With respect both to the obstacles we are to meet, and the engines with which we are to meet them, every thing is novel and unprecedented.
Comparison is simply impossible; for, where there are no points of resemblance, comparison is out of the question.
But can you imagine — if one were permitted to play with the elements of tile and space — the shade of Nelson transferred front his gun-deck off Trafalgar, after but little over half a century, and placed on board of one of those iron craft before us?
and can you imagine the sensations of that consummate master of all the elements of naval warfare as known in his day?
He must be helpless as a child, and bewildered as a man in a dream.
From his splendid three-decker, the Victory, carrying its hundred guns, and towering majestically on the water, which it rides like a thing of life, lie finds himself imprisoned in an iron casing, the whole hull and frame of which is submerged in the water, the waves washing clean over its deck, and depending for its defensive power on a couple of guns of a caliber that would astonish him, placed in a circular tower.
rising from the deck amidships.
This turret is in thickness 11 inches of wrought iron, revolves on an axis by the delicate appliances of steam engineering, and contains the entire armament and fighting crew of the ship.
The fire, the animation, the life, of an old-time naval fight, when men gave and took, exposed to plain view — when ships fought yard-arm to yard-arm, and human nature in its intensest exaltation appeared — are here wholly out of the question, with the combatants shut up in impenetrable iron, and delivering their fire by refined process of mathematical and mechanical appliances.
Nor are the outward shapes of these craft less divergent from all that the world has hitherto seen of naval models than are their internal economy and fighting arrangements removed from all previous modes.
The majesty of a first-class man-of-war, with its lines of beauty and strength, on which the aesthetic instincts of ages have been expended, is here replaced by purely geometrical combinations of iron, in which the one paramount and all-controlling consideration is the resisting power of lines, angles, and surfaces.
As they stretch in horrid file before us, along the shore of Morris island, awaiting the signal from the flag-ship to move, those nine ships, comprising the three different models represented by the Ironsides, the Monitors, and the Keokuk, one might almost fancy that some of the pachydermous monsters which palaeontology brings to view from the “dark backward and abysm of time” had returned in an iron resurrection; and the spectacle they presented to the Rebels from their posts of outlook must have been one of portentous grandeur.
At 12 1/2 P. M., our iron-clads advanced in the prescribed order — to be stopped directly by the anchor cable of the Weehawken
, in the van, becoming fouled with iron grapplings protruding from the raft at her bows, wherewith she was expected to explode any torpedoes and clear away any obstructions she might encounter.
An hour was spent in putting this right; and then our fleet moved on, in order: each vessel passing Morris island
without evoking a shot from Fort Wagner
or Battery Bee, and meaning to make the entrance of the harbor between Fort Sumter
's island before tie former, at 4:03 P. M., opened on the Weehawken
the tremendous broadside of her barbette guns.
And now there dawned upon our perplexed though undaunted commander a revelation of the great and insuperable difficulty of the attack.
That our nine small though stanch vessels, mounting 30 guns in all, could last long under the fire which could be concentrated on them while lying close in front or east of Fort Sumter
was not and could not reasonably be expected.
It had therefore been determined, and was distinctly prescribed in Dupont
's order of battle, that
The squadron will pass up the main ship channel without returning the fire of the batteries on Morris island, unless signal should be made to commence action.
The ships will open fire on Fort Sumter when within easy range, and will take up a position to the northward and westward of that fortification, engaging its left or northwest face, at a distance of from 1,000 to 800 yards; firing low, and aiming at the center embrasure.
But there were other plans than ours to be taken into account.