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CH. XII. Sewall's Point at the entrance of the channel to
Norfolk, whence they had come. Among the Union commanders the gloomy disasters of the afternoon were heightened by the seemingly hopeless apprehension for the morrow. With great difficulty the tugs had hauled the Roanoke and St. Lawrence back to Fort Monroe; the Minnesota was hard aground. But what ship, ashore or afloat, could stand before this new and terrible marine engine, that moved unharmed through the repeated broadsides of the most powerful naval armaments ?
Telegraphic news of these events reached Washington the next morning, Sunday, and the hasty meeting of the Cabinet and other officials who
immediately gathered at the White House was perAnnals of haps the most excited and impressive of the whole Pp. 24, 26. war. Stanton, unable to control his strong emotion,
walked up and down the room like a caged lion. McClellan was dumfounded and silent. Lincoln was, as usual in trying moments, composed but eagerly inquisitive, critically scanning the dispatches, interrogating the officers, joining scrap to scrap of information, applying his searching analysis and clear logic to read the danger and find the remedy; Chase impatient and ready to utter blame; Seward and Welles hopeful, yet without encouraging reasons to justify their hope. The possibilities of the hour were indeed sufficiently portentous to create consternation. What might not this new and irresistible leviathan of the deep accomplish ? A fleet destroyed; Fort Monroe besieged; the blockade broken; the Richmond campaign thwarted; New York laid under contribution; Washington City and the public build
ings burned and the Government in flight;- foreign CH. XIII. intervention would surely follow a succession of events like these, which heated imagination easily called up. Even at the risk of creating a momentary panic it seemed necessary to warn the authorities of the seaboard cities to prepare all possible resources of their own for defense. The best available provision to make Washington City secure, that could be suggested, was to prepare and load barges and canal-boats to be sunk in the channel of the Potomac at Kettlebottom Shoals and other points. Quartermaster-General Meigs and Captain Dahlgren were charged by the Secretary of War with this duty. Since guns were of no avail against the Merrimac, it was decided to have recourse to her own process of ramming. For this purpose the strongest and swiftest merchant steamer in New York, the Vanderbilt, was chartered, strengthened by filling her bow with timbers and plating it outside with iron, and sent to Fort Monroe under orders to try to run down her antagonist, at the first opportunity, and at whatever risk. But more effective help had arrived, and even while these counsels were in progress, was bringing the question to a practical solution. By the light of the burning Congress, on Saturday night a rebel pilot saw a strange craft Magazine," glide into the waters of Hampton Roads; it was the Monitor, which, safely towed from New York, arrived between nine and ten o'clock. So little was the new system and model in favor, that the
1 Mr. Welles, who was in the prophecies by predicting that a habit of coldly noting in his dead- shell or a cannon-shot from the ly diary all the indiscretions of Merrimac would probably land his colleagues, says that Mr. in the Cabinet-room before they Stanton closed his list of sinister separated.
Jones, in "The Southern
Welles, March 8,
1862. “ Armored
Van Brunt to Welles, March 10,
Jones, in “The
CH. XIII. older officers of the navy had generally condemned
it in advance and manifested no ambition to com
mand her. Lieutenant John L. Worden, however, Vessels," had accepted the duty, and was immediately in
formed that a critical trial was at hand. A little
after midnight he moved to a station near the MinneIbid., p. 18. sota, which was still aground.
On Sunday morning, March 9, the Merrimac once more came out and steamed towards the Minnesota,
with the expectation of easily capturing or destroyVan Brunt, ing her, but as she approached the Monitor went March 16, out to meet her. “ The contrast was that of a
pigmy to a giant." The Merrimac was twice her Southern, length and breadth, had more than four times her Dec., 1874, displacement, and five times as many guns. But
her great draft, twenty-two feet, confined her manouvres to deep water, while the Monitor drawing only ten feet could run where she pleased. The huge tortoise-back of the Merrimac was an easy target, while her broadsides passed harmlessly over the low, flat deck of the Monitor, only one or two feet above water. The shore spectators now witnessed a prolonged and exciting naval duel. The small rebel gunboats withdrew. The Merrimac occasionally exchanged fire with the Minnesota, but her principal fight was with the Monitor. The two ironclads moved fearlessly towards each other, firing as favorable opportunity offered. But the nine-inch and eleven-inch shells glanced without effect alike from the sloping roof of the Merrimac and the round side of the Monitor's tower. The superior mobility of the latter proved a great advantage. “She and her turret,” says the rebel commander, appeared to be under perfect control. Her light
draft enabled her to move about us at pleasure. CH. XIII. She once took position for a short time where we could not bring a gun to bear on her. Another of her movements caused us great anxiety: she made for our rudder and propeller, both of which could have been easily disabled. We could only see her guns when they were discharged; immediately afterwards the turret revolved rapidly, and the guns were not again seen until they were again fired. . . When we saw that our fire made no impression on the Monitor we determined to run into her, if possible. We found it a very difficult feat to do. Our great length and draft, in a comparatively narrow channel with but little water to spare, made us sluggish in our movements and hard to steer and turn. When the opportunity presented all steam was put on; there was not, however, sufficient time to gather full headway before striking. The blow was given with the broad wooden stem,
Jones, the iron prow having been lost the day before.
Southern The Monitor received the blow in such a manner as Magazine," to weaken its effect, and the damage was to her pp. 205, 206. trifling.” 1
1“ During the engagement, Greene fought under heavy disadWorden had taken his place in vantages. The direction of the the pilot-house, from the lookout- bow and stern, and of the starholes of which he was able to see board and port beam, were marked the course of the action, and to on the stationary flooring, but the direct the working of the ship and marks were soon obliterated, and of the guns. Greene had charge after one or two revolutions it was of the turret and handled the bat- impossible to guess at the directery. The situation in the tion of the ship or the position of turret was a difficult one. Shut the enemy. The only openings up in a revolving iron cask on a through which anything could be moving platform, and cut off from seen were the gun-ports; and the captain except through slow these were closed except at the and imperfect communication by moment of firing, as an entering passing the word, when minutes shot would have disabled the guns. and even seconds were important, Curiously enough, neither of the
Jones, in “The Southern
Three hours passed in this singular contest. The Monitor had fired forty-one shots. She inflicted no direct damage, neither did she receive any. On both sides the shells only made slight indentations in the thick iron armor. Yet it was apparent to the rebel officers that the little “ cheese-box on a raft” was gradually wearing out her bulky antagonist. It became evident that if the Merrimac were by accident struck twice in the same place, her shield would be penetrated. She was already leaking badly. Her loss of prow, anchor, and consumption
of coal was raising her so as dangerously to expose Magazine,” her water-line, where the iron plating was only one PP. 268, 206. inch thick; a chance shot here would send her to
the bottom. But at this time the Monitor met with a serious accident. Her pilot-house was constructed of great iron logs, nine by twelve inches thick, laid up after the manner of a log-cabin, leaving spaces of half an inch between them, through which to observe the enemy and steer the ship. Lieutenant
Worden, the commander, was standing in this pilotEricsson; house giving orders, when one of the Merrimac's
shells struck the outside of the logs between which he was looking. The concussion drove the smoke
and iron-dust through with such force as tempopp. 270, 271. rarily to blind him, disabling him from command,
and causing a short suspension of all guidance of the Monitor until he could be properly cared for. When, however, after the lapse of some twenty port-stoppers was struck, though governing the movements of the the edges of the ports and the turret so little under control, that turret-wall between them were it was left stationary, and the ship jagged and dented by the Merri- was fought and the guns pointed mac's shot. At last the difficulties by the helm."-J. R. Soley, “The became so great, the revolutions Blockade and the Cruisers," pp. so confusing, and the mechanism 69, 70.
1862. Moore, “Rebellion
Record," Vol. IV.,