A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part VII, Chapter 84." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 84
LINCOLN–THE STORY OF THE FIRST BATTLE BETWEEN IRONCLADS

THERE was fighting too on sea as well as on land. The South sent out privateers to catch the merchant vessels of the North, and so bring ruin on their trade. But Lincoln replied by proclaiming a blockade of all Confederate ports.

The privateers

This was a bold thing to do, for the coast to be watched was some three thousand miles long, and the Government had less than fifty ships to blockade it with. When the blockade was proclaimed, too, many of these ships were far away in foreign lands. The greatest navy yard, also, at Norfolk in Virginia, was in the hands of the Confederates, and was therefore not available for the building of new ships.

The blockade

So at first the blockade amounted to little. But by degrees it took effect. Ships that had been far away returned, others of all sorts and sizes were bought, still others were built with the utmost speed.

 

Slowly but surely the iron hand of the North gripped the commerce of the South, and before the end of the war the Southern ports were shut off from all the world.

 

This was a disaster for the Southerners, for they depended almost entirely on their cotton trade with Europe. Now the cotton rotted on the wharves. There were no factories in the South, for manufactures could not be carried on with slave labour. So the Southerners depended entirely on the outside world for clothes, boots, blankets, iron, and all sorts of war material. Now they were cut off from the outside world, and could get none of these things.

 

But the Southerners did not meekly submit to be cut off from the world. They had hardly any ships of any kind, and none at all meant for war. But they had possession of the Government navy yard at Norfolk. There they found a half-finished frigate, and they proceeded to finish her, and turn her into an ironclad. When finished she was an ugly looking, black monster with sloping sides and a terrible iron beak, and she was given the name of the Merrimac.

The Merrimac;

At this time there were only about three ironclads in all the world. They belonged to Britain and to France, and had never yet been used in naval warfare. So when this ugly black monster appeared among the wooden ships of the North she created frightful havoc. It was one day in March that the black monster appeared in Hampton Roads where there was a little fleet of five Federal warships.

ironclads

The Federal ships at once opened fire upon the uncouth thing. But to their surprise their shots fell harmlessly from its sides, and paying no heed to their guns it made straight for the Cumberland, and struck her such a terrible blow with her sharp beak that she sank with all on board. She went down gallantly flying her flag to the last.

The Cumberland is sunk, March 8, 1862

The Merrimac then turned upon another ship named the Congress. The struggle between a wooden vessel and an ironclad was a hopeless one from the beginning. But the Congress put up a splendid fight, and only when the ship was afire did she give in.

The Congress is set on fire

It was dusk by now and the terrible Merrimac sheered off leaving the Congress a blazing wreck.

 

The Federals were filled with consternation. This horrible strange vessel would certainly return with daylight. And what chance had any wooden ship against it?

 

But help was near.

 

The Government also had been busy ship-building. A Swede named Ericsson had invented a new vessel which would resist cannon. This ship was just finished, and came into Hampton Roads almost immediately after the battle with the Merrimac. And when the Commander heard the news he took up his position beside the burning Congress, and waited for dawn.

John Ericsson

This new vessel was called the Monitor, and a stranger vessel was never seen afloat. Its hull, which was ironclad, hardly showed above the water, and in the middle there was a large round turret. It looked, said those who saw it, more like a cheesebox on a raft than anything else.

The Monitor

Like a tiger hungry for prey the Merrimac came back next morning. The captain expected an easy victory, but to his surprise he found this queer little cheesebox between him and his victims. He would soon do for the impertinent little minnow, he thought, and he opened fire. But his shells might have been peas for all the effect they had, and the Monitor steamed on unhurt, until she was close to the Merrimac. Then she fired.

The battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac

A tremendous duel now began which lasted three hours. The lumbering Merrimac tried to run down her enemy, but the quick little Monitor danced round and round, turning the turret now this way, now that, and firing how she pleased, like a terrier yapping at a maddened bull. And at length the Merrimac gave up the tussle, and sailed away.

 

This was the first battle ever fought between ironclads and it has been called a draw. But after all the honours were with the little Monitor, for she forced her big opponent to run away.

 

It might almost be said that this battle saved the Union, for it showed the Confederates that they would not have it all their own way on sea, and that if they were building ironclads the Federals were building them also. And indeed the Government built ships so fast that by the end of the war, instead of having only about forty they had over six hundred ships, many of them ironclad.

 

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This book has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this book were the work of volunteers at
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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom