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
May 31, 1884.—Laid on the table and ordered to be printed.
, 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
, 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:
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
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
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
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|| 172||0|
|Depth of hold||11||4|
|Draught of water||10||6|
|Inside diameter of turret||20||0|
|Height of turret||9||0|
|Thickness of turret||0||8|
|Thickness of side armor||0||5|
|Thickness of deck plating||0||1|
|Diameter of propeller||0||9|
|Diameter of steam cylinders (2）||0||36|
|Length of stroke||2||2|
|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,
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
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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:
We also submit a copy of letter from Secretary of the Navy
to the Secretary of War
, as follows:
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
, 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
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
The next day the Secretary of the Navy
telegraphed as follows:
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
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
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
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.
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
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
, by the Count
, 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.
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.
, 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.
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
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
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
, 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
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
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
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.
, in a dispatch from Fairfax Courthouse, dated March 12, 1862, to Captain G. V. Fox
, Fort Monroe
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
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
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
, 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:
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
) 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
, 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
up to the time of her destruction, and also a statement of H. B. Smith
, pilot of the United States
(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
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.
'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
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.
For statement of facts reliance has been chiefly placed upon the written accounts, official or unofficial, of those who took part in the
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.
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
We fail to find it there.
Did he get it from Assistant Secretary Fox
We fail to find it in his dispatches.
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
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:
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
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
was evacuated; that the Merrimac
could not have gotten to Washington
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
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
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.)
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
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.
Hear Captain Byers
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.