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The Merrimac and the Monitor—Report of the Committee on Naval Affairs.

House of Representatives.

48TH Congress, 1st Session.

report No. 1725.

officers and crew of the United States steamer Monitor.

May 31, 1884.—Laid on the table and ordered to be printed.

Mr. Ballentine, from the Committee on Naval Affairs, submitted the following

Report: [to accompany bill H. R. 244.]

The Committee on Naval Affairs, to whom was referred the bill (H. R. 244) for the relief of the Officers and Crew of the United States Steamer Monitor, who participated in the action with the Rebel Iron-clad Merrimac, on the 9th day of March, 1862, respectfully submit the following Report.

This is an application by the officers and crew of the United States Steamer Monitor, who participated in the action in Hampton Roads on the 9th day of March, 1862, with the Confederate iron-clad steamer Merrimac, or Virginia, for the payment to them by the United States of the actual value of the iron-clad Merrimac and her armament at the date of said action, not exceeding $200,000, to be distributed in lieu of the bounty provided by section 4,635 of the Revised Statutes of the United States, and in proportion fixed by law in cases where the capturing or destroying vessel was acting independently of the commanding officer of a fleet, squadron, or division, and for the appropriation of $200,000.

This application or memorial was presented to the House of Representatives at the second session of the Forty-third Congress, referred to the Committee on Naval Affairs, and no action taken on it until January 9, 1882, when it was again presented to the House of Representatives with like reference. A report was submitted by the committee recommending the passage of the bill.

The history of the case, which is relied on in support of this bill, is as follows: [91]

When the United States naval forces, on the 21st April, 1861, evacuated the navy-yard at Norfolk, among other vessels abandoned was the forty-gun steam frigate Merrimac. She was sunk near the yard before the abandonment of that place by the Union forces, with a view to prevent her falling into the hands of the Confederates. The Confederates took possession at once of the yard, and soon raised the Merrimac, and converted her into an iron-clad vessel. The hull was 275 feet long; about 160 feet of the central portion was covered by a roof of wood and iron, inclining about thirty-six degrees. The wood was 2 feet thick; it consisted of oak plank 4 by 12 inches, laid up and down next to the iron, and two courses of pine; one longitudinal of 8 inches thickness, the other 12 inches thick. The intervening space on top was closed by permanent gratings of 2-inch square iron, 2 1/2 inches apart, leaving openings for four hatches—one near each end, one forward, and one abaft the smokestack. The roof did not project beyond the hull. There was no knuckle, as in other Confederate vessels, such as the Alabama, Tennessee, and others, which were of more improved construction. The ends of the shields were rounded. The armor was 4 inches thick. It was fastened to its wooden backing by 1 3/8-inch bolts, countersunk and secured by iron nuts and washers. The plates were 8 inches wide and 2 inches thick. The hull, extending two feet below the roof, was plated with i-inch iron. The prow was of cast-iron, wedge-shaped, and weighed 1,500 pounds. It was about 2 feet under water, and projected 2 feet from the stem. The rudder and propeller were both exposed, with no appliances for protection. The battery consisted of ten guns, four single-banded Brooke rifles and six 9-inch Dahlgren shell-guns. Two of the rifles, bow and stern pivots, were 7-inch, of 14,500 pounds; the other two were 6.4-inch, 32 pounds caliber, of 9,000 pounds, one being on each broadside. The 9-inch gun on the side nearest the furnace was fitted for firing hot shot. The ammunition for this gun was 9-inch solid shot. The engines were the same which were on the vessel when she was sunk, and were found to be defective. The crew numbered 320, made up principally of volunteers from the army, and 30 officers. The vessel, after its refitting, was called the Virginia, and placed in command of flag-officer Frank. Buchanan.

On October 4, 1861, the Secretary of the United States Navy contracted with Captain John Ericsson for the construction of an ‘ironclad, shot-proof battery of iron and wood combined,’ and under this contract, on the 30th January, 1862, at Green Point, Long Island, [92] the vessel was launched, and called the Monitor. She went to sea March the 6th, in command of Lieutenant John L. Worden, United States Navy, with a crew of forty-three men and twelve officers, exclusive of Chief Engineer A. C. Stimers, inspector at New York, who went on board the vessel as a volunteer.

The Monitor had an iron hull with wooden deck beams and side projection; and was of the following named dimensions:

Extreme length 1720
Extreme breadth416
Depth of hold114
Draught of water106
Inside diameter of turret200
Height of turret90
Thickness of turret08
Thickness of side armor05
Thickness of deck plating01
Diameter of propeller09
Diameter of steam cylinders (2)036
Length of stroke22
Displacement, 1,255 tons.
Armament, two (2) 11-inch shell guns, each 15,668 pounds.

Such were the vessels which encountered each other in Hampton Roads on the 9th of March, 1862, before which time nothing like either of them had ever been set afloat upon any of the waters of the world. The report made by the Naval Committee to the first session of the Forty-seventh Congress embraces an extract from the report of the Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, which is here appended:

The attention of this Department was turned to the subject of ironclad vessels immediately after the commencement of hostilities, and the adoption of measures for the enlargement of the navy. It was a subject full of difficulty and doubt. Experiments upon a large scale of expense, both in England and France, if not resulting in absolute failure, had achieved but a limited and questionable success. Yet it was evident that a new and material element in maritime warfare was developing itself and demanded immediate attention. In this view I recommended to Congress, at its extra session, on the 4th of July, 1861, the whole subject, and asked authority to organize a commission for investigation. Thirty days after .this action on my part Congress conferred the authority requested, and appropriated $1,500,000 for the construction of one or more iron-clad vessels upon such models as should receive the approval of the Department. On the day after the law had been approved the commission was constituted, [93] and the Department advertised for proposals. Of the various plans and propositions submitted, three vessels of different models were recommended by the board, which received the approval of the Department. Contracts were forthwith made for constructing the Monitor, the Galena, and the Ironsides. All of these vessels are now in the service. It was the intention and constant effort of the Department and the contractors that the Monitor should be completed in the month of January, but there was delay in consequence of the difficulties incident to an undertaking of such novelty and magnitude, and there were also some slight defects, which were, however, promptly remedied, and she left New York early in March, reaching Hampton Roads on the night of the 8th.

Her arrival, though not as soon as anticipated, was most opportune and important. For some time the Department had heard with great solicitude of the progress which the insurgents had made in armoring and equipping the large war steamer Merrimac, which had fallen into their hands when Norfolk was abandoned.

On the afternoon of the 8th of March this formidable vessel, heavily armored and armed, and fully prepared to operate both as a ram and a war steamer, came down the Elizabeth River, accompanied by several steamers, two of them partially armored, to attack the vessels of the blockading squadron that were in and about Hampton Roads. When the Merrimac and her attendants made their appearance, the Congress and the Cumberland, two sailing vessels, were anchored off Newport News, and the remaining vessels were in the vicinity of Fortress Monroe, some six miles distant. The Minnesota, the Roanoke, and the St. Lawrence got immediately under way and proceeded towards the scene of action.

The Congress being nearest the Merrimac was the first to receive her fire, which was promptly returned by a full broadside, the shots falling apparently harmlessly off from the armored side of the assailant. Passing by the Congress, the Merrimac dashed upon the Cumberland, and was received by her with a heavy, well directed, and vigorous fire, which, like that of the Congress, produced, unfortunately, but little effect. A contest so unequal could not be of long continuance, and it was closed when the Merrimac, availing herself of her power as a steam ram, ran furiously against the Cumberland, laying open her wooden hull, and causing her almost immediately to sink. As her guns approached the water's edge, her young commander, Lieutenant Morris, and the gallant crew stood firm at their posts delivering a parting fire, and the good ship went down heroically with her colors flying. Having thus destroyed the Cumberland, the Merrimac turned again upon the Congress, which, in the meantime, had been engaged with the smaller rebel steamers, and after a heavy loss, in order to guard against such a fate as that which had befallen the Cumberland, had been run aground. The Merrimac now selected a raking position astern of the Congress, while one of the smaller steamers poured in a constant fire on her starboard quarter. Two other steamers of the enemy also approached from James

River, firing upon the unfortunate frigate with precision and severe [94] effect. The guns of the Congress were almost entirely disabled, and her gallant commanding officer, Lieutenant Joseph B. Smith, had fallen at his post. Her decks were strewn with the dead and the dying, the ship was on fire in several places, and not a gun could be brought to bear upon the assailants.

In this state of things, and with no effectual relief at hand, the senior surviving officer, Lieutenant Pendergrast, felt it his duty to save further useless destruction of life by hauling down his colors. This was done about 4 o'clock P. M. The Congress continued to burn until about eight in the evening, then blew up.

From the Congress the Merrimac turned her attention to the remaining vessels of the squadron. The Roanoke had grounded on her way to the scene of the conflict; and although she succeeded in getting off, her condition was such, her propeller being useless, that she took no part in the action. The St. Lawrence also grounded near the Minnesota, and had a short engagement with the Merrimac, but suffered no serious injury, and on getting afloat, was ordered back to Fortress Monroe.

The Minnesota, which had also got grounded in the shallow waters of the channel, became the special object of attack, and the Merrimac, with the Yorktown and Jamestown, bore down upon her. The Merrimac drew too much water to approach very near; her fire was not, therefore, particularly effective. The other steamers selected their position, fired with much accuracy, and caused considerable damage to the Minnesota. She soon, however, succeeded in getting a gun to bear on the two smaller steamers, and drove them away, one apparently in a crippled condition. About 7 P. M. the Merrimac also hauled off, and the three stood towards Norfolk.

All efforts to get the Minnesota afloat during the night and into a safe position were totally unavailing. The morning was looked for with deep anxiety, as it would, in all probability, bring a renewed attack from the formidable assailant.

At this critical and anxious moment the Monitor, one of the newly-finished armored vessels, came into Hampton Roads from New York, under the command of Lieutenant John L Worden, and a little after midnight anchored alongside the Minnesota. At 6 o'clock the next morning the Merrimac, as anticipated, again made appearance and opened her fire upon the Minnesota. Promptly obeying the signal to attack, the Monitor ran down past the Minnesota and laid herself close alongside the Merrimac, between that formidable vessel and the Minnesota. The fierce conflict between these two iron-clads lasted for several hours. It was, in appearance, an unequal conflict, for the Merrimac was a large and noble structure, and the Monitor was, in comparison, almost diminutive. But the Monitor was strong in her armor, in the ingenious novelty of her construction, in the large caliber of her two guns, and the valor and skill with which she was handled. After several hours fighting the Merrimac found herself overmatched, and, leaving the Monitor, sought to renew the attack on the Minnesota; but the Monitor again placed herself between the two vessels, and reopened her fire upon her adversary. At noon, [95] the Merrimac, seriously damaged, abandoned the contest, and, with her companions, retreated towards Norfolk.

This terminated the most remarkable naval combat of modern times, perhaps of any age. The fiercest and most formidable naval assault upon the power of the Union which has ever been made by the insurgents was heroically repelled, and a new era was opened in the history of maritime warfare.

It has been stated that—

It is undisputed and undeniable that on the morning of the 9th of March, 1862, the Confederate iron-clad vessel Merrimac, with all the prestige and confidence gained by her victory of the previous day over the United States wooden fleet off Newport News, came out to destroy the United States frigate Minnesota, and whatever other vessels she might there encounter which had escaped her devastation of the previous day; that as she approached the Minnesota the United States steamer Monitor, commanded by Lieutenant John L. Worden, and which had arrived on the ground late on the night before, attacked the Merrimac; engaged her for four hours in fierce combat; that the Merrimac finally retired from the battle-ground in a disabled and crippled condition, retreated to Norfolk and immediately went into dry-dock to prevent her from sinking. The evidence of these facts is most reliable and authentic, and it is not understood that up to this point there is any denial or controversy as to their existence.

This is a singular statement in view of the official record published in regard to this engagement. In Volume IX, page 7, of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion will be found a report from S. R. Mallory, Secretary of the Confederate navy, dated Richmond, Va., April 7, 1862, in which he says:

I have the honor to submit herewith a copy of the detailed report No. 7, of Flag-Officer Buchanan, of the brilliant triumph of his squadron over the vastly superior forces of the enemy in Hampton Roads, on March 8th and 9th last, a brief report by Lieutenant Jones of the battle of the 8th having been previously made.

The conduct of the officers and men of the squadron in this contest reflects unfading honor upon themselves and upon the navy. The report will be read with deep interest, and its details will not fail to arouse the ardor and nerve the arms of our gallant seamen. It will be remembered that the Virginia was a novelty in naval architecture, wholly unlike any ship that ever floated; that her heaviest guns were equal novelties in ordnance; that her motive power and her obedience to her helm were untried, and her officers and crew strangers, comparatively, to the ship and to each other, and yet, under all these disadvantages, the dashing courage and consummate [96] professional ability of Flag-Officer Buchanan and his associates achieved the most remarkable victory which naval annals record.

In the same volume from which a portion of Mr. Mallory's report is quoted, on page 60, is a letter from General J. Bankhead Magruder, dated Youngs Mill, Va., March 10, 1862, in which he says:

Commodore,—It is with the most cordial satisfaction that I tender you my most hearty congratulations on the glorious and brilliant victory you achieved over the enemy on Saturday and Sunday last. I consider it the greatest achievement of the age, and am delighted beyond expression that it was accomplished under your auspices and that of my friend, Lieutenant Catesby Ap R. Jones.

These two reports certainly negative in the strongest terms that language can employ the assertion that there had been no denial that the Monitor achieved a victory over the Merrimac.

The official report of Flag Officer Buchanan, who commanded the Merrimac on the 9th of March, 1862, which is on file in the War Department, gives the following account of the engagement:

Naval hospital, Norfolk, March 27, 1862.
Hon. S. R. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy:
sir,—Having been confined to my bed in this building since the 9th instant in consequence of a wound received in the action of the previous day, I have not had it in my power at an earlier date to prepare the official report which I now have the honor to make of the proceedings on the 8th and 9th instant of the James River squadron under my command, composed of the following named vessels: Steamer Virginia, flag-ship, 10 guns; steamer Patrick Henry, 12 guns, Commander John R. Tucker; steamer Jamestown, Lieutenant-Commander J. N. Barney, 2 guns, and gunboats Teaser, Lieutenant-Commanding W. A. Webb, Beaufort, Lieutenant-Commanding W. H. Parker, and Raleigh, Lieutenant-Commanding J. W. Alexander, each one gun; total, 27 guns. On the 8th instant, at 11 A. M., the Virginia left the navy-yard, Norfolk, accompanied by the Raleigh and Beaufort, and proceeded to Newport News, to engage the enemy's frigates Cumberland and Congress, gunboats, and shore batteries. When within less than a mile of the Cumberland, the Virginia commenced the engagement with that ship with her bowgun, and the action soon became general, the Cumberland, Congress, gunboats, and shore batteries concentrating upon us their heavy fire, which was returned with great spirit and determination.

The Virginia stood rapidly on towards the Cumberland, which ship I had determined to sink with our prow, if possible. In about [97] fifteen minutes after the action commenced, we ran into her, on her starboard bow; the crash below the water was distinctly heard, and she commenced sinking, gallantly fighting her guns as long as they were above water. She went down with her colors flying. During this time the shore batteries, Congress, and gunboats kept up their heavy concentrated fire upon us, doing us some injury. Our guns, however, were not idle; their fire was very destructive to the shore batteries and vessels, and we were gallantly sustained by the rest of the squadron.

Just after the Cumberland sunk, that gallant officer, Commander John R. Tucker, was seen standing down James River under full steam, accompanied by the Jamestown and Teaser. They all came nobly into action, and were soon exposed to the heavy fire of shore batteries. Their escape was miraculous, as they were under a galling fire of solid shot, shell, grape, and canister, a number of which passed through the vessels, without doing any serious injury, except to the Patrick Henry, through whose boiler a shot passed, scalding to death four persons and wounding others. LieutenantCom-mander Barney promptly obeyed a signal to tow her out of the action. As soon as damages were repaired, the Patrick Henry returned to her station, and continued to perform good service during the remainder of that day and the following.

Having sunk the Cumberland, I turned our attention to the Congress. We were some time in getting our proper position in consequence of the shoal water and great difficulty of managing the ship when in or near the mud; to succeed in my object, I was obliged to run the ship a short distance above the batteries on James River, in order to wind her. During all this time her keel was in the mud; of course she moved but slowly. Thus we were subjected twice to the heavy guns of all the batteries in passing up and down the river, but it could not be avoided. We silenced several of the batteries and did much injury on shore. A large transport steamer alongside the wharf was blown up, one schooner sunk, and another captured and sent to Norfolk. The loss of life on shore we have no means of ascertaining.

While the Virginia was thus engaged in getting her position for attacking the Congress, the prisoners state it was believed on board that ship that we had hauled off; the men left their guns and gave three cheers. They were soon sadly disappointed, for a few minutes afterwards we opened upon her again, she having run on shore in shoal water. The carnage, havoc, and dismay caused by our fire compelled them to haul down their colors and to hoist a white flag at their gaff and half mast another at their main. The crew instantly took to their boats and landed. Our fire immediately ceased, and a signal was made for the Beaufort to come within hail. I then ordered Lieutenant-Commanding Parker to take possession of the Congress, secure the officers as prisoners and allow the crew to land, and burn the ship. He ran alongside, received her flag and surrender from Commander William Smith and Lieutenant Pendergrast, with the side arms of these officers. They delivered themselves as prisoners [98] of war on board the Beaufort, and afterwards were permitted, at their own request, to return to the Congress to assist in removing the wounded to the Beaufort. They never returned, and I submit to the decision of the Department whether they are not our prisoners. While the Beaufort and Raleigh were alongside the Congress, and the surrender of that vessel had been received from the commander, she having two white flags flying hoisted by her own people, a heavy fire was opened upon them from the shore and from the Congress, killing some valuable officers and men. Under this fire the steamer left the Congress, but as I was not informed that any injury had been sustained by those vessels at that time. Lieutenant-Commanding Parker having failed to report to me, I took it for granted that my order to him to burn her had been executed, and waited some minutes to see the smoke ascending from her hatches. During this delay we were still subjected to the heavy fire from the batteries, which was always promptly returned. The steam frigates Minnesota and Roanoke, and the sailing frigate Saint Lawrence, had previously been reported as coming from Old Point; but as I was determined that the Congress should not again fall into the hands of the enemy, I remarked to that gallant young officer, Flag-Lieutenant Minor, ‘that ship must be burned.’ He promptly volunteered to take a boat and burn her, and the Teaser, Lieutenant-Commanding Webb, was ordered to cover the boat. Lieutenant Minor had scarcely reached within fifty yards of the Congress when a deadly fire was opened upon him, wounding him severely and several of his men. On witnessing this vile treachery, I instantly recalled the boat and ordered the Congress destroyed by hot shot and incendiary shell. About this period I was disabled, and transferred the command of the ship to that gallant, intelligent officer, Lieutenant Catesby Jones, with orders to fight her as long as the men could stand to their guns. The ships from Old Point opened their fire upon us. The Minnesota grounded in the north channel where, unfortunately, the snoalness of the channel prevented our near approach. We continued, however, to fire upon her until the pilots declared that it was no longer safe to remain in that position, and we accordingly returned by the south channel (the middle ground being necessarily between the Virginia and Minnesota and Saint Lawrence, the Roanoke having retreated under the guns of Old Point.) We again had the opportunity of opening upon the Minnesota, receiving her heavy fire in return, and, shortly afterwards, upon the Saint Lawrence, from which vessel we also received several broadsides. It had, by this time, become dark, and we soon after anchored off Sewell's Point. The rest of the squadron followed our movements, with the exception of the Beaufort, Lieutenant-Commanding Parker, who proceeded to Norfolk with the wounded and prisoners as soon as he had left the Congress without reporting to me.

The Congress, having been set on fire by our hot shot and incendiary shell, continued to burn, her loaded guns being successively discharged as the flames reached them, until a few minutes past midnight, when her magazine exploded with a terrible report. [99]

The facts above stated as having occurred after I had placed the ship in charge of Lieutenant Jones, were reported to me by that officer.

At an early hour next morning (the 9th), upon the urgent solicitations of the surgeons, Lieutenant Minor and myself were very reluctantly taken on shore. The accommodations for the proper treatment of wounded persons on board the Virginia are exceedingly limited, Lieutenant Minor and myself occupying the only space that could be used for that purpose, which was in my cabin. I, therefore, consented to our being landed on Sewell's Point, thinking that the room on board, vacated by us, could be used for those who might be wounded in the renewal of the action. In the course of the day Lieutenant Minor and myself were sent in a steamer to the hospital at Norfolk.

The following is an extract from the report of Lieutenant Jones, of the proceedings of the Virginia on the 9th:

‘At daylight on the 9th we saw that the Minnesota was still ashore, and that there was an iron battery near her. At eight we ran down to engage them (having previously sent the killed and wounded out of the ship), firing at the Minnesota, and occasionally at the iron battery. The pilots did not place us as near as they expected. The great length and draft of the ship rendered it exceedingly difficult to work her; we ran ashore about a mile from the frigate, and were backing fifteen minutes before we got off. We continued to fire at the Minnesota, and blew up a steamer alongside of her; we also engaged the Monitor, sometimes at very close quarters; we once succeeded in running into her, and twice silenced her fire. The pilots declaring that we could get no nearer the Minnesota, and believing her to be entirely disabled, and the Monitor having run into shoal water, which prevented our doing her any further injury, we ceased firing at twelve, and proceeded to Norfolk. Our loss is two killed and nineteen wounded. The stem is twisted and the ship leaks; we have lost the prow, starboard anchor, and all the boats; the armor is somewhat damaged, the steam-pipe and smoke-stack both riddled, and the muzzles of two of the guns shot away. It was not easy to keep a flag flying; the flag-staffs were repeatedly shot away; the colors were hoisted to the smoke-stack and several times cut down from it.’

The remainder of this report need not be quoted, as it is not relevant to the question before us. In the report made to the Forty-seventh Congress, a letter from the Hon. William H. Hunt, Secretary of the Navy, and one from James Byers are quoted, both of which are here appended, as we desire to give all the testimony bearing on the case.

Navy Department, Washington, Jan. 28, 1882.
sir:—I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 27th instant, requesting my views upon the subject of a [100] bill for the relief of the officers and crew of the United States steamer Monitor, who participated in the action with the rebel iron-clad Merrimac, on the 9th day of March, 1862.

The remarkable battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac, and the important service rendered by the Monitor on that occasion, are so well known that a recital of the circumstances attending that engagement and its results is not deemed necessary.

The Merrimac was not destroyed or captured by the Monitor; but it is fair to presume that the injuries she received in the action prevented her from again encountering the Monitor, which vessel remained ready to confront her had she resumed the attack upon the fleet. These circumstances, together with the fact that other vessels of the Navy were there, prepared to assist in opposing the Merrimac, led, no doubt, to the final destruction of that vessel.

The conduct of the officers and men of the Monitor, a vessel entirely novel in her construction, and untried, in seeking an encounter with an antagonist of greater size and power, and the skill and gallantry exhibited by them throughout the engagement, deserve grateful recognition by the Government.

The copy of the bill, and the printed memorial and brief, transmitted with your letter, are herewith returned.

Very respectfully,

William H. Hunt, Secretary of the Navy. Hon. John R. Thomas, Committee on Naval Affairs, House of Representatives.

State of New York, County of Erie:
Personally appeared before me this 21st day of November, 1874, Captain James Byers, who deposes and says as follows:

I was at Norfolk from September, 1860, to the 8th day of May, 1862, master of steam-tug J. B. White, built at Buffalo by George Notter. I was employed by the contractors building the Albermarle Canal. The Merrimac was sunk by the Federals near the navy-yard, previous to the evacuation of Norfolk, to avoid her falling into the hands of the Confederates. She was raised by the Confederates by Baker Brothers, wreckers, and put into the dock at Norfolk, cut down and fitted up—a heavy frame of wood covered with heavy plate iron. They worked on her night and day. She was armed with four heavy guns on each side, one on her bow, and one aft—ten heavy guns in all.

She went out on Saturday, the 8th of March, 1862, under command of Admiral Buchanan, and sunk the Cumberland and Congress on that date. I saw the fight from the deck of my steamer. She also exchanged shots with the Minnesota, which was aground on the middle ground in Hampton Roads, half-way between Sewell's Point and Newport News. The Merrimac could have easily destroyed the Minnesota on Saturday (March 8), but they did not wish to harm [101] her—she would be too valuable to them as a prize. They felt sure of her on the morrow, with all the other craft in the Roads and at anchor off Fortress Monroe.

The Merrimac retired for the night and anchored off Sewell's Point until next morning. In her encounter with the Cumberland and Congress, a shot from one of the guns of the Cumberland entered the muzzle of the bow gun of the Merrimac, bursting the gun and killing seven men.

Sunday, March 9, the Merrimac hove up and steamed out to finish up the work of destruction and capture left undone the day before. The day was clear and pleasant, the sun shining brightly, with little or no wind. Some Confederate officers and citizens of Norfolk came on board my steamer at Norfolk and ordered me to get under way and run out to see the Merrimac finish up. We ran down off Craney Island and from our deck saw the fight between the Monitor and Merrimac. The Confederates were all in high spirits, anticipating an easy victory. They talked very freely over the mission and marked programme of the Merrimac. She was to capture the Minnesota and all the vessels in the Roads, and then to proceed to New York and other Eastern cities. There was no doubt about the result, and that she would go where she wished, with impunity to herself.

We had been off Craney Island about half an hour, in plain sight of Hampton Roads, and the different craft there. We saw the Merrimac and presently the Monitor came out and attacked her. We could not tell what the Monitor was—nothing had ever been known of her in Norfolk, and it was all speculation what she was. The fight was watched with great interest. Soon there began to be doubts about the result. Some Confederate officers who had been nearer than we were, came back, and in passing, told us that the unknown craft was a wicked thing and we had better not get too near her. One of the shots from one of the combatants came skipping over the water very near us from nearly a mile distant.

We staid there until the fight was over. The Merrimac came back into the river badly disabled, and almost in a sinking condition. (Tugs had to be used to get her into the dry-dock at the navy-yard, the crew pumping and bailing water with all their might to keep her afloat.) I saw her in the dock at Norfolk next day; was on board of her, and made a personal examination of the ship. The effect of the Monitor's guns upon the Merrimac was terrible. Her plated sides were broken in, the iron plating rent and broken, the massive timbers of her sides crushed, and the officers themselves stated that she could not have withstood the effect of the Monitor's guns any longer, and that they barely escaped in time from her. The Merrimac lay in dry-dock, repairing and strengthening, for six weeks, when she was again put afloat under the command of Admiral Tattnall.

After the Merrimac was repaired and came out of dock the only thing she did was to form part of an expedition to go out into the Roads to attempt to capture the Monitor. The expedition was made [102] up of the Merrimac and two tugs, manned by thirty volunteers on each tug-boat. They were all armed and provided with iron wedges and top mauls and tar balls. The plan was to board her, a tug on each side landing the men, and throwing lighted tar balls down through the ventilators and wedge up the turret so it would not revolve. They took my steamer as one of the boats, but I refused to command her or go with her. The Monitor, luckily for them, did not come out over the bar to give them a chance to try the experiment.

The pounding which the Monitor gave the Merrimac the latter never recovered from. They lost faith in her.

I ran the blockade on the 8th day of May, 1862, escaping with my steamer, the J. B. White, to Fortress Monroe, where I met President Lincoln, with some of his Cabinet, giving him the first information he had of the true state of affairs at Norfolk, and the preparations made by the rebels to evacuate it.

Admiral Tatnall blew up the Merrimac off Craney Island shortly afterwards—a fitting end to a gallant but unfortunate ship in the service she was last engaged in.

Subscribed and sworn to before me this 21st day of November, 1874, at Buffalo, N. Y.

[L. S.]

E. P. Dorr, Notary Public for Erie County, State of New York.
In presence of— George P. Dorr.

We give also a copy of a letter addressed to the Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, by Adjutant-General L. Thomas, as follows:

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

I have the honor, &c.,

L. Thomas, Adjutant-General. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy.

We also submit a copy of letter from Secretary of the Navy to the Secretary of War, as follows:

Navy Department, March 13, 1862.
Sir:—I have the honor to suggest that the Department can easily obstruct the channel to Norfolk, so as to prevent the exit of [103] the Merrimac, provided the Army will carry the Sewell's Point batteries, in which duty the Navy will give great assistance.

Very respectfully,

Gideon Welles. Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War.

Both of these letters are printed in series 1, volume 5, Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, pages 751 and 752.

And in the same volume, page 55, will be found an account of a council of war held at Fairfax Courthouse, March 13, 1862: present, Generals Keyes, Heintzleman, McDowell and Sumner, at which 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.’

We also give some extracts from the official report of the late Captain G. J. Van Brunt, United States Navy, who commanded the United States frigate Minnesota in the engagement of 8th and 9th of March, 1862.

It has been formerly shown that the Minnesota got aground on the 8th, and remained so all that day and during the 9th, giving the Captain of that vessel an opportunity of observing the engagement.

The following are the extracts:

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 sometime 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 though 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 ship was badly crippled and my officers and men 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 discovered that the enemy's vessels had changed their course, and were heading for Craney Island.


We also give extract from a telegraphic dispatch sent by G. V. Fox to Hon. Gideon Welles:

Fortress Monroe, March 9, 1862.6.45 p. m.
Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy:
The Monitor arrived at 10 p. m. last night, and went immediately to the protection of the Minnesota, lying aground just below Newport News. At 7 a. m. to-day the Merrimac, accompanied by two wooden steamers and several tugs, stood out towards the Minnesota, and opened fire. The Monitor met them at once and opened her fire, when all the enemy's vessels retired excepting the Merrimac. These two iron-clads fought, part of the time touching each other, from 8 a. m. to noon, when the Merrimac retired. Whether she is injured or not it is impossible to say.

The next day the Secretary of the Navy telegraphed as follows:

Navy Department, ,March 10, 1862.
Captain G. V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Fortress Monroe.
It is directed by the President that the Monitor be not too much exposed, and that in no event shall any attempt be made to proceed with her unattended to Norfolk. I vessels can be procured and loaded with stone and sunk in the channel it is important that it should be done. The San Jacinto and Dakota have sailed from Boston to Hampton Roads, and the Sabine in tow of the Baltic and a tug from New York. Gunboats will be ordered forthwith. Would it not be well to detain the Minnesota until the other vessels arrive?

The memorialists claim that the Monitor so disabled the Merrimac as to make her destruction necessary, and, further, that she prevented the Merrimac from going below Old Point, thus saving Baltimore and Washington from capture, and even New York city from menace. The testimony which has been set out at length does not, in the opinion of the committee, sustain either of these opinions, but quite the contrary. It is only necessary to refer to the full description of the Merrimac to show that, without greatly lightening her, which could not have been done without impairing her power to fight, and [105] exposing her to the projectiles which would have been hurled against her, had she ventured outside of Cape Henry, she would have inevitably foundered.

On the other point, all of the evidence leads us clearly to the opinion that the Monitor, after her engagement with the Merrimac on the 9th of March, declined again to engage her, though offered the opportunity, and that so great doubt existed with the United States naval and military authorities as to the power of the Monitor to successfully meet the Merrimac, that orders were given to her commander by the President not to bring on an engagement. It also appears that the Merrimac, so far from being seriously injured, was enabled after the engagement to protect the approaches to Norfolk and Richmond until after the evacuation of Norfolk. If, then, it be proven that the destruction of the Merrimac was not the result of injuries inflicted by the Monitor, which we assume to be true, what claim have the memoralists for compensation?

It is not pretended that they are entitled to compensation in the nature of prize money. The act of June 30, 1864, sec. 10 (vol. 13, page 309), provides for the payment of bounty money to the officers and crew of United States naval vessels, who sink or otherwise destroy vessels of the enemy in engagements, or which it may be necessary (for the captors) to destroy in consequence of injuries received in action; but the case presented does not, in our opinion, come within the meaning of the statute.

In the report made to the Forty-seventh Congress it is stated that inquiry discloses the existence of numerous precedents for the payment of such claims as the one before the committee.

It gives a number of cases, which we have examined carefully, and we find that in every case, without a single exception, where bounty or prize-money has been voted by Congress, the vessel has been either captured and properly and legally adjudicated in a court of admiralty, or it was destroyed by the officers and crew claiming the bounty. We have given our careful attention to a pamphlet submitted to the committee, entitled ‘The Monitor and the Merrimac (Senate bill 369, and House bill 3840). A statement of the reasons for making a grant in the nature of prize-money to the officers and crew of the United States iron-clad steamer Monitor, for damages to the Confederate iron-clad Merrimac, March 9, 1862, and her subsequent destruction.’

A careful reading of this pamphlet has failed to disclose any [106] further testimony or reasons for the passage of this bill, than those given in the report of the Forty-seventh Congress.

The ‘precedents’ cited, are the same set forth in that report, with perhaps some additions, but in every case the vessel or vessels were either actually captured or destroyed, which was not the fact in the case before us. The new authorities cited are histories, where accounts of the naval engagement in Hampton Roads are evidently not made up from the official reports of the affair which we have, and yet none of them sustain the theory of the advocates of this bill.

The History of the Civil War in America, by the Count of Paris, which is quoted, does not sustain the position claimed by the memorialists.

In vol. 1, page 607, after describing the engagement, he says:

The Virginia (Merrimac) had suffered from the engagement, but her injuries were of such a character as to admit of being promptly repaired.

And again:

The Federal naval authorities fully appreciated all the draw backs to the success of March the 9th, and in order to avert the damages of another attack from the enemy's iron-clad, they hastened to station several large vessels at the mouth of the James River, which were to board the Virginia (Merrimac) and sink her as soon as she should appear.

Swinton, another authority referred to, in his Twelve Decisive Battles of the War, gives no facts which sustain the theory of this application. On page 249 he says:

Even the Monitor's 11-inch ordnance, though it told heavily against the casemate of the Merrimac, often driving in splinters, could not penetrate it.

On page 250 he says:

But in general, on both ships, the armor defied the artillery.

And on page 252:
However, with the wounding of Worden, the contest was substantially over. A few well-depressed shots rang against the cuirass of the Merrimac, and the latter despairing of subduing her eager and obstinate antagonist, after four hours of fierce effort, abandoned the fight, &c.


The gist of the whole argument which Mr. Swinton makes is, not that the Monitor had seriously injured the Merrimac, but that the latter, powerful as she had proven to be, was unable to penetrate the Monitor with her shots, or to seriously injure her with her prow.

It is not denied that the Merrimac was disabled, but there is nothing but speculation to show that her disability was so serious as not to have been speedily remedied. The author of the pamphlet referred to, on page 11, quotes from the affidavit of Captain James Byers, whose testimony is fully set out in the report made to the Forty-seventh Congress.

It is only necessary to say, in regard to his statement, that he makes positive assertions of events which it was very improbable, if not impossible, for him to have seen, and that it is very unusual for educated naval officers, in the vicinity of an enemy, to allow a stranger to board their flag-ship and make a thorough examination of it.

The naval engagement from which this claim has its origin was one of the most novel that, up to that time at least, had ever occurred, and will remain in all time to come as one of the most celebrated in the annals of war. The officers and men on both sides exhibited a skill, bravery, and determination almost without parallel, and their names and achievements deserve to, and doubtless will, go down to posterity among the honored, whose actions never die.

The Congress of the United States, representing the wishes of its people, promptly recognized the skill, bravery, and gallantry of the men and officers of the United States Navy engaged in this memorable battle, and a grateful people will ever cherish their memories.

Officers of the Navy are entitled to prize-money when they capture or destroy property, provided it is in a line where the law of capture applies, but not otherwise. On the destruction of a vessel the price of that vessel may be awarded as prize-money under the rule, but where the enemy's vessel is not destroyed, no such rule obtains, and never has obtained in this or any other civilized country. It is claimed that this money should be awarded the petitioners on the ground that the Monitor saved from destruction Washington, Baltimore and other large cities of the North, and also saved from destruction the vessels which were in the harbor. The question presented by the memorialists is not one of the saving of New York or Washington, or of the vessels which were in Hampton Roads for the presumed purpose of making battle and protecting the United States forts and property, but the question is, was there any destruction of the Merrimac [108] by the Monitor, or such a destruction as to bring this application within the purview and meaning of the law? If the answer to this be in the affirmative, it is singular that the officers and crew of the Monitor have not long since received their money. Compensation is allowed by law to officers and crews who destroy enemy's property, and this Government has not only not been slow, but has been exceedingly generous to the men and officers, both on land and sea, who protected and fought for its flag in the late civil war, as it should have been, and we cannot see why, if these petitioners have a valid claim for compensation, it has not long since been granted.

We assume that the proof shows that the only serious damage sustained by the Merrimac was inflicted by the Cumberland, and that the Merrimac went back to Norfolk when her adversaries were out of her reach; and, they being in shoal water, and she, on account of the great depth of water which she drew, unable to attack them, went into dock for repairs, and again came out and offered battle, which was refused; and that eventually, on the evacuation of Norfolk by the Confederate forces, she was destroyed by her officers and crew, to prevent her falling into the hands of the Union forces, and that, therefore, her destruction was not the result of her engagement with the Monitor, and that if the proof shows this state of facts to exist that the claim of the petitioners in this memorial ought not to be allowed. We submit some testimony bearing on these points.

Brigadier-General Joseph K. F. Mansfield, U. S. A., in his official report of the engagement, made to General John E. Wool, U. S. A., bearing date March, 12, 1862, the day after the engagement, says:

Our ships were perfectly harmless against the Merrimac, as their broadsides produced no material effect on her.

Major-General Benjamin Huger, of the Confederate army, in his official report, dated Norfolk, Va., March 10, 1862, says:

The Virginia (Merrimac) I understand has gone into dock for repairs, which will be made at once.

This action shows the power of iron-clad vessels; cannon shot do not harm them, and they can pass batteries or destroy large ships. A vessel like the Virginia or Monitor, with her two guns, can pass any of our batteries with impunity. * * * The Virginia being the most powerful, can stop the Monitor. * * * The Virginia and the Monitor were in actual contact, without inflicting serious injury on either. At present in the Virginia we have the advantage.

The testimony contained in the official report of Flag-Officer [109] Buchanan, commanding the Merrimac, has been fully set out, and is in keeping with all of the other evidence. Captain G. V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, in a dispatch to Hon. Gideon Welles, says:

Nearly all here are of opinion that the Merrimac is disabled. I was the nearest person to her, outside of the Monitor, and I am of the opinion she is not seriously injured.

General George B. McClellan, in a letter to General John E. Wool, dated March 9, 1862, 1 P. M., says:

The performances of the Merrimac place a new aspect upon everything, and may probably change my old plan of campaign just on the eve of execution.

Captain G. V. Fox, telegraphing to General McClellan, March 9, 1862, 10:45 P. M., referring to the latter's dispatch, above mentioned, to General Wool, says:

The damage to the Merrimac cannot be ascertained. She retreated under steam without assistance.

The Monitor is all ready for her to-morrow, but I think the Merrimac will be obliged to lay up for a few days. She is an ugly customer, and it is too good luck to believe we are yet clear of her.

On March 10, P. H. Watson, Assistant Secretary of War, telegraphed to Henry B. Renwick, New York city, and advises that three large and swift steamers be fitted up to run down and destroy the Merrimac. If the vessel had been destroyed the day before, there was no necessity for this.

On March 10, 1862, at 10:27 A. M., Hon. Gideon Welles telegraphed Captain G. V. Fox, then at Fort Monroe:

It is directed by the President that the Monitor be not too much exposed, and that in no event shall any attempt be made to proceed with her unattended to Norfolk.

General John E. Wool, in dispatch dated Fortress Monroe, March 11, 1862, to General McClellan, says:

No information obtained in regard to the injury sustained by the Merrimac. The enemy under the command of Magruder, in some force about eight miles from Newport News, expecting, no doubt, that the Merrimac will again make her appearance.


General McClellan, in a dispatch from Fairfax Courthouse, dated March 12, 1862, to Captain G. V. Fox, Fort Monroe, says:

Can I rely on the Monitor to keep the Merrimac in check, so that I can make Fort Monroe a base of operations? Answer at once.

To which Captain Fox, in a dispatch dated March 13, replied:

The Monitor is more than a match for the Merrimac, but she might be disabled in the next encounter. I cannot advise so great dependence on her. Burnside and Goldsborough are very strong for the Chowan River route to Norfolk, and I brought maps, explanations, &c., to show you. It turns everything, and is only twenty-seven miles to Norfolk by two good roads. Burnside will leave New Berne this week. The Monitor may, and I think will, destroy the Merrimac in the next fight, but this is hope, not certainty. The Merrimac must dock for repairs.

We here give a dispatch from J. G. Barnard, Chief Engineer, to G. V. Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, dated Fairfax Courthouse, March 12, 1862, which says:

The possibility of the Merrimac appearing again paralyzes the movements of this army by whatever route is adopted. How long a time would it require to complete the vessel built at Mystic River, working night and day? How much time would Stevens require to finish his vessel, so far as to enable her to contend with the Merrimac?

General M. C. Meigs, in dispatch to Captain Dahlgren, dated War Department, March 13, 1862, says:

I would not trust this city and the fleet you see coming into the river to the strength of a single screw-bolt in the Monitor's new machinery. If one breaks the Merrimac beats her.

On March 14, 12 M., General Meigs telegraphed to Captain Dahlgren:

I have seen nothing yet to satisfy me that in the next engagement the Monitor will not be sunk.

On March 14, General Wool telegraphed to Hon. E. M. Stanton from Fort Monroe:

I beg you will send me more troops. The Merrimac is preparing, and they are strengthening her weak points. It is thought she will [111] be prepared to come out in a very few days. If she should overcome the Monitor we would lose Newport News, an important position, &c.

On March 15, 1862, six days after the engagement, Hon. John Tucker, Assistant Secretary of War, telegraphed Commodore C. Vanderbilt at New York as follows:

The Secretary of War directs me to ask you for what sum you will destroy the Merrimac, or prevent her from coming out from Norfolk—you to sink or destroy her if she gets out. Answer by telegraph, as there is no time to be lost.

It has been stated in behalf of the petitioners that General Robert E. Lee and General J. Bankhead Magruder were doubtful of the success of the Merrimac (or Virginia.)

Let us see how this is. In volume 9 (series I) of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, page 64, General R. E. Lee, in a dispatch to General John B. Magruder from Richmond, dated March 13, 1862 (four days after the engagement), says:

As regards the steamer Virginia, the Secretary of the Navy informs me that she went into the dock upon her arrival at Norfolk, with orders that neither labor nor expense should be spared upon her repair. It is hoped that she will be out at an early day.

In same volume, same page, will be found a dispatch from General J. Bankhead Magruder to General S. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General, dated Yorktown, March 13, 1862, as follows:

When will the Virginia be out? The disposition of my troops and the nature of my operations depend upon the answer to this question. Answer by telegraph.

To which Adjutant-General Cooper replies (see same volume, page 65), under date of March 14, 1862, as follows:

It is impossible to say when the Virginia will be in position. It is supposed in a day or two.

It is also said that ‘General Magruder's apprehensions were shared by his superiors at Richmond.’ We have just shown the opinion of the adjutant and inspector general of the Confederate army, and we here give extract from a letter from General Benj. Huger, commanding at Norfolk, to Hon. Judah P. Benjamin, Secretary of War, dated March 13, 1862, as follows: [112]

I have expressed to you my opinion that iron-clad vessels can pass all our batteries with impunity. In barricading the approach to Norfolk it was necessary to leave a narrow passage for our vessels to go out. The Virginia passed through it to get into the Roads the other day. The question now is, should not this passage be stopped? * * *

To which Mr. Benjamin, from Richmond, Va., March 15, 1862, replied:

Sir:—I have the honor of acknowledging the receipt of your letter of the 13th instant.

The question of closing the harbor of Norfolk, suggested by you, is decided against your views. None of us are of opinion that it would be proper to lose the vast advantages resulting from the enemy's fright at the bare idea of the Virginia reappearing among the wooden ships. The fact of her presence guarantees you against any attempt to blockade the river. * * *

On same page of same volume will be found a dispatch from General R. E. Lee to General John B. Magruder, dated March 15, from Richmond, as follows:

With your left resting on the batteries on York River, and your right defended by the batteries on James River, with the aid of the Virginia and other steamers, I think you may defy the advance of the enemy up the peninsula.

From which we feel assured that neither General Magruder nor any of his superiors had the slightest apprehension of any damage to be feared from the Monitor. So far from this, their dispatches show that they felt full confidence that the Virginia (or Merrimac) was master of the situation in the waters from Norfolk to Hampton Roads.

We have thus given all of the official testimony to be had bearing on this case. Comment on it seems unnecessary, as it shows clearly that the only serious injury received by the Merrimac was from the Cumberland; and this official testimony is fully sustained by affidavits made by Captains Catesby Jones, White, and Littlepage, and the statement of the latter was made here in Washington when the question was up and when all the surroundings seemed to favor the claim of the petitioners.

In corroboration of the official testimony which we have given, we add a statement of Midshipman H. B. Littlepage, who was an officer on the Merrimac during the engagement in Hampton Roads and [113] up to the time of her destruction, and also a statement of H. B. Smith, pilot of the United States steamer Cumberland.

Statement of Midshipman B. H. Littlepage.

(See Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XI, page 32.)
The statement that the Merrimac was disabled and driven from Hampton Roads into Norfolk is entirely incorrect and absurd. * * * 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 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 anchor, boats, and howitzers, riddled her smokestack and steampipe, 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 or a gun disabled. The only damage sustained by her worth mentioning, was by ramming the Monitor with her wooden stem-her cast-iron prow having been wrenched of the day before in the Cumberland. This probably saved the Monitor from a similar fate. It is true the Monitor struck us some powerful blows with her 11-inch guns when only a few feet from us, but not one of her shots penetrated our armor. * * * 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 20 feet and her's only about 10. 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 iron-clad. 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 lying at her moorings at the mouth of 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 [114] to Norfolk 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 Vanderbilt, 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 fort, when she returned 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. * * * She (the Monitor) had refused the gage of battle offered her by the Merrimac daily since the 11th of April.

Statement of A. B. Smith, pilot of the Cumberland.

Moore's Rebellion Record, volume 4, page 273.)
The crew of the Monitor say the balls rattled and rang upon both vessels, and seemed to bound off harmless—so far as is known neither vessel is damaged. The Merrimac is probably not injured, at least, more than the starting of a plate or so of her iron covering; and her machinery being uninjured, she is probably fit to come out again. It is impossible to keep the Merrimac from coming out. It is impossible to board the Merrimac. * * * General Wool has ordered all the women and children away from Fortress Monroe, in anticipation of the Merrimac's reappearance.

Among other authorities cited by the petitioners in support of their claim, is that of James Russel Soley, professor United States Navy, who is the author of a little book entitled ‘The Blockade and the Cruisers.’ A careful reading of the official reports of the ever memorable engagement in Hampton Roads, on the 8th and 9th of March, fails to show us that Professor Soley was a participant on either side in that remarkable battle. A glance at the preface to his book, however, enlightens us on some of the extraordinary statements he has made, and which we presume he proposes his readers to accept as authentic history. He says:

For statement of facts reliance has been chiefly placed upon the written accounts, official or unofficial, of those who took part in the [115] events recorded. * * * Finally, the writer must acknowledge his obligations to many kind friends both in and out of the service, who have aided him with valuable advice and suggestions.

Professor Soley says, among other things, in order to show that the Monitor renewed the engagement, and we do not deem it necessary, to give further attention to his statements:

But at this point the Merrimac withdrew to Norfolk. As she moved off Green fired at her twice, or, at most, three times.

From whom did Professor Soley receive this information? Not from Admiral Worden, we are sure; it is not to be found in his report. Did he get it from Captain Van Brunt's report? We fail to find it there. Did he get it from Assistant Secretary Fox? We fail to find it in his dispatches. Green does not mention it; Stimers fails to note it. Did he get it from the commander of the Merrimac? We fail to find it in his report. Did he get it from any of the commanders on duty that day? If so, he fails to inform us of the fact. Not getting it from any of these, we must recur to his preface, which we have already quoted, and conclude that this unsupported statement was derived from one of his ‘kind friends out of the service.’

It has been said that ‘claim has been made, during and since the war by Confederate officers, that the Merrimac had as much claim to honors of victory as the Monitor,’ and that “one of their number,” Captain W. H. Parker (styled by the advocates of this bill as an intelligent and candid ex-officer of the Confederate Navy), in his recent interesting ‘recollections of a naval officer,’ is frank enough to acknowledge the failure of the Merrimac. He says:

Whatever the cause, candor compels us to say that the Merrimac failed to reap the fruits of her victory. She went out to destroy the Minnesota, and do what further damage to the enemy she could. The Monitor was there to save the Minnesota. The Merrimac did not accomplish her purpose. The Monitor did.

While we fail to see anything in this statement of Captain Parker to sustain the claim of the petitioners in this bill, as he certainly does not say that the Monitor either destroyed the Merrimac or so disabled her as to force her destruction, yet we accept the witness as one who was in the engagement, and ask attention to his testimony, which we give at some length.

It will be found in Southern Historical Society Papers, volume XII, pages 34 to 40, as follows: [116]

I commanded the Beaufort in the battles of the 8th and 9th of March, and in the operations under Commodore Tatnall, 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.

(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 Tatnall, who had succeeded Commodore Buchanan in the command, went down with his entire squadron, consisting of the Merrimac, Patrick Henry, Jamestown, Teazer, 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 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, and went up off Newport 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 Tatnall 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.

(2.) The Merrimac remained for some days in this position, offering [117] 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 iron-clads. 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.

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, was Commodore John Rodgers 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.

From the above mentioned facts we think it clearly appears (1) 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; that the Merrimac, so far from being seriously injured in her engagement, efficiently protected the approaches to Norfolk and Richmond until Norfolk was evacuated; that the Merrimac could not have gotten to Washington or Baltimore in her normal condition; that she could not have gone to sea at all; 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 exceptionally good weather, yet would have had to leave the James River open.

It may be proper to recur again to the testimony of Captain Byers, and to say that it is only necessary to read his statement to come to the conclusion that it cannot be relied on, and that his important statements are not sustained by the weight of all the other testimony, and that he held no position or advantage by which he could have possibly obtained much of the information which he gives. As his testimony, however, has been relied upon to sustain the claim of the petitioners, it is, perhaps, proper to give it some further notice.

There is no evidence that he had any position, either officially or otherwise, to entitle him to the confidence of the officers of the Merrimac so as to induce them to show him over their ship at such a [118] critical time, and to confide to him the important information which was given to no other person.

(1.) That the Merrimac could have easily destroyed the Minnesota on Saturday [March 8th], but they did not wish to harm her; she would be too valuable to them as a prize. They felt sure of her on the morrow, with all the other craft in the Roads and at anchor at Fortress Monroe.

Did Captain Byers get this valuable information from the commanding officer of the Merrimac, or from whom? He fails to enlighten us on this subject. Not from the Secretary of the United States Navy, for he tells you in his annual report of December 1, 1862, that the Minnesota

Which had also got aground in the shallow waters of the channel, became the special object of attack, and the Merrimac, with the Yorktown and Jamestown, bore down upon her. The Merrimac drew too much water to approach very near, and her fire was not, therefore, particularly effective. The other steamers selected their positions, fired with much accuracy, and caused considerable damage to the Minnesota. She soon, however, succeeded in getting a gun to bear on the two smaller steamers, and drove them away, one apparently in a crippled condition. About 7 P. M. the Merrimac also hauled off, and all three stood toward Norfolk.

(Van Brunt and Catesby Jones and others, make this same statement.)

Captain Byers further states, that ‘the Merrimac lay in dry-dock repairing and strengthening for six weeks,’ &c. Compare this with all of the other testimony and see how inaccurate it is. (Professor Soley says that she was out in less than a month. All the testimony shows beyond a doubt that Byers was incorrect.) Again Captain Byers says:

After the Merrimac was repaired and came out of dock, the only thing she did was to form part of an expedition to go out into the Roads to attempt to capture the Monitor.

The expedition was made up of the Merrimac and two tugs, manned by thirty volunteers on each tug-boat. They were all armed and provided with iron wedges and top mauls and tar balls. The plan was to board her, a tug on each side landing the men, and throwing lighted tar balls down through the ventilator, and wedge up the turret so it would not revolve. They took my steamer as one of the boats, but I refused to command her or go with her.


The expedition did not succeed in its mission. Why not? Hear Captain Byers s answer:

Luckily for the Merrimac and the tugs, the Monitor did not come out over the bar to give them a chance to try the experiment.

So it seems that Captain Byers holding no place either civil or military in the Confederate Government—a man of no known prominence or character—simply the master of a little trading boat, which had come from the North and had been for some time around Norfolk, waiting an opportunity to escape into the Union lines-which he did at the first opportunity—was invited to join in this expedition, an expedition composed of some of the best and bravest men in the Confederacy, who were fighting for their homes, their firesides, their household gods, and their loved ones, an expedition which they had cause to believe at that time was ‘even unto the death’—was taken into the confidence of the commander of the Merrimac, invited to take part in this very perilous expedition, and given full details of all his plans. Can enlightened human credulity go further than to place reliance on such statements?

Holding to these views, we respectfully report adversely to the passage of the bill.

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