The Story Of The Confederate States Ship
"Virginia" (Once Merrimac.)
Her Victory Over the Monitor.
By Col. William Norris, Chief of Signal Corps and Secret Service
Bureau, Confederate States Army.
Published 1879. Republished From The One Copy Surviving the Destruction
Of The Edition.
|CSS Virginia (1862-1862) (ex USS Merrimack)
|U.S. Naval Historical Center
An article in the Army and Navy Journal, June 13th, entitled The "Monitor" and the "Merrimac,"
is one of the very choicest specimens yet produced of the Northern mode of manufacturing history. A grand victory is
claimed for the "Monitor," whereas a more palpable, undeniable defeat shall never have been recorded in naval history.
The proofs are being prepared by those who were actors in the drama, who will produce facts and figures, chapter and verse,
bearings and distances. In the meantime here is a brief statement (written hastily and from memory), by a Confederate soldier,
who, from a safe position saw the fight. It is intended only as a light four-pounder rocket; several 200 pound chilled
bolts, conical, will follow. We must now settle all disputed questions and reach the facts, for it is time that the
great fight should pass into history.
It remains to be seen whether it would
not have been wiser in the Federals to have remained content, with our tacit acquiescence (to our shame be it said), in their
brazen claim, as at first slowly and insidiously set up, to a "drawn battle."
And here I would observe that the writer shows the stereo-typed Yankee passion for ringing all the changes upon the word .
"Rebel" and its compounds. Now, we Confederates, often see in print "the foul dishonoring word" (only less offensive than
traitorous renegade), and hear it sometimes used in a general collective way, but individually applied, and vice voce,
we never hear it. Curious!!
And first, a few words as to the Virginia.
The Federals, previous to their flight from Norfolk, had burnt all the United States Government vessels; and we, taking
from the mud the hulk of the frigate Merrimac, built over it a roof of two-inch iron plates, and cleaning up the
hull and overhauling the engines, we formally named the new craft "Virginia," as we hauled her out of dock, and that
model sailor and gentleman, the gallant Buchanan, took command. She was put up in the roughest way; but the fatal defect in
her construction was, that the iron shield extended only a few inches below the water-line. A shell or two amidships, between
wind and water (she had no knuckle), and her career was closed. She drew 22 feet of water, was in every respect ill-proportioned
and top-heavy; and what with her immense length and wretched engines, (than which a more ill-contrived, spraddling and unreliable
pair were never made,--failing on one occasion while the ship was under fire,) she was little more manageable than a timber-raft.
In his report to Com. Tattnall, April 5th, '62, Chief Engineer Ramsay said:....."The engines gave out yesterday, as had occasion
to report to you, after running only a few hours; and as I cannot insure their working any length of time consecutively, I
deem it my duty to make this report......
Each time that we have gone down to
the Roads I have had to make repairs, which could not have been done aboard ship very well, or, if done at all, would have
required a great deal of time."
The quarters for the crew were damp, ill-ventilated
and unhealthy; one-third of the men were always on the sick-list, and upon being transferred to the hospital, they would convalesce
immediately. She steered very badly, and both her rudder and screw were wholly unprotected. Her battery was magnificent,
of course, for Catesby Roger Jones had planned and equipped it; and that he had no peer in this branch of his profession (ordnance),
I believe that every fair man in the "old navy" will concede.
The day after
our return to Norfolk, in reply to the question, addressed individually, to every officer and seaman of each division, they
said, to a man, that they were unable to suggest any,--the slightest alteration, which would increase the
efficiency of the battery; not so much as by the twisting, or untwisting of a rope yarn.
After the Virginia had annihilated the Federal fleet, and beaten off the Monitor, our people, who, outside
of naval circles, knew nothing whatever of her construction, expected her to accomplish all manner of impossible absurdities.
She was first to take Washington, then New York, and after raising the blockade of the Southern ports, she was to rival the
splendid career of the Alabama. The truth was, that the ship was not weatherly enough, to move in Hampton Roads, at all times,
with safety, and she never should have been found more than three hours sail from a machine shop. The wildest suggestions
were gravely urged upon the Navy Department; but I remember that the Monitor was never considered the smallest obstacle
to her movements, inland or seaward. We consider her as she proved to be, hors du combat.
With this huge, unwieldly make-shift, then,
and (so characteristic of Buchanan's dash, without the slightest trial or experimental trip for we had only warped
her from dock to dock), officered with the very Cream of the old navy, and manned by as gallant a crew as ever fought in a
good cause--Southern born almost to a man--we steamed out on that beautiful Saturday morning, freighted down to the very guards,
with the tearful prayers and hopes of a whole people, heroically against overwhelming odds, to dissolve a hated political
partnership, into which they had been inveigled, and which had now become noisome and incestuous--and fighting to
the death, only that they might govern their own soil in their own way. Every man and officer well understood the
desperate hazards of the approaching fight; the utter feebleness of their ship, and the terrible efficiency of the enemy's
magnificent fleet. Most of them had taken, as they supposed, a last farewell of wives, children, friends, and had set in order
their worldly affairs. All the lieutenants (Jones excepted) shortly before, and for the first time, had in their respective
churches--Protestant and Catholic--publicly partaken of the Holy Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Of the devotedness, of the
unselfish, patriotic purity of motive, which now led them, to give their lives to their Country, the Searcher of all hearts
She had been so crowded, with mechanics from the yard, that there had
been little opportunity to drill or exercise the crew. Up to the very hour of sailing, she had been swarming with workmen,
and she was actually in motion as the last of them and the writer jumped ashore. Says Lieutenant Eggleston in a letter,
"We thought we were going upon an ordinary trial trip. I know of no other officer except John Taylor Wood, who would have
wound up a trial trip as our grand old Hero, Buchanan, did in Hampton Roads that day."
|U.S. Naval Historical Center
(Picture) CSS Virginia (1862-1862). Colored outboard profile
plan, originally in the files of the Bureau of Construction and Repair. Its origin is unknown, but it may be of Civil War
vintage. The original is plan # 81-12-2B in Record Group 19 at the U.S. National Archives. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.
It had just gone three bells, and the vessel having passed the obstructions, Buchanan addressed his
crew: "Sailors:--In a few moments you will have the long expected opportunity for showing your devotion to our cause. Remember
that you are about to strike for your country, for your wives, your children, your homes, for the right. Beat to quarters."
And now, before fifty minutes have elapsed, we are at Newport News, where lie at anchor the Cumberland and Congress;
hurrying up from Old Point in all "the pride and pomp and circumstance of glorious war," we see the splendid frigates
Minnesota and Roanoke and St. Lawrence. About 3 P. M., we began the fight with a shot from our
bow gun; it killed and wounded ten men at the after pivot gun of the Cumberland. Our second shot killed and wounded twelve
men at her forward pivot gun. Both guns were pointed and fired by Lt. Chas. Simms. We give the Congress a broadside
as we pass, which was handsomely returned, but the pilot at the wheel has drawn a bead upon the Cumberland, and holds
her true as the needle for the doomed ship. It is just a little past slack water, and the Cumberland, having swung
around about three-quarters, is lying slightly athwart the stream and is just about tautening her cable to the young flood.
She gives us another splendid broadside as we near her. Relentless as Fate we rush down upon her, and crushing through the
barricade of heavy spars (torpedo fenders), we strike below the starboard fore chains and crash far into her hull. The chief
engineer, waiting with intense anxiety to reverse the engines, as ordered, could not fix upon the instant of concussion, so
slight had been the shock to us.
We back off, and now, the blue waters are rushing
in, to fill the cavern we have made in the beautiful frigate; she reels, and rolls, and staggers, and now the waves engulf
her, carrying down that hated flag,--to us, the emblem of so much wrong, and oppression, and sorrow.
Delicious recollection! She was at the bottom within twenty minutes after we struck, and was so gallantly fought, that in
that time, she did us more damage than all the rest of the Yankee fleet together--Monitor included. We head
up stream a short distance, in order that we may turn and come down upon the Congress. In the hope that we had retired
from the unequal fight, there was great Yankee cheering ashore and afloat. It was soon changed to lamentation and flight.
Terrified at the fate of their consort, they make it a case of sauve qui peut,--did those skedaddling warriors, who
with music and banners, had just now come sailing down so proudly to fight us. In their terrified flight, they plump the Congress
and Minnesota ashore, the Roanoke and St. Lawrence succeed in making their escape. And now
we have closed with the Congress, deliberately taking position just under her counter. Her flag soon comes down by
the run. Two surrender flags are run up, and her officers delivering up their swords, entreat that they may return, to assist
in getting their wounded out of the ship. Permission is given by Buchanan, but they never return.
In defiance of the usages of war as observed,
even among savages, a sharp fire is kept up from the shore batteries, wounding Admiral Buchanan, Lieutenant Minor and five
of their own men, now our prisoners. We reply to this outrage with hot shot and incendiary shell, and very soon the Congress
makes a brilliant bon-fire to illumine the Roads. And now for the Minnesota. But just here a precious hour and more
is lost through a distressing error on our side; and the pilots, nervous and timid, in the absence of all lights and buoys,
insist upon bringing the ship to anchor while yet the daylight lasts. Our anchor is down under Sewell's Point, our ship unscratched
by a pin, and in the hope that "all's well" with our noble old wounded Captain, the night wears tranquilly away. The
fire of the Cumberland had killed two men and wounded fourteen, and had also carried away the muzzles of two guns,
but we never ceased firing them, and the damage was wholly immaterial.
deemed of importance that no vessel of our little fleet should leave the Roads that night, and so, at about dusk, the writer,
who had volunteered, took charge of the prisoners from the Congress. They were twenty-three (23), of whom five (5)
had been badly wounded by the Yankee fire. After a long pull against a strong ebb tide, and a very anxious one--the
unencumbered prisoners numbering eighteen (18), and the encumbered boats' crew number nine (9)--they were
landed before midnight at the Naval Hospital in Norfolk, two of the wounded prisoners (marines) having died in the Signal
Corps gig, just before reaching the landing stage.
In the early morning we land
our Admiral, sorely stricken, but cheery and game as a lion, and as soon as the barge of the Patrick Henry returns
from the duty, with our ship in "inspection order," Jones, who has succeeded to the command, gets under way to finish the
Minnesota. Next comes the Patrick Henry (once Yorktown), commanded by Admiral John Randolph Tucker,
our Princely sailor Knight, "so stuffed with all honorable virtues," and next in the Jamestown comes our own gallant
Barney, Baltimore born; and hovering about us are our dashing little mosquito fleet, under Webb, and Parker, and Alexander.
We soon descry a strange-looking iron tower sliding over the waters towards us, but it bears a hated flag, and we dash at
it. It is the Monitor, which, during the previous night, had come in from sea, and which, by the light of the burning
Congress, had been seen and reported by one of our pilots. In the strong, Anglo-Saxon which all good pilots affect,
he remarked to a midshipman of the watch, "There goes that d----d Ericsson," which we knew all about from Yankee newspapers.
She had been in momentary danger of floundering during the twenty-four hours passage from Sandy Hook to Cape Henry, and in
ordinary reef topsail breeze.
And now the great fight has begun, and Commodore Parker's
account of it is substantially correct and fair. It will be remembered that this was the first engagement of iron-clads in
the World's History. During the Crimean War two or three French ships had been partially shod with iron, but they were never
brought into action, and the experiment had as yet, therefore, yielded no practical results. Old things had passed away, and
in an instant, as it were, the experiences of "a thousand years of battle and of breeze" were brought all to naught--its lessons
to be unlearned and forgotten. In a new volume and upon a virgin page was the art of naval warfare being recorded.
Nearly two hours have passed, and many a shell and shot have been exchanged at close quarters, with no perceptible damage
to either. The Virginia is discouragingly cumbrous and unwieldly. To wind her for her broadside fire, each fire,
fifteen minutes are lost; while, during all this time, the Monitor is whirling around and about like a top, and by
the easy working of her turret, and her precise and rapid movement elicits the wonder and admiration of all. The ships passed
and re-passed very near each other; frequently we delivered our broadside at the distance of only a few yards, and with no
greater perceptible effect than if we had thrown marbles at her.
from the spar deck and observing a division standing "at ease," Jones observed, "why are you not firing. Mr. Eggleston." "Why,
our powder is very precious," replied the Lieutenant, "and after two hours incessant firing I find that I can do her just
about as much damage, by fashing my thumb at her every two minutes and a half."
|CSS Virginia rams USS Cumberland, 8 March 1862
|U.S. Naval Historical Center
The fight had not lasted ten minutes before Jones knew very well
(and which no other man in the ship knew) that our chances were as an orange against all Lombard street. Of all the human
beings afloat that day in Hampton Roads, Catesby Jones was, perhaps, the only one capable of comprehending the situation at
a glance. In addition to his thorough professional training, theory and practice, he had conducted an exhaustive of experiments,
with iron-shod targets, near-Norfolk, and knew that our double two-inch iron plates as against the 11-inch guns of the Monitor,
were a mere sham and a pretence; about the same protection that two sheets of tin would afford a target against a rifle
at point blank range. And he knew, too, that the turret of the Monitor was impenetrable to our shot or shell, or
to the fire of any other artillery of that day; and so he determines to waste no more time with his guns. She is certainly
invulnerable to our shell, and we had but twenty solid shot on board. They were of nine-inch diameter, of very
great windage, of course, and intended to be used as hot shot for wooden vessels.
Our next move, therefore, is to run her down. A tedious manoeuvring for position; now "back the engines"--now "go
ahead"--now "hard a-starboard the helm"--now "hard a-port" --weary, weary minutes--an eighth of a mile of the Red River raft,
with plenty of sweeps, would be more lively in handling. At last, we have way on her, and we ram her with all our force. But
she is so flat and broad that she merely slides away under our stem as a floating door would slip away before the
cut water of a barge; all that we could do was to push her. At sea and in smooth water, provided she chose to
remain still, we could, no doubt, have run over her. It required a full mile, under full steam, to get full headway on
the Virginia; we never had one-half the requisite space, and consequently the blow was weak and inefficient. We could
not knock a hole in the Monitor, for our prow, which with inconceivable stupidity had been made of cast-iron, had
been knocked off, of course, when we opened the bowels of the Cumberland; and besides, at the water line the Monitor
had six feet of solid timber, heavily plated with iron, while our cast prow was but five feet long. Jones now
determines to board her; to choke her turret in some way, and lash her to the Virginia.
The gunners and the armorers gang have all their posts
assigned; some have heavy sledge-hammers; others have large wedges and crow-bars, bits of heavy chain, spikes and bolts, and
whatever was thought available to wedge the turret and keep it from revolving.
In such case the Monitor is harmless and we have captured her. Some have large flasks of turpentine, and others have
balls of oakum saturated with the same; some have a slow match, and some have torches. It we can get the combustibles through
the top grating of the turret, we may suffocate the crew in it, or possibly may set the ship on fire and blow her up. About
twenty men of the boatswain's gang have manned the heavy hawsers and chain cables; if we can lash her securely to the Virginia,
we can walk away with her to Norfolk, whether the turret revolves or not.
At last, the enemy is dead ahead, and we see by the bubbles which dance past the ports that we are getting "way" on her.
Faster and faster, and nearer and nearer, and the fighting crew, with pistols and boarding pikes, and well sharpened cutlasses
are burning for the signal to swarm aboard the foe.
Faster and faster, and nearer
and nearer;--within twenty minutes the Confederate colors shall fly from the Monitor's peak, by the sheer force of
brains and seamanship and heroism and the juster cause. A breathless hush pervades the ship, for a single stroke of the bell
is heard; the monster engines are stilled; and now, the blood is fairly tumbling through our veins as the shrill pipes and
hoarse roar of the boatswains call "boarders away," but the enemy has also heard the call for "Pr'ythee see there! behold!
look! lo!! the Monitor is off, has wheeled in flight, has turned tail and fled, and ignominiously seeks refuge on
a mud-flat; or, to speak, perhaps, with more euphony and elegance, and in the language of Commodore Parker, "has hauled off
into shoal water," where she is as safe from our ship as if she were on the topmost peak of the Blue Ridge. Ten feet draught
of water against twenty-two. The flying foe is moving two feet to our one but, rapidly firing, we chase her until we have
no longer an inch of water under our keel--we have been brought up, all standing by the shoal.
From the commencement of her flight, the Monitor had made no reply to our fire, and now her nimble heels have secured
her a place of safety, miles distant, on Hampton Shoals. Although the great distance made it a waste of precious ammunition,
yet, by way of emphasizing our victory--putting it in italics, as it were--we fired five more shells at her. As well as we
could distinguish, three of them struck, but the last two, though fired from our pivot gun, could not reach, and to none
of them did we get any reply. Let this fact be especially marked, to-wit:--the Monitor, seeking safety in flight,
and anchoring where she could float, and where we could not, made no reply to the last guns fired on that day. When she wheeled
to fly, she had fired the last hostile gun at the Virginia, which a short time afterwards drove her again from the
field, when she was bombarding our batteries. A little later still she was severely beaten at Drury's Bluff, principally by
the crew of the burnt Virginia; and then, leaving Hampton Roads to take part in Butler's fire-works at Wilmington,
she went to the bottom, handsomely, off Cape Hatteras.
"Most incompetent conclusion--most inglorious career."
But the Monitor, now on
the shoal, had once before run out of the fight, for the purpose, Commodore Parker tells us, "of hoisting up her shot, weighing
168 pounds". (a most remarkable proceeding for a full manned war-ship); and in the hope that she may return once more, the
Virginia waits for about thirty-five minutes. But she clings to the flat and makes no "sign;" and having thus beaten
her fairly, squarely and absolutely, the Virginia goes on her way, rejoicing. Commodore Parker admits that the Monitor
ran off, but "finding her injuries not so serious," she "turned her head towards the enemy," who "turned" his head towards
Norfolk, and "left the field pursued by the Monitor." Now the Monitor was a long way off, nearly three miles,
and we cannot gainsay the assertion that she "turned" towards us; but that she "turned" and came out into deep water to give
battle, or that the Virginia "turned" in consequence, or that the Monitor ever "pursued" her an inch, or
pretended to pursue, or that by firing a gun, or in any other way she ever gave the slightest indication of a wish to renew
the fight, I wholly and utterly deny. I pronounce the statement absolutely untrue in gross and in detail. I laugh it to scorn
and dare its author to the proof. Some proof that she was ever again, for a single instant, within two miles
of the Virginia until more than two months afterwards, we were compelled to burn our ship by reason of military movements
ashore; remembering always that while she might freely come to us, we might not go to her. Much "turning" there may have
been, but there was no "pursuit." There are five thousand creditable witnesses of the fact, that when we left Hampton
Roads that day there was nothing in sight to fight. True, the colors of the. Minnesota were still at her
peak, but she was so thoroughly beaten, that, as every Northern man knows, Van Brunt was with great difficulty dissuaded from
abandoning her, by the influence of outside spectators. She was aground, and entirely at our mercy, and it seemed merciless
to fire another shot at her. We no more considered her a hostile element in the fight, than if she had been a toy ship. And
just here I would note an incident. While the crews of the Cumberland and Congress were struggling to reach
the shore, in boats and by swimming, a few charges of grape and canister would have swept them from the waters--not a man
would have reached the shore alive. By Buchanan's peremptory order, not a shot was fired.
But the Monitor is now, admittedly, on the shoal to examine her wounds; the onus is on her to prove
that she came off it to fight. Wanted the bearings and distance of the Virginia when the Monitor
"pursued;" and wanted more, said bearings and distances and soundings when she turned from that "pursuit"
to play that "defensive role." The issue is just here, and it is in a nutshell, and there is no dodging it. We charge that
she never left the shoal for an instant to give battle, and that she was never again that day nor--any other
day--within three miles of the Virginia or in four fathoms of water, while a Confederate vessel was in sight, or outside
the bar. The smoke of one signal gun from the Monitor, and we would have wheeled to fight her, although within one
hundred yards of our dock. We sailed our ship to fight, and not to "protect vast interests by a defensive role."
The Monitor being beaten off, in what more impressive manner could Catesby Jones "show his fealty to the
cause which he had espoused?" (his devotion to which is the pride and joy of his life, as it is to all of us). No respectable
man on board the Monitor will deny that the Virginia fired the last shots, or that the Monitor
ran off into shoal water, where our shell could not reach her. If, at this instant, the victory was not ours, whose was it?
or how long was it to be in abeyance? Six hours? or six weeks? or six years? By way, however, of putting a clinching nail
in this mythical "pursuit;" if the Monitor, leaving the flat, was really looking for a fight, why did she
not find it during the ensuing nine weeks, when the Virginia was roaming about the Roads, using every possible effort
to coax her into a struggle, but in vain? "Discretion" was "the better part of valor," and we never met her again. "He
that fights and runs away will live to fight another day," but that "other day" never dawned for the Monitor.
To make our appeal the more impressive, to shame her into a fight, as it were, Barney, in the Jamestown, ran
over to Hampton side and cut out three vessels under her very nose; but she' was not to be coaxed from her earthworks; she
was inexorable, and our grand old Sea-king Tatnall, the chevalier, sans peur et sans reproche was in despair. Nobody
could "get wounded" for nobody would fight him. At last, he determined to capture her by stratagem, but
the plan was found to be impracticable. He could only taunt her by the daily display of the Confederate colors, and a daily
invitation to battle. And so much for the "pursuing" Monitor.
But to the story. It is now about 12 M., and as there is no enemy to fight, we turn to the Minnesota. We have
knocked a hole into her, large enough to admit a wagon and four horses, driving four of her ports into one, and the carnage
in and about her had been dreadful. Of the officers and crew of a steamer alongside, not one remained alive I believe. We
considered her sufficiently destroyed, a crippled bird, on the ground, which we could bag at pleasure. If
it was all to go over again (it is so easy to be wise after the event), I suppose that we would have delayed a few
minutes, and burnt her with hot shot, in spite of the pilots. The pilots insisted on immediate departure: the alternative
being, that they cannot, otherwise, take the ship over the bar, until noon of the next day. To cross on the midnight high
tide is impossible. The Minnesota is on the port-beam, about a mile off, for, although she drew about the same water
that we did, the pilots could never (on account of some peculiarity of the channel) place us closer. If we could have used
the hot-shot gun on the port side, the Minnesota would undoubtedly have been ablaze in a few moments. But the Cumberland
had shot away its muzzle. To turn the ship and fight the starboard gun, was impossible, for heading up stream on a strong
flood-tide, she would have been wholly unmanageable, baffling around on her heel and boxing 30 degrees of the compass--from
starboard to port and from port to starboard. We must hold her, head to tide. "Shift that starboard gun to port side,"
Jones orders, and now it will take the better part of an hour to get the Minnesota well ablaze, and then we will
lose this tide and the next. "In a few minutes," said the extremely importunate pilots, "it will
be high water; we have nearly three miles to run to the bar, and if the ship should take the ground on a falling
|USS Monitor battles CSS Virginia, 9 March 1862
|U.S. Naval Historical Center
We head for Norfolk, and this was the way in which the United States Frigate Cumberland saved
the United States Frigate Minnesota.
The Virginia had so lightened up forward, that two or three inches of the hull, below the shield, were plainly
exposed, and why the enemy took no advantage of this, is one of the mysteries of the fight. To bring her down by the head
at least a foot, to replace an anchor which had been shot away, and which we never missed until ordered to be "let go," and
to replace our broken prow, were important provisions, for our struggle tomorrow with the Monitor, by which time,
most probably, she may have screwed her courage to the sticking place and ventured off the shoal.
At the special instance of Flag Officer Buchanan, no captain was ever ordered to the Virginia; he desired that no
one should be between him and the Executive and Ordnance Officer, who knew the ship from her keel upwards, and who had been
made responsible for the efficiency of her battery. Comparatively speaking, a young Lieutenant, Jones, finds himself, in an
instant, in command of the leading ship, and in a desperate battle involving possibly the destinies of Empire.
With admirable professional judgment and common sense, he determines, after beating off the enemy, and after consulting
with his officers, that his seniors should share the dread responsibilities of the hour. And, so, as the crew have been fighting
for two days, as his wounded chief is only a few miles off, and as his senior officer, Commodore Tucker, is almost alongside,
Jones steams off for Norfolk, and the great fight in Hampton Roads is over......In a battle which, revolutionizing as it did
in an instant the whole science of naval warfare, is more memorable than any sea-fight of history, more pregnant of consequences--in
a battle, which will be remembered to the latest posterity, as the prominent naval event of our times, our ship has come out
With that last shot at the Minnesota, closed her fighting
career. The Patrick Henry and the Jamestown follow. On the previous day, at the first sound of our guns,
they had come booming down the river from Mulberry Island, and had rushed into the fight, in the most gallant and effective
way. The Patrick Henry has received a shot through her boiler; one of her engines is disabled, and she has lost more
men than all the rest together. It became necessary to tow her out of the fight, but she soon returned and was actively engaged.
In the hottest of the fire the Virginia grounded for a few moments, and both ships dashed in to her aid, and how
they ever survived that fire is another mystery of the action; for from all the shore batteries and all the men-of-war, the
Virginia was literally bathed in shell and shot--benado en municion. The Minnesota alone fired
145 ten-inch; 349 nine-inch and 35 eight-inch shot and shell, and 5,567 pounds of powder. The entire time of all our quarter-masters
was consumed in setting and re-setting the colors. Again and again were they shot away, and when the last spare flag staff
was "expended" they were rigged to the much be-riddled smokestack, whence they were shot away again and again, and when the
fight was over and the Monitor had run off, our flag Was flying from a boarding-pike, passed up through the spar
deck grating. While fighting the men-of-war and shore batteries they manage to find time to blow up a transport steamer, to
sink a schooner and to capture another. They were large, side wheel; were vulnerable almost to a pistol shot. Never were two
beautiful ships more gallantly handled. We are off for Norfolk: Barney, who happened to be the last to quit the field, has
fired the last gun. It was a weather-bow gun, and the enemy--"they heard the sound, its meaning knew." And did the Monitor
fire a blank cartridge to windward that day? and if not why not? Was it an accidental omission of glorification?
Credat Judaeus and other marines.
Well, the smoke from that triumphant gun was yet floating lazily away, when Catesby Jones remarked to the writer, "the
destruction of those wooden vessels was a matter of course especially so, being at anchor, but in not capturing that ironclad,
I feel as if we had done nothing." "And yet," he added, "give me that vessel and I will sink this one in twenty minutes."
And every watch-officer of our squadron would engage, under forfeiture of his head, with a Monitor to sink a Virginia,
every thirty minutes from dawn till dewy eve. And this is said in no spirit of boasting. It only means that they would know
the fatally weak point of the Virginia, which Worden could scarcely be expected to know by inspiration. Considering
the terrible prestige of our ship, and that his junior officers were volunteers (as I suppose), and therefore inexperienced,
Worden fought his ship with plenty of spirit After being temporarily blinded by Hunter Davidson's gun, his responsibility
ceased. In other and happier days, we were temporarily shipmates; (in 49-50 the writer was Judge Advocate of the Pacific Squadron
in San Francisco Bay, and upon one or more Courts Martial we served together, he being, if I recollect aright, the junior
member); I knew Lieutenant Worden for an amiable, upright, conscientious, debt-hating man, and of fair standing as an average
deck officer. Never having seen his official report, which, strange to say, was not made till '68--six years after the fight--am
wholly unwilling to believe that he has given his sanction to this preposterous claim of "pursuit" and "victory." He would
never, I am sure, lend himself to the meanness of claiming unearned laurels. While he could fight, he fought gallantly;
but he was beaten thoroughly, and it would have been a great novelty in other days for defeat to be rewarded by promotion.
In the political exigency of the hour, which forbade the acknowledgment of defeat by his Government, he was a fortunate
man. A Nelson or Collingwood, finding the enemy's upper works invulnerable, might have tried the lower ones; they certainly
would have done something with the divine inspiration of genius to make the best ship win. But then the Nelsons and
Collingwoods only appear every century or two.
I have said that the Monitor
was fought with plenty or spirit. She was also fought with a "plentiful lack" of judgment and common-sense and ordnance-sense.
The great radical blunder was in failing to concentrate her fire. In two instances a second shot striking near the
first, weakened our shield and caused the backing to bulge inwards, and made it very manifest that a third or fourth shot
would have gone through. "But another shot or two from the Monitor," writes one of our Lieutenants, "following
up two or more that she had placed between my two guns on the starboard side, would have brought down the shield about our
ears." In these cases the shots were delivered upon the strongest part of our roof; if they had struck her at the water-line,
where there was no protection whatever for the hull (for be it remembered that she had no knuckle), they would have gone through
her as if she had been of paper. A fighting, wide-awake seaman makes the enemy's water-line his first target
and that proving invulnerable, the guns, and the guns' crew the second. Now, the enormous weight of her shield and
battery, kept the Virginia, all the time, just hovering between floating and sinking. She was sluggish, sodden and
entirely irresponsive to the breathing of the sea. In a very slight roughening of the water, a sailor could tell in a moment,
by the feel of her, under his feet, that it was a touch and go matter whether she staid up, or went down; a very
few tons of water through the hole made by two, or even one, well-aimed shot from the splendid eleven-inch gun of the Monitor,
and the Virginia would have gone to the bottom in five minutes. With such a gun, and at such short range, it
would be no great feat for the intelligent side-boy to plant his shot every time in the space covered by an ordinary
straw-hat. The Virginia was so large a mark that almost every shot struck her somewhere; but they were scattered
over the whole shield and on both sides, and were therefore harmless. To point her gun in our direction, and fire on the instant,
without aim or motive, appeared to be the object. The turret revolving rapidly, the gun disappears only to repeat
in five or six minutes the same hurried and necessarily aimless, unmeaning fire; not a shot appeared to have any "motif."
They appeared to be firing at "Cowes and a market." She could assume and keep whatever position she pleased, for, with
her short keel and fine engines, she could play around us like a rabbit around a sloth. Once during the fight she took such
a position that we could not bring a single gun to bear on her. Why did she not with common-sense keep it, and with perfect
security deliberately plant her shot where she pleased almost to an inch? She fired, all told, during the fight forty-one
shots (taking her time, about one fire in six minutes), and any three of them properly aimed would have sunk us, and yet the
nearest shot to the water-line was over four feet. Our rudder and propeller were wholly unprotected, and a slight blow from
her stem would have disabled both and ended the fight. Every time the Virginia went to cruise in the Roads under
Tatnall we bade her an affectionate good-bye--we never expected to see her again. In short, considering that at noon on the
--th of March, '62, the Monitor was by immense odds the most formidable vessel of war on this planet, and
that our ship was comparatively a ship of glass, and that doing us no harm (for our crew never suffered
so much as a finger ache from the Monitor's fire), and wholly unharmed herself, after four mortal hours of battle
she runs away and gives up the fight, it is impossible to conceive in what manner she could have been more inefficiently
handled. On the other hand, the Monitor might have thrown her guns overboard and have flooded her magazine,
and in spite of all that daring and genius could do, at the end of a week, or a month, or a year, would have been as far from
capture as she was at the moment of "hauling off into shoal water."
We are now
at Norfolk, and will any one ever forget that Sunday afternoon ovation to our glory-covered sailors--a whole people wild with
delight? Or can any one ever forget the scene aboard the Virginia on the following Tuesday, when all hands were assembled
on the quarterdeck to return thanks to Almighty God for this great victory and deliverance; the tears and sobs of both officers
and men; or the burning words of the eloquent divine--Wingfield, the present Protestant Episcopal Bishop of Texas. How our
President, that "very noblest Roman of them all," announced the glad tidings in one of those exquisite compositions, which
for force of language and classical elegance and purity, are wholly unsurpassable? Or, how Congress voted thanks and promotion?
Or, can we forget that our victory sent a thrill of gladness through the hearts of our people, then staggering under so many
reverses, such as was not exceeded by any single success of the War? Nor do we forget that to this very hour, "I fought in
Hampton Roads" is an open sesame to the hearts and homes of all our own countrymen. Ah! the thrilling memories of
those halcyon days.
|USS Merrimack (1856-1861): CSS Virginia (1862)
|U.S. Naval Historical Center
"There are some strokes of calamity which scathe and scorch the soul; which penetrate to the vital seat
of happiness, and blast it never again to put forth bud or blossom." And so, we, crushed to the earth, as we admit, by the
agonizing thought that we have no country now (eternally infamous be the cowards who still oppress her); broken in
health, broken in fortune, broken hearted, utterly, hopelessly. Life all broken up, aimless--weary; for since that dreadful
day of April, '65--
"There's nothing serious in Mortality;
All is but joys: Renown and Grace
The wine of life is drawn; and naught but lies
Is left the vault to brag of."
More than willing
since that day of doom, and between any two ticks of the clock, to join our envied brothers---at noble army of martyrs,
who left us on the battle field for the Spirit land, (where so soon now they will welcome us all) and, yet, in the
consciousness of duty performed, of self-respect maintained, in the now proved certainty that we were right, and in a thousand
glorious recollections of our struggle, we have many and many a cheerful moment. And to none of those hope-tinted hours
"In the land where we were dreaming"
does memory more delightedly recur, than to those early days of March, 1862.
Ah, me! how earnestly, how feelingly, how tearfully do we say of them: Et
haec olim meminisse juvabit.
And our ship. She's "by the head" again, to
twenty-three feet forward, has a new anchor, a new wrought-iron prow, a new set of boats, the two port shutters repaired,
and plenty of solid shot and bolts; and as soon as her new captain reaches her deck (Commodore Tatnall--I never think of the
gallant "old chieftain" without mentally ordering to his memory, a "present-arms,") she is off to find that "pursuing" Monitor,
and she never found her. Where was she? Echo answers "where," and likewise a brave boatswain's-mate, who worshipped at the
shrine of the Wide Waterstreet muse, and as the classic poet of the fo'castle irreverently wrote:--
Non est come-attibus
While roaming about the Monitor-less
Roads in triumph, the Virginia was a powerful support to Magruder at Yorktown. I have often heard my gallant Chief
say that she was his "right wing, and was equal to five thousand men." (General John Bankhead Magruder--and at the name of
as true and unselfish a gentleman, and of as gallant a soldier as ever adorned the profession of arms--let the drums roll.)
It was largely, if not chiefly, owing to her material and moral support that we kept McClellan in check---eight thousand men
against a splendidly appointed army of one hundred and twenty thousand. It gave us time to concentrate our forces around Richmond,
where so soon after we beat them so terribly. Up to this time I have not seen the fights around Richmond manufactured into
Yankee victories, but I am looking for that fabric every day. What were those "vast interests" which the Monitor was
protecting in her "defensive role?" And how did they weigh when compared with the actual, positive, tangible damage
which the Virginia was doing their cause? If that splendid invention (as we freely admit she was, for smooth water)
had been fought as she ought to have been, it might have saved them fifty thousand men. Engaging our handful with a few brigades,
McClellan might have walked past us to Richmond with the rest of his army almost any morning before breakfast.
Having accomplished our object, which was to check McClellan, our armies fell back from Yorktown and Norfolk, and Commodore
Tatnall ordered all our light-draught vessels to Drury's Bluff, viz.: the Patrick Henry, Jamestown, Teaser, Beaufort,
and Raleigh, under Tucker, Barney, Webb, Parker and Alexander. Possibly we might have taken the Virginia
as far as Harrison's Bar, but such action would have been absurd from every point of view. As the enemy occupied both
sides of the river, above and below, we could neither coal nor provision her, and would have been compelled
to destroy her in a few days, if she remained so long uncaptured. Her officers and crew were more usefully employed than in
holding in a narrow shoal river a ship which required an inland sea to move in. It was suggested that we abandon her to the
enemy, and after they had indulged in a sufficient amount of exultation, that Taylor Wood (our young Nelson) should slip out
late some afternoon and sink her with the Torpedo or Teaser (one-gun tugs); but it was regarded as a species
of ingratitude to allow the flag which she had done so much to humble, to float over her for a single moment.
And now the narrative is drawing to a close, for it is the 10th of May, and one mile distant W. S. W. bears Craney island.
"Then war her journey's end
The butt and very sea mark of her utmost sail."
Her mission was accomplished, her
work was done and here was she to receive her death-blow and burial at the hands of her own people. And so, landing the crew,
whom we marched to Drury's Bluff through Richmond (where a few days later they beat the Monitor off again, and who
as they fell in and formed on the beach that night continually looked for, but more continually never saw that "pursuing"
Monitor)--then and there, on the very field of her fame, within sight of the Cumberland's topgallant masts
all awash--within sight of that magnificent fleet still cowering on the shoal, with her laurels all fresh and green, we hauled
down her drooping colors, and with mingled pride and grief, we gave her to the flames. Now the lambent fires are roaring around
the shotted guns. The slow-match--the magazine--and that last deep hollow, sullen, mournful boom has rolled to the very sympathizing
stars, and in muttered thunders told her fate; and it told her people, now far away on the march that, unprofaned by the touch
of the hated foe, our gallant ship had passed away.
Her glory and renown shall
live in song and story until Time shall be no more, and as long as love of country, devotion to duty, wisdom in council and
heroism in battle are honored among men--so long shall the gentle fair with thrilling hearts listen to the brave and the true,
as they tell of the gallant spirits who fought the Confederate States war-ship, the Virginia, to immortality--to
a glorious ever brightening immortality.
And Virginia was
her name, not Merrimac, which has a nasal twang equally abhorrent to sentiment and to melody, and meanly compares
with the sonorous sweetness of "Virginia." She fought under Confederate colors, and her fame belongs to all of us;
but there was a peculiar fitness in the name we gave her. In Virginia, of Virginia iron and wood, and by
Virginians was she built, and in Virginia's waters, now made classic by her exploits, she made a record which shall live
forever. Of her officers a large proportion were Virginians. From Maryland were Admiral Buchanan, Lieut. John Taylor Wood,
and Chief-Engineer Ramsay; and well may we be especially proud of the contribution of our dear old State, "our Maryland."
Of the three leading ships in the great fight two were commanded by Marylanders: Buchanan and Barney, in the Virginia
and Jamestown. From Georgia were Commodore Tatnall and one of the assistant engineers, I regret that I cannot
remember his name; from Missouri, Midshipman Marmaduke; from Tennessee, Midshipman Foute; from Kentucky, Midshipman Craig,
and from Virginia were Catesby Jones, Charlie Simms, Hunter Davidson, Robert Minor, John R. Eggleston and Walter Butt, all
the Lieutenants; Midshipmen Littlepage, Rootes and Long; Paymaster Jas. Semple; Surgeons Dinwiddie Phillips and A. S.
Garnett; Marine Officer Reuben Thom; five out of the six assistant-engineers; Signal Officer Lieut. George E. Tabb, and all
five of the pilots. Of the nineteen officers who fought her through her Monitor fight, fifteen were of Virginia.
Well may the grand old mother of States and Statesmen be proud of the record of her children--her daughters as of her sons.
On the sea as on the land their Confederate loyalty and zeal were conspicuous, and especially does every valley and hill-top
on the battle-scarred bosom of their political Mother tell, trumpet-tongued, of their filial valor and devotion. Honored and
respected in life, in death their ashes shall repose among their well-loved people, and their names now already become "household
words," shall be cherished in affectionate remembrance through many a generation yet unborn.
God save the Old Dominion, and all true Virginians, and God save the wretched handful of her surviving naval and military
renegades, thick-skinned fellows in eternal exile, whom remorse and the slow-moving finger of scorn have not, as yet,
marked down into their graves.
And just here, I would dwell for a moment
upon the peculiarly grateful relations, which, as Marylanders, we hold to our Southern brothers--relations so "hallowed and
so gracious." They remind us, in kindly tones, that because of being forced to struggle through the enemy's lines, to reach
the Confederate colors, we were in a peculiar degree isolated from our homes and friends. (But for the infamous arrest of
her Legislature, the State, by the absolutely unanimous voice of her people on that day, would, in a few hours, have
been wheeled into line with her Southern Sisters.) Our Southern brothers tell us, that wherever it adorned and hallowed
the landscape, our beautiful flag looked down upon Marylanders, who, in turn, looked up to it, their eyes beaming with love
and devotion; that wherever the day-light air was startled with the crash and roar of battle, in the thickest of
the smoke and close to the colors, were men who were then illustrating the glories of the "old Maryland line;" and when they
looked down upon Maryland's dead and dying. We take no pride in these flattering words--none whatever. The Cause was ours
as much as theirs, and called for the same sacrifices, even to the going down into the grave. But when they tell us of what
Maryland has done since the war--that weeping with them tear for tear, they gave themselves up wholly to alleviate
their sorrows, nursing their shattered bodies, and whispering comfort to their bleeding, broken hearts; pouring over them
a flood tide of loving tenderness and sympathy, which has known no ebb to this hour; when they tell us that even on the busy
mart where "merchants most do congregate," where hard sharp lines of trade prevail, there has been a generous rivalry as to
who should first say, "shattered by the losses and calamities of desolating war, sit down quickly, and write thy debt acquitted."
When they tell us, in the language of Gov. Vance, of North Carolina that, our beautiful Baltimore "has become a very Mecca
to every true Southern heart,"--then it is, I say, that thrilling with pride in our holy cause--(that cause, which,
through those four dreadful years of physical hardship and suffering and mental agony, was upheld with a patience and a devotion
of which, we, its soldiers, are not ashamed,) thrilling with pride in our grand old State and her glorious history and traditions--pride
in our noble City, her fair women and brave men--we tremble with emotion--we shall have been "flattered to tears."
|Virginia abandoned & Burned off Craney Island, VA
|U.S. Naval Historical Center
By what process of reasoning Commodore Parker extracts such a quantity of sentimental semi-religious sop
out of the fight, I cannot comprehend. The quality is much to be envied. Extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers is nothing to
Now, "Providence," whatever that is, was in this war, as usual, on that
side having the heaviest artillery, and having with open ports the most money with which to entice foreign hirelings, with
Dutchmen, for example, at $2,000 a head bounty. (This, the sole cause of our defeat.) But, if ever there was an exception
to the Napoleonic maxim, this was it. The Monitor only appears upon the scene after that, we have been upon
the rampage for a whole day--have cleared out everything in the Roads; men-of-war, transports, traders; we have done
the enemy all possible injury, material and moral. Stocks fall ten per cent. in an hour; gold rises faster and such a panic
pervades all Yankeedom as they never knew before or since, and then next day, when we come to fight the Monitor--Noah's
ark against the crack iron-clad of the British channel fleet, we beat her off, undeniably, and forever, of which fact the
French and British men-of-war were witnesses. Without stopping to comment on that characteristic so peculiarly Yankee, which
arrogantly assumes with self-righteous, holier-than-thou airs, that Providence must be necessarily and ex officio on
whatever side he may happen to esponse, one would think that always fighting us twelve to one in point of numbers, and one
hundred to one in point of resources, they would be content with the odds and let Providence alone. Sed de gustibus, etc.
Now, we thanked Providence (or ought) for helping us to beat the Monitor, and I cannot conceive what the Monitor
gave thanks for, except for their escape. It must be very embarrassing to Providence to be thanked by both sides
for victory--carrying water on both shoulders, as it were. Providence could not possibly have done more for us than to lift
us to ten feet draught of water, or give us three or four knots more speed that we might have caught the Monitor.
There are grave doubts whether Providence could do it, but assuming that she could, with such an enormous weight of roof
and battery, and with such engines as those, we did not ask it: Providence took no sides in the fight, I am forced to attribute
the flight of the Monitor to other causes. Possibly the horrors of the Libby prison had something to do with it.
I weary to death under this snuffling cant of Providential interference. Before the war, we Southern men, as a nation,
carried our colors, in the great battle of life, as far to the front as Northern men did; we so carry them now. How we
carried them in actual battle, their own records tell. "We were entitled to say the least, to be regarded as fighting for
a principle as much as themselves--We had all to lose and nothing to gain. We were as competent to select the path which manhood,
duty, patriotism and honor required us to follow. And we know that we selected aright; for though we could look down
the stream of time, and see all the agony, ruin and humiliation which would await us at the end, we would follow the same
path without a moment's hesitation. We would only so change that by intensifying our effort, other half million of
our wicked and cowardly invaders should be welcomed with hospitable hands to bloody graves. Gushing politicians to the contrary
Commodore Parker thinks that "what injuries the Virginia
sustained will probably never be known." He can learn the truth from hundreds of witnesses; there never was any secret
about it. They were almost nothing, and she was ready for action within five minutes after reaching her dock.
It would seem to be very clear that no such dreadful injuries could befall the ship, without some greater or less harm to
the crew, and yet not one drop of Confederate blood was shed in the fight. Our surgeons were utterly scandalized and brought
all to naught, for the official record shows that on the 8th of March our casualties were absolutely nil--not
so much as a sprain, or a bruise, or a finger ache or a nose bleeding--not so much as a splinter for a fine cambric needle.
In the cramped and crowded condition of our gun deck, a rifle ball even, would have done no little execution. No missile so
large entered any of our ten ports, although the Monitor's fire was often delivered at half pistol shot distance,
and frequently the ships were nearly touching. Among the many mysteries of the fight, this was perhaps the most remarkable.
(What an immense field for "Prov." lucubration.)
Not more remarkable, however,
than the least mendacious Yankee account of the fight which I have seen, and in a book, aspiring to the dignity and truthfulness
"Neither produced the slightest effect upon the other, until at
last, the Monitor sent a shell through the port hole of her antagonist doing severe execution among the crew. After
that the Merrimac retreated leaving the victory with the little Monitor." (Young Folks' History.) Oh
tempora! Oh mores! There was much abrasion of the wood-work about the stem, where she had rammed the Monitor;
a number of dents in the shield more or less deep, and in one or two places the iron was ripped off, and the smoke-stack
riddled. During the fight an alarming leak was reported, but it was soon discovered and stopped. These and the injuries named
were wholly immaterial as regards her fighting capacity; whether great or small she was always ready for action, and the greater
her injuries the less excuse for the Monitor to decline the daily-offered battle.
With regard to the rhetorical flourish as to what "Earl Russell thought," and "Europe thought," "the political significance
of the victory," etc., this is all vox et preterea nihil. At the time the most "trooly loil" claimed no victory;
not even the Monitors themselves. Every man of them knows in his secret heart that his ship was whipped. It was an
accepted defeat. The public prints, contemporaneous literature, the stock and gold markets, all prove it. True, the enemy
managed to find some solace from the survival of the Monitor, but it was after this manner to wit: that if there
had been no Monitor, that then the Virginia might have achieved that terrible career aforesaid.
The most puerile and vapid of non sequiturs of course, but it was all the extractable comfort at the time. For
supposing the Virginia, manned by idiots or traitors, to have been run seaward past Cape Henry (there to founder
in the first few moments, upon the first few heaves of a sleeping sea), the Monitor would have been no hindrance--no
greater than a Portuguese man-of-war. For she was playing a "defensive role" (to absolute perfection), and the approved mode
of playing it, is your enemy drawing four to swing to your anchors in two fathoms of water. You cannot play a "defensive role"
and a fighting and a "pursuing" role at the same time. It was only gradually that the story of the fight
was woven into Northern school-books as a "drawn battle." In this article for the first time I have seen it claimed as a Federal
victory. With great pomp and circumstance, and in many honied words the muster-roll of the Monitor is held up to
the admiring gaze of their countrymen. If there is a man among them who does not blush at the false position assigned him
in this article--at being thus pilloried for a mock hero, then must the modesty of such man be under very splendid command.
Earl Russell most probably neither thought nor cared about the fight. The British neutrality policy had been determined upon
long before; and assuming that he had been humbugged into the belief that the Monitor had not been beaten, the affair
had not a feather's political weight one way or the other. The English were accurately informed as to military operations
on both sides, but in this case they had special means of knowing the exact truth. I cannot remember distinctly whether or
not the British man-of-war was in the Roads on the 8th of March, and with her own eyes, saw the Monitor run up on
the shoal and stay there (I know that the Frenchman saw it all and so reported), but she was certainly there early
in April, for I remember this incident. Barney's prizes, cut out in the hope that in very shame the Monitor would
come out and fight us in the channel, were passing near the British ship en route to Norfolk. Entirely ignoring their
neutrality obligations and all the petty proprieties, unable to restrain their generous impulses, from the captain to the
side-boy, they cheered our gunboat to the very echo. I seem to hear again those rousing, ringing British cheers, at this very
moment. To a man, the English army and navy were with us, and not having the fear of the Yankee before their eyes, lost no
opportunity of publicly showing their sympathy and respect. But they saw, alas! that Barney's gallantry was thrown away, and
that the Monitor with her steam up still hugged the shoal and utterly refused the gage of battle so handsomely
thrown down. Now the "political significance" of this "victory" of the Monitor could scarcely have so overwhelmed
Earl Russell. And again, early in May a magnificent Federal fleet (the Virginia being concealed behind the land)
have ventured across the channel and some of them expressly fitted to destroy our ship, are furiously bombarding our batteries
at Sewell's Point. Dashing down comes old Tatnall on the instant, as light-stepping and blithe as a boy. With such terrible
odds they will surely fight us now; though we could not have survived the shock for sixty seconds, either from the fire or
from the ramming. But the Virginia no sooner draws into range than the whole fleet, like a flushed covey of birds,
flutters off into shoal water and under the guns of the forts. Every vessel runs, and we cannot fire a single shot. Says
one of our Lieutenants: "There were seven or eight vessels besides the Monitor--heavy steam Frigates several of them--in
line of battle, and throwing shells into Sewell's Point. We heard at the time that it was by way of entertaining Mr. Lincoln,
who was at Fortress Monroe. At any rate they all ran, when they saw us coming, in a way that made me blush for the
navy in which I had served so long." We chase until we can almost hail the gunners on the Rip Raps, who were pouring a splendid
fire into her--remarkably splendid from its rapidity and precision. A few lengths of the cable will put us ashore. Pari
passu the squadron retreat, and are far beyond our range. But see! they are now huddling together between the forts,
and are only waiting to make a grand combined onslaught. Vain hope! the weary hours roll by; the crew are yawning at their
guns, cursing their luck ("the defensive role") and growling like old sea bears for the "roll to grog," and we rest like "a
painted ship upon a painted ocean." "Tucker," hailed the old Commodore in a tone of the deepest disgust, and relapsing into
his rheumatic limp, "what can we do! what can we do!" but "it's of no use, they'll never fight us; send me a boat,
I'll go up in your ship and examine my morning's mail." "Mr. Jones, fire a gun to windward and take the ship back to her buoy."
There was no further bombardment of our batteries, nor did that splendid squadron again leave the protection of the
guns at Old Point, until they saw by the debris sweeping seaward on the tides that the Virginia was no more.
This "victory" of the Monitor, as seen and reported by the British ship, could hardly have so stunned Lord Russell
with its "political significance." Nor could it have been her victory at Drury's Bluff a few days later, when with the Galena
and others she dashed up against our batteries only to be hurled back utterly beaten and discomfitted. What victory was
it then that frightened all Europe from its propriety by its "political significance"? Not that it has, even if true, the
remotest bearing upon the question at issue (which is, which vessel whipped, the Monitor or the Virginia?); but
if it shall turn out that the whole paragraph is mere dashing assertion, mere "wild and whirling words," why then--ex
uno disce omnes. The allusion to Earl Russell appears to be unfortunate. If rumor be true, his humiliation at the back
down of England in the Alabama case is the sorrow which is clouding his few remaining years. But what Europe
really did know was, that we fought long and well for our country; and we know, that we were true to our convictions; that
all our military renegades can be counted on the fingers of one hand, with one finger and-a-half to spare; and we in Maryland
know, that hooting at "pardons" and glorying in "disabilities," we shall remain consistent and true and faithful unto the
end. Aye, glorying in our "disabilities" happy to share, though ever so little, in malignant hate with which they honor our
President--truest of the true, purest of the pure, bravest of the brave! And their hate is natural and has a two-fold origin.
First, because, Proprium humani ingenii est, odisse quem laeseris, and the historic records of the last half of the
Nineteenth Century shall be blotted with no such damning infamy as that which tells of the treatment of President Davis after
his capture. And second, because he has fairly earned their hate. His lion-like, intrepid spirit which in trumpet tones breathes
only contempt and defiance to this hour, cheered and sustained our fire until the very last moment. Fewer by 10,000 would
have been the "head board" demand but for his single individual heroic will. Their very most venomous and most hissing
curses. And we know how earnest we were, for we read every day the United States Quartermaster's advertisement for
"head-boards," the sweetest reading since Cadmus invented letters. The style --tho' a trifle monotonous, so intensely terse
and vivid and the figures so magnificent.
To conclude. "In every Federal
account of the operations of the war, an antidote should accompany the poison, page by page, line by line." To this effect
was the language of my old friend and school-mate, Mr. Teackle Wallis, tried and true, in his address to the Southern
Historical Society; and could there possibly be a clearer illustration of the truth and wisdom of the words than in the necessity
for his reply to the article "Monitor and Merrimac"?
Source: Southern Historical Society Papers. Richmond, Va., Sept.,
1917. New Series, Vol. 4, Old Series, Vol. XLII.
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.
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…
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.
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
Reading: A History of Ironclads: The Power of Iron over Wood. Description: This
landmark book documents the dramatic history of Civil War ironclads and reveals how ironclad warships revolutionized naval
warfare. Author John V. Quarstein explores in depth the impact of ironclads during the Civil War and their colossal effect
on naval history. The Battle of Hampton Roads was one of history's greatest naval engagements. Over the course of two days
in March 1862, this Civil War conflict decided the fate of all the world's navies. It was the first battle between ironclad
warships, and the 25,000 sailors, soldiers and civilians who witnessed the battle vividly understood what history would soon
confirm: wars waged on the seas would never be the same. Continued below…
About the Author: John V. Quarstein is an award-winning author and historian. He is director
of the Virginia
War Museum in Newport News and chief historical advisor for The Mariners' Museum's new USS Monitor Center
(opened March 2007). Quarstein has authored eleven books and dozens of articles on American, military and Civil War history,
and has appeared in documentaries for PBS, BBC, The History Channel and Discovery Channel.
Reading: Iron Afloat:
The Story of the Confederate Armorclads.
Description: William N. Still's book is rightfully referred to as the standard of Confederate Naval history. Accurate and
objective accounts of the major and even minor engagements with Union forces are combined with extensive background information.
This edition has an enlarged section of historical drawings and sketches. Mr. Still explains the political background that
gave rise to the Confederate Ironclad program and his research is impeccable. An exhaustive literature listing rounds out
this excellent book. While strictly scientific, the inclusion of historical eyewitness accounts and the always fluent style
make this book a joy to read. This book is a great starting point.
Reading: A History of the Confederate Navy
(Hardcover). From Publishers Weekly: One of the most prominent European scholars of the Civil War weighs in with a provocative
revisionist study of the Confederacy's naval policies. For 27 years, University of Genoa history professor Luraghi (The Rise
and Fall of the Plantation South) explored archival and monographic sources on both sides of the Atlantic to develop a convincing
argument that the deadliest maritime threat to the South was not, as commonly thought, the Union's blockade but the North's
amphibious and river operations. Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory, the author shows, thus focused on protecting
the Confederacy's inland waterways and controlling the harbors vital for military imports. Continued below…
As a result,
to Savannah to Richmond, major
Confederate ports ultimately were captured from the land and not from the sea, despite the North's overwhelming naval strength.
Luraghi highlights the South's ingenuity in inventing and employing new technologies: the ironclad, the submarine, the torpedo.
He establishes, however, that these innovations were the brainchildren of only a few men, whose work, although brilliant,
couldn't match the resources and might of a major industrial power like the Union. Nor did
the Confederate Navy, weakened through Mallory's administrative inefficiency, compensate with an effective command system.
Enhanced by a translation that retains the verve of the original, Luraghi's study is a notable addition to Civil War maritime
history. Includes numerous photos.