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[157]

Captain Franklin Buchanan, C. S. N., and Captain Josiah Tattnall, C. S. N., commanding the “Virginia” ( “Merrimac” ) It was a task of surpassing difficulty and danger that confronted Captain Buchanan when the “Virginia” shipped her anchors on March 8, 1862, and steamed down Elizabeth River to fight a fleet of the most powerful line-of-battle ships in the Federal navy, lying under the guns of formidable land batteries. The “Virginia's” trial trip was this voyage into imminent battle; not one of her guns had been fired; her crew, volunteers from the Confederate army, were strangers to one another and to their officers; they had never even had a practice drill together. The vessel lay too low in the water, and her faulty engines gave her a speed of but five knots, making maneuvering in the narrow channel exceedingly difficult. But Captain Buchanan, who had risen from a sick-bed to take his command, flinched for none of this — nor for the fact that his own brother, McKean, was paymaster on the “Congress.” It was one of the most hazardous experiments in all warfare that Captain Buchanan was about to make, and its result revolutionized the American navy. Captain Tattnall, another experienced officer of the old navy, relieved Buchanan on April 11, 1862, and diligently sought a second battle with the “Monitor,” but it was not accepted. On May 11th the “Virginia” was destroyed by Tattnall's order.

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