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[24] that the enemy were within half a mile of the city in treaty with the mayor for its surrender. About 7 P. M. he reached the Merrimac with his report, and at this hour all the batteries on the river and Craney Island had been abandoned by our troops. The night was fast approaching, and what was to be done must be done quickly. It had been decided previously that the Merrimac could accomplish nothing in York river by reason of its width and many creeks of refuge. The ascent of the Potomac to Washington, except in good weather, was impracticable. A venture outside the capes was an impossibility. Battle with the Federal fleet in the Roads on their own terms gave no encouragement. It had been previously declined, and now, with our base of supplies in the hands of our enemies, they had but to keep out of our way and ten days or a week would bring the crew of the Merrimac face to face with starvation and capitulation.

In the emergency, and under the assurance of the pilots that if the ship were lightened to eighteen feet she could be carried to within forty miles of Richmond. Commodore Tatnall called his crew to quarters, and informed them of his purpose. With a cheer they set to work to lighten ship, dumping overboard all heavy stones, ballast, and pig-iron which had been put aboard to bring her down in the water to fighting trim. Commodore Tatnall being unwell had retired to rest. Between 1 and 2 A. M. of the 11th, he was aroused by Lieutenant Ap. Catesby Jones, with the report that after the crew had been at work some five hours, and had lightened the ship so as to expose her hull and render her unfit for action, the pilots now said the ship could not be carried with eighteen feet above Jamestown Flats. Some distance above this point the river was in possession of the enemy on both banks. Tatnall demanded of his pilots the reason for their deception or change of opinion. They replied eighteen feet could be carried over Jamestown Flats during the prevalence of easterly winds, but as the wind had been westerly for several days they were unwilling to make the attempt.

The wooden hull was now above water and entirely defenceless against shot and shell. Her ballast had been thrown overboard, and nothing was at hand to bring her down in the water again. To engage the Federal fleet was now hopeless and shorn of every prospect of success. The attempt must meet with certain destruction and great sacrifice of life.

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