[The writer of the following, the Rev. R. C. Foute, participated in the scenes he so vividly depicts as a midshipman on the ‘Virginia.’]
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hip-hip, hurrah!
from thousands of throats.
With waving handkerchiefs, and the wildest shouts of joy, and mad delight the battle-scarred ‘Virginia
’ steamed slowly back to her moorings at the Gosport Navy-yard
, after her famous encounter with the United States fleet in Hampton Roads
on that ever-memorable 9th of March, 1862.
No conqueror of ancient Rome
ever enjoyed a prouder triumph than that which greeted us. The whole populace swarmed out into the streets, and packed the wharves, while hundreds of boats flying the ‘Stars and Bars,’ and tugs and steamers innumerable filled the harbor; and the batteries on <*>
out their deep diapason in a grand chorus of sound that rent the very heavens above.
And no wonder.
No vessel ever accomplished so great things before or since in so brief a time.
For this first cruise of the ‘Virginia
,’ it must be remembered, began on Saturday, the 8th of March, and ended Sunday afternoon; scarce thirty-four hours
! During that time she had been under the concentrated fire of more than a hundred guns for nearly twelve hours, and as a result she was a sight to behold.
The huge smoke-stack was perforated like a pepper-box.
Everything aloft was swept away like stubble.
While her solid wrought-iron armor-plating was battered and scarred in nearly a score of places, the most serious of which came from the one hundred and eighty pound shots of the ‘Monitor.’
But for all this she was not disabled.
She returned to the navy-yard chiefly for the purpose of taking on board a supply of steel-pointed, armor-piercing shot for use against the ‘Monitor;’ which up to that moment was ‘an unknown quantity’ in the annals of naval warfare.
In our first engagement with the ‘Monitor’ our magazines contained only shell
and a few round shots
for heating; as we were prepared to give battle to wooden vessels
only, never once expecting to meet another ‘iron-clad’ on our cruise around Hampton Roads
We went into the dry-dock at once.
The one thing now for the ‘Virginia
’ to do was to destroy the ‘Monitor.’
We believed it could be done.
This was the question that occupied officers and crew on watch and off watch continually.
What was to be done with the ‘Monitor?’
Well, I'll tell you what we decided to do with her, capture her alive
! With this express object in view, and for this very purpose, we organized a boarding party, consisting of four divisions, and each division assigned to its own special part of the work.
Volunteers were called for to join in the undertaking.
So daring was the enterprise regarded that no one was compelled to join in it.
I can remember now, through the mists of thirty years, how we younsters in the midshipmens' mess confidently expected to return from our next engagement with the ‘Monitor’ in tow as our prisoner
! Then with our two iron-clads we would quietly proceed to capture New York and Boston
, and everything else on the coast that dared to oppose us. Inspired by this hope, and full of confidence, we exerted ourselves to the uttermost, and spared no pains to make the expedition a success.
The boarding party numbered
about fifty, and every man was drilled in his own particular part like a veteran, during all the time we spent in the dry-dock.
The plan was very simple, and seemed entirely practicable, provided we should not all be blown out of the water before it could be carried into execution.
Any how we were prepared to try it; and it was this: We had four of our smaller gunboats ready to take the party, some of each division on each vessel.
One division was provided with grappling-irons and lines; another with wedges and mallets; another with tarpaulins, and the fourth chloroform, hand grenades, etc. I venture the assertion that no other expedition ever started into battle similarly armed.
Well, the idea was for all four of these vessels to pounce down on the ‘Monitor’ at the same time; on a given signal, and from different directions, all hands were to rush on board, wedge the turret so as to prevent its revolving, then scale its sides, deluge the interior with chloroform by breaking the bottles on the upper deck, and then cover the turret and pilot-house with tarpaulins, and wait for the crew to surrender.
On the 11th day of April, just one month after the fight in Hampton Roads
, we got under way and steamed down the river again ‘eager for the fray,’ and confidently expecting to carry out our plan of ‘boarding
’ before night.
But the little ‘cheese-box’— ‘Monitor’—as the sailors called it, never gave us a chance.
She had orders to stay where she was; and that was—‘out of reach.’
So we saved our chloroform and—our necks.
These two pioneers of modern naval warfare — the ‘Virginia
’ and the ‘Monitor’—never exchanged shots again, although within sight of each other for weeks.
And a few months later they were both destroyed; the former having been burned by her own crew, and the latter foundering at sea off Cape Hatteras
, on her way to Charleston