Battle Report Frigate USS Cumberland

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Report of Lieutenant George Morris, executive officer of the frigate USS Cumberland.

NEWPORT NEWS, VA., March 9, 1862.

SIR: Yesterday morning at 9 a. m. discovered two steamers at anchor off Smithfield Point, on the left hand or western side of the river, distant about 12 miles. At 12 p. m. discovered three vessels under steam, standing down the Elizabeth River toward Sewell's Point. Beat to quarters, double breeched the guns on the main deck, and cleared ship for action.

At 1 p. m. the enemy hove in sight, gradually nearing us; the ironclad steamer Merrimack, accompanied by two steam gunboats, passed ahead of the frigate Congress and stood down toward us. We opened fire on her; she stood on and struck us under the starboard fore channels; she delivered her fire at the same time; the destruction was great. We returned the fire with solid shot with alacrity.

At 3:30 [p. m.] the water had gained upon us, notwithstanding the pumps were kept actively employed, to a degree that the forward magazine being drowned we had to take powder from the after magazine for the X-inch gun. At 3:35 [p. m.] the water had risen to the main hatchway, and the ship canted to port, and we delivered a parting fire, each man trying to save himself by jumping overboard. Timely notice was given, and all the wounded who could walk were ordered out of the cockpit, but those of the wounded who had been carried into the sick bay and on the berth deck were so mangled that it was impossible to save them. It is impossible for me to individualize; alike officers and men all behaved in the most gallant manner. Lieutenant Selfridge and Master Stuyvesant were in command of the gun deck divisions, and they did all that noble and gallant offices could do. Acting Masters Randall and Kennison, who had charge each of a pivot gun, showed the most perfect coolness and did all they could to save our noble ship, but I am sorry to say without avail. Among the last to leave the ship was Surgeon Martin and Assistant Surgeon Kershner, who did all they could for the wounded, promptly and faithfully. The warrant and steerage officers could not have been more prompt and active than they were at their different stations. The loss we sustained I can not yet inform you, but it has been very great. Chaplain Lenhart is missing. Master's Mate John Harrington was killed. I should judge that we have lost upward of one hundred men. I can only say in conclusion that all did their duty and we sunk with the American flag at the peak.

I am, sir, very respectfully, etc., your obedient servant,

GEO. U. MORRIS,
Lieutenant and Executive Officer.

Commander WILLIAM RADFORD,
Commanding U.S. Ship Cumberland.

Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1 vol. 7 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1898): 21.

Recommended Reading: Ironclad Down: USS Merrimack-CSS Virginia from Design to Destruction (Hardcover). Description: The result of more than fifteen years of research, Ironclad Down is a treasure trove of detailed information about one of history s most famous vessels. Describing the fascinating people--Stephen Russell Mallory, John Mercer Brooke, John Luke Porter, et al.--who conceived, designed and built one of the world's first ironclads as well as describing the ship itself, Carl Park offers both the most thoroughly detailed, in-depth analysis to date of the actual architecture of the Virginia and a fascinating, colorful chapter of Civil War history.

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Recommended Reading: Reign of Iron: The Story of the First Battling Ironclads, the Monitor and the Merrimack. From Publishers Weekly: The Monitor-Merrimack showdown may be one of the Civil War’s most overhyped chestnuts: the two ships were by no means the first ironclads, and their long awaited confrontation proved an anticlimactic draw, their cannon fire clanging harmlessly off each other’s hulls. Still, the author of this lively history manages to bring out the story’s dramatic elements. Nelson, author of the Revolution at Sea series of age-of-sail adventure novels, knows how to narrate a naval crisis. He gives a harrowing account of the Merrimack’s initial onslaught, in which it destroyed two wooden Union warships in a bloody and chaotic battle the day before the Monitor arrived, and of the Monitor’s nightmarish final hours as it foundered in a storm at sea. Continued below…

Equally arresting is his retelling of the feverish race between North and South to beat the other side to the punch with their respective wonder ships. He delves into every aspect of the ships’ innovative design and construction, and draws vivid portraits of the colorful characters who crafted them, especially the brilliant naval architect John Ericsson, one of that epic breed of engineer-entrepreneurs who defined the 19th century. The resulting blend of skillful storytelling and historical detail will please Civil War and naval engineering buffs alike.

 

Recommended Reading: Confederate Ironclad vs Union Ironclad: Hampton Roads 1862 (Duel). Description: The Ironclad was a revolutionary weapon of war. Although iron was used for protection in the Far East during the 16th century, it was the 19th century and the American Civil War that heralded the first modern armored self-propelled warships. With the parallel pressures of civil war and the industrial revolution, technology advanced at a breakneck speed. It was the South who first utilized ironclads as they attempted to protect their ports from the Northern blockade. Impressed with their superior resistance to fire and their ability to ram vulnerable wooden ships, the North began to develop its own rival fleet of ironclads. Eventually these two products of this first modern arms race dueled at the battle of Hampton Roads in a clash that would change the face of naval warfare. Continued below…

Fully illustrated with cutting-edge digital artwork, rare photographs and first-person perspective gun sight views, this book allows the reader to discover the revolutionary and radically different designs of the two rival Ironclads - the CSS Virginia and USS Monitor - through an analysis of each ship's weaponry, ammunition and steerage. Compare the contrasting training of the crews and re-live the horrors of the battle at sea in a war which split a nation, communities and even families. About the Author: Ron Field is Head of History at the Cotswold School in Bourton-on-the-Water. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in 1982 and taught history at Piedmont High School in California from 1982 to 1983. He was associate editor of the Confederate Historical Society of Great Britain, from 1983 to 1992. He is an internationally acknowledged expert on US Civil War military history, and was elected a Fellow of the Company of Military Historians, based in Washington, DC, in 2005. The author lives in Cheltenham, UK.

 

Recommended Reading: The Battle of Hampton Roads: New Perspectives on the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (Mariner's Museum). Description: On March 8 and 9, 1862, a sea battle off the Virginia coast changed naval warfare forever. It began when the Confederate States Navy’s CSS Virginia led a task force to break the Union blockade of Hampton Roads. The Virginia sank the USS Cumberland and forced the frigate Congress to surrender. Damaged by shore batteries, the Virginia retreated, returning the next day to find her way blocked by the newly arrived USS Monitor. The clash of ironclads was underway. Continued below…

After fighting for nine hours, both ships withdrew, neither seriously damaged, with both sides claiming victory. Although the battle may have been a draw and the Monitor sank in a storm later that year, this first encounter between powered, ironclad warships spelled the end of wooden warships—and the dawn of a new navy. This book takes a new look at this historic battle. The ten original essays, written by leading historians, explore every aspect of the battle—from the building of the warships and life aboard these “iron coffins” to tactics, strategy, and the debates about who really won the battle of Hampton Roads. Co-published with The Mariners’ Museum, home to the USS Monitor Center, this authoritative guide to the military, political, technological, and cultural dimensions of this historic battle also features a portfolio of classic lithographs, drawings, and paintings. Harold Holzer is one of the country’s leading experts on the Civil War.

 

Recommended Reading: Confederate Ironclad 1861-65 (New Vanguard). Description: The creation of a Confederate ironclad fleet was a miracle of ingenuity, improvisation and logistics. Surrounded by a superior enemy fleet, Confederate designers adapted existing vessels or created new ones from the keel up with the sole purpose of breaking the naval stranglehold on the nascent country. Her ironclads were built in remote cornfields, on small inland rivers or in naval yards within sight of the enemy. The result was an unorthodox but remarkable collection of vessels, which were able to contest the rivers and coastal waters of the South for five years. This title explains how these vessels worked, how they were constructed, how they were manned and how they fought.

 

Recommended Reading: Naval Strategies of the Civil War: Confederate Innovations and Federal Opportunism. Description: One of the most overlooked aspects of the American Civil War is the naval strategy played out by the U.S. Navy and the fledgling Confederate Navy, which may make this the first book to compare and contrast the strategic concepts of the Southern Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory against his Northern counterpart, Gideon Welles. Both men had to accomplish much and were given great latitude in achieving their goals. Mallory's vision of seapower emphasized technological innovation and individual competence as he sought to match quality against the Union Navy's (quantity) numerical superiority. Welles had to deal with more bureaucratic structure and to some degree a national strategy dictated by the White House. Continued below...

The naval blockade of the South was one of his first tasks - for which he had but few ships available - and although he followed the national strategy, he did not limit himself to it when opportunities arose. Mallory's dedication to ironclads is well known, but he also defined the roles of commerce raiders, submarines, and naval mines. Welles's contributions to the Union effort were rooted in his organizational skills and his willingness to cooperate with the other military departments of his government. This led to successes through combined army and naval units in several campaigns on and around the Mississippi River.

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