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Battle of Hampton Roads
Harper's Weekly Article

The following is transcribed from Harper's Weekly: Journal of Civilization, dated March 22, 1862.


The Naval Combat in the Chesapeake.

          We devote much of our space this week to illustrations of the naval combat which took place in the Chesapeake on 8th and 9th March between vessels Merrimac, Jamestown, and Yorktown, and our iron-clad Monitor, Cumberland, Congress, and Minnesota.

The following account of the vessel we take from the World:

The Ericsson Steamer "Monitor"

          The Monitor was built and launched at Greenpoint, Long Island, by Captain Ericsson on January 30, having been built in one hundred days. She is constructed on an entirely original plan, invented by Captain Ericsson with the specific view of attaining absolute invulnerability. There are, in effect, two hulls to the vessel, the upper one being the defensive portion, and the lower one, which is entirely protected by the upper, being built light of three-eighth inch iron, with an average thickness of three-quarters of an inch. The upper hull is 174 feet long, 41 feet 4 inches wide, and 5 feet deep; the lower 124 feet feet long, 34 feet wide at the top where it connects with the upper hull, so that the upper hull extends over the lower 25 feet over each end and 3 feet 7 inches over the side. The sides of the upper hull are perpendicular, and are built of a bulwark of white oak, 30 inches thick, upon which is placed an armor of solid plate iron, 6 inches thick, extending from bottom to top of the straight side of 5 feet depth, and all around the vessel. The vessel draws hardly 10feet, and her sides are only 18 inches out of water. the propeller. rudder, anchor, and engines are all protected under the upper hull. The deck is shell-proof. The inclination of the lower hull is such that a ball can not strike it without passing through 25 feet of water, and then striking at an acute angle of about 10 degrees. Upon the deck is a cylindrical turret, which is to contain and protect the guns and gunners. It is 9 feet high and 20 feet internal diameter, having two port-holes on the same side for the guns, and being built to revolve fifteen times a minute, if necessary, by machinery connected with the engine. By this revolution the guns are brought to bear at any point of the compass. The turret is of iron plates, standing length-wise, riveted, and making in all a thickness on every side of 9 inches of iron. On the side in which the port-holes are bored, which will be the most exposed to fire, will be an additional shield of 2 inches of iron, making the whole thickness 11 inches. It has a perforated shell-proof top. The armament inside the turret consists of two 11-inch Columbiads, which have been furnished with 400 wrought-iron shot, each ball costing $47, and weighing 184 pounds, made on purpose for smashing in the sides of such rebel floating batteries as the Merrimac, where cast-iron shot would break to pieces. The vessel has no unprotected part. If a ball strikes the turret, it meets a resistance of 9 or (if on the fighting side) of 11 inches of iron; if it strikes the sides, a resistance of 6 inches of iron and a bulwark of 30 inches of white oak; and to strike the light portion, as we have said, it must pass through 25 feet of water. The stem and stern of the iron-clad part are pointed at an angle of 80 degrees. The plate being straight on the two sides toward the end, and the sides sharp, the battery is considered by the inventor as one of the most powerful steam-rams ever built, bringing the whole immense weight of the upper hull and deck, a weight of about 550 tons, to operate in one direction.


The "Merrimac"

          The following account of the Monitor's antagonist, the rebel iron-plated ship, is from the Herald correspondent:

          The Merrimac, the iron-plated steamer, was formerly the United States frigate of the same name, which was scuttled and sunk at the Norfolk Navy-yard, at the commencement of the rebellion, by the officers of the Union Government, in preference to her falling into the hands of the rebels. She was built at Charlestown in 1855, and was pierced for forty guns. Her last service had been in the Pacific squadron. After the rebels took possession of the yard she was raised and converted into a man-of-war for their own use. Her hull was cut down to within three feet of her water-mark, and a bomb-proof house built on her gun-deck. She was also iron-plated, and her bow and stern steel -clad, within a projecting angle of iron for the purpose of piercing a vessel. She has no masts, and there is nothing to be seen over her gun-deck with the exception of her pilot-house and smoke-stack. Her bomb-proof is three inches thick, and is made of wrought-iron. her armament consists of four eleven-inch navy guns on each side, and two one-hundred pounder Armstrong guns at the bow and stern. Last November she made a trial trip from Norfolk, running down so close to Fortress Monroe as to be seen by the naked eye, but ventured no nearer. Although she was looked upon by the rebels as a very tough customer for a vessel or vessels not protected as she is, she remained inactive, anchored off Norfolk, until her present engagement.


The First Day's Fight.

... was thus described by the correspondent of the Associated Press:

          The dullness of Old Point was startled to-day by the announcement that a suspicious-looking vessel, supposed to be the Merrimac, looking like a submerged house with the roof only above water, was moving down from Norfolk by the channel in front of the Sewall's Point batteries. Signal-guns were also fired by the Cumberland and Congress, to notify the Minnesota, St. Lawrence, and the Roanoke of the approaching danger, and all was excitement in and about Fortress Monroe.

          There was nothing protruding above the water but a flag-staff flying the rebel flag, and a short smoke-stack. She moved along slowly, and turned into the channel leading to Newport News, and steamed direct for the frigates Cumberland and Congress, which were lying at the mouth of James River.

          As soon as she came within range of the Cumberland, the latter opened on her with her heavy guns, but balls struck and glanced off, having no more effect than pease from a pop-gun. Her ports were all closed, and she moved on in silence, but with a full head of steam. In the mean time, as the Merrimac was approaching the two frigates on one side, the rebel iron-clad steamers Yorktown and Jamestown came down the James River and engaged our frigates on the other side. The batteries at Newport News also opened on the Yorktown and Jamestown and did all their power to assist the Cumberland and Congress, which, being sailing vessels, were at the mercy of the approaching steamers. The Merrimac, in the mean time, kept steadily on her course, and slowly approached the Cumberland, when she and the Congress, at the distance of 100 yards, rained full broadsides on the iron-clad monster, that took no effect, glancing upward and flying off, having only the effect of checking her progress for a moment.

          After receiving the first broadside of the two frigates, she ran on to the Cumberland, striking her about midships, and literally laying open her sides. She ten drew off and fired a broadside into the disabled ship, and again dashed against her with her iron-clad prow, and, knocking in her side, left her to sink, while she engaged the Congress, which lay about a quarter of a mile distant. The Congress had in the mean time kept up a sharp engagement with the Yorktown and Jamestown, and having no regular crew on board of her, seeing the hopelessness of resisting the iron-clad steamer, at once struck her colors. Her crew had been discharged several days since, and three companies of the Naval Brigade had been put on board temporarily until she could be relieved by the St. Lawrence, which was to have gone up on Monday to take her position as one of the blockading vessels of the James River.

          On the Congress striking her colors, the Jamestown approached and took from on board of her all her officers as prisoners, but allowed the crew to escape in boats. The vessel being thus cleared, was fired by the revels, when the Merrimac and her two iron-clad companions opened with shell and shot on the Newport News batteries. The firing was briskly returned. Various reports have been received, principally from frightened sutlers' clerks. Some of them represent that the garrison had been compelled to retreat from the batteries to the woods. Another was that the two smaller rebel steamers had been compelled to retreat from their guns.

          In the mean time the steam frigate Minnesota, having partly got upstream, was being towed up to the relief of the two frigates, but did not get up until it was too late to assist them. She was also followed up by the frigate St. Lawrence, which was taken in tow by several of the small harbor steamers. It is, however, rumored that neither of these vessels had pilots on board them, and after a short engagement both of them seemed to be, in the opinion of the pilots on the Point, aground. The Minnesota, either intentionally or from necessity, engaged the three steamers at about a mile distance with only her two bow guns. The St. Lawrence also poured in shot form all the guns she could bring to bear, and it was the impression of the most experienced naval officers on the Point that both had been considerably damaged. These statements, it must be borne in mind, are all based on what could be seen by a glass at a distance of nearly eight miles, and a few panic-stricken on-combatants, who fled at almost the first gun from Newport News.

          In the mean time darkness approached, though the moon shone out brightly, and nothing but the occasional flashing of guns could be seen. The Merrimac was also believed to be aground, as she remained stationary at a distance of a mile form the Minnesota, making no attempt to attack or molest her.


The Second Day's Fight.

The Herald correspondent writes:

          This day (Sunday) the day broke fair. As the sun broke on the horizon a slight haze was visible on the water, which prevented an extended vision. At half past six o'clock a.m. this haze cleared away. Looking toward Sewell's Point there appeared the Merrimac and the rebel steamers Yorktown and Patrick Henry. They were stationary--the Merrimac to the right of the others, blowing off steam. Their appearance was the cause for a second alarm. The rebel craft seemed deliberating what to do--whether to move on to attempt the destruction of the Minnesota, which was yet aground, or move on to the Union fleet anchored near the the Rip Raps. The appearance of the Merrimac on this second visit caused great precipitation in the removal of our transport fleet to a safe harbor a mile or two up the Chesapeake Bay. At seven a.m. a plan seemed to have been adopted, and the Merrimac steamed in the direction of the Minnesota, which was still aground. The Yorktown and Jamestown were crowded with troops, and steamed slowing after the Merrimac. The plan of the latter seemed to be to destroy the Minnesota, and then proceed to shell out the Union camp at Newport News, and land and take possession of the Union camp with their own troops.

          The Merrimac steamed along with boldness until she was within three miles of the Minnesota, when the Monitor essayed from the behind the latter, and proceeded toward the Merrimac. At first the rebel craft seemed nonplused, and hesitated, no doubt in wonderment at the queer-looking machine approaching her. The Merrimac then closed the distance between her and the Monitor until they were within a mile of each other. Both batteries stopped. The Merrimac fired a shot at the Minnesota, to which no reply was made. The rebel craft then fired at the Monitor; the latter replied, hitting the Merrimac near the water-line. The Merrimac then commenced firing very rapidly, first from her stern gun at the Monitor, and then her broadside guns, occasionally firing a shot at the Minnesota. The fight went on in this way for an hour or two, both vessels exchanging shots pretty freely. Sometimes the Merrimac would retire followed by the Ericsson, and vice versa.

          While the fight between the batteries was going on one hundred solid 9-inch shot were sent up form Fortress Monroe on the steamer Rancocas to the Minnesota. At a quarter past ten o'clock the Merrimac and Monitor had come into pretty close quarters, the former giving the latter two broadsides in succession. It was promptly replied to by the Monitor. The firing was so rapid that both craft were obscured in columns of white smoke for a moment or more. The ramparts of the fort, the rigging of the vessels in port, the houses, and the bend, were all crowded with sailors, soldiers, and civilians. When the rapid firing alluded to took place, these spectators were singularly silent, as if doubtful as to the result. Their impatience was soon removed by the full figure of the Monitor, with the Stars and Stripes flying at her stern, steaming around the Merrimac, moving with the ease of a duck on the water. The distance between the vessels was forty feet. In this circuit the Monitor's guns were not idle, as she fired shot after shot into her antagonist, two of which, it is alleged penetrated the Merrimac's sides.

          At eleven a.m. the Minnesota opened fire, and assisted the Monitor in engaging the Merrimac. She fired nine-inch solid shot with good accuracy, but with apparently little effect. The Merrimac returned the fire, firing shell, one of which struck and exploded the boiler of the gun-boat Dragon, which was alongside the Minnesota endeavoring to get her off. By this unfortunate affair Jos. McDonald, sailor, was seriously scalded. For the next hour the battle raged fiercely between the Merrimac on the rebel side and the Union vessels, the Monitor, Minnesota, and Whitehall, but with no Particular result. The Minnesota being the best mark for the Merrimac, the latter fired at her frequently, alternately giving the Monitor a shot. The Merrimac made several attempts to run at full speed past the Monitor to attack and run down the Minnesota. All these attempts were parried, as it were, by the Monitor. In one of these attempts by the Merrimac she ran her plow or ram with full force against the side of the Monitor; but only had the effect of careening the latter vessel in the slightest degree. The rebel boats Yorktown and Patrick Henry kept at a safe distance from the Monitor. The former vessel at the beginning of the fight, had the temerity to come within respectable rang of the Monitor. The latter fired one shot at her, entering her pilot-house carrying it away, and, no doubt, killing a number of rebels. She retire out of range.

          The fight raged hotly on both sides, the opposing batteries moving around each other with the skill, ease, and dexterity of pugilists. The Merrimac, though the strongest, did not move with the dexterity of her antagonist; hence the Monitor had the advantage of taking the choice of position. At a quarter before twelve o'clock, noon, Lieutenant Hepburn, the signal-officer on the ramparts at Fortress Monroe, reported to General Wool that the Monitor had pierced the sides of the Merrimac, and in a few minutes the latter was in full retreat, heading for Sewall's Point, and chased for a few minutes by the Monitor. The Merrimac had evidently suffered to some extent, and it was thought at one time that she was sinking. After she got safely under the guns of the rebel battery at Sewall's Point, she stopped and signaled for help from her consorts, who were beating a retreat. Subsequently two tug-boats, or gun-boats, went alongside and took her in tow, and proceeded to Norfolk. This ended the engagement.

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