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CH, XIII.

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Na great war such as that of the rebellion an

inventive people like the Americans could not fail to originate novelties and develop progress in methods of fighting. The most critical point of the contest on both sides was the possibility of foreign intervention. This compelled the North to find effective means to enforce the long and difficult sea-coast blockade; while for the South it constituted a prime object to break it. Both sides therefore turned eagerly to experiments in the new system of iron-clad ships. In the destruction of the Gosport navy yard at the outbreak of the war, the United States steam-frigate Merrimac was burned to the water's edge and sunk. The rebels soon raised her, and finding her hull undamaged, and the engines yet serviceable, they proceeded by help of the Tredegar iron-works, at Richmond, to convert her into an ironclad. A wedge-shaped prow of cast-iron, weighing 1500 pounds, was fastened to the stem two feet under water, and projecting about two feet in front. A roof of wood two feet thick, with its sides inclining at thirty-six degrees to the water's edge, was made to cover about two-thirds of the hull, being the central

in “The

pp. 200, 201.

Joseph Smith, H.

Report, Sept. 16,

1861.

part; this was plated with iron armor composed Ch. XIII. of two plates, each two inches thick. Within this Catesbicap protection was placed a battery of ten guns, four Southern on each broadside, and one each at the stem and Dec., 1871 stern.

The Navy Department at Washington was no less prompt to study the question of ironclads. The special session of Congress appropriated one and a half million of dollars for the work. A public advertisement invited plans and offers of construction. A competent board of naval officers examined the devices presented, and recommended three of the most promising, which by way of trial were put under contract. 66 Our immediate demands," said their report,“ seem to require, first, so c91. Davki, far as practicable, vessels invulnerable to shot, of light draft of water, to penetrate our shoal har- “Armored bors, rivers, and bayous.” Of the three plans adopted the one presented by John Ericsson of New York, a Swede by birth but an American citizen by adoption, a man of original genius, of great scientific acquirements, and of long experience in engineering service, proved in the end to conform best to these requirements. The board had doubts of its sea-going qualities, but at once recognized it as "a plan which will render the battery shot and shell proof." The hull, 127 feet long, 36 feet wide, and 12 feet deep, was covered by a flat, overhanging deck, slightly wider but much longer, pointed at both ends, closed and made water-tight, and rising only one or two feet above the waterline. On this stood a revolving turret, twenty feet in diameter and nine feet high, composed of wrought-iron plates bolted together to a total

Vessels,"

pp. 2–7.

CH. XIII. thickness of eight inches. Inside this were two

11-inch Dahlgren guns, trained side by side and revolving with the turret. Ericsson named his novel ship the Monitor. When public humor afterwards christened his invention by calling it a “ cheese-box on a raft," the designation expressed the exact intention of his model. In observing the movements of timber-rafts down the Norwegian coast, he had noticed that they suffered no danger from the waves, which simply rolled over them. So the closed platform of the Monitor, which would permit the waves to roll freely over its surface, required only its comparatively thin edge above and below the water-line to be protected with heavy iron armor. By this clever device, weight, which is the main difficulty in armored ships, was reduced to a minimum, and enabled him to combine great thickness of mail with the utmost lightness of draft.

Information concerning the progress of the work on these first American ironclads reached both belligerents. The officers at Fort Monroe reported

in October, 1861, that the Merrimac (she was named Oct1.861. the Virginia by the rebels) would probably make

an effort to get to sea. This proved a premature rumor. Late in the following February the Navy

Department had more trustworthy information, « Annals of through a Union mechanic then at work upon her,

that she was nearly finished. The rebels doubtless had similar information concerning the ironclads building at the North. But in each case such clandestine knowledge was necessarily vague and fragmentary. Enough, however, was known in Washington to make it probable that the Merrimac

Wool to Gen. Scott, Vol. IV.,

p. 620.

Welles in

the War,”

p. 20.

would prove formidable in a naval contest. Delay CH. XIII. had occurred in the work on the Union ironclads, the time of their possible presence there could not be fixed with certainty, and their ability to meet such an antagonist was purely a matter of speculation. When the Monitor was recommended by the Naval Board, and put under contract, even the most experienced and most sanguine officers had no expectation of the remarkable fighting powers she afterwards demonstrated.

On Thursday night, the 6th of March, 1862, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy was called to a council of war then being held at the Executive Mansion, at which the President, Cabinet, and various military officers were present. The Peninsular Campaign had been substantially agreed upon, but its details were yet under discussion. President Lincoln once more explained that taking the whole army first to Annapolis, to be embarked in transports, would appear to the extremely sensitive and impatient public opinion very much like a retreat from Washington. It would be impolitic to explain that it was merely a first step by way of the Chesapeake Bay and Fort Monroe towards Richmond. Could not, he asked, 50,000 or even 10,000 men be moved in transports directly down the Potomac! This would be a self-evident Conversaforward movement, which the public would comprehend without explanation. The objection was that transports could not safely pass existing rebel batteries on the Potomac. Could not the navy destroy those batteries! Assistant Secretary Fox replied that the navy could silence the batteries, but that unless held by our army, they

Fox,

J. G. N., Personal Memoranda. MS.

Paulding, March 6. 1862, and

March 7, 1862.

CH. XIII. would

would immediately be reoccupied, rebuilt, and again armed and manned by the rebels, and we needed a prolonged not a temporary respite.

The army officers objected that to occupy, hold, and defend those batteries from land attacks would produce a local and partial movement and diversion only to cripple and delay the main and distant expedition. Lincoln finally decided that the navy should in any event engage and silence the

Potomac batteries, even if only for a temporary Welles to and moral effect. There being as yet no telegraph

to Fort Monroe, orders were transmitted by sea Walter to directing that certain ships of war, and the Monitor

W. k. which that day sailed from New York, should pp. 17, 18. ascend the Potomac for this duty. The Merrimac

was for the moment forgotten, but being remem

bered next day, supplementary orders were sent Wellskoto, directing a suspension of action till Assistant Sec1862. W. r. retary Fox could visit Fort Monroe and consult

the naval officers in command. When he arrived there on Sunday morning, an important naval engagement had occurred, the renewal and conclusion of which he witnessed.

Three Union frigates lay at anchor under the guns of Fort Monroe, and two others under the guns of the Union earthworks near Newport News, six miles to the southwest, when on Saturday, March 8, about noon, the Merrimac appeared in the mouth of the Elizabeth River channel, which enters Hampton Roads about midway between the points named above, and headed directly for Newport News. She was accompanied by two small tugs armed with one gun each, while three other sidewheel steamers out of the James River, respectively

Vol. IX.,

p. 18.

1862.

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