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[164] though the experiments had satisfied the Navy Department that, instead of cotton being rendered impenetrable by compression, it was really less so than in looser condition, and that iron must needs be of great thickness to resist the direct impact of heavy shot at short ranges. An officer of the navy, as skillful in ordnance as he was in seamanship, and endowed with high capacity for the investigation of new problems— Lieutenant Catesby ap R. Jones—had conducted many of these experiments, and, as will be seen hereafter, made efficient use of his knowledge both in construction and in battle.

After Virginia had seceded from the United States, but before she had acceded to the Confederate States—on April 19, 1861—General Taliaferro, in command of Virginia forces, arrived at Norfolk. Commodore McCauley, United States Navy, and commandant of the navy yard, held a conference with General Taliaferro, the result of which was ‘that none of the vessels should be removed, not a shot fired except in selfdefense.’ The excitement which had existed in the town was quieted by the announcement of this arrangement; it was soon ascertained that the Germantown and Merrimac, frigates in the port, had been scuttled, and the former otherwise injured. About midnight, as elsewhere stated, a fire was started in the navy yard, which continued to increase, involving the destruction of the ship houses, a ship of the line, and the unfinished frame of another; several frigates, in addition to those mentioned, had been scuttled and sunk; other property destroyed, to an amount estimated at several million dollars. The Pawnee, which arrived on the 19th, had been kept under steam, and, taking the Cumberland in tow, retired down the harbor, freighted with a great portion of valuable munitions and the commodore and other officers of the yard.1 In the haste and secrecy of the conflagration, a large amount of material remained uninjured. The Merrimac, a beautiful frigate in the yard for repairs, was raised by the Virginians, and the work immediately commenced, on a plan devised by Lieutenant Brooke, Confederate States Navy, to convert her hull, with such means as were available, into an ironclad vessel. Two-inch plates were prepared, and she was covered with a double-inclined roof of four inches thickness. This armor, though not sufficiently thick to resist direct shot, sufficed to protect against a glancing ball, and was as heavy as was consistent with the handling of the ship. The shield was defective in not covering the sides sufficiently below the water line, and the prow was unfortunately made of cast iron; when all the difficulties by which we were surrounded are remembered,

1 See Annual Cyclopedia, 1861, p. 536.

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