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March 9 1862 Battle Of Hampton Roads


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The Merrimac and the Monitor


ERICSSON'S Monitor, as described by Professor Soley, "consisted of a small iron hull, upon which rested a large raft, surmounted by a revolving turret. The hull was 124 feet long and 34 feet wide. The raft projected at the bow and stern, its total length being 50 feet greater than that of the hull. Its overhang amidship was 3 feet 8 inches wide, gradually increasing toward the bow and stern. The raft was 5 feet deep, and was protected by a side armor of five 1-inch iron plates backed with oak. The deck was covered with two -inch plates, over timber laid on heavy wooden beams. The turret was armored with eight 1-inch plates, and its roof was protected by railroad iron; in it were two 11-inch Dahlgren guns. The pilot house, in front of the turret, was built of square iron bars, notched together, with a bolt through the corners. On the top of the pilot house was an iron plate, 1 inch thick, set in a ledge without fastenings."


When the victors of March 8th retired that night, they hoped to accomplish a great work on the following day. The Minnesota was aground, the Roanoke and St. Lawrence had retired below Old Point, and the enemy was known to be greatly demoralized. How much, was not realized. No mortal man could have surmised what was afterward learned, but the Confederate naval officers intended to destroy the Minnesota, and then see what could be done with the other vessels. The Monitor had been heard of, but only in rumor.


Shortly after 8 a.m. on the 9th, the squadron got under weigh, and the Merrimac proceeded toward the Minnesota, closely attended by the Patrick Henry. The Monitor now made her appearance. James Barron Hope said she looked like a "cheese-box." She engaged the Merrimac for some time, the wooden vessels looking on. It was a naval duel, though the Merrimac occasionally fired at the Minnesota, and received her shot in return. It appeared to be a battle between a giant and a pigmy, but it should be remembered that the Merrimac was very hard to manage and drew twenty-two feet water, whereas the Monitor was readily handled, and drew but ten feet. In point of fact, it was not necessary to maneuver the Monitor at all; for as her turret revolved, all she had to do was to stand still. This, indeed, is one of the strong points of this class of vessels, fighting in rivers or shallow water. They can always bring a gun to bear as long as the turret will revolve.


After some time the Merrimac succeeded in ramming the Monitor, but her prow had been broken off in ramming the Cumberland the day before, and she did no harm. The Monitor in turn attempted to run close to the stern of the Merrimac in the hope of disabling her rudder, but was not successful. Toward 12 o'clock the Monitor steamed down toward Old Point, and the Merrimac, after waiting awhile, turned in the direction of Norfolk, where she went into dock the same day. The Merrimac and Monitor both used shells alone on this day. Had they used solid shot, which they were always afterward prepared to do, the result would probably have been more decisive. The action as it was is well described by Capt. Catesby Jones in the publication previously mentioned:


"The Monitor commenced firing when about a third of a mile distant. We soon approached, and were often within a ship's length; once, while passing, we fired a broadside at her only a few yards distant. She and her turret appeared to be under perfect control. Her light draft enabled her to move about us at pleasure. 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 afterward the turret revolved rapidly, and the guns were not again seen until they were fired. We wondered how proper aim could be taken in the very short time the guns were in sight. The Virginia [Merrimac], however, was a large target, and generally so near that the Monitor's shot did not often miss. It did not appear to us that our shell had any effect upon the Monitor. We had no solid shot ....

When we saw that our fire made no impression on the Monitor, we determined to run into her, if possible, which we found a very difficult feat. 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;but there was not sufficient time to gather full headway before striking. The blow was given with the broad, wooden stem, the iron prow having been lost the day before. The Monitor received the blow in such a manner as to weaken its effect, and the damage to her was trifling. Shortly after, an alarming leak in the bows was reported. It, however, did not long continue .... "


The fight had continued three hours. To us the Monitor appeared unharmed. We were therefore surprised to see her run off into shoal water where our great draft would not permit us to follow, and where our shell could not reach her. The loss of our prow and anchor, and consumption of coal, water, etc., had lightened us so that the lower part of the forward end of the shield was awash.

We for some time awaited the return of the Monitor to the roads. After consultation, it was decided that we should proceed to the navy yard, in order that the vessel might be brought down in the water and completed. The pilot said if we did not then leave, that we could not pass the bar until noon of the next day. We therefore, at 12 m., quit the roads and stood for Norfolk. Had there been any sign of the Monitor's willingness to renew the contest, we would have remained to fight her. We left her in the shoal water to which she had withdrawn, and which she did not leave until after we had crossed the bar on our way to Norfolk.


Thus ended the fight between the Merrimac and Monitor. It may be added that the Merrimac's damages were slight, and in her encounter with the Monitor she had not a man killed or wounded.


More Here The Battle of the Ironclads


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