solicitude in regard to this proceeding of the rebels, not lessened by the fact that extraordinary pains were taken by them to keep secret from us their labors and purposes.
Their efforts to withhold information, though rigid, were not wholly successful, for we contrived to get occasional vague intelligence of the work as it progressed.
When the contract for the “Monitor” was made, in October, with a primary condition that she should be ready for sea in one hundred days, the Navy Department intended that the battery should, immediately after reaching Hampton Roads
, proceed up Elizabeth river
to the Navy Yard
, place herself opposite the dry-dock, and with her heavy guns destroy both the dock and the “Merrimac
This was our secret.
The “Monitor” could easily have done what was required, for her appearance at Norfolk
would have been a surprise.
But the hundred days expired, weeks passed on, and the “Monitor” was not ready.
Late in February, a negro woman, who resided in Norfolk
, came to the Navy Department and desired a private interview with me. She and others had closely watched the work upon the “Merrimac
,” and she, by their request, had come to report that the ship was nearly finished, had come out of the dock, and was about receiving her armament.
The woman had passed through the lines, at great risk to herself, to bring me the information, and, in confirmation of her statement, she took from the bosom of her dress a letter from a Union man, a mechanic in the Navy Yard
, giving briefly the facts as stated by her. This news, of course, put an end to the test, which had been originally designed, of destroying the “Merrimac
” in the dry-dock; but made us not less anxious for the speedy completion of the battery.
The capitalists who were associated with Mr. Ericsson
in the contract for the “Monitor,” even though delinquent as to time, are entitled to great credit for what they did, although, in addition to patriotic impulses, it was with them a business transaction, for which they claimed and received consideration in subsequent contracts.
But, while acknowledging their merits, injustice should not be done to others.
The “Monitor” was one of the early, and, it may be said, one of the most prominent practical developments of what may be called the American
idea evolved by our civil war, which has wrought a change in naval warfare — that of concentrating the weight of metal in the smallest possible compass, and presenting the slightest possible target to an enemy.
In the single shot of a fifteen-inch gun is compressed a weight of metal equal to a whole broadside of our old wooden ships, which, with their lofty bulwarks standing many feet out of water,