Horace Greeley.

The American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-'64 online

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been plugged, pumped out, and
raised ; when a sloping roof of heavy
.timber, strongly and thoroughly
plated with railroad iron, rose from
two feet below the water-line to
about ten feet above : the ends and
sides being alike and thoroughly
shielded. A light bulwark, or false
bow, was added, designed to divide
the water, and serve as a tank to reg-
ulate the vessel's draft ; and beyond
this projected a strong iron beak.
Being thus rendered thoroughly shot-
proof, she was armed with 10 heavy
and most effective guns ; and so, hav-
ing been largely refitted from the
spoils of the deserted Navy Yard,
became at once the cheapest and
most formidable naval engine of de-
struction that the world had ever
seen. Whether she had or had not
the ability to live in an open, turbu-
lent sea, was left undecided by her
brief but memorable career.
^ A little before noon, on Saturday,



March 8th, a strange craft was de-
scried from our vessels off Newport
News, coming down the Elizabeth
river from Norfolk, past Craney
Island, attended by two unremarka-
ble steam gunboats. Two other Rebel
gunboats, which had, evidently by
preconcert, dropped down the James
from Richmond, had been discovered
at anchor off Smithfield Point, some
12, miles distant, about three hours
before. The nondescript and h^
tenders gradually approached our.
war-ships awaiting her, and, passing
across the bow of the Congress frig-
ate, bore down on the Cumberland,
in utter disdain of her rapid and
well aimed but utterly ineffective
shots, which glanced as harmless
from, the iron shield of the foe as
though they had been peas. Not a
gun was fired by the mysterious and
terrible stranger until ^e struck the
Cumberland with ftdl force under her
starboard fore-channels, at the same
moment delivering a most d^tructive
fire ; while her blow had opened such
a chasm in the bow of the Cumber-
land that her forward magazine was
drowned in 30 minutes. Still, her
fire was kept up until, at 3:8S p. k.,
the water had ri&en to the main
hatchway, and the ship canted to
port; when, giving a parting fire,
Lt. Morris ordered every man to
jump overboard and save himself if
possible. The dead, and sick, and
severely wounded, were'imavoidably
left in her bay and' on her decks, to
the number of at least 100 ; and she
sank to the bottom in 54-feet water,
with her flag still flying from her
topmast.

Meanwhile, the Congress — ^which
had exchanged broadsides with the
Merrimac as she passed — ^was attacked



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THE EOANOKB GOES IK.



117



by the Eebel gnnboatB, and was bat-
tUng them to the best of her ability,
until, seeing the fate of the Cumbcnr-
land, she set her jib and topsail, and,
i¥ith the assbtance of the gnnboat
Zonave, ran aground not far from
our batteries at Newport News,
where she was soon again assailed
by the Merrimac, which, taking po-
sition about 150 yards from her stem,
raked her fore and aft with shell,
while one of the smaller steamers
^m Norfolk kept up a fire on her
starboard quarter ; while the Patrick
Henry and Thomas Jefferson — ^Rebel
stcfamers from up the James — ^like-
wise poured in their broadsides with
precision and effect. The hapless
Congress could only reply from her
two stem guns, whereof one was«soon
dismounted and the other had its
muzzle knocked off. Her command-
er, Lt. Joseph B. Smith, Acting-
Master Thomas Moore, and Pilot
William Ehodes, with nearly half
her crew, having been killed or
wounded, the ship on fire in seve-
ral places, without a gun that could
be brought to bear on her destroyers,
Lt. Pendergrast, on whom the com-
mand had devolved, at 4:30 p. m.
hauled down our flag. She was soon
boarded by an officer from the Mer-
rimac, who took her in charge, but
lefk shortly afterward ; when a small
Bebel tug came alongside and de-
manded that her crew should get out
of the ship, as her captors intended
to bum her immediately. But our
soldiers on shore, who had not sur-
rendered, and who regarded the Con-
gress as now a Bebel vessel, opened
so brisk a fire upon her that the tug
and her crew suddenly departed;
when the Merrimac again opened on
the luckless craft, though she had a



white fiag flying tointimate her sur-
render. Having fired several shells
into her, the Merrimac left her to en-
gage the Minnesota, giving opportu-
nity foi: her crew to escape to the
shore in smaU boats, with their
wounded. About dark, the Merri-
mac returned and poured hot shot
into the deserted hulk, until she was
set on fire and utterly destroyed, her
guns going off as they became heated
— a shell from one of them striking
a sloop at anchor at Newport News,
and blowing her up. At midnight,
the fire had reached her magazines,
containing five tans of powder, and
she blew up with a tremendous ex-
plosion. Of her crew of 434 men,
218 answered to their names at roU-
call at Newport News next morning.
Oapt. John Marston, of the steam-
ship Eoanoke, whereof the machinery
was disabled, being off Fortress Mon-
roe, was in command of our fieet, *
when, at 1 p. m., one of his look-out
vessels reported by signal that the
enemy was coming. Signaling the
steam-frigate Minnesota to get under
way, and slipping hi» cable, he had
the Boanoke taken in tow by two
tugs, and started for the scene of
action ; but, before he reached it, he
had the mortification of seeing the
Minnesota hard aground. Continu-
ing on his course, but unable to make
tolerable headway, he came in sight
of the Cumberland, only to find her
virtually destroyed ; having soon
after the ftirthei' mortification of see-
ing the Congress haul down her fiag.
Continuing to stand on, he was soon
himself aground astern, in 3^ fathoms,
and was obliged to be hauled off by
one of his tugs ; when he decided to
come to the relief of the stranded
Minnesota, hoping with assistance to



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118



THE AICBBIOAN OOKFLIOT.



poll her off; but found himself un-
able to do 80. Meantime, at 6 p. m.,
the frigate St. Lawrence, towed by
the Oambridge, passed them, and
eoon also grounded, but w^ hauled
off by the Cambridge, when she le-
tnmed to the harbor of the fort.

The Minnesota, Oapt Yan Brunt,
having, in passing Sewell's Point,
received and returned a fire from the
Bebel battery, which crippled her
mainmast, had approached within a
mile and a half c^ Newport News,
when she grounded, with an ebbing
tide, and was still hard at work try-
ing to get off, when, at 4 p. ic, the
Merrimac, Jamestown, and Patrick
Henry, having finished their work at
the News, hore down upon her. The
shallowness of the water forbade the
Merrimac to come within a mile of
her, from which distance she fired
for the next two or three hours, but
cmce hulling the Minnesota by a shot
through her bow. The Jamestown
and the Patrick Henry, taking posi-
tion on the port bow and stem of the
Minnesota, where only her heavy
pivot-gun could be brought to bear
upon them, kept up a vigorous and
effective fire on her, by which several
of her crew were killed and wounded ;
but they finally desisted and retired,
one of them apparently crippled.
At 7 p. M., the Merrimac hauled off
also, and all three steamed toward
Norfolk, leaving the Minnesota deep-
ly imbedded, by the fire of her broad-
side guns, in the mud-bank on which
she rested ; so that it was impossible,
even at high tide, by the help of
steam-tugs and hawsers, with all
hands at work through the night, to
haul her off.

The prospect for the eoming day



was dark enough, until, at 10 p. ic,
the new iron-clad Monitor, 2 gone,
Lt. John L. Worden, reached Fort-
ress Monroe on, her trial trip frooi
New Yoik, and was immediately
dispatdied to the aid of the Minne-
so1j^ reporting to Gapt. Yan Bnmt
at 2 A. M." Though but a pigmy
beside t^ie Merrimac, and an entire
novelty for either land or water—" a
cheese-box on a raft'' — ^the previous
day's sore experience of the mi^t
and invulnerability of iron-clads in-
sured her a hearty welcome. Never
had there been a more signal example
of the value of a friend in need.

At 6 A. M., the Bebel flotilla reap-
peared, and the drums of the Min-
nesota beat to quarters. But the
enemy ran past, as if heading for
Fortress Monroe, and came around
in the channel by which the Minne-
sota had reached her uncomfortable
position. Again all hands were called
to quarters, and the Minnesota, open-
ing with her stem guns, signaled the
Monitor to attack, when the un-
daunted little cheese-box steamed
down upon the Bebel ApoUyon and
laid herself alongside, directly be-
tween the Minnesota and her as-
sailant. Gun after gun from the
Monitor, responded to with whole



to produce no more impression than
a hailstorm on a mountain-cliff; until,
tired of thus wasting their ammani-
tion, they commenced maneuvering
for the better position. In this, the
Monitor, being lighter and far more
manageable than her foe, had decid-
edly die advantage ; and the Merri-
mac, disgusted, renewed her atten-
tions to the Minnesota, disr^arding
a broadside which would have sunk



* Sunday, Mardi 9.



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FIGHT OF THE KEBBIKAO AND ICONITOE.



119



may nnplated ehip on the globe, and
pat a shell fix)m her rifled bow^on
through the MinneBota's side, which
tore four of her rooms into one and
set her on fire ; bnt the flames were
promptly extingnidied. The Merri-
xiiAc's next shot pierced the boiler of
the tng-boat Dragon^ which was
made £ast to the port side of the Min-
nesota, to be ready to assist in tow-
iog her off; killuig or badly wonnd-
iog 7 of her crew and setting her on
Are. By this time, the Minnesota
was raining iron upon h^ assailant ;
at least 50 solid shot from her great
gans having struck the Bebel's side
without apparent effect. Now the
£ttle Monitor again interposed be-
tween the larger combatants, comr
pelling the Merrimac to change her
position ; in doing which she ground-
ed ; and again a broadside was poured
upon her at close range from all the
guns of the Minnesota that could be
brought to bea^r. The Merrimac was
soon afloat once more, and stood
down the bay, chased by the Monitor;
when suddenly the former turned and
ran full speed into her pursuer, giving
her a tremendous shock, but inflicting
no serious damage. The Bebel's prow
grated over the deck of the Moni-
tor ; and was badly cut by it; so that
she was not inclhied to repeat the
experiment. The Monitor soon after-
ward stood down the Boads toward
Fortress Monroe ; but the Merrimac
and her tenders did not see fit to
poraue her, nor even to renew the
attack on the now exposed Minne-
sota ; on the contrary, they gave up
the flght, which they were destined
never to renew, and steamed back to



Norfolk. The Minnesota, despite
peiBistent efforts, was not fairly aflopt
until 2 o'clock next morning.

In this memorable fight, the turret
of the Monitor was struck by Sebdl
bolts nine times, her side armor eight
times, her dedk thrice, and her pilot-
house twice — ^the last being her
only vulnerable point. One of these
bolts struck her pilot-house squarely
in front of the peep-hole through
which Lt. Worden was watching his
enemy, knocking 'off some cement
into his face with such force as ut-
terly to blind him for some days,^and
permanently to destroy his left eye.
Three men standing in the turret
when it was struck were knocked
down, one of them being Chief En-
gineer Alban C. Stimers, who man-
aged the revolving of the turret. The
Merrimac had her prow twisted in her
collision with the Monitor, her anchor
and flag-staff shot away, her smoke-
stack and steam-pipe riddled, 2 of her
crew killed and 8 wounded, includ-
ing her conmiander, Buchanan. The
Patrick Henry was disabled by a shot
through one of her boilers, by which 4
of her crew were killed and 8 wound-
ed. The other Eebel gunboats report-
ed an aggregate loss of only 6 men.

The Merrimac was undoubtedly
disabled ** in this two-days' conflict,
or she would not have closed it as she
did, or would have renewed it di-
rectly aftierward.

Our total loss by this raid, beside
the frigates Cumberland and Con-
gress, with all their armament, the
tug Dragon, and the serious damage
inflicted on the Minnesota, can hard- .
ly have fallen short of 400 men, includ-



* A letter from Peterebnrg, March 10, to the
Sateii^ Standard, ntcys : "The Merrimac lost her
mMonoooB inn beak in the plunge at the Erics-



son, and damaged her machinery, and is leaking
a little." It was probably this leak which con-
strained her to abandon the flght as she did.



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190



THE AMBBIGAH CONFLIOT.



ing 28 taken from tbe Congress and
(Slurried off by the gunboat Beaufort.

Gen* Mcdellan left Washington
on the 1st of April, arriving next day
at Fortress Monroe. Of his army,
58,000 men and. 100 guns were there
before him, and nearly as many more
on the way. Gten. Wool's force, hold-
ing the Fortress, is not included in
these numbers.

Gten. J. B. Magruder, at Torktown,
watched this ominous gathering in
his front at the head of a Bebel force
officially reported by him at 11,000
in all : 6,000 being required to gar-
rison Gloucester Point, Yorktown,
and Mulberry Island; leaving but
6,000 available for the defense of a
line of 13 miles. Gen. McClellan
says his information placed Magru-
•der's command at 16,000 to 20,000
men, aside from Gen. Huger's force
at Norfolk, estimated by him at
20,000. Feeling the importance of
dealing decisively with Magruder
before he could be reenforcedby
Johnston, McClellan ordered an ad-



vance on the morning of the 4th;
and, before evening of the next day,
Qen. Heintzelman, in front of York-
town, and Gen. Keyes, before Winn's
Mill,** on the Warwick, were brought
to a halt by the fire of Bebel bat-
teries." Gen. McClellan had been
misled with regard to the topography
of the country as well as the number
of his foes. On his map, the War-
wick was traced as heading in or very
near Skiff's creek, directly up the
Peninsula from its mouth, some six
or eight mil^ west of Yorktown;
whereas it actually heads within
a mile of that post, running diag-
onally and crookedly nearly across
the Peninsula, while it was in
good part navigable by Rebel gun-
boats. His fiJse information regard-
ing it was furnished, he states, by
Gen. Wool's topographical engineers ;
though there must have been a hun-
dred negroes about iiie Fortress, each
of whom could and gladly would
have corrected iU Our ships of \Car
— what the Merrimac had left of
them — ^were intently watdiing for



"Galled by: Qen. McdeUan, Lee's ICOL

"Pollard says:

** Qeneral Magruder, the hero of Bethel, and
a oommander who was capable of much greater
acfaieyements, was left to confront the growing
forces on the Peninsola, which daily menaced
him, with an army of 7.500 men, while the
great bulk of the Confederate forces were stQlin
motion in the neighborhood of the Bappaban-
nook and the Bapidan, and he had no assurance
of reenforcements. The force of the enemy was
ten times his own ; they had commenced a daily
cannonading upon his lines ; and a council of
general officers was convened, to consult whe-
uier the little army of 7,500 men should main-
tain its position in the face of tenfold odds, or
retire before the enemy. The opinion of the
council was unanimous for the latter altematiTe,
with the exception of one officer, who dedared
that every man should die in the intrenohments
before the little army should fall back. * By
G — J it shall be BoT was the sudden exclamation
of G^n. Magruder, in sympathy with the gallant
suggestion. The resolution demonstrate a re-
markable heroism and spirit Our little force
was adroitly extended over a distance of several



miles, reaching lh>m Mulberry Island to Glou-
cester Point, a regiment being posted here and
there, in every gap plainly open to observation,
and on other portions of the line the men being
posted at long intervals, to give the appearance
of numbers to the enemy. Had the weakness
of Gen. Magruder at this time been known to
the enemy, he might have suffered the conse-
quences of his devoted and self-sacrificing eour-
1^ j but, as it was, he held his lines on the
Peninsula until they were reenforced by the
most considerable portion of Gen. Jobnston^s
forces, and made the situation of a contest upon
which the attention of the public was unani-
moualy fixed as the most decisive of the war.*'

OoL Fremantle, of the British Coldstream
Guards, in his **Three Months in the Southern
States," says :

" He [Magruder] told me the different dodges
he resorted to to blind and deceive McClellan
as to his strength; and he spoke of the intense
relief and amusemeift with which he at length
saw that General, with his magnificent army,
begin to break grotmd b^fi>re miserabk earthvoria
decoded anJy by 8,000 men,"



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KoOLELLAN BBFOBB TOBETO'WK.



131



MILEJO




M^CLSLLAN BKPOBB TOEKTOWIT.



the reappearance down the Elizabeth
of that marine monster and her three
satellite gunboats ; and Com« Golds-
boroogh did not feel justified in de-
taching a part of them to reduce the
water batteries at Yorktown and
Gloucester. The Commodore does
not seem to have been asked to clear
the Warwick river of Eebel gunboats
— i^ indeed, any were there. Ma-
gmder seems wholly unconscious, of
ever haying had any naval assistance.
McClellan felt of the Bebel lines
at different points, but did not, though



aware that time was precious, and
that a few days 'might greatly in-
crease the number of his foes, venture
to order a determined assault.** On
the contrary, he sat down before
Magruder's lines, began to throw up
earthworks, and sent orders to Wash-
ington for siege-guns. Pressing too
dose to Yorktown, the besi^ers
were repulsed by a sudden charge of
two battalions under Col. Ward.
On the 16th, a reconnoissance in force
by the 2d division of the 4th corps.
Gen. W. F. Smith, was made at Dam



"MagradersaTs:

** On ererj portUm of mj linet, he attacked
na wHh a ftirlous caanonading and mnaketrj,
whidi was responded to with eflbct by oar bat-
teries and troops of the UxA. His skinnishers
were also well thrown forward on this and the
SQooeedlng day, and energetically felt our whole
line; bat were eyeiyw&ro repulsed by the



steadiness of our troops. Thus, with 6, 000 men,
exclusive of the garrisons, we stopped and held
in check over 100, 000 of the enemy. Every pre-
paration was made in anticipation of another
attache by the enemy. The men slept in the
trench^ and underarms ; but, to my utter sur-
prise, he permitted day after day to elapse with-
out an assault."



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1S3



THB AMBRICAK CONFLror.



No. 1, on the Warwick, which was
to have been converted into a real
attack if BncoeBsM at the ontset
Though gallantly made, it failed;
our advance being driven back across
the stream with the loss of 100 men.
The Rebels lost about 75 men, in-
cluding CoL R. M. McKinney, 16th
North Carolina, killed.

Gen. McClellan had been thirty
days in front of Yorktown, and was
intending to open the siege in due
form by the fire of breaching batteries
on the morning of May 6th ; but he
found, two days earlier, that Magru-
der had abandoned his works, includ-
ing Yorktown, during the preceding
night, retreating up the Peninsula.*'

The pursuit of the flying Rebels
was prompt and enei^etic. It was
led by Gren. George D. Stoneman,
with 4 regiments and a squadron of
cavalry, and 4 batteries of horse-artil-
lery, followed, on the Yorktown road
to Williamsburg, by Hooker's and
Kearny's divisions, and on the Winn's
Mill road by those of W. F. Smith,
Couch, and Casej^ Qen. McClellan
remained at Yorktown to supervise
the embarkation of Gen. Franklin's
and other troops for West Point.



Fort Magmder, just in front of
Williamsburg, at the junction of sev-
eral roads, commanded, with its 13
adjuncts, substantially all the roads
leading fieuther up the Peninsula.
Though not calculated to stand a
siege, it was a large and strong
earthwork, with a wet ditch nine feet
wide. Here Stoneman was stopped
by a ^arp and accurate cannonade
ing, which compelled him to recoil
and await the arrival of infantry.
Gen. Sumner, with Smith's division,
came up at 5:80 p. il A heavy rain
soon set in, and continued tlm)ugh
the night, making the roads nearly
impassable. The several commands,
marching on different roads, had in-
terfered with and obstructed each
other's progress at the junction of
those roads as they concentered upon
Williamsburg. G^n. Hooker, ad-
vancing** on the direct road from
Yorktown to Williamsburg, was
stopped, five or six miles out, by
finding G^n. Smith's division in his
way, and compelled to wait some
hours. Impatient at this delay, he
sought and obtained of G^n. Heint-
zelman permission to move over to
the Hampton road on his left, on



"Qen. John G. Barnard, Gen. MoGleUan's
chief engineer through the Peninsula campaign,
in a report to his commander at the dose of that
campaign, sajs:

*'At the time the Army of the Potomac landed
on the Peninsula, the Rebel cause was at its
lowest ebb. Its armies were demoralized hj the
defeats of Port Royal, MiU Spring, Port Henry,
Fort Donelson, Roanoke Island, and Pea Ridge;
and reduced by sickness, loss in battle, expira-
tions of period of service, etc.; while the con-
scription law was not yet even passed. It
seemed as if it needed but one vigorous gnripe to
end forever this Rebellion, so nearly throttled..
How, then, happened it, that the day of the ini-
tiation of the campaign of this magnilicekit Army
of the Potomac was the day of the resuscitation
of the Rebel cause, which seemed to grow^Mtrtf
paatu with the slow progress of its operations 7

"However I may be committed to any ex-
pression of professional opmion to the contrary



(I certainly did suggest it), my opinion now is that
the lines of Yorktown should have been assault-
ed. There is reason to believe that they were
not held in strong force when our army appeared
before them ; and we know that they were far
from complete. The prestige of power, the mo-
rcde^ were on our side. It was due to ourselves
to confirm and sustain it. We should probably
have succeeded. But, if we had failed, it may
well be doubted whether the shook of an'unsoo-
cessful assault would be more demoralizing than .
the labors of a siege.

"Our troops toiled a month in the trendies,
or lay in the swamps of Warwick. We lost few
men by the siege; but disease took a fearfUl
hM. of the army ; and toil and hardship, unre-
deemed by the excitement of combat^ impaired
the'v morale. We did not carry ;inth us from
Yorktown so good an army as we took Uiere.
Of the bitter fhiits of that month gained by the
enemy, we hare tasted to our heart's content**



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THE TiaHTIKa AT WILLI AMSBUBG.



123



which he advanced through the rain
and deep mud and the dnmse dark-
nesB till nearly midnight, when his
troope were halted in the road, and
rested as thej might until dawn;
then they pressed on until, emerg-
ing from a forest, they came in sight,
about 6:80 a. m., of the Bebel works
before Williamsburg ; Fort Magnider
in the center, at the junction of the
Yorktown and Hampton roads, with
its cordon of 13 redoubts, extending
clear across the Peninsula^ henoe
widaung quite rapidly and perma-
nently just above the town. The
ground had of course been chosen to
give the greatest advantage to its
defenders: the forest felled for a
breadth of nearly half a mile, to ob-
struct the advance of our infantry ;
while a belt of open, level land, 600
or 700 yards wide, dotted all over
with rifle-pits, intervened between
this tangled abatis and tihie fort and
redoubts. Williamsbuig lay in plain
sight of Hooker's position, two miles
distant. After a careM survey of
the ground, knowing that there were
80^000 of our troops within two miles,
and the main body of our army with-
in twelve. Hooker decided to attack,
in order to hold the Bebel force en-
gaged until the rest of our army
emld come up. Accordingly, send-
ing the 1st Massachusetts into the
felled timber (m the left, and the 2d
New Hampshire into that on the
rights with directions to skirmish up
- to the further edge of the abatis, and
ordering the 11th Massachusetts and
26th Pennsylvania to form on the
right of the 2d Kew Hampshire and
advance as skirmishers until they
reached the Yorktown road, he threw



Online LibraryHorace GreeleyThe American conflict: a history of the great rebellion in the United States of America, 1860-'64 → online text (page 16 of 113)