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Battle of Hampton Roads
Charleston Mercury Article

Transcribed from The Charleston Mercury, March 12, 1862, Charleston, S.C.


Full Details of the Action.

The latest intelligence concerning the signal victory recently achieved by the naval forces of the Confederate States in Hampton Roads, will be found in our summary of telegraphic news. The following detailed accounts of the engagement, taken from the Norfolk Day Book of Monday, will be found interesting:


At a quarter past eleven o'clock on Saturday, the iron-clad steamer Virginia cast from her moorings at the Navy Yard, and made her way down to Hampton Roads towards the blockading fleet lying off Newport News. She reached their neighborhood after some detention at the obstructions below at two o'clock. Here she found the two first class sailing frigates Cumberland and Congress. The enemy seemed entirely unaware of our intention to attack them, and it is said, were so completely lulled into security that the Virginia had got down to Sewell's Point before they took the alarm. With a determination to pay her respects to the Cumberland first, the Virginia bore down for that vessel, and while passing the Congress she gave her a broadside by way of a salute. Her operations on the Cumberland were performed in the short space of fifteen minutes' time, at the end of which the Cumberland sank just where she had been lying. The Virginia, on approaching her, and getting within point blank range, fired her bow gun several times, and ran into her, striking her fairly with her ram, which made her reel to and fro, and sent her speedily to the bottom, but while going down, we understand, the aft gun of the Cumberland was discharged at the Virginia, with what injury we know not. The object in first getting rid of the Cumberland was probably to destroy the very heavy armament which that frigate carried, it being the heaviest in the Yankee navy. The officers and crew of the Cumberland made their escape as best they could, many of them being captured by our gunboats. The wounded on board, it is believed, went down with the vessel.


The Virginia next turned her attention to the Congress, which vessel, it is said, gallantly resisted her inevitable fate for nearly an hour, but finally finding the ship rapidly sinking, she hauled down her colors and made for the beach, where she was run as high aground as possible. Her officers and crew were taken off by our gunboats, and while she had her flag of truce hoisted, and was being relieved of her killed and wounded by our boats, the Yankees on shore at Newport News, disregarding the flag of truce, with minie muskets fired into her and killed several of their own men, and slightly wounded in the arm Mr. John Hopkins, one of our pilots, attached to the Beaufort. While the Virginia was engaged with the Congress with her bow gun she poured broadside after broadside into the shore batteries of the enemy at Newport News. One discharge from the bow gun of the Virginia, says one of the prisoners, capsized two of the guns of the Congress, killing sixteen of her crew, and taking off the head of a Lieutenant Smith, and literally tore the ship to pieces.


While the engagement was going on between the two frigates and the Virginia, the enemy's steam frigate Minnesota put out from Old Point to their assistance. She laid well over towards Newport News, but not entirely out of the range of our batteries on Sewell's Point, which opened on her with what effect we are unable to say, but she replied to them without any damage whatever. The Minnesota got aground when within a mile or two of Newport News Point. There she stuck, unable to get off, while the Confederate steamers Patrick Henry and Jamestown peppered her with their batteries, while the Virginia was attending to the shore batteries at Newport News. The frigate St. Lawrence then came up to the assistance of the Minnesota, and she also got aground, and a steam frigate, supposed to be the Roanoke, put off from Old Point with the same intention, it is supposed, but seeing the sad havoc which the Virginia was playing with the Federal vessels, she put back to Old Point.


The frigate Congress was set fire to, on Saturday night, by a boat's crew from some of our vessels. She illuminated the whole Roads and river, and about midnight her magazine exploded with a tremendous noise. Her conflagration afforded a rare sight to many thousands of spectators who lined the shores of our harbor to witness the spectacle of a ship on fire. Many articles of value, we learn, were removed from her by our gunboats before being fired.


The James River steamers arrived at the scene of action, it is said, about one hour after the engagement commenced. They easily passed the Newport News' batteries, and, after joining in the fight, rendered very efficient aid.

Several small prizes were said to have been taken by our gunboats from the Yankees, one of which, the schooner Reindeer, was brought up to the Navy Yard on Saturday night. Two others were said to have been carried over to Pig Point on Saturday.

Tugs and steamers were sent to the assistance of the Minnesota and St. Lawrence from Old Point, after they grounded, but their efforts to haul them off were unavailing.

The report that the Congress was fired by the Federals to prevent her falling into our hands, is without a shadow of truth. She was fired by hot shot from the Virginia, for firing into our boats while she had a flag of truce at the time flying, after she had struck her colors and surrendered to us.

Among the prisoners taken off the Congress was the slave Sam, the property of Drummond, Esq., of this city, who escaped to the enemy some time in October last. He is now safe, having reached his home sooner, and under different circumstances, than he anticipated.

The first gun fired in the engagement is said to have been fired by the Confederate gunboat Beaufort, at the frigate Congress. All of our steamers and gunboats are said to have been managed with the utmost skill and dexterity, rendering great assistance to the Virginia in this magnificent and successful engagement.

By this daring exploit we have raised the James River blockade, without foreign assistance, and are likely, with the assistance of the Virginia, to keep open the communication.


The engagement was renewed again on Sunday morning, about 8 1/2 o'clock, by the Jamestown, and several of our gunboats, firing into the Minnesota and St. Lawrance. Some detention occurred on board the Virginia on Sunday morning, we learn, or she would have commenced the engagement much earlier than 8 1/2 o'clock; at which time she, together with the Patrick Henry, Jamestown and our other gunboats, opened fire on the Minnesota, which still lies hard and fast aground. The tide being at ebb, the Virginia did not take the channel, where the Minnesota lay, probably for fear of grounding, but getting within a good range of her, she opened fire with terrible effect, completely riddling her, and rendering constant exertion at the pump necessary to prevent her from filling.


Early in the morning the Ericsson batter, now called the Monitor, was discovered off Newport News Point, she having gone up there during the night. A sharp encounter soon took place between her and the Virginia, during which time they were frequently not more than 30 or 40 yards apart. Unfortunately, the Virginia ran aground, and the Ericsson, using her advantage, poured shot after shot into her, but without doing any serious damage. In a short while, however, the Virginia succeeded in getting off, and putting on full head of steam, ran her bow into the Ericsson, doing, as it is thought, great damage. Notwithstanding the firing were much heavier than on Saturday there was no casualties on either of our vessels--not a man being the least injured by shot from the enemy or otherwise.


Several of the enemy's gunboats being within range, they were favored with a shell or two from the Virginia, with telling effect, and in every case disabling or sinking them. One of these laying alongside the Minnesota, had a shell thrown aboard of her, which on bursting, tore her asunder, and sent her to the bottom.

Having completely riddled the Minnesota, and disabled the St. Lawrence and Monitor, besides, as stated above, destroying several of the enemy's gunboats--in a word, having accomplished all that they designed, and having no more material to work upon, our noble vessels left the scene of their triumphs and returned to the yard, where they await another opportunity of displaying their prowess.


On the arrival of the Virginia at the Yard, her men were mustered and addressed by the commanding officer in terms of praise for their noble bearing during the engagement. They responded with hearty cheers, and expressed a desire to again re-enact the scenes through which they had just passed whenever opportunity presented.

The injury sustained by the Patrick Henry was not as great as at first supposed--being so trifling that a few hour's repairs were sufficient to place her in readiness for action.

The officers of the Virginia are represented as having acted with the utmost courage and bravery during the contest. It is related of Capt. Buchanan that during the thickest of the fight he remained on the deck of the Virginia, and that he discharged musket after musket at the enemy as they were handed up to him. It was while thus exposed that he received the wound of which mention is made above.

It is said that all of the batteries on Newport News were silenced except one, and that our shot and shell were thrown with such unerring aim and precision among the enemy that great numbers of them were killed and wounded.


The enemy's loss, killed and wounded, during the two day's battle, is exceedingly large, and estimated as from six to twelve hundred. The scene around the Congress is represented as being heart-sickening. The officers of the Beaufort, who ran alongside of her on Saturday night, and who boarded her for the purpose of removing the wounded aboard of her, and who were brutally fired upon by the enemy, while engaged in this work of mercy, represented the deck of the vessel as being literally covered with the dead and dying. One of them assures us that as he went from fore to aft, his shoes were well nigh buried in blood and brains. Arms, legs, and heads were found scattered in very direction, while here and there, in the agonies of death, would be found poor deluded wretches, with their breasts tore completely out.

Of the crew of the Cumberland, but few survived to tell the tale. As she went down her crew went with her, excepting some few who were taken as prisoners by us, and a few others who escaped to the shore. Out of the five hundred aboard of her, it is estimated that not over a hundred, at most, escaped, the remainder either being killed by our shot or drowned as the vessel went down.

Twenty-three prisoners were brought up to this city on Saturday night. These were all taken off the frigate Congress by the gunboat Beaufort, whilst our other gunboats took off others. One of these prisoners died while on his way to the city. He and another one wounded, were shot by their own forces, while being saved from the sinking frigate Congress. The wounded prisoners were carried to the hospital.

Of course, the greater part of those on board the gunboats were also drowned, as there was not sufficient time for them to have made their escape. Added to this very many in the camps of the enemy at Newport News were killed by the shells which the Virginia threw among them.


On our side the loss was indeed small, and when we consider the storm of shell, to which at times they were subjected, we can but wonder while we rejoice that so few of them suffered injury.

On the Virginia there were two killed and eight wounded. Among the wounded, we regret to mention, Capt. Buchanan and Lieutenant Minor. These wounds, however, we are happy to state, are but slight.

A shot entered the port hole and struck the gun on the muzzle, knocking off a piece nine inches long. This disabled the gun, which was immediately replaced by another of the same calibre.

On the Raleigh, Midshipman Hutter was killed, and Captains Tayloe and Alexander wounded--the first mentioned quite severely.

On the Beaufort, Gunner W. Robinson and two seamen were wounded. This was all the damage sustained by this vessel among her men. Two Yankee prisoners aboard of her were struck by the balls of their friends, one of them killed and the other severely wounded. The former was standing in the door of the wardroom at the time the Beaufort was alongside the Congress, and one of the shower of balls sent by the enemy on shore, from their Minie muskets, struck him on the forehead, penetrating his brain and killing him almost instantly.

On the Teaser, one man was wounded very slightly.

On board the Patrick Henry a shot entered one of her ports, we understand, and passed through one of her boilers, disabling it. She was compelled to haul off temporarily for repairs. There were four men killed and three wounded on board of her. Other damage not material.

Andrew J. Dalton, a printer, who left our office a few days since to join the Virginia, and who was at the bombardment of Sumter, and participated in several other engagements during the war, we learn was one of the wounded on board that vessel on Saturday.

While the loss of the enemy is counted in the hundreds, ours, as will be seen from the above amounts to only seven killed and wounded. This loss on our part, as small,  was not the work of the enemy's shots from their vessels, but the result, for the most part by the fire of muskets from ashore.

During the contest, the mainmast of the Raleigh was carried away. The flag staffs of the Virginia were also cut down.

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