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[212] gay with little blue flags that nodded to the wind and bowed to the tide as it began to flow.

The birds skimmed lightly over its surface, and looked through the grasses at that splendid array of death-dealing monsters, as they gracefully moved about for positions in line before starting on the hunt for the Albemarle.

The sun rose beautifully, and the air was glorious; there was nothing to disturb the sway of the grasses or the chirp of the little marsh birds.

Over all that wide expanse of water there was nothing to suggest the desperate encounter and inglorious defeat that awaited the great fleet which floated so grandly over Pamlico Sound. The scene resembled preparations for review.

Everything in readiness, the column headed for the mouth of the river, the Mattabesett leading, but the movement was so deliberate, and the order so perfect, no one could have believed that one single vessel would drive them back. It was not reasonable. It could not be possible.

The double-enders were ordered to pass as close to the Albemarle as they could, deliver fire, then get out of line as quickly as possible and round to for a second discharge if necessary, while the gunboats and transports were to open from below.

Torpedoes were provided to each boat and instructions given to use them liberally, and, if possible, destroy the propeller of the Confederate ram.

The vessels of the squadron sent to attack the Albemarle exceeded in numbers the entire Confederate Navy at that time.

However, the ram had twice before demonstrated its ability to take care of itself even against great odds.

As the Federal fleet rounded into the river, they sighted the Second Merrimac, as she steamed toward them. Captain Cooke opened with a shot from one of his rifles, which was quickly followed by another and another.

The aim was skillful. The first shot cut the rail and spars away from the Mattabesett and wounded six or seven men.

Captain Cooke put on all the steam at his command and made for the Yankee boats. By this time the Sassacus came into position and fired a broadside from her 9-inch guns, but such shot as struck the ram skimmed off into the air, and even the 100-pound rifle shells glanced off as they struck her sloping sides.

By this time five of the Yankee boats were firing on the ram as

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