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Statement of A. B. Smith, pilot of the Cumberland.

Moore's Rebellion Record, volume 4, page 273.)
The crew of the Monitor say the balls rattled and rang upon both vessels, and seemed to bound off harmless—so far as is known neither vessel is damaged. The Merrimac is probably not injured, at least, more than the starting of a plate or so of her iron covering; and her machinery being uninjured, she is probably fit to come out again. It is impossible to keep the Merrimac from coming out. It is impossible to board the Merrimac. * * * General Wool has ordered all the women and children away from Fortress Monroe, in anticipation of the Merrimac's reappearance.

Among other authorities cited by the petitioners in support of their claim, is that of James Russel Soley, professor United States Navy, who is the author of a little book entitled ‘The Blockade and the Cruisers.’ A careful reading of the official reports of the ever memorable engagement in Hampton Roads, on the 8th and 9th of March, fails to show us that Professor Soley was a participant on either side in that remarkable battle. A glance at the preface to his book, however, enlightens us on some of the extraordinary statements he has made, and which we presume he proposes his readers to accept as authentic history. He says:

For statement of facts reliance has been chiefly placed upon the written accounts, official or unofficial, of those who took part in the [115] events recorded. * * * Finally, the writer must acknowledge his obligations to many kind friends both in and out of the service, who have aided him with valuable advice and suggestions.

Professor Soley says, among other things, in order to show that the Monitor renewed the engagement, and we do not deem it necessary, to give further attention to his statements:

But at this point the Merrimac withdrew to Norfolk. As she moved off Green fired at her twice, or, at most, three times.

From whom did Professor Soley receive this information? Not from Admiral Worden, we are sure; it is not to be found in his report. Did he get it from Captain Van Brunt's report? We fail to find it there. Did he get it from Assistant Secretary Fox? We fail to find it in his dispatches. Green does not mention it; Stimers fails to note it. Did he get it from the commander of the Merrimac? We fail to find it in his report. Did he get it from any of the commanders on duty that day? If so, he fails to inform us of the fact. Not getting it from any of these, we must recur to his preface, which we have already quoted, and conclude that this unsupported statement was derived from one of his ‘kind friends out of the service.’

It has been said that ‘claim has been made, during and since the war by Confederate officers, that the Merrimac had as much claim to honors of victory as the Monitor,’ and that “one of their number,” Captain W. H. Parker (styled by the advocates of this bill as an intelligent and candid ex-officer of the Confederate Navy), in his recent interesting ‘recollections of a naval officer,’ is frank enough to acknowledge the failure of the Merrimac. He says:

Whatever the cause, candor compels us to say that the Merrimac failed to reap the fruits of her victory. She went out to destroy the Minnesota, and do what further damage to the enemy she could. The Monitor was there to save the Minnesota. The Merrimac did not accomplish her purpose. The Monitor did.

While we fail to see anything in this statement of Captain Parker to sustain the claim of the petitioners in this bill, as he certainly does not say that the Monitor either destroyed the Merrimac or so disabled her as to force her destruction, yet we accept the witness as one who was in the engagement, and ask attention to his testimony, which we give at some length.

It will be found in Southern Historical Society Papers, volume XII, pages 34 to 40, as follows: [116]

I commanded the Beaufort in the battles of the 8th and 9th of March, and in the operations under Commodore Tatnall, to which I shall allude. In fact, I may say I commanded a consort of the Merrimac from the time she was put in commission until she was blown up. I therefore profess to be familiar with her history.

(I.) After the battle of the 9th of March the Merrimac went into dock to replace the prow or ram which had been lost in sinking the Cumberland, to exchange some of her guns, and to make some small repairs to her armor and machinery. On the 11th of April Commodore Tatnall, who had succeeded Commodore Buchanan in the command, went down with his entire squadron, consisting of the Merrimac, Patrick Henry, Jamestown, Teazer, Beaufort and Raleigh, to offer battle to the Federal fleet, then lying in Hampton Roads, or below Old Point.

The Merrimac was the only iron-clad. Upon the appearance of our squadron the entire Federal fleet retreated below the Rip Raps, or under the guns of Old Point. Three merchant vessels were run on shore by their masters between Newport News and Old Point, and were partially abandoned. The Jamestown and Raleigh towed them off almost under the guns of Old Point and the Federal fleet. Their flags were hauled down and hoisted union down under the Confederate flag, as a defiance to induce the fleet to attempt to retake them. The fleet, under Flag-Officer Goldsborough, consisted of a large number of wooden vessels, some of them very heavy frigates— the Monitor, the Naugatuck (a small iron-clad), and even the Vanderbilt, a powerful steamer, specially prepared ‘to run down and sink the Merrimac.’

An English and a French man-of-war were present in the Roads, and went up off Newport News evidently to witness the serious engagement which we at least expected. Their crews repeatedly waved their hats and handkerchiefs to our vessels as we passed and repassed them during the day.

The Merrimac, with her consorts, held possession of the Roads, and defied the enemy to battle during the entire day and for several days after—the Federal fleet lying in the same position below Old Point.

Towards sunset of the first day the Merrimac fired a single gun at the enemy; it was immediately replied to by the Naugatuck, lying, I think, inside Hampton Bar.

I do not know what Commodore Tatnall thought about attacking the Federal fleet as it stood, nor do I know what his instructions were, but I do know that our officers generally believed that torpedoes had been placed in the channel between Old Point and the Rip-Raps; indeed, we supposed that to be the reason why Flag-Officer Goldsborough declined to fight us in the Roads. Moreover, fighting the entire fleet—Monitor, Naugatuck, Vanderbilt, and all in the Roads—was one thing, and fighting the same under the guns of Old Point and the Rip-Raps was another.

(2.) The Merrimac remained for some days in this position, offering [117] battle, and protecting the approaches to Norfolk and Richmond, and then went up to the navy-yard to water.

I think it was on the 8th day of May that Flag-Officer Goldsborough took advantage of her absence to bombard Sewell's Point with a number of his vessels, the Monitor, Galena and Naugatuck included, all three iron-clads. When the fact was known in Norfolk the Merrimac cast off from her moorings and steamed down to take a hand in the fight. As soon as her smoke was seen the entire fleet fled, and again took refuge below the guns of Old Point, where the Merrimac declined to pursue for reasons satisfactory to her gallant commander.

From this time until the 10th of May the Merrimac maintained the same attitude. On that day she was blown up by her commander in consequence of the evacuation of Norfolk by the Confederates. Then, and not till then, was Commodore John Rodgers sent up the James River with the Galena, Monitor and Naugatuck, all iron-clads, to attack Drewry's Bluff or Fort Darling, and make an attempt on Richmond.

From the above mentioned facts we think it clearly appears (1) that the Monitor, after her engagement with the Merrimac on the 9th of March, never again dared encounter her, though offered frequent opportunities; (2) that so much doubt existed in the minds of the Federal authorities as to her power to meet the Merrimac, that orders were given her commander not to fight her voluntarily; that the Merrimac, so far from being seriously injured in her engagement, efficiently protected the approaches to Norfolk and Richmond until Norfolk was evacuated; that the Merrimac could not have gotten to Washington or Baltimore in her normal condition; that she could not have gone to sea at all; that although she could have run by the Federal fleet and Old Point (barring torpedoes in the channel) and threatened McClellan's base at Yorktown, in exceptionally good weather, yet would have had to leave the James River open.

It may be proper to recur again to the testimony of Captain Byers, and to say that it is only necessary to read his statement to come to the conclusion that it cannot be relied on, and that his important statements are not sustained by the weight of all the other testimony, and that he held no position or advantage by which he could have possibly obtained much of the information which he gives. As his testimony, however, has been relied upon to sustain the claim of the petitioners, it is, perhaps, proper to give it some further notice.

There is no evidence that he had any position, either officially or otherwise, to entitle him to the confidence of the officers of the Merrimac so as to induce them to show him over their ship at such a [118] critical time, and to confide to him the important information which was given to no other person.

(1.) That the Merrimac could have easily destroyed the Minnesota on Saturday [March 8th], but they did not wish to harm her; she would be too valuable to them as a prize. They felt sure of her on the morrow, with all the other craft in the Roads and at anchor at Fortress Monroe.

Did Captain Byers get this valuable information from the commanding officer of the Merrimac, or from whom? He fails to enlighten us on this subject. Not from the Secretary of the United States Navy, for he tells you in his annual report of December 1, 1862, that the Minnesota

Which had also got aground in the shallow waters of the channel, became the special object of attack, and the Merrimac, with the Yorktown and Jamestown, bore down upon her. The Merrimac drew too much water to approach very near, and her fire was not, therefore, particularly effective. The other steamers selected their positions, fired with much accuracy, and caused considerable damage to the Minnesota. She soon, however, succeeded in getting a gun to bear on the two smaller steamers, and drove them away, one apparently in a crippled condition. About 7 P. M. the Merrimac also hauled off, and all three stood toward Norfolk.

(Van Brunt and Catesby Jones and others, make this same statement.)

Captain Byers further states, that ‘the Merrimac lay in dry-dock repairing and strengthening for six weeks,’ &c. Compare this with all of the other testimony and see how inaccurate it is. (Professor Soley says that she was out in less than a month. All the testimony shows beyond a doubt that Byers was incorrect.) Again Captain Byers says:

After the Merrimac was repaired and came out of dock, the only thing she did was to form part of an expedition to go out into the Roads to attempt to capture the Monitor.

The expedition was made up of the Merrimac and two tugs, manned by thirty volunteers on each tug-boat. They were all armed and provided with iron wedges and top mauls and tar balls. The plan was to board her, a tug on each side landing the men, and throwing lighted tar balls down through the ventilator, and wedge up the turret so it would not revolve. They took my steamer as one of the boats, but I refused to command her or go with her.


The expedition did not succeed in its mission. Why not? Hear Captain Byers s answer:

Luckily for the Merrimac and the tugs, the Monitor did not come out over the bar to give them a chance to try the experiment.

So it seems that Captain Byers holding no place either civil or military in the Confederate Government—a man of no known prominence or character—simply the master of a little trading boat, which had come from the North and had been for some time around Norfolk, waiting an opportunity to escape into the Union lines-which he did at the first opportunity—was invited to join in this expedition, an expedition composed of some of the best and bravest men in the Confederacy, who were fighting for their homes, their firesides, their household gods, and their loved ones, an expedition which they had cause to believe at that time was ‘even unto the death’—was taken into the confidence of the commander of the Merrimac, invited to take part in this very perilous expedition, and given full details of all his plans. Can enlightened human credulity go further than to place reliance on such statements?

Holding to these views, we respectfully report adversely to the passage of the bill.

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