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Report, March 27,
of one, two, and twelve guns, also joined the Mer- CH. XIII. rimac after the attack. The ships at Fort Monroe immediately slipped their cables and started for 1862. W.R. the encounter, following the Merrimac towards the southwest—the Minnesota (twin-ship to the original Merrimac) under steam, the St. Lawrence, sailing frigate, in tow of a gunboat, and the Roanoke, with a broken shaft, towed by tugs. But owing to a recent northwest gale, water was low in the channel, and all of these vessels, being of deep draft, soon groundedthe Minnesota north of the middle ground, one and a half miles from Newport News, the St. Lawrence near her, and the Roanoke still farther behind. Beyondan occasional exchange of fire at long distances they were therefore unable to join in the main fight. The sailing frigate Congress, and the razeed frigate Cumberland, anchored at Newport News, saw the Merrimac coming, and prepared for action. Plowing up the bay, with her sloping roof and her low prow, she looked to them “like a huge half-submerged crocodile.” Her warning shot was given when yet a mile away. Exchanging a broadside with the Congress as she passed her at the distance of three hundred yards, she rushed full speed at the Cumberland, which had opened on her with her pivot guns, and now greeted her with broadsides as she neared. But neither the broadsides of the wooden ships, nor the fire of the shore batteries, had any apparent effect. The showering iron hail glanced and bounded from the sloping, tortoise-shaped back of the leviathan like india-rubber balls. On and on she came with accelerated momentum, till within fifteen minutes after the first shot was fired she struck the Cumberland forward of the starboard fore-chains.
“ The Southern
CH. XIII. The crash of her iron prow through the timbers and
hull“ was distinctly heard above the din of battle." Magazine," The attacked vessel was forced back upon her an
chors with great violence, and a hole the size of a hogshead was opened in the hull, into which the water rushed in a deluge. Pumps were of no avail against such a flood, and the good ship was doomed. And, besides this, the shells of her ironcased destroyer were spreading death on her decks. As she backed away but yet hovered over her victim at convenient nearness, her guns continued to belch forth irresistible havoc.
History records no more determined bravery than was displayed by the officers and crew of the Cumberland. Neither present disaster nor impending danger checked their devoted heroism. With men cut down at their guns, and the ship settling to her
fate under their feet, they answered broadside with "Rebellion broadside, shot with shot. When the water in the
hold rose and drowned the forward magazine, they Documents,
still passed up powder from the one aft. The last gun was fired when the sea was already running into the muzzle of the gun beside it. After threequarters of an hour of such fighting the gallant ship, with the dead and wounded of her crew, and some even of her heroic defenders who clung doggedly to their posts after orders had been given to save themselves, went to the bottom in fifty feet of water with the stars and stripes still flying from her masthead. Her antagonist did not come from
the encounter entirely unharmed. The blow which Magazine," sunk the Cumberland wrenched off her iron prow
and slightly twisted her stem. The Cumberland's solid shot broke the muzzles of two of her guns
Jones, in “The
and killed two of her men, wounding nineteen CH. XIII. others.
Ebb tide having begun, the Merrimac steamed a short distance up stream to turn, and then attacked the Congress which lay several hundred yards east of the Cumberland. The Congress, seeing the fate of her companion, slipped her cable, and by using her sails, and with the help of a tug, ran ashore and grounded where the iron monster could not follow. But the precaution was futile. The Merrimac, returning, took up a raking position off her quarter at two cables' length, soon silenced the few guns that bore upon her, and after an hour's fight, creating frightful carnage, the commander having southern been killed and the ship set on fire in several Magazine." places, the Congress struck her colors. Confed- dergrast, erate officers charge that fire was again opened Moore, from the Congress after surrender, which Union Record," officers deny. The conflict of assertion is probably Documenta, explained by the circumstance that fire was opened report, upon the rebel boats from the shore with both can- 1862. W.K. non and musketry, a proceeding perfectly justifiable by the laws of war. The event caused the Merrimac to open once more on the Congress with hot shot and incendiary shells, and whether from these or other causes she burned till midnight, when the explosion of her magazine ended the conflagration. The Merrimac, with her consorts, withdrew from the field of conflict, firing at both the Minnesota and St. Lawrence as they passed down the channel at the distance of a mile, but the Merrimac offered no serious attack, probably expecting to capture them the following day. At nightfall the rebel flotilla anchored under the guns of their shore batteries on
Vol. IX., pp. 4, 5.