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To guard against the occupation of these waterways (as well as in prosecuting a cherished scheme in dominating the mouth of the Mother of Waters, destroying the Federal shipping in Hampton Roads, isolating and perhaps starving out the garrison at Fortress Monroe, and ultimately obtaining free ingress and egress via the capes for ships of war and commerce), the Confederates had spent the previous winter in fitting up at a captured navyyard a marine structure of such impervious strength and destructive armament as to justify the most extravagant hopes. For this purpose the United States steam frigate Merrimac, which had been abondoned by the Federals when they hastily evacuated the Elizabeth river, in April, 1861, was utilized. She was cut down, heavily armored with railroad iron laid on a stout and sloping deck roof, was provided with a steel snout or ram for offensive purposes and carried ten guns of a calibre hitherto unknown in naval warfare. She was rechristened the Virginia, and entered upon her brief but glorious career under the flag of Admiral Franklin Buchanan. Simultaneously the Confederate government had improvised from the scant materials at hand what was known as the James river fleet—the Patrick Henry and Jamestown (formerly plying as freight and passenger steamers between New York and Richmond, and caught in Southern waters at the commencement of hostilities); the former under Commander John R. Tucker, carrying twelve guns of modern force; the latter under Lieutenat Barney, with a battery of two heavy pieces; and three tugs metamorphosed into gunboats and carrying a single gun each; the Teazer, the Beaufort and the Raleigh, commanded respectively by Lieutenants W. A. Webb, W. H. Parker and J. W. Alexander. Early in March these vessels made rendezvous at a harbor in the lower James, convenient for communication with Norfolk, and on the 7th of that month the senior officer was notified to be in readiness for action on the following day — a day to be forever memorable in naval annals.

The events are yet fresh in a mind which was filled with pride and enthusiasm while witnessing them, but in this attempt to reproduce the leading features I shall verify and enlarge my recollections by liberal use of the official reports of the participants on either side of the heroic struggle.

The night before the battle a whisper went through the scattered camps of Huger's Division, from Sewell's Point to Suffolk, like an electric shock: ‘The Virginia is going out to-morrow!’ It was one of those secrets which telepathy betrays, and which once abroad

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