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Chapter 12: fight between the Merrimac and Monitor, March 8, 1862.

  • Appearance of the Merrimac.
  • -- destruction of the Congress and Cumberland. -- arrival of the Monitor. -- the fight.

While the Federal arms were so successful in the sounds of North Carolina, a great disaster overtook the Federal cause in Hampton Roads, filling the country with dismay, and even bringing many of the Union people to doubt the success of the cause for which they had labored so hard.

When the Union naval officers set fire to the buildings of the Norfolk Navy Yard, they supposed they had taken such precautions that everything of value would be destroyed, but as soon as the Federals had departed a detachment of Virginia volunteers rushed in to extinguish the flames. The Merrimac had been sunk, but the lower part of her hull and her engines and boilers were substantially uninjured.

Lieutenant John M. Brooke, one of the most accomplished officers among those who had left our Navy and joined the Confederate cause, visited the scene of the conflagration, and it at once occurred to him that the Merrimac could be rebuilt as an iron-clad; and his plans being accepted by Mr. Mallory, the Secretary of the Confederate Navy, orders were issued to have them carried out at once.

The vessel was raised and cut down to the old berth deck, both ends for a distance of seventy feet were covered over, and when the ship was in fighting trim were just awash. On the midship section, a length of one hundred and seventy feet was built over, the sides being at an angle of fifty-five degrees, a roof of oak and pitch pine extending from the water line to a height of seven feet above the gun-deck. Both ends of this structure were rounded, so that the pivot guns could be used as bow and stern chasers, or quartering; over the gun-deck was a light grating, making a promenade twenty feet wide.

The wood backing was covered with iron plates rolled at the Tredagar Works in Richmond. These plates were eight inches wide and two inches thick. The first covering was put on horizontally, the second up and down, making a total thickness of iron of four inches, strongly bolted to the woodwork and clinched inside.

The ram, or prow,was of cast-iron, projecting four feet, and, as was found subsequently, was badly secured. The rudder and propeller were entirely unprotected. The pilot-house was forward of the smoke-stack and covered with the same thickness of iron as the sides.

The motive power was the same as had been in the ship before; both boilers and engines were very defective, and the vessel was not capable of making more than five knots an hour.

Another able officer, formerly of the United States Navy, Lieut. Catesby ap R. Jones, had charge of the preparation of the Merrimac's armament, and to his skill was due the efficiency of her battery. It consisted of two seven-inch rifles, re-enforced with three-inch steel bands shrunk around the breech; these were the bow and stern pivots. There were in broadside two six-inch rifles similar to the above, and six nine-inch smooth-bores — in all ten heavy guns.

When this formidable vessel was completed the name of the Virginia was bestowed upon her, and she was placed under the command of Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan, who had resigned from the United States Navy, where he had reaped the highest [120] rewards that could be bestowed in time of peace. He was a man of undoubted courage, and his professional ability was of the first order. Buchanan was fortunate in surrounding himself with excellent officers, men capable of performing any naval duty, and no commander was ever better seconded by his subordinates.

The crew of the iron-clad were not all seamen, but that was comparatively unimportant as there were no sails to handle. Gunners were selected from the army at Richmond,

Commodore Franklin Buchanan, Commander of the Merrimac.

and they proved to be excellent men for the duty required of them.

The officers of this historic vessel were as follows:

Lieutenants, Catesby ap R. Jones (Executive and ordnance officer), Lieutenants Charles C. Simms, Robert D. Minor (Flag), Hunter Davidson, John Taylor Wood. J. R. Eggleston, Walter Butt; Midshipmen, Fonte, Marmaduke, Littlepage, Craig, Long and Rootes; Paymaster, Semple; Surgeon, Phillips; Assistant Surgeon, Algernon S. Garnett; Captain of Marines, Reuben Thorn; Engineer, Ramsay; Assistants, Tynan, Campbell, Herring, Jack and White; Boatswain, Hasker; Gunner, Oliver; Carpenter, Lindsay; Clerk, Arthur Sinclair, Jr.; Volunteer Aid, Lieut. Douglas Forrest; Captain, Kevil, commanding detachment of Norfolk United Infantry.

Thus equipped, officered and manned, the iron-clad represented at the moment the most powerful fighting ship in the world, and the Federal Government might well feel uneasy at the tidings they received of this monster which threatened to carry destruction all along the Northern coast.

The government was not, however, aware of the rapidity and energy with which the Confederates had conducted their work; in fact, in this instance the Navy Department was rather taken by surprise, and was not quite up to the mark, for as a general rule it had shown great energy in improvising a Navy.

There were several large steam frigates at that time which might have been cut down and covered with iron in much better fashion than was done in the case of the Merrimac. The Department, it is true, had contracted for iron-clad vessels, but two of them were far behind time in building, and the other was a “little nondescript” that no one in the Navy Department, with the [121] exception of Commodore Joseph Smith, had any confidence in. This vessel, designed by John Ericsson, was to be paid for only in case she proved successful against the enemy's batteries; but had the steam frigates been cut down and plated we need have given little anxiety to the appearance of the Merrimac or any other vessel, and would have been first in the field with this new factor in war which was to revolutionize naval warfare.

But there are many things we cannot account for — we received humiliation at first to teach us not to underrate an enemy. Providence came to our assistance in our emergency with “Ericsson's nondescript,” to show what skill and enterprise could do in behalf of the Union.

As the Monitor of Ericsson approached completion the Navy Department hurried the work on learning that the Merrimac was further advanced than they had supposed.

This was in consequence of the fact that Commander D. D. Porter had been sent to New York to examine the vessel, and report his opinion as to her capacity to deal with an enemy. After a thorough examination of all the details of the vessel, Commander Porter telegraphed to the Navy Department: “This is the strongest fighting vessel in the world, and can whip anything afloat.” But when he returned to Washington a few days after he was laughed at by a high official, and a clever one at that: “Why, man,” he said, “John Lenthall predicts that Ericsson's vessel will sink as soon as she is launched.”

Mr. Lenthall was unquestionably high authority, but he was certainly mistaken on this occasion. Like most others he looked upon the nondescript as a clever scheme to obtain money from the government, but he subsequently did ample justice to Ericsson and built many vessels after the distinguished inventor's models, which for a time placed the United States Government ahead of all other naval powers. We did not long maintain this position however, for our statesmen do not appreciate the necessity of a navy sufficient to protect our extensive coasts and sixty millions of people, so we have fallen back into our original condition, without a single iron-clad that would command the respect of the weakest nations; yet Ericsson still lives, with vigor unimpaired and intellect as bright as when his Monitor saved the honor of the country nearly a quarter of a century ago.

A month before the Monitor was launched the Confederates, through their spies, had learned the exact condition of the vessel and the day on which she would probably be put into the water; in consequence of which information the number of workmen on the Merrimac was doubled and the work carried on by day and by night. This extra energy made all the difference in the world, and doubtless gained the one day which enabled the Confederate vessel to commit such havoc without any effectual opposition.

Lieut. John L. Worden, who had been assigned to the command of the Monitor, watched her building for several months, urging on the work by every means in his power, in which he was heartily supported by the inventor. When the vessel was launched and equipped, Lieut. Worden started at once for Hampton Roads, without a trial trip, and with no means of judging how the vessel was going to behave. At one time on his passage to Hampton Roads, he was doubtful if the little Monitor

Lieut. Catesby Ap R. Jones, (executive officer of the Merrimac.)

would live through the rough seas and arrive in time to be of any assistance to our fleet; or, even if she did arrive, whether she could accomplish what her inventor claimed for her. In fact Worden was somewhat doubtful whether he should ever again set foot on land, for his vessel was almost inundated and leaking apparently enough to sink her.

In the meantime the Merrimac, alias Virginia, was all ready to leave the Norfolk Navy Yard on what was said to be her trial trip, and up to the last moment she was filled with mechanics working to complete her.

On the 8th of March, 1862, the iron-clad got under way and proceeded down Elizabeth River. cheered by hundreds of people who crowded the banks, and as she passed [122]

Map showing Fortress Monroe, Newport news, Chesapeake Bay, James River, and surrounding country.


Craney Island and through the obstructions, the ramparts of the fort were lined with soldiers who shouted success to her until their throats were hoarse. Thus the Merrimac started off with all the glamor of success, for there was no one on board who doubted that she could destroy the fleet then lying in the roads.

Buchanan and his officers knew the weak points of every vessel in the Federal fleet, and the number and calibre of their guns. He knew that none of their shot could pierce the Merrimac and that he could choose his distance and fire with his rifled guns at the ships as if at a target, should

A. prow of steel: b. wooden Bulwark: h. Pilot House: dd. iron under water: c. propeller: the Merrimac. (from a sketch made the day before the fight.)

he think proper to do so. Instead of making it a “trial trip,” as first intended, Buchanan determined to make it a day of triumph for the Confederate Navy.

At this time there was at anchor in Hampton Roads, off Fortress Monroe, the Minnesota, of forty guns, Capt. Van Brunt; Roanoke, of forty guns, Capt. Marston; St. Lawrence, fifty guns, Capt. Purviance; and several army transports. Seven miles above, off Newport News, lay the Congress, fifty guns, and the Cumberland, thirty guns. Newport News was well fortified and garrisoned by a large Union force.

It was a beautiful day, following a storm. The water was smooth and the vessels in the Roads swung lazily at their anchors. Boats hung to the swinging booms,washed clothes on the lines, nothing indicated that an enemy was expected, and no one had, apparently, the least idea that the Merrimac was ready for service. The utmost ignorance seems to have prevailed in our squadron with regard to her capacity to do harm.

The writer was in Hampton Roads a short time previous to the appearance of the Merrimac, and while standing on the wharf a decent looking mechanic landed from a small boat. He told the writer that he had escaped from Norfolk, where he had been employed on the Merrimac, which vessel he said was very formidable and nearly completed. His account of affairs was correct as has since been proved, but when the man was taken to Captain Van Brunt, that officer questioned him fiercely and then roughly dismissed him, as if he considered him an impostor. The writer was of a different opinion and wrote at once to Mr. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, urging him to hurry up the Monitor; but no one in the squadron seemed to anticipate any danger.

Rear Admiral Goldsborough was in the sounds of North Carolina and could easily have left what was there to be done to the skill of the gallant Rowan, but he evidently apprehended no danger from the Merrimac or he would have returned at once to Hampton Roads. One would have thought that the Federals could have learned through spies how near the Merrimac was ready for service, and all the particulars regarding her. Many things which ought to have been done were left undone, but of this it is useless to repine.

As the squadron lay quiet, little dreaming of the danger that was so near, “three small steamers” were reported to the senior officer at 12:45 P. M. coming around Sewell's Point. It was soon ascertained by her large smoke stack that one of these vessels was the Merrimac, and great excitement prevailed. Signal was made to the Minnesota to slip her cables, get underway and pursue the enemy; but when within a mile and a half of Newport News the frigate grounded and remained fast during the events which took place that day and the one following.

The Merrimac stood straight for the Congress and Cumberland, and when she was within three-quarters of a mile the latter vessel opened on her with heavy pivot guns, closely followed by the Congress. Paymaster McKean Buchanan, a brother of the Confederate commander, was an officer of the Congress, and the Merrimac passing that vessel steered direct for the Cumberland, the Confederate Flag Officer

The Monitor in battle trim.

hoping that the Congress would surrender on seeing the fate of her consort, and that his brother would thus escape. In passing the Congress the Merrimac delivered her starboard broadside, which was quickly returned, and a rapid fire from both vessels was maintained on the ironclad. The Merrimac continuing her course, struck the Cumberland at right angles, under the fore channels on the starboard side, and the blow, though hardly perceptible on board the iron-clad, seemed to those on board the Cumberland as if the whole ship's side had been smashed in.

Backing out, the Merrimac put her [124] helm hard-a-starboard, and turned slowly, while the two Union ships poured in a continual fire, which apparently fell harmless on the iron plating of the enemy. On the other hand, as the iron-clad swung round from the Cumberland, the Congress lay with her stern to the enemy, which raked her three times, fore and aft. In fact, the Congress was a mere target for the enemy's shot and shell, with little danger of the latter being injured in return.

In the meantime the Cumberland was settling in the water from the effects of the great opening in her side, and although it was evident to all on board that the day was lost, and that the ship must inevitably go to the bottom, these brave fellows kept

The Confederate ram Merrimac sinking the Cumberland.

up a rapid fire until driven by the water from the lower deck guns, when they retreated to the upper deck and continued to fight the pivot guns till the Cumberland went down with her colors still flying.

During the whole war there was no finer incident than this, and the bravery of the officers and men of the Cumberland even won the applause of the enemy.

Commander William Radford, of the Cumberland, was engaged that day on a Court of Inquiry, which was sitting on board one of the vessels in Hampton Roads. When the Merrimac was reported as coming down, all else was lost sight of, and procuring a horse, Radford started at full speed for Newport News; but he only reached there in time to see his ship disappearing beneath the waves, and his gallant crew fighting to the last.

Of course as long as the Cumberland kept up her fire the enemy returned it, their shells inflicting death on all sides. Those who had escaped from below were decimated by the merciless shot and shell poured into them by the enemy as they stood crowded together on the spar deck. There is little generosity or sentimentality in war: the object is to kill and wound, and this was too favorable an opportunity to be neglected. In the absence of Com. Radford, Lieut. George N. Morris was in command of the Cumberland, and his heroism inspired his crew to the deeds which they performed on that eventful day. Of the Cumberland's crew one hundred and twenty-one were either killed outright or drowned, while of those saved a large portion were wounded.

When the commanding officer of the Congress saw the fate of the Cumberland, and realized how little chance there was for him, he slipped his cable, set his foretopsail and endeavored to get closer in shore so as to have the assistance of the land batteries, but the ship ran ashore, where she continued the unequal contest for more than an hour after the sinking of her consort, the Merrimac lying at a safe distance and boring her through and through with her shells, and finally setting her on fire.

While this unequal contest was progressing between the Merrimac and the Congress, the two Confederate gun-boats accompanying [125] the iron-clad joined in the fray. They were both armed with rifle guns. In a few minutes they dismounted one of the stern guns of the Congress and knocked off the muzzle of another, so that, not being able to bring any of her broadside guns to bear, she lay perfectly helpless. Her gallant commanding officer, Lieut. Joseph B. Smith, was killed, her decks were strewn with killed and wounded, and further resistance was hopeless. The colors were accordingly hauled down and a white flag hoisted. A Confederate tug ran alongside the Congress, and the officer in charge ordered the crew out of the ship, saying he intended to set fire to her.

The garrison at Newport News, not comprehending the state of affairs, opened on the Confederate vessel with artillery and musketry, so that she was obliged to leave the side of the Congress with only thirty-nine prisoners.

Although the white flag was still flying, the Merrimac again opened fire on the Congress. This was certainly most inhuman, since the crew of the Congress were not responsible for the act of the troops on shore. The Confederates claim that two of their officers were killed on board the tug while assisting the Union wounded out of the Congress, and that many of our own men were killed and wounded by the fire of the shore batteries.

The Congress having been set on fire, Lieut. Pendergrast and most of the crew undertook to escape to the shore in small boats, or by swimming. leaving the ship with the white flag still flying at her mainmast head.

Flag-Officer Buchanan claimed that he was unable to take possession of his prize owing to the fire from the shore, for which reason he ordered hot shot to be fired into the Congress until she was set on fire. Buchanan and his flag-lieutenant, Lieut. Minor, personally directed this matter, and while doing so both were severely wounded. The command of the Merrimac then devolved on Lieut. Jones.

Notwithstanding the heavy armor of the Merrimac, her loss in killed and wounded was twenty-one, showing the good use of their artillery made by the Union ships. The armor was, however,but little damaged by the Federal shot, although the Confederates asserted that at one time they were under the fire of one hundred heavy guns afloat and ashore!

Everything on the outside of the Merrimac seems to have been badly injured. The muzzles of two of the guns were shot off, the anchors, smoke-stack and steam pipes were shot away, railing, stanchions, boat davits. every thing was swept clean. The flagstaff was repeatedly shot away, and finally a boarding pike was substituted.

During the engagement the Roanoke and St. Lawrence, in tow of tugs, made every effort to join in the combat, but like the Minnesota, they ran on shore some two miles above Fortress Monroe.

While the above incidents were taking place, the day had passed, and the commanding officer of the Merrimac, finding he could not take possession of the Congress, abandoned her to the flames. How glorious it must have seemed to this officer, who served nearly half a century under the stars and stripes, to see that flag hauled down by rebel hands, and those gallant men, who had once served under and admired him, ruthlessly slaughtered at his

Captain John Ericsson, inventor of the Monitor.

cool command! He may have thought it glory then, but in after years, we believe, regret possessed him, and contributed to shorten his life.

At five o'clock P. M. the Merrimac turned towards the Minnesota, which ship lay aground apparently at her mercy, but the pilots would not attempt the middle channel with the ebb tide, and night was fast approaching. So the Merrimac returned to Sewell's Point and anchored. In passing the Minnesota the iron-clad opened fire, but only a single shot struck the frigate; the gun-boats, however, accompanying the Merrimac did much greater damage with their rifled guns, though they were finally driven off by the heavy guns which the Minnesota carried forward.

The ten-inch pivot gun of the Minnesota produced no effect on the iron clad, the shot glancing like pebbles from her sides, and it was plain that the Minnesota, as soon as the tide would allow the Confederate vessel to cone to close quarters, would be as helpless before the Merrimac [126] as the Congress and the Cumberland had been. The commanding officer of the Union frigate therefore made all preparations to abandon his ship and set her on fire, anticipating an attack early next morning.

Thus closed one of the most memorable days of the civil war, a day which carried gloom and sorrow to the hearts of all loyal citizens. The authorities at Washington were dismayed, and it appeared to those most familiar with the circumstances that this was the crisis of the Union cause.

All through the South there were scenes of rejoicing; bonfires blazed on the hill tops, and everywhere the Confederates expected

Bear-Admiral John L. Worden, commander of the Monitor.

that the next news would be the total destruction of the Federal fleet at Hampton Roads, and the advance of the Merrimac to Washington.

As a result of their victory the Southern people saw an abandonment of the advance on Richmond, the capture of Washington, the laying of the seaboard cities under contribution, the raising of the blockade of the Southern coast, and the recognition of the Confederate Government by the powers of Europe.

There was apparently nothing between them and success, for the Federal Government had no means of arresting the disaster which threatened it, except a diminutive, experimental war vessel in which few persons had confidence, and which had not yet reached the scene of action. What hope could there be for the Minnesota, hard and fast aground, or for the frigate Roanoke, with her disabled machinery, or the St. Lawrence with no machinery at all! The commanding officers must either destroy their vessels and escape into Fortress Monroe or let them fall into the hands of the enemy.

But the avenger was at hand, and at nine o'clock that night Ericsson's little Monitor, under the command of Lieut. John L. Worden, arrived from New York, after experiencing trials and difficulties sufficient to have appalled an ordinary officer.

It was a great relief to the officers and men of the squadron to know that an ironclad of any kind was at hand to assist them, but when they saw the little “nondescript,” her decks level with the water, and appearing above it only her pilot-house and a small turret, in which latter were two eleven-inch guns, and compared her with the apparently invulnerable iron-clad of the enemy, they could not feel very sanguine of the result of the coming conflict.

Lieutenant Worden was ordered to proceed at two o'clock A. M. and take position alongside the Minnesota to be ready to receive the Merrimac.

The morning dawned clear and bright, and everything looked so calm and peaceful [127] that it was hard to realize that two hundred and fifty men had the previous day given up their lives in defence of their flag in a contest hopeless from the beginning.

The flag still floated from the Cumberland, whose light masts appeared above the surface of the water, marking the spot where the dead slept their last sleep in the shattered wreck, while the smoke from the burning Congress ascended to heaven, a funeral pyre over the corpses which strewed the decks of that ill-fated ship.

The Minnesota, badly cut up, still lay hard and fast aground, and it was evident to all that should the Monitor fail them there was nothing but destruction to look forward to.

The Monitor and Merrimac.--the fight at short range.

The crew of the Merrimac were astir at early daylight preparing for the conflict, and as soon as it was fairly light the ironclad was under way and heading towards the Minnesota. On approaching their expected prey the Confederates discovered a strange-looking craft which they knew at once to be Ericsson's Monitor, of which they had received a description from their spies at the North. The Monitor was but a pigmy in appearance alongside the lofty frigate which she guarded, and the enemy anticipated little difficulty in overcoming her. Still, her arrival was inopportune for the Confederates, causing a change in their plans, which were to destroy the Minnesota and then the remainder of the squadron.1

As the Merrimac approached the frigate the crew of the latter went to quarters, the drum sounding more like a funeral knell than a summons to triumphant battle, but, contrary to expectation, the Merrimac passed the frigate and Monitor and headed towards Fortress Monroe. At the “Rip Raps” she turned into the main channel by which the Minnesota had gone up and again rapidly approached the latter.

When the Merrimac was within the distance of a mile, the Minnesota opened fire with her stern guns and at the same time the Monitor was signalled to attack.

Worden showed his confidence in the Monitor and her eleven-inch guns by steering directly for the Confederate ironclad. The latter slowed her engines and paused as if to survey her little adversary and ascertain her character; but if there was any doubt on board the Merrimac there was none on board the Monitor, which kept straight on her course, and the Confederates saw that in a few moments she would be directly alongside of them.

The Merrimac opened fire from her forward gun upon what seemed more like a large floating buoy than a man-of-war, but not having a frigate's broadside to aim at the shot passed harmlessly over. The Monitor's answering guns were better aimed The solid eleven-inch shots struck the Merrimac fairly, with a blow that resounded through the vessel. This was returned [128] by a broadside from the Merrimac, but those shots that struck the turret glanced harmlessly off.

Both vessels then turned and approached each other still closer, the Monitor firing about every seven minutes, each shot striking the Merrimac. The latter vessel, having lost part of her smoke-stack the day before, was not working so well, the chief engineer reporting that the draft was so poor that it was with great difficulty he could keep up steam. Tie Merrimac drew twenty-three feet of water, and was thus confined to a narrow channel, while the Monitor drawing but twelve feet could take any position and always keep within range of her antagonist's guns, and though the enemy had many more guns, the Monitor stuck so close to her adversary that the latter could use but a small proportion of them. Worden's plan was to keep near to his enemy and endeavor to break in her sides with his solid shot.

The Merrimac kept up as rapid a fire as possible upon what was visible of the Monitor, pausing now and then when the smoke cleared off to see whether the little vessel had been demolished, but always finding her apparently unharmed and active as ever, pouring in her solid shot and shaking the great iron-clad's huge frame in a manner which her officers feared might in the long run cripple their ship, unless they could manage in some way to cripple their antagonist.2 The Merrimac's fire was then concentrated upon the Monitor's pilot-house, as the turret seemed impervious to their shot.

More than two hours had passed in this apparently unequal duel, the Confederates had made no impression on the Monitor and their own wounds were apparently slight, since the Monitor had not yet succeeded in penetrating the Merrimac's heavy armor.

The Monitor had on board some forty steel shot which it was intended to fire with heavy charges in case of an encounter with the Merrimac, but previous to leaving New York, Lieut. Worden received orders from the Bureau of Ordnance not to use those shot with the increased charges, as fifteen pounds of powder was as much as the eleven-inch guns would bear. Worden felt obliged to conform to these instructions, as the responsibility of bursting the guns would have fallen upon him. It was subsequently proved by experiment that the eleven-inch Dahlgrens would easily bear twenty-five pounds of powder, and this difference in the charge of the guns, as is now known, would have made all the difference in the world in the final result. The Merrimac's armor would have been broken, and she would have laid at the mercy of the Monitor, as her speed was not sufficient to have enabled her to escape.

Lieut. Jones having occasion to visit the Merrimac's gun-deck saw a division standing at ease, and inquiring of the officer in command why he was not firing, that individual replied, “After firing for two hours I find I can do the enemy about as much damage by snapping my fingers at him every two minutes and a half.” 3

As Lieut. Jones found he could make no impression on the Monitor with his shot, he determined to run her down or board her, and for nearly an hour he maneuvered for position, but his ship was too unwieldy for that kind of work. The Monitor

Lieut. Samuel Dana Greene. (executive officer of the Monitor.)

danced around her like a yacht around a three-decker, pouring in her shot and endeavoring to find a vulnerable point.

At last Jones thought he saw a chance of ramming the Monitor, and gave the order to go ahead at full speed, but before the great vessel could gather headway the agile Monitor turned, and the disabled prow of the Merrimac gave a glancing blow which did no harm whatever.

Again the Monitor came upon the Merrimac's quarter, her bow actually against the ship's side, and at this distance fired twice. Both shots struck about half way up the Merrimac's armor, abreast of the after pivot, and so severe was the blow that the side was forced in several inches. The crew of the after guns were knocked over by the concussion, [129] bleeding from the nose and ears. A few more shots in the same place would have made an opening, and had Worden known this at the time. he would doubtless have taken the responsibility of using double charges of powder and the steel shot, and thereby secured a complete victory.

While the vessels were together on this occasion, boarders were called away on board the Merrimac, and started to get on “the little cheese-box on a shingle,” as the enemy called her, but the Monitor slipped quickly astern and opened her batteries upon the quarter ports. So for hours this struggle was continued with apparently little results.

Thousand of spectators with beating hearts watched the conflict from Fort Monroe, and from the ships. It seemed to them as if the battle would never end, but at length the Confederate commander, thinking it useless to try his broadsides on the Monitor any longer, steered off towards the Minnesota, which opened on the Merrimac with all her broadside guns and the ten-inch pivot. The Merrimac returned the fire with her rifled bow gun, and a shell passed through the frigate, tearing four rooms into one, and exploding a couple of charges of powder, which set fire to the ship, but the flames were promptly extinguished. Another shell passed through the boiler of the tug Dragon, causing an explosion.

Then the Minnesota concentrated her broadside upon the Merrimac, and kept up an incessant fire; and, although it is said fifty shots struck the slanting roof of the iron-clad, they did no apparent damage.

By the time the Merrimac fired her third shell the little Monitor had come up with her again, and placed herself between the Minnesota and the enemy, compelling the latter to change her position. While doing this the Merrimac grounded and the Minnesota poured into her the fire of all the guns she could bring to bear. As soon as the Merrimac got off the bottom, she proceeded down the bay, then suddenly turned and attempted to run the Monitor down, but failing in the attempt she concentrated all her broadside guns on the little vessel, which was keeping up a rapid fire.

Suddenly the Monitor was seen to move away from the Merrimac in rather an erratic manner, and it was at this instant that Lieut. Worden was so disabled that he could no longer direct the movements of his vessel. He was looking through one of the slits in the pilot house, when a shell exploded in front of the opening, driving the powder into his face and eyes, rendering him blind and helpless. He turned over the command of the vessel to the executive officer, Lieut. S. D. Greene, who was in the turret, with instructions to continue the action, and the vessel was again headed towards the enemy and her fire recommenced.

During the time between the fall of Lieut. Worden and the arrival of Lieut. Greene in the pilot house, the Monitor was entirely under control of the man at the wheel, who having no one to direct him, and doubtless being excited by the fall of his commanding officer, steered off on another course without any particular aim or object. This is substantially the view given of the occurrence by Prof. Soley in his work, “The blockade and the cruisers,” and he obtained his information from the late Commander Greene.

Lieut. George U. Morris. (Acting commander of the Cumberland.)

Prof. Soley further says: “Seeing the Monitor draw off, Van Brunt, under the supposition that his protector was disabled and had left him, prepared for the worst, and made ready to destroy his ship; but at this point the Merrimac withdrew to Norfolk. Greene fired at her twice, or at most three times. He then returned to the Minnesota, and remained by her until she got afloat.” This is no doubt a correct version of the affair. The Merrimac moved off (those on board of her glad to do so in an apparently creditable manner), knowing that if the battle lasted much longer the Monitor would be successful.

When the Confederates saw the Monitor moving away, they naturally concluded she was disabled, or had run short of ammunition, and their first idea was to proceed again to the attack of the Minnesota.

By Capt. Van Brunt's account, the Merrimac and the two Confederate gun-boats [130] did head towards his ship, and realizing his helpless condition he made every preparation to destroy the Minnesota, determined that she should not fall into the hands of the enemy. Capt. Van Brunt goes on to say: “A short time after the Merrimac and her consorts had changed their course, and were heading for Craney Island.”

In writing history it is no more than fair that both sides should have a hearing. Lieut. Greene, in his report to the Secretary of the Navy, dated March 12, 1862. says:

At 8 A. M. perceived the Merrimac underway and standing towards the Minnesota; hove up anchor and went to quarters

At 8:45 A. M. we opened fire on the Merrimac, and continued the action until 11:30 A. M., when Capt. Worden was injured. Capt. Worden then sent for me to take charge of the vessel. We continued the action until 12:15 P. M., when the Merrimac retreated to Sewell's Point, and we went to the Minnesota and lay by her.

Lieut. Joseph B. Smith. (Acting commander of the Congress.)

This is rather a meagre report of so important a transaction. but no one else in the squadron at Hampton Roads, so far as known, says anything about the matter except Capt. Van Brunt, who writes: “For some time after this the Confederates concentrated their whole battery upon the turret and pilot-house of the Monitor, and soon after the latter stood down for Fortress Monroe.”

A Confederate officer on board the Merrimac says: “At length the Monitor withdrew over the middle ground where we could not follow, but always maintaining a position to protect the Minnesota. To have run our ship ashore on a falling tide would have been ruin. We awaited her return for an hour and at two P. M. steamed for Sewell's Point and thence to the dockyard at Norfolk. Our crew were thoroughly worn out from the two days fight. Although there is no doubt that the Monitor first retired, the battle was a drawn one as far as the two vessels engaged were concerned, but in its general results the advantage was with the Monitor.”

This seems to be a fair statement and its author pays a high tribute to the Monitor. He says: “The Monitor was well handled and saved the Minnesota and remainder of the fleet at Fortress Monroe,” which seems evident enough, for had the Monitor failed to appear every vessel in the roads must have been captured or destroyed.

There is glory enough in this fact for the little Monitor without claiming more for her. She saved not only the squadron, but the honor of the nation, and her gallant commander is fully entitled to all the honors he received. Had he not been disabled at such an inopportune moment he would, in our opinion, have compelled the Merrimac to surrender: for the tide was ebbing and in another hour the Merrimac could not have maneuvered and would have grounded; the Monitor then could have taken position under the iron-clad's stern and knocked her frame in.

Thus ended this remarkable engagement, which, in the bravery and ability displayed on both sides, has never been excelled; and the foreign officers who witnessed the conflict, could judge from it how desperately we could meet a foe attempting to invade our shores.

It is stated by the Confederate authority, to whom we referred, that “the Merrimac was not penetrated by any of the shot fired by the Monitor. Had the fire been concentrated on one spot the shield could have been forced; or had larger charges been used the iron on the Merrimac could not have withstood them. Most of the Monitors' shot struck obliquely, in most cases breaking both courses of iron, but not injuring the vessel's backing. When struck at right angles the wood backing would be broken but not penetrated.” These are matters of interest, since it has been a mooted point as to the amount of damage the Merrimac received. The Monitor, we know, received none, except to her pilot-house, and could have fought all day without danger of vital injury to her hull or machinery, but the Merrimac was obliged to go into dry-dock to be very thoroughly repaired.

The joy of the Confederates at the news of the first day's fight in Hampton Roads, was much dampened when the information came that the Merrimac was obliged to leave the fighting-ground on the second day without [131] effecting anything. It was a severe disappointment, since they had reckoned on the capture of the whole Union fleet in the Roads, and an advance of the Merrimac upon Washington.

As soon as the Merrimac was again ready for service, on the 29th of March, 1862, Commodore Josiah Tatnall was ordered to command her instead of the cool and judicious Catesby Jones. who had conducted the engagement with the Monitor with so much skill and bravery. Commodore Tatnall had a high reputation in the old Navy as a brave and chivalric officer. The writer served as his executive officer in some desperate encounters with the enemy during the Mexican War, and knew him as

Commodore Josiah Tatnall.

well as one man can know another. Tatnall was ready for any desperate service, but he lacked Catesby Jones' coolness and judgment.

Up to the time Tatnall took command the iron-clad had been in dock undergoing repairs, and it would seem from this circumstance that she had been more roughly handled by the Monitor than the Confederates chose to admit. At all events they were convinced that she was not fit to cope with the Monitor in her original condition. The hull for four feet below the water line was covered with two-inch iron, a new and heavier ram was strongly secured to the bow, the damage to the armor was repaired, and wrought-iron port shutters were fitted. The rifled guns were supplied with steel-pointed solid shot, and one hundred tons of ballast were put on board to increase the vessel's draught and bring her weak point under water, though this decreased her speed. The Merrimac was greatly improved, when a month later, on the 11th of April,she left the Navy Yard, and steamed down towards Hampton Roads accompanied by six gun-boats.

Commodore Tatnall fully expected the Monitor to be ready to meet him as soon as he had passed Sewell's Point, but the Federal authorities had grown wary. The fleet had been re-enforced by the Vanderbilt, fitted as a powerful ram, and she lay ready to attack the Merrimac in conjunction with the Monitor. Could the Vanderbilt have but struck the Merrimac, going at half speed, she would have penetrated her as easily as a knife opens a watermelon.

To Tatnall's surprise no one seemed to notice his appearance, the Monitor and her consorts lying quietly at anchor below Fortress Monroe. The Monitor was just as we left her after the fight; she needed but trifling repairs, while the Merrimac had been long enough in dock to make her doubly strong. The Monitor had been kept in readiness in case the Merrimac attempted to pass the fleet and make towards Washington, although the Confederate vessel could hardly have passed the Kettle Bottom shoals in the channel of the Potomac. [132]

The officers of the Merrimac, knowing Tatnall's reputation, expected a desperate engagement at the outset, but he showed more than ordinary judgment when he found how matters stood. He had requested permission from the Confederate government to act on his own discretion and to pass Fortress Monroe if he thought proper; ut this was denied him for prudential reasons. While the Merrimac remained intact it was supposed that Norfolk would be secure against attack, and the way for an army to Richmond would be barred by the iron-clad; all of which was in a measure true. For equally prudent reasons the Monitor was kept out of battle for the present, and lay off Fortress Monroe under command of Lieut. Jeffers. There were no Federal war vessels above Fortress Monroe, but there were three merchant sailing vessels within the bar off Hampton.

Tatnall ordered Lieut. Barney, in the Jamestown, to go in and bring them out. This was accomplished, although the gunboat was fired on by the forts. Two of the vessels contained supplies for the Federal Army.

This was a humiliation and should not have been suffered, but prevented at all hazards, especially as the crew of an English corvette cheered the Confederates as they towed their prizes away.

That night the Merrimac lay at anchor above Sewell's Point, and a few days later she went within gunshot of the fort at the Rip Raps, with which she exchanged a few rounds. It is said that the Merrimac opened fire, hoping that the Monitor would go out and meet her, when by numerous devices it was intended to board the little vessel, smother the officers and crew, put out the fires and tow her into Norfolk! The Monitor, however, lay quietly at anchor biding her time, and the Merrimacs' engines breaking down, she was obliged to return to Norfolk.

On the 8th of May the Merrimac again appeared and found the Monitor, Galena, Nantucket and a number of heavy ships shelling the works at Sewell's Point; but on the appearance of the iron-clad they all returned below Fortress Monroe. Tatnall stood direct for the Monitor, which retreated with the other vessels, the Merrimac and consorts following close down to the Rip Raps, where shot passed over the ship and a mile beyond. Tatnall remained for some hours in the Roads until finally in disgust he gave an order to Lieut. Jones to fire a gun to windward and take the ship back to her buoy.

The above Confederate account does not agree with the report of Rear Admiral Goldsborough, who says:

By direction of the President our vessels shelled Sewell's Point yesterday, mainly with a view to see the practicability of landing a body of troops thereabouts. The Merrimac came out but was even more cautious than ever. The Monitor was kept well in advance and so that the Merrimac could have engaged her without difficulty had she been so disposed, but she declined to do so, and soon returned and anchored under Sewell's Point.

This disposes of the statement that the Federal Squadron retired before the Merrimac and consorts, for the writer can find nothing on record to substantiate the Confederate account. There is every reason to believe the commander of the Merrimac was willing to let the Monitor alone, for he was too clever a man to risk his vessel against all the ships awaiting his attack.

The Federals were evidently desirous to draw him as far as possible from his base and then overwhelm him with the Monitor, heavy frigates and powerful rams that were prepared to attack him.

That was the last appearance of the Merrimac. According to a Confederate account: “On the 9th of May, while at anchor off Sewell's Point, it was noticed at

Lieut. John Taylor Wood, of the Merrimac. (afterwards commander of the privateer Tallahassee.)

sundown that the Confederate flag was not flying over the batteries. A boat was sent on shore and found them abandoned. Lieut. Pembroke Jones was then dispatched to Norfolk, and returned with the news that Norfolk was evacuated, and the Navy Yard on fire.”

That determined the fate of the Merrimac. Her occupation was gone, and to prevent her from falling into the hands of the Federal Government, she was blown up and entirely destroyed.

Several plans had been proposed to save the vessel for further use, such as lightening her and getting her up the James River as a protection to Richmond, but they were found impracticable.

It was just as well that the Merrimac's career ended thus, for she would never have been of any more use in Confederate hands, and her officers and crew would have fallen victims to the temerity of any commander [133] who ventured to attack the Monitor, backed as she was by an overwhelming force. The Federal government had made a great mistake in not being prepared for the Merrimac on her first appearance; they were not going to be caught again, and in their precautions to this effect they rather overdid the matter. The lesson was not lost on the Government during the war. The experience we gained by the loss of the Congress and Cumberland was worth a dozen frigates, although we mourned the brave fellows who fell gloriously fighting for their country.

Had there been no Merrimac we should never have built those magnificent ironclads, which for a time placed our Navy in the front rank of the navies of the world, and enabled us to bid defiance to England and France, who were too much inclined to meddle with our affairs.

The Merrimac taught our legislators the necessity of being more liberal in our naval expenditures, and to build armored vessels such as would not only be able to stand the heaviest seas, but to batter down the strongest forts, or destroy any enemy's vessel that came upon our coast.

After the war was over the lesson was unfortunately soon forgotten, and in a few years the Navy, which was so powerful at the close of the rebellion, relapsed into an insignificance from which it will take long to recover; while other nations, taking advantage of our experience, have gone on building iron-clads which astonish the world with their power.

To this day the principle of the Monitor is recognized in every navy in the world, and the fame of Ericsson promises to endure for centuries to come.

The Monitor did not long outlast her huge antagonist. She was lost a few months afterwards in a gale off Cape Hatteras in attempting the impossible, for it was never intended she should be used as a cruiser. She was not intended to ride out heavy gales, and of this the government had had proof in her first voyage to Hampton Roads, when she was very near going to the bottom. When she foundered she carried down with her some brave fellows who stood by her to the last. May they rest in peace!

After reading all the accounts which have been published in regard to this engagement, we come to the conclusion that the Monitor was too much for the Merrimac. The latter was damaged so much that she had to remain some time in dock for repairs. For a short time after Lieut. Worden was wounded, the Monitor headed away from her antagonist until Lieut. Greene could get into the pilot-house, and the commanding officer of the Merrimac took advantage of this circumstance to return to Norfolk.

Catesby Jones was too clever an officer not to know that if he should get aground in the narrow channel the Monitor would certainly capture him. Had Worden not been wounded the Merrimac would have been captured as it was.

After the Merrimac retreated Worden was removed to Washington, where he received every attention his condition required, and all the honors the government could bestow for his skill and bravery, which had averted a terrible catastrophe and humilation. To Worden belongs the credit of having performed one of the most important achievements of the war.

1 Confederate account.

2 Confederate account.

3 Confederate account.

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