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The Merrimac and Monitor.

The claim now before the United States Senate, for prize money by the crew of the ‘Monitor’ on the ground that she disabled the ‘Merrimac,’ and thus saved Washington and even New York from destruction, has revived interest in the famous ‘Battle of Hampton Roads,’ and elicited a number of papers worth preserving for the [31] use of the future historian. The official report of Admiral Buchanan (Vol. 7, page 305, Southern Historical Society Papers), and the admirable narrative of Captain Catesby Ap. R. Jones (which we printed in the Southern Magazine and shall reprint hereafter), settle the question beyond peradventure, and we cannot conceive that partizan influence can prevail on Congress to grant this absurd claim of the crew of the Monitor.

General D. H. Maury has given a summary of the facts in the following letter addressed to Senator Johnston:

Letter from General Maury.

office of the Southern Historical Society, November, 1882.
Senator John W. Johnston, of Virginia .
Dear Sir,—At your request I forward to you the essential facts about the Battle in Hampton Roads between the Confederate ironclad, Virginia (Merrimac) and the Federal fleet, consisting of the Monitor (ironclad) and the Cumberland, Congress, and Minnesota.

On March 8, 1862, the Virginia steamed out of Norfolk to attack the frigates Congress and Cumberland, then lying in Hampton Roads. She was commanded by Admiral Franklin Buchanan.

She first encountered the United States frigate Cumberland, whom she struck with her prow and sunk—her iron prow was broken off in the collision and sunk with the Cumberland.

The Cumberland behaved with conspicuous devotion from first to last. She was at anchor and received the Virginia firmly, and sunk working her battery and with her colors flying.

The Congress slipped her cables and ran ashore and after a gallant defence surrendered and was taken possession of. She was set on fire and blew up at midnight.

The Monitor had not yet appeared. All of the other ships retired below Old Point except the Minnesota, and she got ashore, beyond the reach of the Virginia, and so escaped.

On the morning of March 9th the Monitor hove in sight, and steamed to attack the Virginia.

These two ironclads exchanged a number of shots. No serious damage was inflicted by either upon the other—but after having been rammed by the Virginia with her wooden prow and having received a shot which jarred her turret and disabled her commander, the Monitor retired into shoal water beyond the Virginia's reach and never again encountered her. [32]

The Virginia the next morning returned to Norfolk, went into dock and repaired damages—put on a new steel prow, exchanged two of her guns for two others, and on May 8, more formidable than ever, again went out to attack the Federal fleet which had been reinforced by the Galena and Vanderbilt, and was bombarding the Confederate batteries, on the shore. On the approach of the Virginia the Monitor and all the rest of the fleet retired below Old Point beyond her reach and never again came out.

The Virginia maintained this attitude of defiance and victory until May 11th, 1862, when Norfolk was evacuated by the Confederate forces and all stores and munitions of war not movable were destroyed, including the Virginia (Merrimac).

These facts are attested by eye-witnesses and actors in these events of high authority, and are drawn from carefully prepared narratives and reports in the office of the Southern Historical Society in the capitol of Virginia.

With high respect your obedient servant,

Dabney H. Maury, Chairman Executive Committeee S. H S.

Midshipman Littlepage who was on the Merrimac, furnished the following to the Washington Post.

Statement of midshipman Littlepage.

To the Editor of The Post.—From the article which appeared in the columns of The Post this morning, I learn that the officers and men of the Monitor have memorialized Congress for prize money for the disabling of the Merrimac by that vessel. As there is not an officer or man who was on the Monitor on that memorable occasion who does not know that the Monitor did not disable the Merrimac, I cannot conceive upon what grounds the claim for prize money is made. It reminds me of the old sailor, who, whenever he heard others speaking of fine horses, would always tell of the remarkable traits of his own horse. He told it so often that he actually believed he had a horse, and when the ship went into Vera Cruz he bought a fine Mexican saddle for it. The statement that the Merrimac was disabled and driven from Hampton Roads into Norfolk is entirely incorrect and absurb. It only convinces me that I. R. G., like many others who have written upon this subject, was not there. The Monitor was neither the direct nor the remote cause of the destruction of the Merrimac; if prize money is to be awarded for her, let it [33] be given to the gallant officers and crew of the Cumberland, which went down with her colors flying after doing nearly all the damage sustained by the Merrimac on the 8th and 9th of March, 1862. The broadside fired by the Cumberland just as the Merrimac rammed her cut one of the Merrimac's guns off at the trunnions, the muzzle off another, tore up the carriage of her bow pivot gun, swept away her anchors, boats and howitzers, riddled her smoke-stack and steam-pipe, and killed and wounded nineteen men.

The next day in the fight with the Monitor the Merrimac did not have a man killed or wounded nor a gun disabled. The only damage sustained by her worth mentioning was by ramming the Monitor with her wooden stem, her cast-iron bow having been wrenched off the day before in the Cumberland. This probably saved the Monitor from a similar fate. 'Tis true the Monitor struck us some powerful blows with her eleven-inch guns when only a few feet from us, but not one of her shots penetrated our armor. If instead of scattering her shot over our shield she had concentrated them upon some particular spot, a breach might have been made. When the Merrimac left Hampton Roads for Norfolk, the Monitor had passed over the bar and hauled off into shoal water, where we could not reach her— the Merrimac's draft being over twenty-two feet, and hers only about ten. As there was nothing more to fight, the tide being favorable, the Merrimac returned to Norfolk, where she was docked. She was then thoroughly overhauled and equipped for fighting an ironclad. A prow of steel and wrought iron was put on. Bolts of wrought iron and chilled iron were supplied for the rifle guns, and other preparations made especially for the Monitor. They were such as to make all on the Merrimac feel confident that we would either make a prize of or destroy the Monitor when we met again. On the 11th of April, all being ready for the expected fray, the Merrimac again went to Hampton Roads. The Monitor was laying at our moorings, at the mouth of the Elizabeth river, publishing to the world that she was blockading the Merrimac. Greatly to our surprise she refused to fight us, and as we approached she gracefully retired, and closely hugged the shore under the guns of Fortress Monroe. As if to provoke her to combat, the Jamestown was sent in, and she captured several prizes, in which the Monitor seemed to acquiesce, as she offered no resistance. French and English men-of-war were present; the latter cheered and dipped their flags as the Jamestown passed with the prizes.

On the 8th of May, when the Merrimac had returned to Norfolk [34] for supplies, a squadron consisting of the Monitor, Naugatuck and Galena (iron-clads) and five large men-of-war, commenced to bombard our batteries at Sewell's Point. The Merrimac immediately left Norfolk for the scene of conflict. As she approached the squadron at full speed the Vanberbilt, one of the fastest steamers then afloat, which, we understood, had been fitted with a prow especially for ramming us, joined the other ships. We regarded the attack as an invitation to come out, and we expected a most desperate encounter. Much to the disappointment of our Commodore, and greatly to the relief of many others besides myself, as soon as the Merrimac came within range they seemed to conclude that Sewell's Point was not worth fighting about, and all hurried below the guns of Fortress Monroe and the Rip-Raps. The Merrimac pursued at full speed until she came well under the fire of the latter port, when she retired to her moorings at the mouth of the river. After the evacuation of Norfolk the Merrimac was taken above Craney Island and blown up on the 11th of May. The Monitor was then up James river, having gone up the day before, and was probably more than fifty miles away. She had refused the gage of battle offered her by the Merrimac daily since the 11th of April.

Wherefore doth she claim prize money?

In stating the above facts I do not wish to detract one iota from the just deserts of the brave officers and men of the Monitor. They did their whole duty, but not more gallantly than their less fortunate comrades on the Cumberland, Congress, Minnesota and other ships in the Roads, and are therefore no more entitled to prize money. Those on the Merrimac by no means regarded the Monitor as a lion in her path. Having served on the Merrimac from the time work was first begun upon her until the night of her destruction, in justice to all concerned, and that honor may be done to whom honor is due, I simply desire the facts to be known.

The following letter from Captain W. H. Parker to the Norfolk Landmark, is also an interesting and unanswerable statement of the question:

Letter from Captain Parker.

Norfolk, Va., December 11, 1882.
To the Editor of the Landmark
The claim of the crew of the U. S. S. Monitor for prize money for [35] the destruction of the Confederate vessel Virginia (Merrimac) has naturally called forth many letters from those engaged in the naval operations in Hampton Roads from March 8, 1862, to May 6, 1862.

I commanded the Beaufort in the battles of the 8th and 9th of March, and in the operations under Commodore Tattnal, to which I shall allude. In fact, I may say I commanded a consort of the Merrimac from the time she was put in commission until she was blown up. I therefore profess to be familiar with her history.

The battle of March 8th I propose describing at some future day, in order to show more particularly what part the wooden vessels took in that memorable engagement. The battle of March 9th—that between the Monitor and the Merrimac—has been fully described by Captain Catesby Jones, her Commander, and by other of her officers. I do not propose here to repeat it; but there are some points in relation to the operations subsequent to that engagement which have either been unnoticed, or but lightly touched upon. These points are in my judgment so important, and bear so immediately upon the claim of the Monitor for prize money, that I venture to submit the following:

I. After the battle of the 9th of March, the Merrimac went into dock to replace the prow, or ram, which had been lost in sinking the Cumberland, to exchange some of her guns, and to make some small repairs to her armor and machinery. On the 11th of April Commodore Tattnall, who had succeeded Commodore Buchanan in the command, went down with his entire squadron, consisting of the Merrimac, Patrick Henry, Jamestown, Teaser, Beaufort and Raleigh, to offer battle to the Federal fleet then lying in Hampton Roads, or below Old Point. The Merrimac was the only iron-clad. Upon the appearance of our squadron the entire Federal fleet retreated below the Rip-Raps, or under the guns of Old Point. Three merchant vessels were run on shore by their masters between Newport's News and Old Point, and were partially abandoned. The Jamestown and Raleigh towed them off almost under the guns of Old Point and the Federal fleet. Their flags were hauled down and hoisted Union down under the Confederate flag as a defiance to induce the fleet to attempt to retake them. The fleet, under Flag-officer Goldsborough, consisted of a large number of wooden vessels, some of them very heavy frigates, the Monitor, the Naugatuck (a small iron-clad), and even the Vanderbilt, a powerful steamer specially prepared ‘to run down and sink the Merrimac.’

An English and a French man-of-war were present in the Roads [36] and went up off Newport's News, evidently to witness the serious engagement, which we, at least, expected. Their crews repeatedly waved their hats and handkerchiefs to our vessels as we passed and repassed them during the day.

The Merrimac, with her consorts, held possession of the Roads, and defied the enemy to battle during the entire day, and for several days after—the Federal fleet lying in the same position below Old Point. Towards sunset of the first day the Merrimac fired a single gun at the enemy; it was immediately replied to by the Naugatuck, lying, I think, inside Hampton Bar.

I do not know what Commodore Tattnall thought about attacking the Federal fleet as it stood, nor do I know what his instructions were, but I do know that our officers generally believed that torpedoes had been placed in the channel between Old Point and the Rip-Raps; indeed, we supposed that to be the reason why Flag-officer Goldsborough declined to fight us in the Roads; moreover, fighting the entire fleet, Monitor, Naugatuck, Vanderbilt, and all in the Roads, was one thing, and fighting the same under the guns of Old Point and the Rip-Raps, was another.

II. The Merrimac remained for some days in this position, offering battle, and protecting the approaches to Norfolk and Richmond, and then went up to the Navy Yard to water. I think it was on the 8th day of May that Flag-officer Goldsborough took advantage of her absence to bombard Sewell's Point with a number of his vessels—the Monitor, Galena, and Naugatuck included—all three ironclads. When the fact was known in Norfolk, the Merrimac cast off from her moorings and steamed down to take a hand in the fight. As soon as her smoke was seen the entire fleet fled, and again took refuge below the guns of Old Point, where the Merrimac declined to pursue, for reasons satisfactory to her gallant commander.

III. From this time, until the 10th of May, the Merrimac maintained the same attitude. On that day she was blown up by her commander in consequence of the evacuation of Norfolk by the Confederates. Then, and not till then, Commodore John Rodgers was sent up the James river with the Galena, Monitor, and Naugatuck, all iron-clads, to attack Drewry's Bluff or Fort Darling, and make an attempt on Richmond.

IV. The above facts go to show what Flag-officer Goldsborough thought of the Merrimac, and in citing them, I wish it to be understood that I intend to cast no imputations upon him and his gallant officers. I have been told by some of them that he had positive [37] orders from his government not to attack the Merrimac; and I believe it to be case. Let us now see what some of the other officials thought.

At a council of war, assembled March 13th, 1862, at Fairfax C. H., Va., present, Generals Keyes, Heintzelman, McDowell, and Sumner, it was decided that General McClellan's plan to attack Richmond by York river should be adopted; provided, first, ‘that the enemy's vessel, Merrimac, can be neutralized.’ Page 55, series 1, vol. 5, official records of the Union and Confederate armies.

On page 751 I find the following letter:

Adjutant-General's office, Washington, March 13, 1862.
Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.
Sir,—I am directed by the Secretary of War to say that he places at you disposal any transports or coal vessels at Fort Monroe for the purpose of closing the channel of the Elizabeth river to prevent the Merrimac again coming out.

I have the honor, &c.,

L. Thomas, Adjutant-General.

And on page 752 I find the following:

Navy Department, March 13, 1862.
Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War.
Sir,—I have the honor to suggest that this Department can easily obstruct the channel to Norfolk so as to prevent the exit of the Merrimac, provided the army will carry the Sewell's Point batteries, in which duty the navy will give great assistance.

Very respectfully,

Be it remembered that the above extracts are all dated March 13th, four days after the so-called victory of the Monitor over the Merrimac! Would it not seem that a doubt rested in the minds of the writers?

V. The memorial claims that the Monitor not only whipped the Merrimac on the 9th of March but that she ever after prevented her from going below Old Point; and thus saved Baltimore, Washington, and even New York!!! The answer to this is that the Merrimac could not have gone to Baltimore or Washington without lightening her so much that she would no longer have been an ironclad: that is, she would have risen in the water so as to expose her unarmored [38] sides. As to her going outside of Cape Henry it was impossible; she would have foundered. She could not have lived in Hampton Roads in a moderate gale.

I served in the Palmetto State at Charleston, a similarly constructed vessel, but better sea-boat, and infinitely more buoyant, and have seen the time when we had to leave the outer harbor and take refuge in the inner in only a moderate blow!

VI. From the above-mentioned facts I think it clearly appears, (I) that the Monitor, after her engagement with the Merrimac on the 9th of March, never again dared encounter her, though offered frequent opportunities; (2) that so much doubt existed in the minds of the Federal authorities as to her power to meet the Merrimac, that orders were given her Commander not to fight her voluntarily; (3) that the Monitor never ventured above Old Point from the 9th of March until after the destruction of the Merrimac by her own crew, save on the occasion above referred to; (4) that the Merrimac, so far from being seriously injured in her engagement, efficiently protected the approaches to Norfolk and Richmond until Norfolk was evacuated; (5) that the Merrimac could not have gotten to Washington or Baltimore in her normal condition; (6) that she could not have gone to sea at all; (7) that, although she could have run by the Federal fleet and Old Point (barring torpedoes in the channel) and threatened McClellan's base at Yorktown, in exceptionably good weather, yet would have had to leave the James river open.

VII. For the truth of the very important facts mentioned in sections I, II and III, I am willing to abide by the log-book of the Monitor, the dispatches of Flag officer Goldsborough, or the testimony of Commander Dana Greene, United States Navy, who was the gallant and efficient executive officer of the Monitor from the day she left New York until she foundered off Cape Hatteras.

VIII. In conclusion I would like to say, and I do so most cheerfully, that the Monitor made her appearance in Hampton Roads at a critical time—the night of the 8th of March, 1862—and although an untried vessel, of a new and peculiar construction, did on the next day what the old Federal fleet present declined to do—she fought the Merrimac.

If the claim for a reward was put upon this ground alone, no one would be more gratified to see it granted her gallant crew than myself; but to claim prize-money on the ground that the Monitor defeated and permanently disabled the Merrimac, thus saving Washington [39] and New York, &c., &c., is, in view of the facts above cited, in my humble opinion, preposterous.

Very respectfully, &c.,

Note.—The ‘Merrimac’ was christened the ‘Virginia’ by the Confederate authorities; but I have preferred in this article to give her the name she was best known by.

Federal testimony as to the Merrimac and Monitor.

Norfolk, Va., December 27, 1882.
To the Editor of the Landmark:
Referring to my article on the claim of the crew of the Monitor for prize money, published in your valuable paper of the 12th inst., I desire to put on record the following extracts from the report of the late Captain G. J. Van Brunt, United States Navy, who commanded the United States frigate Minnesota in the engagement of March 8th and 9th, 1862.

It will be remembered that the Minnesota got aground on the 8th and remained there during the whole of the 9th. Under these circumstances it may well be imagined that Captain Van Brunt was an interested observer of the fight between the Merrimac and Monitor, and closely noted the result!

Here is what he says: (the italics are mine.)

United States steamer Minnesota, March 10, 1862.

As soon as she got off she (the Merrimac) stood down the bay, the little battery chasing her with all speed, when suddenly the Merrimac turned around and run full speed into her antagonist. For a moment I was anxious; but instantly I saw a shot plunge into the iron roof of the Merrimac, which surely must have damaged her. For some time after this the rebels concentrated their whole battery upon the tower and pilot-house of the Monitor, and soon after the latter stood down for Fortress Monroe, and we thought it probable she had exhausted her supply of ammunition, or sustained some injury.

Soon after the Merrimac and the two other steamers headed for my ship, and I then felt to the fullest extent my condition. I was hard and immovably aground, and they could take position under my stern and rake me. I had expended most of my solid shot; my [40] ship was badly crippled, and my officers and men were worn out with fatigue, but even in this extreme dilemma I determined never to give up the ship to the rebels, and after consulting with my officers I ordered every preparation to be made to destroy the ship after all hope was gone of saving her.

‘On ascending the poop-deck, I observed that the enemy's vessels had changed their course and were heading for Craney Island.’

I have the honor to be, your very obedient servant,

G. J. Van Brunt, Captain U. S. N. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.

Assuming, Mr. Editor, the account of Captain Van Brunt to be correct, how does the claim that the Monitor whipped the Merrimac on that occasion stand?


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