Page images
PDF
EPUB

CHAP. LV.]

417

Chickahominy, when they actually divided their army in his presence, putting the mass of it on the more distant side of a river which he might have rendered impassable, and leaving nothing between him and Richmond but a body of troops which he might have overwhelmed with out difficulty.

II.-D D

CLOSE OF THE PENINSULAR CAMPAIGN.

CHAPTER LVI.

THE BATTLE OF THE IRON SHIPS.

The steam frigate Merrimack was converted by the Confederates into an armored ship.

Coming out of Norfolk, she destroyed the wooden war-ships Cumberland and Con

gress.

Ericsson's armored turret-ship, the Monitor, built expressly for the purpose, obtained a victory over her, and disabled her. Importance of this battle to naval powers.

WHEN the navy yard at Norfolk was seized by Virginia, among the ships partly destroyed was

The Merrimack

verted into an iron- the steam frigate Merrimack, of forty guns

clad.

(p. 84). She was one of the finest vessels in

the navy, and was worth, when equipped, nearly a million and a quarter of dollars.

She had been set on fire, and also scuttled by the officers who had charge of the yard. Her upper works alone, therefore, had suffered. Her hull and machinery were comparatively uninjured.

The Confederate government caused her to be raised and turned into an extemporaneous ironclad. As mentioned (p. 207), her hull was cut down, and a stout timber roof built upon it. This was then strongly plated with three layers of iron, each one inch and a quarter thick, the first layer being placed horizontally, the second obliquely, the third perpendicu larly. The armature reached two feet below the waterline, and rose ten feet above. The ends were constructed in the same manner. A false bow was added for the purpose of dividing the water, and beyond it projected an iron beak. Outwardly she presented the appearance of

Particulars of her construction.

CHAP. LVI.] THE ARMORED FRIGATE MERRIMACK.

419

an iron roof or ark. It was expected that, from her sloping armature, shots striking would glance away. Her armament consisted of eight 11-inch guns, Her armament. four on each side, and a 100-pound rifled Armstrong gun at each end.

As the fact of her construction could not be concealed, the Confederate authorities purposely circulated rumors to her disadvantage. It was said that her iron was so heavy that she could hardly float; that her hull had been seriously injured, and that she could not be steered. Of course they could have no certain knowledge of her capabilities as a weapon of war, and, as was the case with many officers of the national navy, perhaps they held her in light esteem.

About midday on Saturday, March 8th, she came down the Elizabeth River, under the command of Franklin Buchanan, an officer who had abandoned the national navy. She was attended by two armed steam-boats, and was afterward joined by two

She comes out from
Norfolk.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

SINKING OF THE CUMBERLAND.

420

[SECT. XI.

others. Passing the sailing frigate Congress, and receiv ing from her her fire, she made her way to the sloop of war Cumberland, of 24 guns and 376 men. This ship had been placed across the channel to bring her broadside to bear, and, as the Merrimack approached, she received her with a rapid fire. At once one of the prob lems presented by the Merrimack's construction was solved; the shot of the Cumberland, from thirteen 9 and 10 inch guns, glanced from her armature "like so many peas." Advancing with all the speed she had, and receiving six or eight broadsides while so doing, she struck her antagonist with her iron beak just forward of the main chains, and instantly opened her fire of shells from every gun she could bring to bear. The battle was already decided. Through the hole she had made, large enough for a man to enter, the water poured in. In vain Lieutenant Morris, who commanded the Cumberland, worked the pumps to keep her afloat a few moments more, hoping that a lucky shot might find some weaker place. He only abandoned his guns as one after another the settling of the sinking ship swamped them in the water. The last shot was fired by Matthew Tenney, from a gun on a level with the water. That brave man then attempted to escape through the port-hole, but was borne back by the incoming rush, and went down with the ship. With him went down nearly 100 dead, sick, wounded, and those who, like him, could not extricate themselves. The Cumberland sank in 54 feet of water. The commander of her assailant saw the flag of the unconquered but sunken ship still flying above the surface. He was not a Virginian, but a Marylander by birth, and had served under that flag for thirty-five years.

She attacks and sinks the Cumberland,

[ocr errors]

The sailing frigate Congress, which had fired at the Merrimack as she passed, and exchanged shots with the

CHAP, LVI.]

421

armed steam-boats, had been run aground by her commander with the assistance of a tug. The Merrimack now came up, and, taking a position about 150 yards from her stern, fired shell into her. One shell killed 17 men at one of the guns. Of the only two guns with which she could reply, one was quickly dismounted, and the muzzle of the other knocked off. The Merrimack ranged slowly backward and forward at less than 100 yards. In her helpless condition, the Congress took fire in several places, and nearly half her crew were killed or wounded. Among the former was her commander. The flag was therefore hauled down, and a tug came alongside to take possession of her. But fire being opened upon the tug by some soldiers on shore, the Merrimack recommenced shelling, doing the same again later in the day, after the crew of the Congress had abandoned her. The Congress was set thoroughly on fire. About midnight she blew up. Out of her crew of 434 men, only 218 survived. In little more than two hours Buchanan had killed or drowned more than 300 of his old comrades.

and sets the Congress on fire.

THE CONGRESS DESTROYED.

When the Merrimack first came out, the commander of the steam frigate Minnesota got his ship under way, intending to butt the iron-clad and run her down. As he passed Sewall's Point, he received the fire of a rifle battery there, and had his mainmast injured. It was ebb tide; the Minnesota drew 23 feet water; at one part of the channel the depth was less, but, as the bottom was soft, it was hoped that the ship could be forced over. She, however, took the ground, and, in spite attack on the Min- of every exertion, became immovable. The Merrimack, having destroyed the Cumberland and Congress, now came down upon the Minnesota. Her draft, however, prevented her coming nearer to her intended victim than a mile, and the fire on both

She commences an

nesota,

« PreviousContinue »