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American Heros

Farragut At Mobile Bay
Ha, old ship, do they thrill, The brave two hundre...

Remember The Alamo
The muffled drum's sad roll has beat The soldier'...

Lieutenant Cushing And The Ram Albemarle
God give us peace! Not such as lulls to sleep, But...

The Burning Of The Philadelphia
And say besides, that in Aleppo once, Where a mali...

Bennington
We are but warriors for the working-day; Our gayne...

The General Armstrong Privateer
We have fought such a fight for a day and a night As m...

The Storming Of Stony Point
In their ragged regimentals Stood the old Contin...

The Cruise Of The Wasp
A crash as when some swollen cloud Cracks o'er th...

The Flag-bearer
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;...

General Grant And The Vicksburg Campaign
What flag is this you carry Along the sea and sho...

Francis Parkman
(1822-1893) He told the red man's story; far and wide...

Charles Russell Lowell
Wut's wurds to them whose faith an' truth On war'...

Washington
The brilliant historian of the English people [*] has written...

The Battle Of Trenton
And such they are--and such they will be found: No...

King's Mountain
Our fortress is the good greenwood, Our tent the ...

Hampton Roads
Then far away to the south uprose A little feathe...

Gouverneur Morris
GOUVERNEUR MORRIS. PARIS. AUGUST 10, 1792. Justum et ...

Sheridan At Cedar Creek
Inspired repulsed battalions to engage, And taught...

Daniel Boone And The Founding Of Kentucky
... Boone lived hunting up to ninety; And, what's s...

The Charge At Gettysburg
For the Lord On the whirlwind is abroad; I...



Hampton Roads






Then far away to the south uprose
A little feather of snow-white smoke,
And we knew that the iron ship of our foes
Was steadily steering its course
To try the force
Of our ribs of oak.

Down upon us heavily runs,
Silent and sullen, the floating fort;
Then comes a puff of smoke from her guns,
And leaps the terrible death, With fiery breath,
From her open port.

* * *

Ho! brave hearts, that went down in the seas!
Ye are at peace in the troubled stream;
Ho! brave land! with hearts like these,
Thy flag, that is rent in twain,
Shall be one again,
And without a seam!
--Longfellow


The naval battles of the Civil War possess an immense importance,
because they mark the line of cleavage between naval warfare under the
old, and naval warfare under the new, conditions. The ships with
which Hull and Decatur and McDonough won glory in the war of 1812 were
essentially like those with which Drake and Hawkins and Frobisher had
harried the Spanish armadas two centuries and a half earlier. They were
wooden sailing-vessels, carrying many guns mounted in broadside, like
those of De Ruyter and Tromp, of Blake and Nelson. Throughout
this period all the great admirals, all the famous single-ship
fighters,--whose skill reached its highest expression in our own
navy during the war of 1812,--commanded craft built and armed in a
substantially similar manner, and fought with the same weapons and under
much the same conditions. But in the Civil War weapons and methods
were introduced which caused a revolution greater even than that which
divided the sailing-ship from the galley. The use of steam, the casing of
ships in iron armor, and the employment of the torpedo, the ram, and the
gun of high power, produced such radically new types that the old
ships of the line became at one stroke as antiquated as the galleys of
Hamilcar or Alcibiades. Some of these new engines of destruction were
invented, and all were for the first time tried in actual combat, during
our own Civil War. The first occasion on which any of the new methods
were thoroughly tested was attended by incidents which made it one of
the most striking of naval battles.


In Chesapeake Bay, near Hampton Roads, the United States had collected
a fleet of wooden ships; some of them old-style sailing-vessels, others
steamers. The Confederates were known to be building a great iron-clad
ram, and the wooden vessels were eagerly watching for her appearance
when she should come out of Gosport Harbor. Her powers and capacity
were utterly unknown. She was made out of the former United States
steam-frigate Merrimac, cut down so as to make her fore and aft decks
nearly flat, and not much above the water, while the guns were mounted
in a covered central battery, with sloping flanks. Her sides, deck,
and battery were coated with iron, and she was armed with formidable
rifle-guns, and, most important of all, with a steel ram thrust out
under water forward from her bow. She was commanded by a gallant and
efficient officer, Captain Buchanan.

It was March 8, 1862, when the ram at last made her appearance within
sight of the Union fleet. The day was calm and very clear, so that the
throngs of spectators on shore could see every feature of the battle.
With the great ram came three light gunboats, all of which took part in
the action, harassing the vessels which she assailed; but they were
not factors of importance in the fight. On the Union side the vessels
nearest were the sailing-ships Cumberland and Congress, and the
steam-frigate Minnesota. The Congress and Cumberland were anchored not
far from each other; the Minnesota got aground, and was some distance
off. Owing to the currents and shoals and the lack of wind, no other
vessel was able to get up in time to take a part in the fight.

As soon as the ram appeared, out of the harbor, she turned and steamed
toward the Congress and the Cumberland, the black smoke rising from her
funnels, and the great ripples running from each side of her iron prow
as she drove steadily through the still waters. On board of the Congress
and Cumberland there was eager anticipation, but not a particle of fear.
The officers in command, Captain Smith and Lieutenant Morris, were two
of the most gallant men in a service where gallantry has always been
too common to need special comment. The crews were composed of veterans,
well trained, self-confident, and proud beyond measure of the flag whose
honor they upheld. The guns were run out, and the men stood at quarters,
while the officers eagerly conned the approaching ironclad. The Congress
was the first to open fire; and, as her volleys flew, the men on the
Cumberland were astounded to see the cannon-shot bound off the sloping
sides of the ram as hailstones bound from a windowpane. The ram
answered, and her rifle-shells tore the sides of the Congress; but for
her first victim she aimed at the Cumberland, and, firing her bow
guns, came straight as an arrow at the little sloop-of-war, which lay
broadside to her.

It was an absolutely hopeless struggle. The Cumberland was a
sailing-ship, at anchor, with wooden sides, and a battery of light guns.
Against the formidable steam ironclad, with her heavy rifles and steel
ram, she was as powerless as if she had been a rowboat; and from the
moment the men saw the cannon-shot bound from the ram's sides they knew
they were doomed. But none of them flinched. Once and again they fired
their guns full against the approaching ram, and in response received a
few shells from the great bow-rifles of the latter. Then, forging
ahead, the Merrimac struck her antagonist with her steel prow, and the
sloop-of-war reeled and shuddered, and through the great rent in her
side the black water rushed. She foundered in a few minutes; but her
crew fought her to the last, cheering as they ran out the guns, and
sending shot after shot against the ram as the latter backed off after
delivering her blow. The rush of the water soon swamped the lower decks,
but the men above continued to serve their guns until the upper deck
also was awash, and the vessel had not ten seconds of life left. Then,
with her flags flying, her men cheering, and her guns firing, the
Cumberland sank. It was shallow where she settled down, so that her
masts remained above the water. The glorious flag for which the brave
men aboard her had died flew proudly in the wind all that day, while the
fight went on, and throughout the night; and next morning it was still
streaming over the beautiful bay, to mark the resting-place of as
gallant a vessel as ever sailed or fought on the high seas.

After the Cumberland sank, the ram turned her attention to the Congress.
Finding it difficult to get to her in the shoal water, she began to
knock her to pieces with her great rifle-guns. The unequal fight between
the ironclad and the wooden ship lasted for perhaps half an hour. By
that time the commander of the Congress had been killed, and her
decks looked like a slaughterhouse. She was utterly unable to make
any impression on her foe, and finally she took fire and blew up. The
Minnesota was the third victim marked for destruction, and the Merrimac
began the attack upon her at once; but it was getting very late, and as
the water was shoal and she could not get close, the rain finally
drew back to her anchorage, to wait until next day before renewing and
completing her work of destruction.

All that night there was the wildest exultation among the Confederates,
while the gloom and panic of the Union men cannot be described. It
was evident that the United States ships-of-war were as helpless as
cockle-shells against their iron-clad foe, and there was no question
but that she could destroy the whole fleet with ease and with absolute
impunity. This meant not only the breaking of the blockade; but the
sweeping away at one blow of the North's naval supremacy, which was
indispensable to the success of the war for the Union. It is small
wonder that during that night the wisest and bravest should have almost
despaired.

But in the hour of the nation's greatest need a champion suddenly
appeared, in time to play the last scene in this great drama of sea
warfare. The North, too, had been trying its hand at building ironclads.
The most successful of them was the little Monitor, a flat-decked, low,
turreted, ironclad, armed with a couple of heavy guns. She was the first
experiment of her kind, and her absolutely flat surface, nearly level
with the water, her revolving turret, and her utter unlikeness to any
pre-existing naval type, had made her an object of mirth among most
practical seamen; but her inventor, Ericsson, was not disheartened in
the least by the jeers. Under the command of a gallant naval officer,
Captain Worden, she was sent South from New York, and though she almost
foundered in a gale she managed to weather it, and reached the scene
of the battle at Hampton Roads at the moment when her presence was
all-important.

Early the following morning the Merrimac, now under Captain Jones (for
Buchanan had been wounded), again steamed forth to take up the work she
had so well begun and to destroy the Union fleet. She steered straight
for the Minnesota; but when she was almost there, to her astonishment
a strange-looking little craft advanced from the side of the big
wooden frigate and boldly barred the Merrimac's path. For a moment the
Confederates could hardly believe their eyes. The Monitor was tiny,
compared to their ship, for she was not one fifth the size, and her
queer appearance made them look at their new foe with contempt; but the
first shock of battle did away with this feeling. The Merrimac turned on
her foe her rifleguns, intending to blow her out of the water, but
the shot glanced from the thick iron turret of the Monitor. Then the
Monitors guns opened fire, and as the great balls struck the sides of
the ram her plates started and her timbers gave. Had the Monitor been
such a vessel as those of her type produced later in the war, the ram
would have been sunk then and there; but as it was her shot were not
quite heavy enough to pierce the iron walls. Around and around the two
strange combatants hovered, their guns bellowing without cessation,
while the men on the frigates and on shore watched the result with
breathless interest. Neither the Merrimac nor the Monitor could dispose
of its antagonist. The ram's guns could not damage the turret, and the
Monitor was able dexterously to avoid the stroke of the formidable
prow. On the other hand, the shot of the Monitor could not penetrate the
Merrimac's tough sides. Accordingly, fierce though the struggle was, and
much though there was that hinged on it, it was not bloody in character.
The Merrimac could neither destroy nor evade the Monitor. She could not
sink her when she tried to, and when she abandoned her and turned to
attack one of the other wooden vessels, the little turreted ship was
thrown across her path, so that the fight had to be renewed. Both sides
grew thoroughly exhausted, and finally the battle ceased by mutual
consent.

Nothing more could be done. The ram was badly damaged, and there was
no help for her save to put back to the port whence she had come. Twice
afterward she came out, but neither time did she come near enough to the
Monitor to attack her, and the latter could not move off where she would
cease to protect the wooden vessels. The ram was ultimately blown up by
the Confederates on the advance of the Union army.

Tactically, the fight was a drawn battle--neither ship being able to
damage the other, and both ships, being fought to a standstill; but
the moral and material effects were wholly in favor of the Monitor. Her
victory was hailed with exultant joy throughout the whole Union, and
exercised a correspondingly depressing effect in the Confederacy; while
every naval man throughout the world, who possessed eyes to see, saw
that the fight in Hampton Roads had inaugurated a new era in ocean
warfare, and that the Monitor and Merrimac, which had waged so gallant
and so terrible a battle, were the first ships of the new era, and that
as such their names would be forever famous.





Next: The Flag-bearer

Previous: Remember The Alamo



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