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[24] repeat her destructive visit with still greater havoc, probably, while we were in council.

I stated that I knew of no immediate steps that could be taken; that Commodore Goldsborough, who was in command of the North Atlantic Squadron, had reputation for ability and skill; but that he, on whom we relied, was not at Hampton Roads at this critical juncture, but in the sounds of North Carolina. There were, however, other and perhaps as capable officers as Goldsborough on the station, with some of the best and most powerful vessels in the navy, but judging from the dispatch of General Wool, they could be of little avail against this impregnable antagonist. I had expected that our new iron-clad battery, which left New York on Thursday, would have reached the Roads on Saturday, and my main reliance was upon her. We had, however, no information, as yet, of her arrival. General Wool made no allusion to her in his telegram, which, it happened, was the first received over the line that had been completed from Fortress Monroe only the preceding evening, but as we now had telegraphic communication, I momentarily expected a dispatch from Mr. Fox, or the senior naval officer on the station.

Mr. Stanton, impulsive, and always a sensationalist, was terribly excited, walked the room in great agitation, and gave brusque utterances, and deprecatory answers to all that was said, and censured everything that had been done or was omitted to be done. Mr. Seward, usually buoyant and self-reliant, overwhelmed with the intelligence, listened in responsive sympathy to Stanton, and was greatly depressed, as, indeed, were all the members, who, in the meantime, had arrived, with the exception of Mr. Blair, as well as one or two others-naval and military officers-among them, Commander Dahlgren and Colonel Meigs.

“The ‘Merrimac,’ ” said Stanton, who was vehement, and did most of the talking, “will change the whole character of the war; she will destroy, seriatim, every naval vessel; she will lay all the cities on the seaboard under contribution. I shall immediately recall Burnside; Port Royal must be abandoned. I will notify the Governors and municipal authorities in the North to take instant measures to protect their harbors.” It is difficult to repeat his language, which was broken and denunciatory, or to characterize his manner, or the panic under which he labored, and which added to the apprehension of others. He had no doubt, he said, that the monster was at this moment on her way to Washington, and, looking out of the window, which commanded a view of the Potomac for many miles, “not unlikely we shall have a shell or cannon-ball from one of her guns ”

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