The appearance of the Merrimac was that of the roof of a house. Saw off the top of a house at the eaves (supposing it to be an ordinary gable-ended, shelving-sided roof), pass a plane parallel to the first through the roof some feet beneath the ridge, incline the gable ends, put it in the water, and you have the Merrimac as she appeared. When she was not in action her people stood on top of this roof which was, in fact, her spar-deck.The Norfolk papers, however, were not so far from wrong. Captain Buchanan commanded her for three days and a little over; Lieutenant Jones, for about the same time, and Flag-Officer Tattnall for forty-five days, yet out of the two months that she was supposed to be in commission and ready to fight, there were actually only about fifteen days that she was not in dock, or laid up in the hands of the navy-yard mechanics. But to return to the moment of expectation — the morning of the 8th of March. Off Newport News, in Hampton Roads, only six and a half miles from Old Point Comfort and some twelve miles from Norfolk, lay the Federal squadron: the old Congress and the Cumberland well out in the stream, and farther down toward Fortress Monroe the splendid steam frigates Minnesota and Roanoke, and the sailing frigate St. Lawrence. There were some nondescript vessels and a few decrepit storeships that never counted in the succeeding crowded moments, but certainly six months before it would have been suicide for
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