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Chapter 3:

The Chesapeake.

The blockade began, both in name and in fact, at Hampton Roads, and here it continued to be maintained with the highest efficiency. The only attempt to raise it was that made by the Merrimac in March, 1862; and after this attempt was defeated, the blockading squadron remained in undisturbed possession until the close of the war. The safe and commodious anchorage in the Roads, its nearness to Washington, and the protection afforded by Fortress Monroe made it a convenient naval rendezvous; and for this reason it seems to have been adopted as the station for the flag-ship of the North Atlantic squadron. Its importance as a blockading station, especially in the early part of the war, was due to the fact that it commanded the entrance to the James and Elizabeth Rivers, upon one of which lay the Confederate capital, and upon the other their principal naval depot. The events of the first year, however, which took place in and about the Roads, had little to do with the outside blockade, and properly form an episode by themselves, which has its beginning and end in the loss and the recovery of Norfolk.

The loss of the Norfolk Yard at the outbreak of the war has been ah lady alluded to. This Yard had always been extensively used as a depot for arms and munitions of all kinds; and in the spring of 1861 it contained a very large [48] supply. The ordinary work was going on actively; and there was nothing to be seen on the spot to indicate that a crisis was at hand. The vessels at the Yard comprised an old ship-of-the-line, the Pennsylvania, which was used as a receiving ship; five large sailing-vessels, laid up in ordinary; the sailing-sloops Germantown and Plymouth; and the brig Dolphin. The last three were ready for sea. The steam-frigate Merrimac, whose importance was greater than that of all the others combined, was undergoing repairs in her machinery.

The Navy Yard was situated on the left bank of Elizabeth River, nearly opposite the town of Norfolk, and nine miles above Sewall's Point, where the narrow channel that forms a continuation of the river enters the Roads. There were only a few seamen and marines to hold it, the community outside was unfriendly, and the employees were only waiting for the action of the State to range themselves against the Government. The majority of the officers were Southern men, and were in sympathy with the Southern cause. Late in March, the Cumberland, the flagship of the Home Squadron, came in from the Gulf and was sent to Norfolk. She had a crew of 300 men, and a heavy battery, and the towns on both sides of the river were at her mercy, if she chose to attack them. As a sailing sloop-of-war, she could not be of material assistance in bringing off the threatened vessels; but she held the key to the position.

The State convention of Virginia had been in session since the middle of February, but nothing had yet been done which indicated its final action. The secret session, at which the ultimate question was to be decided, began on the 16th of April. Up to the critical moment the idea had prevailed in Washington that any action tending to show a want of confidence in public sentiment in Virginia would crystallize the opposition to the Union, and drive the State into secession. [49] This idea had found expression in the instructions issued to the Commandant of the Yard, Commodore McCauley, who was repeatedly warned to take no steps that would give rise to suspicion of hostile intention. On the 10th of April, as affairs grew more threatening, the Commandant was ordered to put the shipping and public property in a condition to be moved out of danger; but at the same time he was cautioned not to give needless alarm. Two days later, orders were given for the Merrimac to be prepared with the utmost despatch to proceed to Philadelphia; and as it was stated that the necessary repairs to the engine would take four weeks, the Engineer-in-Chief of the Navy was sent down in person to forward matters. He was the bearer of a letter from the Secretary of the Navy to Commodore McCauley, which contained these words:

The Department desires to have the Merrimac removed from the Norfolk to the Philadelphia Navy Yard with the utmost despatch. The Engineer-in-Chief, Mr. B. F. Isherwood, has been ordered to report to you for the purpose of expediting the duty, and you will have his suggestions for that end carried promptly into effect.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, the 17th, it was reported by Isherwood, the Engineer-in-Chief, that the Merrimac was ready for steam; and fires were started the next morning at daybreak. Everything was in readiness to proceed to sea, and officers and men were detailed for the vessels that were to go out. But the Commodore, still influenced by the desire to allay suspicion, and by the assertions of some of his officers that if the Merrimac were removed Virginia would certainly go out of the Union, could not bring himself to take decided action, notwithstanding the explicit instructions of the Department; and at two in the afternoon, he ordered the fires to be hauled. Meantime the enemy were taking [50]

Hampton Roads.

[51] advantage of every hour of delay. Troops were thrown into Norfolk in considerable numbers, and batteries were erected opposite the Yard. Light-ships had already been sunk in the narrow channel off Sewall's Point, and other obstructions were put in position on the subsequent night. McCauley sent a message to the Commanding General, Taliaferro, to the effect that if he continued to throw up works in a threatening position, the Commodore would regard it as an act of war, and fire upon them. In reply, General Taliaferro disclaimed any knowledge of the existence of the batteries; and McCauley was obliged to rest satisfied with this answer. Lieutenant Selfridge of the Cumberland volunteered to take the Dolphin down to Craney Island, and prevent any further obstructing of the river; but the Commodore, though at first consenting, finally refused to give him permission.

On Friday, the 19th, Commodore McCauley resolved to destroy the principal vessels. It is hard to say why he arrived at this conclusion, the Merrimac's engine having been reported ready and her fires lighted the day before. The time for heeding the sensitiveness of the population was now past; and, in this respect, it made little difference whether the other ships were sunk and the Cumberland went out alone, or whether they all left the place together. Nothing, however, was done during the day. On Friday night the guns in the parks were spiked — an injury which could be repaired in a few hours. At the same time, a quantity of ordnance stores was put on board the Cumberland. On the next day, the Southern officers on duty at the Yard resigned or deserted; the destruction or removal of the property was continued; and finally, the four ships were scuttled.

Already on the 18th, Commodore Hiram Paulding had been directed by the Department to proceed to Norfolk with the Pawnee, then lying at Washington, and take command of the [52] vessels, using force, if necessary, to prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemy. He was also ordered to destroy what he could not bring off before abandoning the Yard. At the same time, officers were sent to New York and Philadelphia to charter steamers, and to proceed with all despatch to Hampton Roads.

The Pawnee left Washington on Friday, and arrived at Fortress Monroe on the afternoon of Saturday. Here she took on board Captain Wright of the Engineers, and a regiment of Massachusetts volunteers. At this very moment, the work of disabling the vessels at the Navy Yard had begun. Two hours later, at eight o'clock in the evening, the Pawnee came in sight of Norfolk. The Cumberland was lying off the Yard, and went to quarters as the strange vessel approached. A fresh wind, blowing down the stream, prevented her from making out the Pawnee's answer to her hail, but the latter could hear the voice of the officer commanding the Cumberland's pivot gun, asking if he should fire. On board the Pennsylvania, which was lying below the Cumberland, Lieutenant Allen, seeing the imminence of the danger, with extraordinary presence of mind, called out to the commanding officer, asking him to cheer the approaching vessel. In an instant it was done; and the Pawnee was saved from what seemed an inevitable catastrophe.

It had been Paulding's intention to make a disposition of the vessels at various points between Norfolk and the mouth of the river in such a way as to command the channel. He would have been able to hold this position until the arrival of the newly-chartered steamers, when he could have brought off all the ships in safety. But the action which had been taken only two hours before at the Yard forestalled his plan; and though the Pawnee and Cumberland were a really formidable force, which, with the infantry regiment, [53] could have held the enemy in check until either reinforcements arrived or the property was removed—or, at least, until the work of destruction was completed—Paulding decided to burn the principal buildings, and abandon the Yard. For this purpose parties were hurriedly organized; one under Commander Alden to prepare the storehouses and workshops; another under Commander Sands for the ship-houses; a third to distribute combustibles among the sinking vessels; and a fourth, under Commander John Rodgers, assisted by Captain Wright, to blow up the dry-dock. An attempt was made to disable the guns that had been spiked, by knocking off the trunnions; but this was unsuccessful.

Shortly before two in the morning, the reports came from the various parties that all was ready. A little delay was occasioned at this point by the Commandant of the Yard. The veteran Commodore, with obstinate gallantry, refused to leave his post. Finally Alden was sent to bring him off. All the officers and men were withdrawn except eight, who were divided among the three firing parties. The Pawnee left the wharf, took the Cumberland in tow, and started down the river. Two boats were left behind, one for the firing parties on shore, the other for that which was to destroy the ships. At 4.20 a rocket was fired as a signal, and in a few minutes ship-houses, shops, and vessels were in a blaze.

The people on shore were brought safely off, except Rodgers and his party, who had far to go, and who were cut off from the wharf by the burning buildings. They passed out into the town, and obtained a boat; but the river was now lighted by the conflagration, and they had not gone far before they were obliged to surrender.

Though a few shops and houses were burnt, the work was done so hurriedly that the best part of the valuable material [54] at the Yard fell into the hands of the enemy. The dry-dock was not destroyed, as the fuse failed to ignite the powder; but whether from accident or from the work of other hands has never been discovered. The magazine, with great numbers of loaded shells, and one hundred and fifty tons of powder, had already been seized. Two thousand guns of all descriptions were left practically uninjured, three hundred of them being new Dahlgren guns of various calibres. Besides the guns, machinery, steel plates, castings, construction materials, and ordnance and equipment stores in vast quantities came into the possession of the Confederates; and severe as the loss of so much material would have been by itself to the Federal Government, it was rendered tenfold greater by supplying the necessities of the enemy.

The latter immediately set about utilizing their new acquisition. The captured Dahlgren guns were distributed throughout the country, and many were the occasions when the Government had cause to regret the irreparable disaster which had supplied the enemy so cheaply with a priceless armament of first-class modern ordnance. The Germantown and Plymouth were raised and restored, but the Confederates had neither time nor money to waste in equipping them for sea. The Merrimac was also raised, and though her upper works were destroyed, her hull and boilers, and the heavy and costly parts of her engine were but little injured. A board of officers, of which Lieutenant John M. Brooke was the principal member, prepared a design for converting her into an ironclad, by constructing upon her hull an armored casemate with inclined sides and submerged eaves. The plates were made under Brooke's superintendence at the Tredegar foundry, and it was hoped that the vessel would be invulnerable, even against the powerful broadsides of the United States fleet. [55]

While the Confederates were thus preparing their ironclad, the Federal Government was at work upon the construction of a suitable antagonist. The war, for the moment, was being carried on, not at Hampton Roads, but at Norfolk and Brooklyn, and the victory was to depend not only upon the bravery of the officers, but upon the speed of the mechanics. It was a race of constructors; and in spite of the difficulties at the South, and the comparative facilities at the command of the Department at Washington, the Confederates were the winners. The secret of their success lay in promptness of preparation. On the 10th of June Brooke was ordered at Richmond to prepare the designs and specifications of an ironclad vessel, and on the 23d an engineer and a constructor were associated with him in the work. The board reported without delay, and work on the Merrimac was begun at once. On the other hand, nothing was done at Washington until the meeting of Congress. The extra session began July 5, and the appropriation was made August 3. The ironclad board was convened on the 8th of the same month. Its report was made September 16; and the contract for the Monitor was not completed until October 4. To this delay may be directly traced the action of the 8th of March, and the destruction of the Congress and the Cumberland.

The hull of the Monitor was built at the Continental Iron Works, at Greenpoint, Brooklyn, from Ericsson's plans and under his supervision. The vessel was begun in the latter part of October. The mechanics worked in three gangs, each for the space of eight hours, so that the work, when finally undertaken, went on without interruption night and day. The construction of the vessel was pushed forward so rapidly that on the 30th of January, 1862, not quite four months after the signing of the contract, the Monitor was launched.

The new structure consisted of a small iron hull, upon [56] which rested a large raft, surmounted by a revolving turret. The hull was one hundred and twenty-four feet long, and thirty-four feet wide at the upper edge. The raft projected at the bow and stern, its total length being fifty feet greater than that of the hull. Its overhang amidships was three feet eight inches wide, gradually increasing towards the bow and stern. The raft was five feet deep, and was protected by a side armor of five one-inch iron plates backed by oak. The deck was covered with two half-inch plates, over timber laid on heavy wooden beams. The turret was armored with eight one-inch plates, and its roof was protected by railroad iron. In it were two Xi-inch Dahlgren guns. The pilot-house was placed on deck, in front of the turret, and was built of square iron bars or logs, notched together, with a bolt through the corners. On the top of the pilot-house was an iron plate, an inch and a half thick, set in a ledge without fastenings.

The Department selected Lieutenant John L. Worden for the command of the Monitor. He was ordered on January 13, while the vessel was still on the stocks. Lieutenant S. Dana Greene volunteered to go in her, and at Worden's request was ordered as executive officer. Two acting-masters, Stodder and Webber, also joined her. There were four engineer officers, of whom the senior was First Assistant-Engineer Isaac Newton. Chief-Engineer A. C. Stimers made the passage in the vessel, as the Government inspector, to report upon her machinery. The crew were volunteers, selected by Worden from the receiving-ship North Carolina and the frigate Sabine; and ‘a better one,’ to quote Worden's statement, ‘no naval commander ever had the honor to command.’

The first cruise of the Monitor was a novel experiment and, as the event showed, full of hazard. Had she been intended merely as a floating battery to protect the harbor in which [57] she was built, the service would have called for no extraordinary sacrifice. But she was to go to sea; and many experienced officers, both in the navy and in the merchant service, doubted seriously her ability to keep afloat in any but the calmest weather, and regarded the enterprise as desperate— an opinion which the Monitor's subsequent career fully justified. If she sank, she would sink quickly; and there was small chance that any of the devoted men penned up in her submerged hull would escape. All this was well understood by her officers and men; and with a courage and self-devotion of no common order, they voluntarily accepted the conditions, and prepared to meet the danger.

The general plan of the Monitor, as originally invented by Ericsson, was little less than an inspiration of genius. But the first vessel of the type was by no means perfect in its details, and many improvements were made in those subsequently built. The defects, for grave defects they were, had a marked influence upon both her sea-going and her fighting qualities, and put her at a great disadvantage as compared with her successors. Her armored deck or raft was attached to the hull by a single set of rivets, which were unequal to the strain caused by a heavy sea striking the projecting bow from underneath. Her smoke-pipes and blower-pipes projected only a few feet above the deck, and could hardly fail to ship large quantities of water in a heavy sea. In action, her weakest point was the pilot-house. Its rude structure, that of an iron log hut, was ill-calculated to resist the blow of a heavy projectile. Its roof was detached, merely resting by its weight on the walls. Its position on the deck forward of the turret was disadvantageous, as it precluded end — on fire when the vessel was approaching an enemy, and reduced the circular sweep of the guns by nearly eight points. But the worst feature of the arrangement was the separation of the [58] captain who was manoeuvring the ship from the lieutenant who was working the turret and firing the guns. Each was completely cut off from the other, except by a speaking-tube, which opened in the floor of the movable turret, and through which the sound would only pass when the turret was in its normal position. The experience of the first Monitor led to the simple device of putting the pilot-house over the turret, a change that was suggested by Newton, the engineer of the vessel. Finally the machinery for turning the turret, a wheel and rod connected by gearing with the turret-engine, was so defective that the turret was equally slow in starting, and, once started, in coming to a stop; and there was hardly time to point the guns before the muzzles had swept by their target. But considering the time in which she was built, the wonder is not that she was imperfect, but that she was in anywise ready; and it was well for the country that she did not wait another day to complete her preparations.

The first trial of the Monitor was made February 19, on the day that she was delivered at the Navy Yard. She was put in commission on the 25th, when a second trial took place; but her steering gear was not in working order, and she did not go out of the East River. At a third trial, a week later, she steamed-down to Sandy Hook, and tried her guns. The mechanics were still at work upon her; indeed, the vessel was hardly completed when she left New York, though the workmen were busy during the night before she sailed. Finally, at 11 o'clock on the morning of Thursday, March 6, she started down the harbor; and in the afternoon she was fairly at sea on her way to the Chesapeake.

The passage down was difficult and dangerous. The Monitor was in tow of the Seth Low, a small tug, and was accompanied by two unseaworthy gunboats, the Currituck and Sachem. The ten days between the commission, of the Monitor [59] and her departure had given the crew little time for practice in the management of the novel craft, with its complicated mechanism. The wind was moderate during Thursday night and Friday morning; but about noon, off the Delaware, it freshened to a strong breeze from the northwest, and caused a rough sea, which broke over the vessel's deck, forcing the water in floods through the hawse-pipes and under the turret. In the afternoon the sea increased, and breaking over the smoke-pipe and blower-pipe, caused the blower-bands to slip and break. This stopped the draft in the furnace, and filled the engine-room and fire-room with gas. Newton, with the other engineers and the firemen, strove in vain against the gas, trying to repair the injury, and they were only rescued as they lay unconscious on the floor of the engine-room. As the engines were now useless either for propulsion or pumping, the water gained rapidly. The hand-pump was used and the men set to bailing, but with little effect, as the water could only be carried off over the wall of the turret. At last the tug was headed for the shore. After five hours steaming, the vessels came into smoother water; the engine-room was cleared of gas, the blower-bands were repaired, and the engine once more moved slowly.

So matters continued until shortly after midnight, when the Monitor, in crossing a shoal, suddenly ran into a heavy head-sea. The water came up through the anchor-well, forced the air through the hawse-pipe, and flowed in a stream over the ward-room table to the berth-deck. Efforts were made to close the hawse-pipe, and the rush of water was partly checked. But the sea now broke violently over the deck, and again entered the blower-pipes. Another disaster seemed imminent. The head wind prevented Worden from hailing the tug, and in the hurry of preparation no arrangement had been made for signalling at night. [60] Every sea that dashed the spray over the blowers was anxiously watched; and every few minutes word came from the engine-room that the engine could not go much longer unless the water was kept out. About this time the wheel-ropes jumped off the steering wheel, owing to the pitching of the ship, and became jammed. The vessel was now unmanageable and began to sheer about wildly; but the tow-rope held, and half an hour's work repaired the injury. After five critical hours, daylight broke, and the tug was ordered to go nearer the shore. By eight o'clock the danger was over. At four in the afternoon of the 8th of March the Monitor passed Cape Henry. Immediately afterward the hawser parted, but the vessel was now in smooth water.

In the absence of Flag-Officer Goldsborough, the Commander-in-Chief of the North Atlantic blockading squadron, who was engaged at this time in the expedition against Roanoke Island, the senior officer present in Hampton Roads was Captain John Marston of the Roanoke. The force consisted of the Roanoke and the Minnesota, lying near Fortress Monroe, and two sailing-vessels, the Congress and the Cumberland, at anchor off Newport News. All were admirable vessels of their class. The Congress was a fifty-gun frigate, and though rebuilt, or rather built anew, in 1841, represented the type of 1812. The Cumberland was a sloop-of-war of twenty-four guns. The Roanoke and the Minnesota were screw-frigates of forty guns. These vessels have been already referred to. They were the pride of the navy, and before the war had been regarded as the highest and most perfect type of the men-of-war of the period. Yet it required but the experience of a single afternoon in Hampton Roads, in the month of March, 1862, to show that all of them were antiquated, displaced, superseded, and that a new era had opened in naval warfare. [61]

The Merrimac, which had been a sister ship of the Minnesota and Roanoke, was now completed and in commission at Norfolk, under her new name of the Virginia. She was to all intents a new vessel. Her masts had been removed, and her casemate, which sloped at an angle of forty-five degrees, and resembled the roof of a house, had been armored with two layers of wrought-iron plates, each two-and-a-half inches thick, with a seven-inch wooden backing. She was armed with six Ix-inch Dahlgren guns and two 32-pounder Brooke rifles in broadside, and Vii-inch Brooke rifles on pivots in the bow and stern; and a cast-iron ram projected eighteen inches from her bow.

The Congress and Cumberland had been lying off Newport News for several months. Their ostensible duty was to blockade the James River; but it is not very clear how a sailing-vessel at anchor could be of any use for this purpose. Most of the old sailing-vessels of the navy had by this time been relegated to their proper place as school-ships, storeships, and receiving-ships, or had been sent to foreign stations where their only duty was to display the flag. Nothing shows more clearly the persistence of old traditions than the presence of these helpless vessels in so dangerous a neighborhood. Although the ships themselves were of no value for modern warfare, their armament could ill be spared; and they carried between them over eight hundred officers and men, whose lives were exposed to a fruitless sacrifice.1

Commander William Smith, who had commanded the Congress for six months, had been detached early in March. He turned over the command to his executive, Lieutenant Joseph B. Smith, but remained on board while waiting for his steamer, and during the engagement of the 8th he [62] served as a volunteer. Radford, the commander of the Cumberland, was attending a court of inquiry on board the Roanoke when the Merrimac came out, and the command of the sloop devolved on Lieutenant Morris. When the Merrimac was reported, Radford landed, and rode to Newport News; but he only arrived in time to see the end of the action. Both ships were therefore fought by their first lieutenants; but they could not have been defended with more resolution and gallantry, and no skill would have availed to alter the final result.

So many rumors about the Merrimac had been current in the fleet, without any visible results, that the prevalent feeling in regard to her was one of skepticism. It was known that extensive alterations had been made in the vessel, but it was not supposed that her powers of resistance would render her shot-proof under the fire of such broadsides as the two vessels could bring against her. Moreover, her sister ships, the Roanoke and Minnesota, lay below near the fort. A careful lookout was kept up, however; the ships were anchored with springs on their cables, and half the watch slept at quarters.

On the 6th of March, the frigate St. Lawrence came in, a vessel in all respects similar to the Congress. But so far from increasing the force to be opposed to the Merrimac, she only added another to the list of probable victims.

On Saturday, the 8th, a little before one o'clock in the afternoon, while the Monitor was still outside the Capes, the Merrimac finally came out from Norfolk. She was under the command of Franklin Buchanan, whose ability and energy had won him a high place in the esteem of his brother-officers in the navy before the war. She was accompanied by two gunboats, the Beaufort and Raleigh, of one gun each. Turning directly into the channel by which she could [63] reach Newport News, the Merrimac approached the two vessels at anchor. The latter had been cleared for action, the Cumberland when the enemy was sighted, and the Congress after he had entered the James River channel. They would have been no better off if they had got under way; the wind was light, and their tug, the Zouave, was not powerful enough to tow them off. Soon after two o'clock the Merrimac opened fire with grape from her bow gun. Passing along the starboard side of the Congress, whose shot rebounded from her iron side like pebbles, she steered directly for the Cumberland. The latter received her with a discharge of shot which entered the port, knocked off the muzzles of two guns, and killed or wounded nineteen men, but did not stop her progress. Approaching steadily, bows on, she raked the sloop with her pivot gun, and keeping her way, struck her full under the starboard fore-channels, delivering her fire at the same time. The force of the blow drove the Merrimac's ram so far into the planking that it was wrenched off, as she withdrew; and a hole was opened in the side of the Cumberland, into which the water rushed in a full stream.

The bow of the Cumberland immediately began to settle, and her fate was decided. Nevertheless she continued to fight with the persistence and energy of desperation. The gun's crews kicked off their shoes, and stripped to the waist. Tanks of cartridges were hoisted on the gun-deck and opened, and round after round was fired at the ironclad. Never did a crew fight a ship with more spirit and hardihood than these brave fellows of the Cumberland while the vessel was going down. Nor was it a mere idle display of gallantry, this holding on till the last; for in these days, in naval battles, the game is not over until the last gun is fired, and a chance shot may recover the day for a seemingly beaten combatant. [64]

For three-quarters of an hour, from the time when the Cumberland was struck until she sank, the enemy's fire was concentrated upon her with terrible effect. A shell passing through the hatch burst in the sick-bay, killing four of the wounded. On the berth-deck, the wounded men were lifted upon racks and mess-chests, to keep them from drowning; and as the water rose, those who fell on the upper decks were carried amidships and left there. The Merrimac hailed and demanded a surrender; but Morris returned a refusal. Already, the boats had been lowered and made fast in a line on the shore side. At half-past 3, the forward magazine was drowned, and five minutes later the order was given to the men to leave quarters and save themselves. The water had now risen to the gun-deck; a last shot was fired as the ship heeled over to port, and officers and crew jumped for their lives into the water. A moment more, and the Cumberland, with her ensign still flying at the peak, sank to her tops.

While the Merrimac was occupied with the Cumberland, three steamers, the Patrick Henry, Jamestown, and Teazer, which had been lying at the mouth of the James River, ran past the batteries at Newport News, and joining the other gunboats, opened a brisk fire upon the Congress, which told severely upon her crew. Seeing the fate of the Cumberland, Smith sought to escape the enemy's ram by running ashore. He set the jib and topsails, and with the assistance of the tug, ran up on the flats, hoping in this way to delay the battle until the other frigates should arrive; but his movement was only escaping destruction in one form to meet it in another. No sooner was the Congress hard and fast than the Merrimac, taking a position astern of her, at a distance of one hundred and fifty yards, raked her fore and aft with shells; and the smaller steamers joined in the attack with [65] spirit and effect. The Congress could only reply with her two stern guns, and these were soon disabled.

The unequal contest lasted for an hour. The old frigate could do nothing. Her decks were covered with the dead and dying; her commander was killed, and fire had broken out in different parts of the ship. The affair had ceased to be a fight; it was simply a wholesale slaughter. As the Minnesota had run aground, there was no prospect of relief; and Lieutenant Pendergrast, upon whom the command had fallen, to prevent the useless carnage, hoisted a white flag.

The Beaufort and Raleigh were sent alongside the Congress to receive possession and to remove the prisoners; but a sharp fire of artillery and small arms' from the shore drove them off. The Teazer was then ordered to set fire to the Congress, but she also was beaten back. The Merrimac thereupon renewed her fire, using incendiary shot, and the people of the Congress, who had remained passive while the contest was going on over and around them, manned their boats and escaped to the shore. The ship, left to herself,. continued to burn slowly, and at one o'clock the next morning she blew up.

While these battles were in progress, the two screw-frigates, which formed the only effective force on the ground, made an effort to get into action, but not with any great success. The Minnesota, under Captain Van Brunt, was the first to move, getting under way soon after the enemy was sighted, at a signal from the Roanoke. As she passed Sewall's Point, the batteries opened fire on her, but did not stop her progress. After steaming five miles she grounded. She was then a mile and a half from the scene of action. When the abandonment of the Congress left the Merrimac free to engage a new antagonist, she turned her attention to the stranded frigate. Fortunately for the latter, the Merrimac drew too [66] much water to approach within less than a mile of her position; and her fire at this distance was ineffective. The Patrick Henry and Jamestown, taking their position on the bow and stern of the Minnesota, did her more injury with their rifled guns than did their powerful consort. The Minnesota's fire had no effect upon the Merrimac, but she succeeded in beating back the gunboats; and during two or three hours of conflict, neither side gained or lost.

The Roanoke, which was disabled by a broken shaft,2 got under way soon after the Minnesota, and with the assistance of a couple of tugs, moved slowly in the direction of Newport News. She went far enough to see the Cumberland sink and the Congress surrender. Soon after the second event she grounded; but the tugs managed to tow her head around and to get her afloat. Sending the tugs to assist the Minnesota, the Roanoke now withdrew and dropped down to her anchorage.

As the Roanoke was on her way back, the St. Lawrence passed her, making her way laboriously to the scene of action in tow of a gunboat. Captain Purviance, with a gallantry that deserved a better instrument, was endeavoring to bring; his fine old fifty-gun frigate to battle with the ironclad. Fortunately for him and for his ship, he also went aground, [67] while still at some distance from the enemy, against whom he discharged a series of futile broadsides. Night was now approaching; and the St. Lawrence slowly returned to her place in the roads below.

At seven o'clock the Merrimac ceased firing, and withdrew to Sewall's Point. She had done a good day's work. She had sunk one of her opponents, and burnt another. Only daylight was needed to capture or exterminate the rest. She saw her prey within her grasp; and by all human calculation the whole force must fall into her hands on the next day. The conflict had left her without any material injury; and she returned to her anchorage fully satisfied with the work of the day, and the prospects for the morrow.

But an event had already occurred which put a new aspect upon affairs in Hampton Roads. At four in the afternoon the Monitor had passed Cape Henry. Her officers had heard the heavy firing in the direction of Fortress Monroe, and the ship was stripped of her sea-rig and prepared for action. A pilot-boat, spoken on the way up, gave word of the disastrous engagement that had just ended; and presently the light of the burning Congress confirmed the news. At nine o'clock the Monitor had anchored near the Roanoke, and Worden went on board to report.

In order to carry out the project of opening the Potomac River, explicit orders had been given to Captain Marston to send the Monitor directly to Washington. Similar orders had been sent to Worden, but they only reached New York two hours after he had sailed. The state of affairs was such, however, that Marston and Worden were more than justified in disregarding the orders. No sane man would have done otherwise. Worden accordingly proceeded to the assistance of the Minnesota, which was still aground off Newport News. Acting-Master Samuel Howard volunteered to act as pilot. Before [68] midnight the Monitor had joined the Minnesota; but the frigate failed to get afloat at high water, and the Monitor remained by her during the rest of the night.

At daylight on the morning of Sunday, March 9, the Merrimac was discovered with her attendant gunboats under the batteries at Sewall's Point. The Minnesota lay still in the same position, apparently helpless. The diminutive iron battery beside her was hardly noticed; and at half-past 7 the Merrimac was under way, confident of repeating, on a larger scale, the victory of the day before. Buchanan had been disabled by a wound, and she was now commanded by Lieutenant Catesby Jones. She steamed down leisurely toward the Rip Raps, turned into the Minnesota's channel, and opened fire while still a mile away. She succeeded in putting a shot under the Minnesota's counter, near the water line, but did no further injury. The Monitor's anchor was up, her men at quarters, her guns loaded, and everything ready for action. She immediately got under way, to engage as far as possible from the Minnesota, and, to Van Brunt's surprise and relief, headed directly for the Merrimac's starboard bow, covering the frigate. Worden reserved his fire until he was close upon the enemy; then, altering his course, he gave orders to commence firing, and, stopping the engine, passed slowly by. The Merrimac returned the fire, but with little effect; the turret was a small target, and the projectiles passed over the low deck. Shell, grape, canister, and musket balls, flew about in every direction, but did no injury. Acting-Master Stodder carelessly leaned for a moment against the turret, and a shot striking the outer wall, produced a concussion that disabled him. As the turret was struck the shot glanced off from its curved side; and though, from the imperfections of the machinery, it was regulated with difficulty, it continued to revolve as freely as ever. [69]

After passing the Merrimac, Worden turned, and, crossing her stern, attempted to disable her screw, which he missed by a few feet. Returning, he passed up along her port side, firing deliberately. The vessels were so close that several times they nearly came in contact. Presently they separated, and the Merrimac attacked the Minnesota. In shifting her position, she grounded, but got off in a moment. The frigate received her as she approached with a discharge from her full broadside and X-inch pivot; of which Van Brunt observed, somewhat extravagantly, that ‘it would have blown out of water any timber-built ship in the world.’ But the days of timber-built ships were numbered, and nothing proved it more clearly than Van Brunt's ineffectual broadside. The Merrimac replied with a shell from her rifled bow-gun, which entered the berth-deck amidships, tore four rooms into one, and set the ship on fire. The flames were soon extinguished. A second shell exploded the boiler of the tugboat Dragon. Van Brunt concentrated his broadside upon the ironclad, and fifty solid shot struck her side with no more effect than the pelting of hail-stones. By the time she had fired her third shell, the Monitor had interposed again; and the Merrimac, running down at full speed, attempted to repeat her successful attack on the Cumberland. Worden saw the movement, and suddenly putting his helm hard-a-port, he gave his vessel a broad sheer, receiving the blow of the ram on his starboard quarter, whence it glanced off without doing any injury.

During the engagement, Worden had taken his place in the pilot-house, from the lookout-holes of which he was able to see the course of the action and to direct the working of the ship and of the guns. Greene had charge of the turret and handled the battery. These two men fought the ship. Acting-Master Stodder was at first stationed at the wheel that [70] started the revolving-gear, and when he was disabled, Chief-Engineer Stimers volunteered to take his place, and did the best that could be done in the exhausting work of turning the refractory turret. The powder division on the berth-deck was in charge of Acting-Master Webber. The paymaster and captain's clerk, also stationed on the berth-deck, passed the orders from the pilot-house. The men had gone into the engagement worn out, having had no rest for forty-eight hours, and little to eat. But they were picked men, and during the short time that Worden had been with them he had won, in an extraordinary degree, their confidence and regard. Accordingly they did their work with unflinching courage and resolution.

The situation in the turret was a difficult one. Shut up in a revolving iron cask, on a moving platform, and cut off from the captain except through slow and imperfect communication by passing the word, when minutes and even seconds were important, Greene fought under heavy disadvantages. The direction of the bow and stern and of the starboard and port beam were marked on the stationary flooring, but the marks were soon obliterated, and after one or two revolutions it was impossible to guess at the direction of the ship or the position of the enemy. The only openings through which anything could be seen were the gunports; and these were closed except at the moment of firing, as an entering shot would have disabled the guns. Curiously enough, neither of the port-stoppers was struck, though the edges of the ports and the turret wall between them were jagged and dented by the Merrimac's shot. At last the difficulties became so great, the revolutions so confusing, and the mechanism governing the movements of the turret so little under control, that it was left stationary, and the ship was fought and the guns pointed by the helm. [71]

After fighting for two hours, the Monitor hauled off to hoist shot into the turret. At half-past 11, the engagement was renewed. The enemy now concentrated his fire on the pilot-house, which was the weakest part of the vessel. At a moment when Worden was looking through one of the openings, a shell struck the wall at the opening, and exploded. The explosion fractured one of the iron logs of the frame, and lifted half-way off the iron hatch that rested insecurely on the top. Worden's eyes were filled with powder and slivers of iron, and he was blinded and stunned. Blind as he was, he could see the stream of light from the roof, and unable to determine the extent of the injury, he had the presence of mind to give orders to put the helm to starboard and sheer off. With the captain disabled and the quartermaster dazed by the shock, it was some minutes before word was passed to the turret of the disaster in the pilot-house. When Greene came out and passed forward he found the captain at the foot of the ladder, stunned and helpless, his face black and streaming with, blood. Leaving him to the surgeon, Green mounted to the pilot-house, while Stimers replaced him in the turret; and the vessel, which during these moments of unavoidable delay had been without a captain, and steaming no one knew whither, once more faced the enemy.

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. As she moved off, Greene fired at her twice, or at most three times. He then returned to the Minnesota, and remained by her until she got afloat. To have followed the Merrimac under the batteries of Sewall's Point would have been running a greater risk than the circumstances would warrant, [72] considering the important interests at Hampton Roads, of which the Monitor afforded the sole protection.

It appears that the movements of the Monitor, at the time when there was no captain to direct her, led others besides Van Brunt to suppose that she had given up the fight; and the assertion has since been confidently made that she was beaten and driven off by the enemy. The statement is not borne out by the facts, as the Monitor only went off a short distance into shoal water, and presently renewed the combat. But assuming for the moment that the Merrimac was left in possession of the field, why did she not continue her operations? The retreat of the Monitor would have left matters in precisely the situation in which the Merrimac supposed them to be when she came out in the morning. It is to be presumed that her object then was to destroy the Minnesota. The Monitor prevented her for four hours from doing this; now, however, if the Monitor had retreated, why did she not attack the frigate?

Instead of continuing the fight, the Merrimac steamed to Norfolk. Jones gives as his reason for returning that he believed the Minnesota to be entirely disabled. What ground he had for forming such a belief does not appear. It has also been suggested that his pilots led him to suppose that delay would prevent him from crossing the bar. But what need had he to cross? The bar was a mile above Sewall's Point; he had anchored safely the night before under the battery, and after destroying the Minnesota—supposing that the Monitor had disappeared—he could do the same again, and go up to Norfolk at his leisure. If, however, his injuries were so great that he was compelled to lose no time in returning to Norfolk, it would seem that instead of his having defeated the Monitor, the Monitor had defeated him. In truth, the claim that the Merrimac was victorious is singularly [73] bold, in view of the fact that half an hour after the last shot was fired the Minnesota was lying aground in the very spot she had occupied in the morning, the Monitor was lying alongside her, neither of them being materially injured, and the supposed victor was steaming as fast as possible to Elizabeth River, in order to cross the bar before the ebbtide.

Though both the ironclads were severely pounded in the engagement, neither had developed fully its offensive strength, and all things considered they got off rather easily. The only serious casualty on either side was the injury received by Worden. The Merrimac leaked somewhat from the collision of her unarmed stem with the Monitor's overhang, and the plates of her armor were broken where they were struck, but the wooden backing was not penetrated. The roof of the Monitor's pilot-house was partly displaced, and one of its beams was cracked; but otherwise the vessel was left intact. She was struck twenty-one times; eight times on the side-armor, twice on the pilot house, seven times on the turret, and four times on deck. The deepest indentations on the sides were four inches, on the turret two inches, and on the deck one inch. Had the Monitor's guns been depressed to strike the enemy at the water line, where there was only one inch of armor, or had the latter concentrated his fire on the pilot-house of the Monitor, which was her weakest point, the result might have been more decisive. So with the ordnance. The service charge for the Xi-inch guns was fifteen pounds, and the Bureau had enjoined upon Worden to limit himself to this, though it was found later that thirty pounds could be safely used; and on the other hand, owing to the great demand among the Confederates for projectiles at other points, and to the supposition that she would have only wooden vessels to encounter, the Merrimac was not supplied [74] with solid shot, which would have been far more effective against armor than shells.

No single event of the naval war produced more momentous results than the victory of the Monitor. The first day's battle in Hampton Roads had shown that the enemy possessed an engine of destruction whose offensive powers were a new revelation in maritime warfare. There was nothing at hand to offer even a show of effective resistance. On that memorable Saturday night dismay and consternation pervaded the fleet; the Merrimac had the frigates at her mercy, and the waters of Hampton Roads under her control. To all appearances the confidence of the country in its navy was on the point of being rudely shaken by the sudden destruction of a large force of its most powerful ships. The blockade was about to be raised at the point where it had seemed to be most firmly established. A roadstead whose occupation was of the highest strategic importance was about to pass into the hands of the enemy; and the proposed plan of an invasion of the Peninsula would be rendered impracticable if the army's base and communications were threatened by the Merrimac. It was even feared that the ironclad would issue from the Chesapeake and levy contributions on Northern ports; and though it was afterward known that she could not have gone to sea with safety, the fact that she was at large and that her egress was unchecked would have produced incalculable mischief both at home and abroad.

But the renown of the Monitor and of the gallant officer who commanded her rest no less on the courage and conduct that carried her to victory than on the importance of the action and the dramatic interest that surrounded it. The expedition had started from New York as a forlorn hope. To Worden it was doubly so, for he had left a sick-bed to assume [75] the command, and he had been told by his physician that he could hardly hope to come back alive. With a fortitude beyond all praise he held to his purpose, and carried the experimental craft through her first perilous sea-voyage. After two sleepless days and nights he entered Hampton Roads, only to find that the fleet was demoralized and that the whole weight of the crisis rested upon him. With hardly a moment for rest or for preparation, he took his untried vessel boldly into action with an enemy whose powers had just been proved in a successful engagement, and whose enormous size caused his little battery to sink into comparative insignificance. The close of the battle found the enemy in retreat, the blockade unbroken, the fleet saved, and the Roads reconquered. For these overwhelming results, and for the skill and heroism that achieved them in the face of extraordinary difficulties, the names of Worden and the Monitor will always be linked by the country in affectionate remembrance.3 [76]

After the battles of the 8th and 9th of March, Buchanan was relieved, in consequence of his wound, by Commodore Tattnall, who assumed command of the ‘naval defences of the waters of Virginia’ on the 29th. His fleet was composed of the same vessels that had taken part in the two actions. The Merrimac came out of dry-dock on the 4th of April. She had been thoroughly repaired, and was in as good condition as before the engagement. Another layer of iron had been partially put on, a new ram had been adjusted, and she was furnished with solid shot. Her only weak points were in her ports, which were without covers; and in her engines, upon which full dependence could not be placed.

On the morning of April 11, the Merrimac steamed down the river, and came out into Hampton Roads. Goldsborough had now returned from the Sounds. The Minnesota, with the Monitor and the other vessels of the squadron, was lying at Fortress Monroe, or a little below; and the Merrimac took her position between Sewall's Point and Newport News, out of range of the guns of the fort.

Goldsborough, impressed with the importance of keeping the Merrimac in check, in order that she might not interfere with McClellan's operations, and in accordance with the wishes of the Department, was inclined to take no unnecessary risk, and to do nothing that would precipitate a conflict. [77] He had no intention of taking the offensive, or of engaging, except under the most favorable circumstances. Additions to his force were expected to arrive shortly, and the situation was considered too critical to leave anything to chance. No action therefore took place, the vessels of the squadron having steam up, but remaining in their position near the fort.

A large number of transports, store-ships, and chartered vessels were lying at this time in or about the Roads. Goldsborough had cautioned them about the danger of lying near Hampton, and most of them had withdrawn below the fort. On the 11th, however, two brigs and a schooner, employed by the Quartermaster's Department, were still lying between Newport News and Hampton Bar. By Tattnall's direction the Jamestown and Raleigh steamed across, captured the vessels, and brought them over to Sewall's Point, in full sight of the fleet. Humiliating as the incident was, it was not of sufficient importance to change Goldsborough's plan, supposing that his plan was right. In the occurrences of this day, the Department commended Goldsborough's action, and it left to his discretion the conduct of subsequent operations.

Matters remained in this position for nearly a month, the squadron having been increased during this time by the addition of the new ironclad Galena, the Vanderbilt, and other vessels. In May it became apparent to the Confederates that the progress of military operations would compel the abandonment of Norfolk, and consultations were held by the military and naval authorities as to the disposition of the Merrimac. Early on the morning of May 8, the United States steamers Galena, Aroostook, and Port Royal were sent up the James River. The Merrimac was at Norfolk, and a demonstration was made by the rest of the squadron against the battery at Sewall's Point. Presently the Merrimac came down the river. It was not Goldsborough's intention to [78] make a serious attack on the fort, his object being merely to ascertain the strength of the works and the possibility of effecting a landing of the troops.

The Monitor had orders to fall back into fair channel way, and only engage the Merrimac seriously in such a position that the Minnesota and the other vessels could run her down, if an opportunity presented itself. According to Goldsborough, ‘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 it, and soon returned and anchored under Sewall's Point.’4

On the 10th, Tattnall learned that the fort at Sewall's Point had been abandoned, and that the United States troops, having landed at Ocean View, were rapidly advancing on Norfolk. By the evening Norfolk had surrendered, and he resolved to withdraw to the James River. The pilots informed him that they could take the ship up with a draft of eighteen feet. The Merrimac drew twenty-two feet, and preparations were made to lighten her. After working half the night, and stripping the ship so that she was unfit for action, the pilots, apparently not wishing to go out, declared that it would be impossible to take her up as far as Jamestown Flats, the point to which McClellan's army was supposed to have occupied the river. Tattnall thereupon concluded to destroy his [79] ship; and, setting her on fire, he landed his officers and men and escaped by way of Suffolk. At five o'clock on the morning of the 11th the Merrimac blew up.

Possession of Norfolk being now resumed, active operations came to an end, and the blockading station at Hampton Roads ceased to be the scene of conflict. The Monitor, after remaining all summer in the James River, was sent to Washington for repairs in September, and two months later returned to Hampton Roads.

The career of the Monitor was now nearly over. On the afternoon of the 29th of December, she set out for Beaufort, N. C., in tow of the Rhode Island. Admiral Lee had left the time of departure at the discretion of Bankhead, the commander of the Monitor; and the latter chose a clear pleasant day, when a light wind was blowing from the southwest, and everything promised fair weather. The passage to Beaufort was about as long as that from New York to Hampton Roads. The Monitor was accompanied by the Passaic, which was in tow of the State of Georgia. All went well until the morning Of the second day, when the ships began to feel a swell from the southward. Gradually the wind freshened, and the sea broke over the pilot-house of the Monitor. The weather was threatening all day, with occasional squalls of wind and rain: but the bilge-pumps were kept at work, and the ironclads remained free from water.

As evening came on, and Hatteras was passed, matters began to grow worse. The wind increased and hauled to the southward, causing a heavy sea. As the Monitor rose to the swell, the projecting armor of her bow received the shock of the advancing wave full on its flat under-surface, coming down with a clap like thunder. The sea rose fast, submerging the pilot-house, and forcing its way into the turret and [80] blower-pipes. Trenchard, who commanded the Rhode Island, stopped his vessel, to see if the Monitor would not ride more easily or make less water; but the inert mass of iron only fell off and rolled heavily in the trough of the sea. Again the Rhode Island started, with the Monitor yawing and plunging behind her. The strain on her forward overhang had loosened the plates under her bow, and she began to leak; and though all the pumps were working, the water gained on them fast. At ten o'clock it became evident that no efforts would avail to save the ship; and Bankhead made the signal of distress, cut the hawser, and ranged up under the lee of the Rhode Island. Boats were lowered, and the dangerous work began of removing the crew of the sinking ironclad, over whose deck the seas were now breaking in quick succession. As the vessels touched, ropes were thrown over the Rhode Island's quarter; but the crew could not or would not seize them. The Rhode Island's cutter took off a boat-load of men successfully, but the launch was stove by the working of the Monitor; and Trenchard, finding that his own vessel was imperilled by the sharp bow and sides of her companion, was obliged to move away.

It was now nearly midnight; the ship was sinking fast, the rising water had put out the fires, engines and pumps had stopped, and again the Monitor fell off into the trough of the sea, where she rolled sluggishly. Seeing this, Bankhead let go the anchor, which brought her head to wind. The greater part of the crew had now been rescued; but a few had been washed overboard, and twenty or so still remained on board, waiting for the boats to return. During these trying moments Bankhead set a bailing party at work, not in the hope of reducing the water, but to give occupation to his men. Slowly and cautiously the last boat approached, keeping off with her oars from the side of the ironclad, and while Bankhead [81] held the painter she took off the remnant of the crew,— all but a few poor fellows who, dazed and terrified, could not be made to leave the turret. Last of all Bankhead jumped in, and the boat pulled toward the Rhode Island, and was got safely on board. A few moments more, and the Monitor slowly settled and disappeared

1 Captain Fox, in his testimony before the Select Committee, says that the sail ing-vessels were left in Hampton Roads at the request of the military authorities

2 Captain Fox, in his testimony before the Select Committee on March 19, 1862, says: ‘The shaft of the Roanoke was broken about the 5th of November, and it was believed that it could be repaired in about two months. That was the report made to us. But upon inquiry, it was found that every forge in that country capable of doing the work was employed. There being a large number of contracts out for steamers, every one of which must have a shaft, every available forge In the country was running to the utmost of its capacity. Finally, we found one establishment that agreed to forge the shaft, but refused to turn and finish it, which, of itself, is as important and difficult a matter as the forging. The Government had no adequate means to turn such an enormous piece of forging. They undertook it, however, with such means as they had at the New York Navy Yard, and it is now about finished, although it broke every piece of machinery they had which was put upon it, and special machinery had to be made for it.’

3 Though not, strictly speaking, within the province of history, it may be worth while to quote here, as it has never before been made public, a touching letter which was sent to Worden by the crew of the Monitor at the time when he was lying in Washington disabled by his wound. As an expression of genuine feeling from rough and untrained men, and as showing the enthusiastic devotion which Worden had gained from his crew, its interest is both human and historical.

To Captain Worden.

Hampton Roads, April 24th, 1862. U. S. S. Monitor.
To our Dear and Honored Captain.
Dear Sir: These few lines is from your own crew of the Monitor, with their kindest Love to you their Honored Captain, hoping to God that they will have the pleasure of welcoming you back to us again soon, for we are all ready able and willing to meet Death or any thing else, only give us back our Captain again. Dear Captain, we have got your Pilot-house fixed and all ready for you when you get well again; and we all sincerely hope that soon we will have the pleasure of welcoming you back to it. . . . We are waiting very patiently to engage our Antagonist if we could only get a chance to do so. The last time she came out we all thought we would have the Pleasure of sinking her. But we all got disappointed, for we did not fire one shot and the Norfolk papers says we are cowards in the Monitor—and all we want is a chance to show them where it lies with you for our Captain We can teach them who is cowards. But there is a great deal that we would like to write to you but we think you will soon be with us again yourself. But we all join in with our kindest love to you, hoping that God will restore you to us again and hoping that your sufferings is at an end now, and we are all so glad to hear that your eyesight will be paired to you again. We would wish to write more to you if we have your kind Permission to do so but at present we all conclude by tendering to you our kindest Love and affection, to our Dear and Honored Captain.

We remain until Death your Affectionate Crew

the Monitor boys.

4 It is impossible to reconcile the statements of the two opposing commanders, in regard to the events of this day. Tattnall says: ‘We passed the battery and stood directly for the enemy for the purpose of engaging him, and I thought an action certain, particularly as the Minnesota and Vanderbilt, which were anchored below Fortress Monroe, got under way and stood up to that point, apparently with the intention of joining their squadron in the roads. Before, however, we got within gunshot, the enemy ceased firing and retired with all speed under the protection of the guns of the Fortress, followed by the Virginia, until the shells from the Rip Raps passed over her. The Virginia was then placed at her moorings near Sewall's Point.’

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