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Doc. 93.-the loss of the Monitor.


Report of Commander Bankhead.

United States steamer Rhode Island, January 1, 1862.
sir: I have the honor to report to you that the Monitor left Hampton Roads in tow of the United States steamer Rhode Island, on the twenty-ninth of December, 1862, at half-past 2 P. M., wind light at south-west, weather clear and pleasant, and every prospect of its continuation. Passed Cape Henry at six P. M. ; water smooth, and every thing looking well. During the night the weather continued the same until five A. M., when we began to experience a swell from the southward, with a slight increase of the wind from the south-west, the sea breaking over the pilot-house forward and striking the base of the tower, but not with sufficient force to break over it. Found that the packing of oakum under and around the base of the tower had loosened somewhat from the working of the tower as the vessel pitched and rolled. Speed at this time about five knots. Ascertained from the engineer of the watch that the bilge-pumps kept her perfectly free — occasionally sucking. Felt no apprehension at the time. The weather during the day, and until six P. M., was variable, with occasional squalls of wind and rain, and toward evening the swell somewhat decreased, the bilge-pumps being found amply sufficient to keep her clear of the water that penetrated through the sight-holes of the pilot-house, hawser-hole and base of tower, all of which had been well caulked previous to leaving.

At half-past 7 the wind hauled more to the south, increasing in strength, and causing the sea to rise. Computed position at this time about fifteen miles south of Cape Hatteras shoals. Found the vessel towed badly, yawing very much, and with the increased motion making somewhat more water around the base of the tower. Ordered the engineer to put on the Worthington pump bilge injection and get the centrifugal pump ready, and to report to me immediately if he perceived any increase of the water.

The sea about this time (eight P. M.) commenced to rise very rapidly, causing the vessel to plunge heavily, completely submerging the pilot-house, and washing over and into turret, and, at times, into the blower-pipes. Observed that when she rose to the swell the flat under-surface of the projecting armor would come down with great force, causing a considerable shock to the vessel and turret, thereby loosening still more the packing around its base. Signalized several times to the Rhode Island to stop, in order that I might ascertain if, by so doing, she would ride easier or decrease the influx of water, but could perceive no difference, the vessel falling off immediately into the trough of the sea, and rolling heavily. The engineer at this time reported that it would be necessary to start the centrifugal pump, as the others failed to keep the water under. Ordered him to do so immediately, and report to me the effect. Sea continued to rise; the vessel striking heavily forward. The engineer reported that the pumps were all working well, but produced no effect upon the water, which, by this time, had risen several inches above the level of the engine-room floor.

About half-past 10 P. M., having given the pumps a fair trial, and finding the water gaining rapidly upon us, I determined to make the preconcerted signal of distress, which was immediately answered by the Rhode Island. I ranged up close to her and reported that the water was gaining rapidly upon us, and requested her commander to send boats to take off the crew. Finding that the heavy stream cable, used to tow the Monitor, rendered the vessel unmanageable, while [326] hanging slack to her bow. and, being under the absolute necessity of working the engines to keep the pumps going, I ordered it to be cut, and ran down close under the lee of the Rhode Island, at times almost touching her. Water continued to gain upon the pumps, and was now above the ash-pits.

Two boats reached us from the Rhode Island, when I ordered Lieutenant Green to put as many men into them as they would safely carry. While getting the men into the boats — a very dangerous operation, caused by the heavy sea breaking entirely over the deck — the vessels touched slightly, nearly crushing the boat, and endangering the Rhode Island herself, as our sharp bow and sides would undoubtedly have stove her near the water's edge, had she struck upon us heavily. The Rhode Island steamed slightly ahead, and the vessels separated a short distance.

At half-past 11, my engines working slowly, and all the pumps in full play, but the water gaining rapidly; sea very heavy and breaking entirely over the vessel, rendering it extremely hazardous to leave the turret — in fact, several men were supposed to have been washed overboard at the time. While waiting for the boats to return, the engineer reported that the engines had ceased to work, and shortly after all the pumps stopped also, the water putting out the fires, and having no pressure of steam. A bailing party had been previously organized, not so much with any hope of diminishing the water, but more as an occupation for the men. The engine being stopped, and no longer able to keep the vessel's head to sea, she having fallen off into the trough, and rolling so heavily as to render it impossible for boats to approach us, I ordered the anchor to be let go and all the chain given her, in hopes that it might bring her up. Fortunately it did so, and she once more swung round, head to wind. By this time, finding the vessel filling rapidly, and the deck on a level with the water, I ordered all the men left on board to leave the turret and endeavor to get into the two boats which were then approaching us. I think, at that time, there were about twenty-five or thirty men on board. The boats approached very cautiously, as the sea was breaking upon our now submerged deck with great violence, washing several men overboard, one of whom was afterward picked up by the boats. I secured the painter of one of the boats, which by the use of its oars was prevented from striking the side, and made as many get into her as she would safely hold in the heavy sea that was running. There were several men still left upon and in the turret, who, either stupefied by fear, or fearful of being washed overboard in the attempt to reach the boats, would not come down, and are supposed to have gone down in the vessel. Feeling that I had done every thing in my power to save the vessel and crew, I jumped into the already deeply-laden boat, and left the Monitor, whose heavy, sluggish motion gave evidence that she could float but a short time longer. Shortly after we reached the Rhode Island she disappeared.

I must testify to the untiring efforts and zeal displayed by Captain Trenchard, and his officers, in their attempts to rescue the crew of the Monitor. It was an extremely hazardous undertaking, rendered particularly so by the heavy sea, and the difficulty in approaching the Monitor. While regretting those that were lost, it is still a matter of congratulation that so many were saved under the circumstances. There is some reason to hope that a boat, which is still missing, may have succeeded in saving those left on board, or may have reached the vicinity of the vessel in time to have picked up some of them after she went down.

Upon mustering the officers and crew on board the Rhode Island, four officers and twelve men were found to be missing, a list of whom I herewith inclose, as well as the report of Second Assistant Engineer Waters, acting Chief-Engineer.

I am firmly of the opinion that the Monitor must have sprung a leak somewhere in the forward part, where the hull joins on to the armor, and that it was caused by the heavy shocks received as she came down upon the sea. The bilge-pumps, alone, up to seven P. M., had easily kept her free, and when we find that all her pumps, a short time after, with a minimum capacity of two thousand gallons per minute, not only failed to diminish the water, but, on the contrary, made no perceptible change in its gradual increase, we must come to the conclusion that there are, at least, good grounds for my opinion.

Before closing my report, I must testify to the coolness, prompt obedience, and absence of any approach to panic, on the part of the officers, and, with but few exceptions, on that of the crew, many of whom were at sea for the first time, and, it must be admitted, under circumstances that were well calculated to appall the boldest heart. I would beg leave to call the attention of the Admiral and of the Department to the particularly good conduct of Lieut. Greene and Acting Master L. N. Stodder, who remained with me until the last, and by their bearing did much toward inspiring confidence and obedience on the part of others. I must also mention favorably Acting Master's Mate Peter Williams, and Richard Anjior, Quartermaster, who both showed on that occasion the highest qualities of men and seamen. The latter remained at his post at the wheel when the vessel was sinking, and when told by me to get into the boat, replied: “No, sir; not till you go.” The officers and crew have lost every thing but the clothes they wore at the time they were rescued.

There were no serious injuries received, with the exception of Acting Assistant Surgeon G. M. Weeks, who jammed his hand so badly as to require a partial amputation of several of his fingers. Every attention and kindness has been shown to us by Captain Trenchard and his officers, to whom we all feel deeply grateful.

Very respectfully your obedient servant,

J. P. Bankhead, Commander. Acting Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee, Commanding North-Atlantic Blockading Squadron.


[327]

Official report of Commander Trenchard.

United States steamer Rhode Island, Hampton roads, January 3, 1868.
sir: I have the honor to report, in conformity with your orders of the twenty-fourth ultimo, that the Rhode Island proceeded to sea with the iron-clad steamer Monitor in tow, at half-past 2 P. M. of the twenty-ninth ultimo, the wind being light from the southward and westward, with a smooth sea. The weather continued favorable during the night, and the Monitor towed easily; speed ranging between five and six miles per hour. At one P. M. of the thirtieth, made Cape Hatteras lighthouse, bearing west-south-west, fourteen miles distant. The weather during the day continued the same. At sunset, when seventeen miles south-east of Cape Hatteras, made the steamer State of Georgia with the Passaic in tow, to the northward and eastward of us, the wind being light at the time from southward and westward, with indications of good weather. Between eight and nine P. M. the wind freshened, hauling more to the southward, and attended with rainy and squally weather.

At nine P. M. the Monitor made signals to stop. We stopped the engines, starting them again soon after. During the interval, the Monitor appeared to be lying in the trough of the sea, laboring heavily, the sea making a complete breach over her. The steamer was then brought head to wind and sea, under easy steam, and the Monitor rode much easier, and made better weather. About two hours afterward, (eleven P. M.,) when about twenty miles south-south-west of Cape Hatteras, Commander Bankhead made signals for assistance, and upon hailing, we learned the Monitor was in a sinking condition. We lowered our launch and first cutter without delay, and commenced getting her crew on board. While so engaged, the Monitor ranged upon our port-quarter, staving in the launch, and to prevent a serious collision, by which the Rhode Island would have been badly injured, it was necessary to force the steamer ahead a little. While under our quarter, ropes were thrown on board the Monitor, but so reluctant did the crew appear to leave their vessel, that they did not take advantage of this opportunity to save themselves.

The vessels now being separated, a third boat was then lowered, to assist the others in getting the crew on board. Acting Master's Mate Brown, the officer in charge of the first cutter, deserves special credit for the skilful manner in which he managed his boat, having made two trips to the Monitor, and rescuing a number of her men. Encouraged by the success attending them, Mr. Brown started on another trip, and soon after was hailed, and directed to lie on his oars, or drop astern, and be towed up, as the Rhode Island would steam for the Monitor as soon as the men could be got on board from the boats alongside, and the boats hoisted up. Mr. Brown, perhaps not understanding the order, proceeded on in the direction of the Monitor, whose red light from her turret was still visible, but by the time the steamer was ready to turn her wheels, the light had unfortunately disappeared.

Half-past 1 P. M., on the thirtieth ult.--The steamer proceeded slowly in the direction which the Monitor bore when last seen, and endeavored to keep her position as near as possible throughout the night, burning Coston's night-signals at intervals.

After daylight, not seeing any thing of the missing boat, I decided to cruise between the position she had separated from us and Cape Hatteras, and the extremity of its shoals, with the hope of falling in with her. This plan was carried out, and the day (thirty-first ultimo) was passed in this way, but I regret to say, without success. It is possible, however, that the boat may have been picked up by one of the numerous vessels that were seen off the coast on that day. The boat was buoyant, had a good crew, and no doubt well managed, and I entertain hope that her daring crew have been saved by some passing vessel.

Acting Ensign Taylor, the officer who had charge of the launch, which had rendered good service, speaks in high praise of the gallant conduct of Acting Master's Mate Stevens, who when the launch was manning, went quietly into the boat, took one of the oars, and while alongside the Monitor, in striving to save others, was himself washed from the boat, but was rescued by the first cutter. Mr. Taylor also speaks in high terms of David T. Compton, Cockswain of the launch, who when the boat was stove and rendered unfit for service, oarlocks broken, declared he would not leave the boat, but would go to the Monitor even if he had to scull the boat.

I inclose herewith a list of the men in the missing boat belonging to the Rhode Island.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Stephen D. Trenchard, Commander. Acting Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee, Commanding North-Atlantic Blockading Squadron, Hampton Road.

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