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The vessel was by the Confederates called Virginia. She was put in commission during the last week of February, but continued crowded with mechanics until the eve of the fight. She was badly ventilated, very uncomfortable, and very unhealthy. There was an average of fifty or sixty at the hospital, in addition to the sick-list on board.

The Flag-Officer, Franklin Buchanan, was detained in Richmond in charge of an important bureau, from which he was only relieved a few days before the fight. There was no captain; the ship was commissioned and equipped by the Executive and Ordnance Officer, who had reported for duty in November. He had by special order selected her battery, and was also made responsible for its efficiency.

A trial was determined upon, although the vessel was in an incomplete condition. The lower part of the shield forward was only immersed a few inches, instead of two feet as was intended; and there was but one inch of iron on the hull. The port-shutters, &c., were unfinished.

The Virginia was unseaworthy, her engines were unreliable, and her draft, over twenty-two feet, prevented her from going to Washington. Her field of operation was therefore restricted to the bay and its immediate vicinity; there was no regular concerted movement with the army.1

The frigates Congress and Cumberland temptingly invited an attack. It was fixed for Thursday night, March 6th, 1862; the pilots, of whom there were five, having been previously consulted. The sides were slushed, supposing that it would increase the tendency of the projectiles to glance. All preparations were made, including lights at obstructions. After dark the pilots declared that they could not pilot the ship during the night. They had a high sense of their responsibility. In justice to them it should be stated that it was not easy to pilot a vessel of our great draft under favorable circumstances, and that the difficulties were much increased by the absence of lights, buoys, &c., to which they had been accustomed.

The attack was postponed to Saturday, March 8th. The weather

1 There was, however, an informal understanding between General Magruder, who commanded the Confederate forces on the Peninsula, and the Executive officer, to the effect that General Magruder should be kept advised by us, in order that his command might be concentrated near Hampton when our attack should be made. The movement was prevented in consequence of a large portion of the command having been detached just before the fight.

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