affairs, or to have apprehended serious difficulty. No preparations had been made for portentous coming events. The assault upon Sumter, followed by proclamations to blockade the whole coast, from the Chesapeake to the Rio Grande, a distance of more than three thousand miles, necessitated prompt and energetic action by the Navy Department, to make the blockade effectual. Steps were immediately taken to fit out and put in commission every naval vessel, and to secure and arm every suitable vessel that could be procured from the merchant service. Commerce and the shipping interest were, for a time, so paralyzed by the war that a large number of excellent vessels were purchased on terms highly advantageous to the government. There was, in fact, an extraordinary pressure, by owners, to induce the Navy Department to take not only good, but old vessels, such as were not, from their size or defects, adapted to the service required. Large and expensive steamers, thrown out of employment, were tendered, at almost any price, by parties in interest, who, desirous to assist the government in that emergency, as well as to get rid of their steamers, were actuated by patriotic as well as interested motives. The Vanderbilt, the Baltic, the Illinois, and

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