The duel between the Monitor
and the Merrimac
has become familiar to most readers of American history from a decidedly one-sided viewpoint.
On this great battle-drama, whose two thrilling acts were separated only by the curtain of night, much has been written that is exaggerated; many of its movements have been misconstrued — or misstated.
The first act, so replete with tragedy, that led up dramatically to the last, has often been forgotten.
If any of the Norfolk
newspapers of the 6th of March, 1862, reached the Federal fleet lying off Newport News, the spirit of those who read perhaps might have risen, for they announced that the Virginia
, as the reconstructed Merrimac
was named (and hereafter in this chapter we shall call her by the latter name), was a total failure, her engines were useless, she was incapable of being steered, her armament would have to be lightened; in fact, the money spent on her had been absolutely thrown away.
Maybe some of the knowing ones read this bit of news with reservations, for it was customary and perfectly honorable “to deceive the enemy” --as well as the public — in the daily press.
No one knew better than Naval Constructor John L. Porter
, Chief Engineer William P. Williamson
, Lieutenants William L. Powell
and John M. Brooke
that her construction was a success.
As for her officers, Flag-Officer Buchanan
and Lieutenant Catesby
ap R. Jones
, her executive officer, they were satisfied that she could fight; and her chief engineer, H. Ashton Ramsey
, had gotten her old and decrepit engines into such shape that they could be fairly depended upon.
Those who knew her were not lacking in faith.