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[93] and the Department advertised for proposals. Of the various plans and propositions submitted, three vessels of different models were recommended by the board, which received the approval of the Department. Contracts were forthwith made for constructing the Monitor, the Galena, and the Ironsides. All of these vessels are now in the service. It was the intention and constant effort of the Department and the contractors that the Monitor should be completed in the month of January, but there was delay in consequence of the difficulties incident to an undertaking of such novelty and magnitude, and there were also some slight defects, which were, however, promptly remedied, and she left New York early in March, reaching Hampton Roads on the night of the 8th.

Her arrival, though not as soon as anticipated, was most opportune and important. For some time the Department had heard with great solicitude of the progress which the insurgents had made in armoring and equipping the large war steamer Merrimac, which had fallen into their hands when Norfolk was abandoned.

On the afternoon of the 8th of March this formidable vessel, heavily armored and armed, and fully prepared to operate both as a ram and a war steamer, came down the Elizabeth River, accompanied by several steamers, two of them partially armored, to attack the vessels of the blockading squadron that were in and about Hampton Roads. When the Merrimac and her attendants made their appearance, the Congress and the Cumberland, two sailing vessels, were anchored off Newport News, and the remaining vessels were in the vicinity of Fortress Monroe, some six miles distant. The Minnesota, the Roanoke, and the St. Lawrence got immediately under way and proceeded towards the scene of action.

The Congress being nearest the Merrimac was the first to receive her fire, which was promptly returned by a full broadside, the shots falling apparently harmlessly off from the armored side of the assailant. Passing by the Congress, the Merrimac dashed upon the Cumberland, and was received by her with a heavy, well directed, and vigorous fire, which, like that of the Congress, produced, unfortunately, but little effect. A contest so unequal could not be of long continuance, and it was closed when the Merrimac, availing herself of her power as a steam ram, ran furiously against the Cumberland, laying open her wooden hull, and causing her almost immediately to sink. As her guns approached the water's edge, her young commander, Lieutenant Morris, and the gallant crew stood firm at their posts delivering a parting fire, and the good ship went down heroically with her colors flying. Having thus destroyed the Cumberland, the Merrimac turned again upon the Congress, which, in the meantime, had been engaged with the smaller rebel steamers, and after a heavy loss, in order to guard against such a fate as that which had befallen the Cumberland, had been run aground. The Merrimac now selected a raking position astern of the Congress, while one of the smaller steamers poured in a constant fire on her starboard quarter. Two other steamers of the enemy also approached from James

River, firing upon the unfortunate frigate with precision and severe

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