and upper works were burned; her hull being saved by a speedy submersion.
Having thus fallen an easy prey to the Rebels
, she was adopted by them as the basis of an iron-clad, whereof Lieut. John M. Brooke
furnished the original plan, which Chief Engineer Williamson
and Naval Constructor Porter
, together with Lt. Brooke
, ultimately fashioned into the terrible engine of destruction known to us as the Merrimac
, but designated by her rebuilders the Virginia
, and Porter
, were all graduates from our navy, as was Commodore Franklin Buchanan
, who became her commander.
In preparing her for her new service, the hull of the Merrimac
was cut down nearly to the water's edge, after she had been plugged, pumped out, and raised; when a sloping roof of heavy timber, strongly and thoroughly plated with railroad iron
, rose from two feet below the water-line to about ten feet above: the ends and sides being alike and thoroughly shielded.
A light bulwark, or false bow, was added, designed to divide the water, and serve as a tank to regulate the vessel's draft; and beyond this projected a strong iron beak.
Being thus rendered thoroughly shotproof, she was armed with 10 heavy and most effective guns; and so, having been largely refitted from the spoils of the deserted Navy Yard, became at once the cheapest and most formidable naval engine of destruction that the world had ever seen.
Whether she had or had not the ability to live in an open, turbulent sea, was left undecided by her brief but memorable career.
A little before noon, on Saturday, March 8th, a strange craft was descried from our vessels off Newport News, coming down the Elizabeth river
, past Craney Island
, attended by two unremarkable steam gunboats.
Two other Rebel gunboats, which had, evidently by preconcert, dropped down the James
, had been discovered at anchor off Smithfield Point, some 12 miles distant, about three hours before.
The nondescript and her tenders gradually approached our war-ships awaiting her, and, passing across the bow of the Congress
frigate, bore down on the Cumberland
, in utter disdain of her rapid and well aimed but utterly ineffective shots, which glanced as harmless from the iron shield of the foe as though they had been peas.
Not a gun was fired by the mysterious and terrible stranger until she struck the Cumberland
with full force under her starboard fore-channels, at the same moment delivering a most destructive fire; while her blow had opened such a chasm in the bow of the Cumberland
that her forward magazine was drowned in 30 minutes. Still, her fire was kept up until, at 3:35 P. M., the water had risen to the main hatchway, and the ship canted to port; when, giving a parting fire, Lt. Morris
ordered every man to jump overboard and save himself if possible.
The dead, and sick, and severely wounded, were unavoidably left in her bay and on her decks, to the number of at least 100; and she sank to the bottom in 54-feet water, with her flag still flying from her topmast.
Meanwhile, the Congress
— which had exchanged broadsides with the Merrimac
as she passed — was attacked