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[158] any single vessel of any navy of the world to have challenged this squadron to action. Although the Congress, St. Lawrence, and Cumberland were sailing vessels, they mounted one hundred and twenty-four guns between them, twenty-two of which were 9-inch; together, their crews amounted to well over a thousand men. The Minnesota and Roanoke had twelve hundred men between them, and carried over eighty 9-inch and 11-inch guns.

There is no question that the appearance of the Merrimac, as she hove in sight accompanied by her consorts, Beaufort and Raleigh, small river steamers mounting rifled 32-pounders in the bow and carrying crews of about forty men, was a surprise. The Merrimac, as she came down the Elizabeth River from Norfolk, had steered very badly. It was necessary for the Beaufort, under command of Lieutenant Parker, to pass her a line in order to keep her head straight. Owing to her deep draft, the great ironclad required over twenty-two feet of water to float her clear of the bottom.

About one o'clock in the afternoon the little squadron had swept into the James and turned up-stream. Lying to the last of the flood-tide, the great wooden frigates Congress and Cumberland, with their washed clothes on the line, were totally unaware of the approach of their nemesis. The Congress was just off the point, and the Cumberland a short distance above it. It was soon seen that the vessels had at last noticed their untried foe. Down came the lines of washing, signals flashed, and shortly after two o'clock the little Beaufort, which was steaming along at the port bow of the Merrimac, fired the first shot. Up the flagstaff of the Merrimac climbed the signals that spelled the order for close action.

The Congress and the Cumberland, though taken by surprise, had cast loose, served their guns in marvelous haste, and soon opened a tremendous fire, assisted by the batteries on the shore. The Merrimac swept by the Congress and made for the latter's consort. The Cumberland's broadside was across the

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