USS Monitor Versus CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack)
and the Battle for Hampton Roads,
8-9 March 1862:
Selected Original Documents

Related Resources:

History of USS Monitor
History of CSS Virginia
Images of the action between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia

 

Original Documents: 

Report from USS Roanoke
Report from USS Cumberland
Report from USS Congress
Report from USS Minnesota
Report from USS Monitor (Executive Officer)
Report from USS Monitor (Chief Engineer)
Report from CSS Virginia (Executive Officer)
Report from CSS Virginia (Commander)
Report from Confederate Major-General on Impact of Ironclad Warships in Warfare


Report of Captain Marston, U.S. Navy, senior officer present, aboard the screw frigate USS Roanoke.

U.S.S. ROANOKE,
Hampton Roads, March 9, 1862.
 

SIR: I have the honor to inform you that yesterday at 1 o'clock one of the lookout vessels reported by signal that the enemy was coming out. I immediately ordered the Minnesota to get underway, and as soon as the two tugs appointed to tow this ship came alongside I slipped our cable.

The Merrimack was soon discovered passing out by Sewell's Point, standing up toward Newport News, accompanied by several small gunboats. Every exertion was made by us to get all the speed on the Roanoke that the two tugs were capable of giving her, but in consequence of our bad steerage we did not get ahead as rapidly as we desired to do. The Merrimack went up and immediately attacked the Congress and Cumberland, but particularly the latter ship, which was hid from us by the land. When about 7 or 8 miles from Fortress Monroe the Minnesota grounded. We continued to stand on, and when we came in sight of the Cumberland we saw that she had careened over, apparently full of water. The enemy, who had been joined by two or three steamers from James River, now devoted themselves exclusively to the Congress, but she being aground could bring but few guns to bear on them, and at ten minutes before 4 o'clock we had the mortification of seeing her haul down her flag. I continued to stand on till we found ourselves in 3½ fathoms water, and was on the ground astern. Finding that we could go on no farther I ordered one of our tugs to tow us round, and as soon as the Roanoke's head was pointed down the bay, and I found she was afloat again, I directed the tugs to go to the assistance of the Minnesota, under the hope that with two others which had accompanied her they would be able to get her off, but up to the time that I now write have not succeeded in doing so.

At 5 o'clock the frigate St. Lawrence, in tow of the Cambridge, passed us, and not long after she also grounded, but by the aid of the Cambridge she was got afloat again, and being unable to render any assistance to the Minnesota, came down the harbor. In passing the batteries at Swell's Point, both going and returning, the rebels opened their fire on us, which was returned from our pivot guns, but the range was too great for them, while the enemy's shot [fell] far beyond us. One shot went through our foresail, cutting away two of our shrouds, and several shells burst over and near the ship, scattering their fragments on the deck.

Between 7 and 8 o'clock we discovered that the rebels had set fire to the Congress, and she continued to burn till 1 o'clock, when she blew up. This was a melancholy satisfaction to me, for as she had fallen into the hands of the enemy it was far better to have her destroyed than that she should be employed against us at some future day. It was the impression of some of my officers that the rebels hoisted the French flag, but I could not make it out. At 8 o'clock I heard that the Monitor had arrived, and soon after Lieutenant Commanding Worden came on board and I immediately ordered him to go to the Minnesota, hoping that she would be able to keep off an attack on the Minnesota till we had got her afloat again. This morning the Merrimack renewed the attack on the Minnesota, but she found, no doubt greatly to her surprise, a new opponent in the Monitor. The contest has been going on during most of the day between these two armored vessels, and most beautifully has the little Monitor sustained herself showing herself capable of great endurance.

I have not received any official account of the loss of the Congress and Cumberland, but no doubt shall do so, when it will be transmitted to you.

I should do injustice to this military department did I not inform you that every assistance was freely tendered to us, sending five of their tugs to the relief of the Minnesota, and offering all the aid in their power.

I would also beg leave to say that Captain Poor, of the Ordnance Department, kindly volunteered to do duty temporarily on board this ship, and from whom I have received much assistance. I did hope to get this off by this day's mail, but I have been so constantly employed that I fear I shall not do so.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JOHN MARSTON,
Captain and Senior Officer.

 Hon. GIDEON WELLES,
Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D.C.

 

Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, vol. 7 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1898): 8-9.

 


Report of Lieutenant George Morris, executive officer of the frigate USS Cumberland.

 NEWPORT NEWS, VA., March 9, 1862.

 SIR: Yesterday morning at 9 a. m. discovered two steamers at anchor off Smithfield Point, on the left hand or western side of the river, distant about 12 miles. At 12 p. m. discovered three vessels under steam, standing down the Elizabeth River toward Sewell's Point. Beat to quarters, double breeched the guns on the main deck, and cleared ship for action.

At 1 p. m. the enemy hove in sight, gradually nearing us; the ironclad steamer Merrimack, accompanied by two steam gunboats, passed ahead of the frigate Congress and stood down toward us. We opened fire on her; she stood on and struck us under the starboard fore channels; she delivered her fire at the same time; the destruction was great. We returned the fire with solid shot with alacrity.

At 3:30 [p. m.] the water had gained upon us, notwithstanding the pumps were kept actively employed, to a degree that the forward magazine being drowned we had to take powder from the after magazine for the X-inch gun. At 3:35 [p. m.] the water had risen to the main hatchway, and the ship canted to port, and we delivered a parting fire, each man trying to save himself by jumping overboard. Timely notice was given, and all the wounded who could walk were ordered out of the cockpit, but those of the wounded who had been carried into the sick bay and on the berth deck were so mangled that it was impossible to save them. It is impossible for me to individualize; alike officers and men all behaved in the most gallant manner. Lieutenant Selfridge and Master Stuyvesant were in command of the gun deck divisions, and they did all that noble and gallant offices could do. Acting Masters Randall and Kennison, who had charge each of a pivot gun, showed the most perfect coolness and did all they could to save our noble ship, but I am sorry to say without avail. Among the last to leave the ship was Surgeon Martin and Assistant Surgeon Kershner, who did all they could for the wounded, promptly and faithfully. The warrant and steerage officers could not have been more prompt and active than they were at their different stations. The loss we sustained I can not yet inform you, but it has been very great. Chaplain Lenhart is missing. Master's Mate John Harrington was killed. I should judge that we have lost upward of one hundred men. I can only say in conclusion that all did their duty and we sunk with the American flag at the peak.

I am, sir, very respectfully, etc., your obedient servant,

GEO. U. MORRIS,
Lieutenant and Executive Officer.

Commander WILLIAM RADFORD,
Commanding U S. Ship Cumberland.

 

Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1 vol. 7 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1898): 21.

 


Report of Lieutenant Pendergrast, U.S. Navy, executive officer of the frigate USS Congress.

FORTRESS MONROE, VA., March 9, 1862.

SIR: Owing to the death of my late commanding officer, Lieutenant Joseph B. Smith, it is my painful duty to make a report to you of the part which the U.S. frigate Congress took in the efforts of our vessels at Newport News to repel the attack of the rebel flotilla on the 8th instant. The following are the minutes, as near as I can inform you:

At 12:40 p. m. the Merrimack with three small gunboats was seen steaming down from Norfolk. When they had turned into the James River channel and had approached near enough to discover their characters we cleared the ship for action.

At 2:10 p. m. the Merrimack opened with her bow gun with grape, passing us on the starboard side at a distance of about 300 yards, receiving our broadside and giving one in return. After passing the Congress she ran into and sunk the U.S. sloop of war Cumberland. The smaller vessels then attacked us, killing and wounding many of our crew. Seeing the fate of the Cumberland, we set the jib and topsails, and, with the assistance of the tugboat Zouave, ran the vessel ashore.

At 3:30 the Merrimack took a position astern of us, at a distance of about 150 yards, and raked us fore and aft with shells, while one of the smaller steamers kept up a fire on our starboard quarter.

In the meantime, the Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson [Jamestown], rebel steamers, approached us from up the James River, Firing with precision and doing us great damage.

Our two stern guns were now our only means of defense. These were soon disabled, one being dismounted and the other having its muzzle knocked away. The men were swept away from them with great rapidity and slaughter by the terrible fire of the enemy.

At about 4:30 I learned of the death of Lieutenant Smith, which happened about ten minutes previous. Seeing that our men were being killed without the prospect of any relief from the Minnesota, which vessel had run ashore in attempting to get up to us from Hampton Roads, not being able to bring a single gun to bear upon the enemy, and the ship being on fire in several places, upon consultation with Commander William Smith, we deemed it proper to haul down our colors without any further loss of life on our part.

We were soon boarded by an officer from the Merrimack who said that he would take charge of the ship. He left shortly afterwards, and a small tug came alongside, whose captain demanded that we should surrender and get out of the ship, as he intended to burn her immediately.

A sharp fire with muskets and artillery was maintained from our troops ashore upon the tug, having the effect of driving her off. The Merrimack again opened on us, although we had a white flag at the peak to show that we were out of action. After having fired several shells into us she left us and engaged the Minnesota and the shore batteries. We took the opportunity to man the boats and send the wounded ashore. We then ourselves left, the ship being on fire near the after magazine and in the sick bay. In fact, the ship was on fire from the commencement to the end of the action, three times in the sick bay and wardroom and twice in the main hold, produced by hot shot thrown from the Merrimack

I lament to record the deaths of the following officers: Lieutenant Joseph B. Smith, Acting Master Thomas Moore, and Pilot William Rhodes, wounded (since dead).

In conclusion, I beg leave to say that the officers, seamen, and marines performed their whole duty well and courageously.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

AUSTIN PENDERGRAST,
Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
.

Captain JOHN MARSTON,
Senior Officer.

Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, vol. 7 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1898): 23-24.


Report of Captain Van Brunt, U.S. Navy, commanding the steam frigate USS Minnesota.

U.S.S. MINNESOTA, March 10, 1862.

SIR: On Saturday, the 8th instant, at 12:45 p .m., three small steamers, in appearance, were discovered rounding Sewell's Point, and as soon as they came into full broadside view I was convinced that one was the iron-plated steam battery Merrimack, from the large size of her smoke pipe. They were heading for Newport News, and I, in obedience to a signal from the senior officer present, Captain J. Marston, immediately called all hands, slipped my cables, and got underway for that point to engage her. While rapidly passing Sewell's Point the rebels there opened fire upon us from a rifle battery, one shot from which going through and crippling my mainmast. I returned the fire with my broadside guns and forecastle pivot. We ran without further difficulty within about 1½ miles of Newport News, and there, unfortunately, grounded. The tide was running ebb, and although in the channel, there was not sufficient water for this ship, which draws 23 feet. I knew that the bottom was soft and lumpy, and endeavored to force the ship over, but found it was impossible so to do.

At this time it was reported to me that the Merrimack had passed the frigate Congress and run into the sloop of war Cumberland, and in fifteen minutes after I saw the latter going down by the head. The Merrimack then hauled off, taking a position, and about 2:30 p. m. engaged the Congress, throwing shot and shell into her with terrific effect, while the shot from the Congress glanced from her iron-plated sloping sides without doing any apparent damage. At 3:30 p m. the Congress was compelled to haul down her colors. Of the extent of her loss and injury you will be informed from the official report.

At 4 p.m. the Merrimack, Jamestown, and Patrick Henry bore down upon my vessel. Very fortunately the iron battery drew too much water to come within a mile of us. She took a position on my starboard bow, but did not fire with accuracy, and only one shot passed through the ship's bow.

The other two steamers took their position on my port bow and stern, and their fire did most damage in killing and wounding men, inasmuch as they fired with rifled guns; but with the heavy gun that I could bring to bear upon them I drove them off, one of them apparently in a crippled condition. I fired upon the Merrimack with my pivot 10-inch gun without apparent effect, and at 7 p.m. she too hauled off and all three vessels steamed toward Norfolk. The tremendous firing of my broadside guns had crowded me farther upon the mud bank, into which the ship seemed to have made for herself a cradle. From 10 p. m., when the tide commenced to turn flood until 4 a. m., I had all hands at work with steam tugs and hawsers, endeavoring to haul the ship off of the bank, but without avail, and, as the tide had then fallen considerably, I suspended further operations at that time. At 2 a. m. the iron battery Monitor, Commander [Lieutenant] John L. Worden, which had arrived the previous evening at Hampton Roads, came alongside and reported for duty, and then all on board felt that we had a friend that would stand by us in our hour of trial.

At 6 a. m. the enemy again appeared, coming down from Craney Island, and I beat to quarters, but they ran past my ship and were heading for Fortress Monroe, and the retreat was beaten to allow my men to get something to eat. The Merrimack ran down near to the Rip Raps, and then turned into the channel through which I had come. Again all hands were called to quarters, and when she approached within a mile of us I opened upon her with my stern guns and made signal to the Monitor to attack the enemy. She immediately ran down in my wake, right within the range of the Merrimack, completely covering my ship as far as was possible with her dimensions, and, much to my astonishment, laid herself right alongside of the Merrimack, and the contrast was that of a pigmy to a giant. Gun after gun was fired by the Monitor, which was returned with whole broadsides from the rebels with no more effect, apparently, than so many pebblestones thrown by a child. After a while they commenced maneuvering, and we could see the little battery point her bow for the rebels, with the intention, as I thought, of sending a shot through her bow porthole; then she would shoot by her and rake her through her stern. In the meantime the rebel was pouring broadside after broadside, but almost all her shot flew over the little submerged propeller, and when they struck the bomb-proof tower the shot glanced off without producing any effect, clearly establishing the fact that wooden vessels can not contend successfully with ironclad ones; for never before was anything like it dreamed of by the greatest enthusiast in maritime warfare. The Merrimack, finding that she could make nothing of the Monitor, turned her attention once more to me. In the morning she had put a 11-inch shot under my counter near the water line, and now, on her second approach, I opened upon her with all my broadside guns and 10-inch pivot a broadside which would have blown out of the water any timber-built ship in the world. She returned my fire with her rifled bow gun with a shell, which passed through the chief engineer's stateroom, through the engineer's mess room, amidships, and burst in the boatswain's room, tearing four rooms all into one in its passage, exploding two charges of powder, which set the ship on fire, but it was promptly extinguished by a party headed by my first lieutenant; her second went through the boiler of the tugboat Dragon, exploding it and causing some consternation on board my ship for the moment, until the matter was explained. This time I had concentrated upon her an incessant fire from my gun deck, spar deck, and forecastle pivot guns, and was informed by my marine officer, who was stationed on the poop, that at least fifty solid shot struck her on her slanting side without producing any apparent effect. By the time she had fired her third shell the little Monitor had come down upon her, placing herself between us, and compelled her to change her position, in doing which she grounded, and again I poured into her all the guns which could be brought to bear upon her. As soon as she got off she stood down the bay, the little battery chasing her with all speed, when suddenly the Merrimack turned around and ran full speed into her antagonist. For a moment I was anxious, but instantly I saw a shot plunge into the iron roof of the Merrimack; which surely must have damaged her. For some time after the rebels concentrated their whole battery upon the tower and pilot house of the Monitor, and soon after the latter stood down for the Fortress Monroe, and we thought it probable that she had exhausted her supply of ammunition or sustained some injury. Soon after the Merrimack and the two other steamers headed for my ship, and I then felt to the fullest extent my condition. I was hard and immovably aground, and they could take position under my stem and rake me. I had expended most of my solid shot and my ship was badly crippled and my officers and men were worn out with fatigue, but even then, in this extreme dilemma, I determined never to give up the ship to the rebels, and, after consulting my officers, I ordered every preparation to be made to destroy the ship after all hope was gone to save her. On ascending the poop deck I observed that the enemy's vessels had changed their course and were heading for Craney Island. Then I determined to lighten the ship by throwing overboard my 8 inch guns, hoisting out provisions, starting water, etc. At 2 p.m. I proceeded to make another attempt to save the ship, by the use of a number of powerful tugs and the steamer S. R. Spaulding, kindly sent to my assistance by Captain Tallmadge, quartermaster at Fortress Monroe, and succeeded in dragging her half a mile distant, and then she again was immovable, the tide having fallen. At 2 a.m. this morning I succeeded in getting the ship once more afloat, and am now at anchor opposite Fortress Monroe.

It gives me great pleasure to say that during the whole of these trying scenes the officers and men conducted themselves with great courage and coolness.

I have the honor to be, your very obedient servant,

G. J. VAN BRUNT,
Captain, U. S. Navy, Commanding Frigate Minnesota.

Hon. GIDEON WELLES,
Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D.C.

 

Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, vol. 7 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1898): 10-12.


Report of Lieutenant Greene, U.S. Navy, executive officer of the [ironclad] USS Monitor.

U.S. IRONCLAD STEAMER MONITOR,
Hampton Roads, March 12, 1862.

SIR: Lieutenant Commanding John L. Worden having been disabled in the action of the 9th instant between this vessel and the rebel ironclad frigate Merrimack, I submit to you the following report:

We arrived at Hampton Roads at 9 p. m. on the 8th instant and immediately received orders from Captain Marston to proceed to Newport News and protect the Minnesota from the attack of the Merrimack.  Acting Master Howard came on board and volunteered to act as pilot.

We left Hampton Roads at 10 p. m. and reached the Minnesota at 11:30 p. m.

The Minnesota being aground, Captain Worden sent me on board of her to enquire if we could render her any assistance, and to state to Captain Van Brunt that we should do all in our power to protect her from the attack of the Merrimack.

I then returned to this vessel and at 1 a. m. on the 9th instant anchored near the Minnesota. At 4 a. m., supposing the Minnesota to be afloat and coming down upon us, got underway and stood out of the channel. Finding that we were mistaken, anchored at 5:30 a. m. At 8 a. m. perceived the Merrimack underway and standing toward the Minnesota. Hove up the anchor and went to quarters. At 8:45 a. m. we opened fire upon the Merrimack and continued the action until 11:30 a. m., when Captain Worden was injured in the eyes by the explosion of a shell from the Merrimack upon the outside of the eyehole in the pilot house, exactly opposite his eye. Captain Worden then sent for me and told me to take charge of the vessel. We continued the action until 12:15 p. m., when the Merrimack retreated to Sewell's Point and we went to the Minnesota and remained by her until she was afloat.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

S. D. GREENE,
Lieutenant and Ordnance Officer.

 

Hon. GIDEON WELLES,
Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D.
C.

Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, vol. 7 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1898): 25.

 


Letter from Chief Engineer Stimers, USS Monitor, to Captain John Ericsson, giving an account of the engagement.

IRONCLAD MONITOR,
Hampton Roads, March 9, 1862.

MY DEAR SIR: After a stormy passage, which proved us to be the finest seaboat I was ever in, we fought the Merrimack for more than three hours this forenoon and sent her back to Norfolk in a sinking condition. Ironclad against ironclad. We maneuvered about the bay here and went at each other with mutual fierceness. I consider that both ships were well fought. We were struck 22 times—pilot house twice, turret 9 times, side armor 8 times, deck 3 times. The only vulnerable point was the pilot house. One of your great logs (9 by 12 inches thick) is broken in two. The shot struck just outside of where the captain had his eye, and it has disabled him by destroying his left eye and temporarily blinding the other. The log is not quite in two, but is broken and pressed inward 1 _ inches. She tried to run us down and sink us, as she did the Cumberland yesterday, but she got the worst of it. Her bow passed over our deck and our sharp upper edged side cut through the light iron shoe upon her stem and well into her oak. She will not try that again. She gave us a tremendous thump, but did not injure us in the least. We are just able to find the point of contact.

The turret is a splendid structure. I do not think much of the shield, but the pendulums are fine things, though I can not tell you how they would stand the shot, as they were not hit.

You are very correct in your estimate of the effect of shot upon the man on the inside of the turret when it was struck near him. Three men were knocked down, of whom I was one; the other two had to be carried below, but I was not disabled at all and the others recovered before the battle was over. Captain Worden stationed himself at the pilot house, Greene fired the guns, and I turned the turret until the captain was disabled and was relieved by Greene, when I managed the turret myself, Master Stodder having been one of the two stunned men.

Captain Ericsson, I congratulate you upon your great success. Thousands have this day blessed you. I have heard whole crews cheer you. Every man feels that you have saved this place to the nation by furnishing us with the means to whip an ironclad frigate that was, until our arrival, having it all her own way with our most powerful vessels.

I am, with much esteem, very truly, yours,

ALBAN C. STIMERS,
Chief Engineer.

Captain J. ERICSSON,
No. 95 Franklin Street, New York

 

Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, vol. 7 (Washington; Government Printing Office, 1898): 26-27. 


Report of Lieutenant Jones, executive officer of the ironclad ram CSS Virginia, in command during the battle with USS Monitor.

C.S. STEAM BATTERY VIRGINIA,
Off Sewell's Point, March 8, 1862.

FLAG-OFFICER: in consequence of the wound of Flag-Officer Buchanan it becomes my duty to report that the Virginia left the yard this morning at 11 a. m., steamed down the river past our batteries and over to Newport News, where we engaged the frigates Cumberland, Congress, and the batteries ashore, and also two large steam frigates, supposed to be the Minnesota and Roanoke, and a sailing frigate and several small steamers armed with heavy rifled guns. We sank the Cumberland, drove the Congress ashore, where she hauled down her colors and hoisted the white flag, but she fired upon us with the white flag flying, wounding Lieutenant Minor and some of our men. We again opened fire upon her and she is now in flames. The shoal water prevented our reaching the other frigates. This, with approaching night, we think saved them from destruction. Our loss is 2 killed and 8 wounded, two of our guns have the muzzle shot off. The prow was twisted and the armor somewhat damaged; the anchors and all flagstaffs shot away and smokestack and steam pipe were riddled. The bearing of officers and men was all that could be wished, and in fact it could not have been otherwise after the noble and daring conduct of the flag-officer, whose wound is deeply regretted by all on board, who would gladly have sacrificed themselves in order to save him. We were accompanied from the yard by the Beaufort (Lieutenant Parker) and Raleigh (Lieutenant Alexander), and as soon as it was discovered up the James River that the action had commenced we were joined by the Patrick Henry (Commander Tucker), the Jamestown (Lieutenant Barney), and the Teaser (Lieutenant Webb), all of which were actively engaged and rendered very efficient service. Enclosed I send the surgeon's report of casualties.

I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

CATESBY AP R. JONES,
Executive and Ordnance Officer.

Flag-Officer F. FORREST.

 

Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, vol.7 (Washington, Government Printing Office, I 898): 42.


Report of Flag-Officer Buchanan, Commander of CSS Virginia and the James River Squadron, C.S. Navy.

NAVAL HOSPITAL,
Norfolk, March 27, 1862
.

SIR: Having been confined to my bed in this building since the 9th instant, in consequence of a wound received in the action of the previous day, I have not had it in my power at an earlier date to prepare the official report, which I now have the honor to submit, of the proceedings on the 8th and 9th instant, of the James River Squadron under my command, composed of the following-named vessels: Steamer Virginia, flagship, 10 guns; steamer Patrick Henry, 12 guns, Commander John R. Tucker; steamer Jamestown, Lieutenant Commanding J. N. Barney, 2 guns; and gunboats Teaser, Lieutenant Commanding W. A. Webb, Beaufort, Lieutenant Commanding W. H. Parker, and Raleigh, Lieutenant Commanding J. W. Alexander, each 1 gun; total, 27 guns.

On the 8th instant, at 11 a. m., the Virginia left navy yard, Norfolk, accompanied by the Raleigh and Beaufort, and proceeded to Newport News to engage the enemy's frigates Cumberland and Congress, gunboats, and shore batteries. When within less than a mile of the Cumberland, the Virginia commenced the engagement with that ship with her bow gun, and the action soon became general, the Cumberland, Congress, gunboats, and shore batteries concentrating upon us their heavy fire, which was returned with great spirit and determination. The Virginia stood rapidly on toward the Cumberland, which ship I had determined to sink with our prow, if possible. In about fifteen minutes after the action commenced we ran into her on starboard bow; the crash below the water was distinctly heard, and she commenced sinking, gallantly fighting her guns as long as they were above water. She went down with her colors flying. During this time the shore batteries, Congress, and gunboats kept up their heavy concentrated fire upon us, doing us some injury. Our guns, however, were not idle; their fire was very destructive to the shore batteries and vessels, and we were gallantly sustained by the rest of the squadron.

Just after the Cumberland sunk, that gallant officer, Commander John R. Tucker, was seen standing down James River under full steam, accompanied by the Jamestown and Teaser. They all came nobly into action, and were soon exposed to the heavy fire of shore batteries. Their escape was miraculous, as they were under a galling fire of solid shot, shell, grape, and canister, a number of which passed through the vessels without doing any serious injury, except to the Patrick Henry, through whose boiler a shot passed, scalding to death four persons and wounding others. Lieutenant Commanding Barney promptly obeyed a signal to tow her out of the action. As soon as damages were repaired, the Patrick Henry returned to her station and continued to perform good service during the remainder of that day and the following.

Having sunk the Cumberland, I turned our attention to the Congress. We were some time in getting our proper position, in consequence of the shoalness of the water and the great difficulty of managing the ship when in or near the mud. To succeed in my object I was obliged to run the ship a short distance above the batteries on the James River, in order to wind her. During all the time her keel was in the mud; of course she moved slowly. Thus we were subjected twice to the heavy guns of all the batteries in passing up and down the river, but it could not be avoided. We silenced several of the batteries and did much injury on shore. A large transport steamer alongside of the wharf was blown up, one schooner sunk, and another captured and sent to Norfolk. The loss of life on shore we have no means of ascertaining.

While the Virginia was thus engaged in getting her position for attacking the Congress, the prisoners state it was believed on board that ship that we had hauled off; the men left their guns and gave three cheers. They were soon sadly undeceived, for a few minutes after we opened on her again, she having run on shore in shoal water. The carnage, havoc, and dismay caused by our fire compelled them to haul down their colors and to hoist a white flag at their gaff and half-mast another at the main. The crew instantly took to their boats and landed. Our fire immediately ceased, and a signal was made for the Beaufort to come within hail. I then ordered Lieutenant Commanding Parker to take possession of the Congress, secure the officers as prisoners, allow the crew to land, and burn the ship. He ran alongside, received her flag and surrender from Commander William Smith and Lieutenant Pendergrast, with the side arms of those officers. They delivered themselves as prisoners of war on board the Beaufort, and afterward were permitted, at their own request, to return to the Congress to assist in removing the wounded to the Beaufort.  They never returned, and I submit to the decision of the Department whether they are not our prisoners. While the Beaufort and Raleigh were alongside the Congress, and the surrender of that vessel had been received from the commander, she having two white flags flying hoisted by her own people, a heavy fire was opened on them from the shore and from the Congress, killing some valuable officers and men. Under this fire the steamers left the Congress, but as I was not informed that any injury had been sustained by those vessels at that time, Lieutenant Commanding Parker having failed to report to me, I took it for granted that my order to him to burn her had been executed, and waited some minutes to see the smoke ascending her hatches. During this delay we were still subjected to the heavy fire from the batteries, which was always promptly returned.

The steam frigates Minnesota and Roanoke and the sailing frigate St. Lawrence had previously been reported as coming from Old Point, but as I was determined that the Congress should not again fall into the hands of the enemy, I remarked to that gallant officer Flag-Lieutenant Minor, "That ship must be burned." He promptly volunteered to take a boat and burn her, and the Teaser, Lieutenant Commanding Webb, was ordered to cover the boat. Lieutenant Minor had scarcely reached within 50 yards of the Congress when a deadly fire was opened upon him, wounding him severely and several of his men. On witnessing this vile treachery, I instantly recalled the boat and ordered the Congress destroyed by hot shot and incendiary shell. About this period I was disabled and transferred the command of the ship to that gallant, intelligent officer, Lieutenant Catesby Jones, with orders to fight her as long as the men could stand to their guns.

The ships from Old Point opened their fire upon us. The Minnesota grounded in the north channel, where, unfortunately, the shoalness of the channel prevented our near approach. We continued, however, to fire upon her until the pilots declared that it was no longer safe to remain in that position, and we accordingly returned by the south channel (the middle ground being necessarily between the Virginia and Minnesota, and St. Lawrence and the Roanoke having retreated under the guns of Old Point), and again had an opportunity of opening upon the Minnesota, receiving her heavy fire in return, and shortly afterwards upon the St. Lawrence, from which vessel we also received several broadsides. It had by this time become dark and we soon after anchored off Sewell's Point. The rest of the squadron followed our movements, with the exception of the Beaufort, Lieutenant Commanding Parker, who proceeded to Norfolk with the wounded and prisoners as soon as he had left the Congress, without reporting to me. The Congress, having been set on fire by our hot shot and incendiary shell, continued to burn, her loaded guns being successively discharged as the flames reached them, until a few minutes past midnight, when her magazine exploded with a tremendous report.

The facts above stated as having occurred after I had placed the ship in charge of Lieutenant Jones were reported to me by that officer.

At an early hour next morning (the 9th), upon the urgent solicitations of the surgeons, Lieutenant Minot and myself were very reluctantly taken on shore. The accommodations for the proper treatment of wounded persons on board the Virginia are exceedingly limited, Lieutenant Minor and myself occupying the only space that could be used for that purpose, which was in my cabin. I therefore consented to our being landed on Sewell's Point, thinking that the room on board vacated by us could be used for those who might be wounded in the renewal of the action. In the course of the day Lieutenant Minor and myself were sent in a steamer to the hospital at Norfolk.

The following is an extract from the report of Lieutenant Jones of the proceedings of the Virginia on the 9th:

    At daylight on the 9th we saw that the Minnesota was still ashore, and that there was an iron battery near her. At 8 [o'clock] we ran down to engage them (having previously sent the killed and wounded out of the ship), firing at the Minnesota and occasionally at the iron battery. The pilots did not place us as near as they expected. The great length and draft of the ship rendered it exceedingly difficult to work her. We ran ashore about a mile from the frigate and were backing fifteen minutes before we got off.  We continued to fire at the Minnesota, and blew up a steamer alongside of her, and we also engaged the Monitor, sometimes at very close quarters. We once succeeded in running into her, and twice silenced her fire. The pilots declaring that we could get no nearer the Minnesota, and believing her to be entirely disabled, and the Monitor having to run into shoal water, which prevented our doing her any further injury, we ceased firing at 12 [o'clock] and proceeded to Norfolk.

    Our loss is 2 killed and 19 wounded. The stem is twisted and the ship leaks. We have lost the prow, starboard anchor, and all the boats. The armor is somewhat damaged; the steampipe and smokestack both riddled; the muzzles of two of the guns shot away. It was not easy to keep a flag flying. The flagstaffs were repeatedly shot away. The colors were hoisted to the smokestack and several times cut down from it.

    The bearing of the men was all that could be desired; their enthusiasm could scarcely be restrained. During the action they cheered again and again. Their coolness and skill were the more remarkable from the fact that the great majority of them were under fire for the first time. They were strangers to each other and to the officers, and had but a few days' instruction in the management of the great guns. To the skill and example of the officers is this result in no small degree attributable.

Having thus given a full report of the actions on the 8th and 9th, I feel it due to the gallant officers who so nobly sustained the honor of the flag and country on those days to express my appreciation of their conduct.

To that brave and intelligent officer Lieutenant Catesby Jones, the executive and ordnance officer of the Virginia, I am greatly indebted for the success achieved. His constant attention to his duties in the equipment of the ship; his intelligence in the instruction of ordnance to the crew, as proved by the accuracy and effect of their fire, some of the guns having been personally directed by him; his tact and management in the government of raw recruits; his general knowledge of the executive duties of a man-of-war, together with his high-toned bearing, were all eminently conspicuous, and had their fruits in the admirable efficiency of the Virginia. If conduct such as his (and I do not know that I have used adequate language in describing it) entitles an officer to promotion, I see in the case of Lieutenant Jones one in all respects worthy of it. As flag-officer I am entitled to someone to perform the duties of flag-captain, and I should be proud to have Lieutenant Jones ordered to the Virginia as lieutenant-commander, if it be not the intention of the Department to bestow upon him a higher rank.

Lieutenant Simms fully sustained his well-earned reputation. He fired the first gun, and when the command devolved upon Lieutenant Jones in consequence of my disability, he was ordered to perform the duties of executive officer. Lieutenant Jones has expressed to me his satisfaction in having had the services of so experienced, energetic, and zealous an officer.

Lieutenant Davidson fought his guns with great precision. The muzzle of one of them was soon shot away. He continued, however, to fire it, though the woodwork around the port became ignited at each discharge. His buoyant and cheerful bearing and voice were contagious and inspiring.

Lieutenant Wood handled his pivot gun admirably, and the executive officer testifies to his valuable suggestions during the action. His zeal and industry in drilling the crew contributed materially to our success.

Lieutenant Eggleston served his hot shell with judgment and effect, and his bearing was deliberate, and exerted a happy influence on his division.

Lieutenant Butt fought his gun with activity, and during the action was gay and smiling.

The Marine Corps was well represented by Captain Thom, whose tranquil mien gave evidence that the hottest fire was no novelty to him. One of his guns was served effectively and creditably by a detachment of the United Artillery of Norfolk under the command of Captain Kevill. The muzzle of their gun was struck by a shell from the enemy, which broke off a piece of the gun, but they continued to fire as if it was uninjured.

Midshipmen Foute, Marmaduke, Littlepage, Craig, and Long rendered valuable services. Their conduct would have been creditable to older heads, and gave great promise of future usefulness. Midshipman Marmaduke, though receiving several painful wounds early in the action, manfully fought his gun until the close. He is now at the hospital.

Paymaster Semple volunteered for any service, and was assigned to the command of the powder division, an important and complicated duty, which could not have been better performed.

Surgeon Phillips and Assistant Surgeon Garnett were prompt and attentive in the discharge of their duties. Their kind and considerate care of the wounded and the skill and ability displayed in the treatment won for them the esteem and gratitude of all who came under their charge, and justly entitled them to the confidence of officers and crew. I beg leave to call the attention of the Department to the case of Doctor Garnett. He stands deservedly high in his profession, is at the head of the list of assistant surgeons, and, there being a vacancy in consequence of the recent death of Surgeon Blacknall, I should be much gratified if Doctor Gamett could be promoted to it.

The engines and machinery, upon which so much depended, performed much better than was expected. This is due to the intelligence, experience, and coolness of Acting Chief Engineer Ramsay. His efforts were ably seconded by his assistants, Tynam, Campbell, Herring, Jack, and White. As Mr. Ramsay is only acting chief engineer, I respectfully recommend his promotion to the rank of chief, and would also ask that Second Assistant Engineer Campbell may be promoted to first assistant, he having performed the duties of that grade during the engagement.

The forward officers—Boatswain Hasker, Gunner Oliver, and Carpenter Lindsay—discharged well all the duties required of them. The boatswain had charge of a gun and fought it well. The gunner was indefatigable in his efforts. His experience and exertions as a gunner have contributed very materially to the efficiency of the battery.

Acting Master Parrish was assisted in piloting the ship by Pilots Wright, Williams, Clark, and Cunningham. They were necessarily much exposed.

It is now due that I should mention my personal staff.  To that gallant young officer Flag-Lieutenant Minor I am much indebted for his promptness in the execution of signals; for renewing the flagstaffs when shot away, being thereby greatly exposed; for his watchfulness in keeping the Confederate flag up; his alacrity in conveying my orders to the different divisions, and for his general cool and gallant bearing.

My aid, Acting Midshipman Rootes, of the Navy; Lieutenant Forrest, of the Army, who served as a volunteer aid, and my clerk, Mr. Arthur Sinclair, jr., are entitled to my thanks for the activity with which my orders were conveyed to the different parts of the ship. During the hottest of the fight they were always at their posts, giving evidence of their coolness. Having referred to the good conduct of the officers in the flagship immediately under my notice, I come now to a no less pleasing task when I attempt to mark my approbation of the bearing of those serving in the other vessels of the squadron.

Commander John R. Tucker, of the Patrick Henry, and Lieutenant Commanding J. N. Barney, of the Jamestown, and W. A. Webb, of the Teaser, deserve great praise for their gallant conduct throughout the engagement. Their judgment in selecting their positions for attacking the enemy was good; their constant fire was destructive, and contributed much to the success of the day. The general order under which the squadron went into action required that, in the absence of all signals, each commanding officer was to exercise his own judgment and discretion in doing all the damage he could to the enemy, and to sink before surrendering. From the bearing of those officers on the 8th, I am fully satisfied that that order would have been carried out.

Commander Tucker speaks highly of all under him, and desires particularly to notice that Lieutenant-Colonel Callender St. George Noland, commanding the post at Mulberry Island, on hearing of the deficiency in the complement of the Patrick Henry, promptly offered the services of 10 of his men as volunteers for the occasion, one of whom, George E. Webb, of the Greenville Guards, Commander Tucker regrets to say, was killed.

Lieutenant Commanding Barney reports every officer and man on board of the ship performed his whole duty, evincing a courage and fearlessness worthy of the cause for which we are fighting.

Lieutenant Commanding Webb specially notices the coolness displayed by Acting Master Face and Third Assistant Engineer Quinn when facing the heavy fire of artillery and musketry from the shore whilst the Teaser was standing in to cover the boat in which, as previously stated, Lieutenant Minor had gone to burn the Congress. Several of his men were badly wounded.

The Raleigh, early in the action, had her gun carriage disabled, which compelled her to withdraw. As soon as he had repaired damages as well as he could, Lieutenant Commanding Alexander resumed his position in the line. He sustained himself gallantly during the remainder of the day, and speaks highly of all under his command. That evening he was ordered to Norfolk for repairs.

The Beaufort, Lieutenant Commanding Parker, was in close contact with the enemy frequently during the day and all on board behaved gallantly. Lieutenant Commanding Parker expresses his warmest thanks to his officers and men for their coolness. Acting Midshipman Foreman, who accompanied him as volunteer aid, Midshipman Mallory and Newton, Captain's Clerk Bain, and Mr. Gray, pilot, are all specially mentioned by him.

On the 21st instant I forwarded to the Department correct lists of the casualties on board all the vessels of the squadron on the 8th; none, it appears, occurred on the 9th.

While in the act of closing this report I received the communication of the Department, dated 22nd instant, relieving me temporarily of the command of the squadron for the naval defenses of James River. I feel honored in being relieved by the gallant Flag-Officer Tattnall.

I much regret that I am not now in a condition to resume my command, but trust that I shall soon be restored to health, when I shall be ready for any duty that may be assigned to me.

Very respectfully,

FRANKLIN BUCHANAN,
Flag-Officer.

 

Hon. S. R. MALLORY,
Secretary of the Navy.

 

Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, vol. 7 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1898): 44-49.

 


Report of Major-General Huger, C.S. Army, commanding Department of Norfolk, on the impact of ironclad warships in warfare.

HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF NORFOLK,
Norfolk, Va., March 10, 1862.

SIR: I telegraphed yesterday to the Secretary of War the fact of the naval engagement on the 8th and 9th instants. As the battle was fought by the navy, Flag-Officer Forrest will no doubt report to the Navy Department the result of the engagement.

The batteries at Sewell's Point opened fire on the steamers Minnesota and Roanoke, which attempted on the 8th to pass to Newport News to the assistance of the frigates attacked by the Virginia. The Minnesota ran aground before reaching there. The Roanoke was struck several times, and for some cause turned around and went back to Old Point.

The two sailing vessels (Cumberland and Congress) were destroyed--the first sunk and the other burned by the Virginia--and on the 9th the Minnesota; still aground, would probably have been destroyed but for the ironclad battery of the enemy called, I think, the Monitor. The Virginia and this battery were in actual contact, without inflicting serious injury on either.

At 2 p. m. on yesterday, the 9th, all our vessels came up to the navy yard for repairs. The Virginia, I understand, has gone into dock for repairs, which will be made at once. This action shows the power and endurance of ironclad vessels. Cannon shot do not harm them, and they can pass batteries or destroy large ships. A vessel like the Virginia or the Monitor, with her two guns, can pass any of our batteries with impunity. The only means of stopping them is by vessels of the same kind. The Virginia, being the most powerful, can stop the Monitor, but a more powerful one would run her down or ashore. As the enemy can build such boats faster than we, they could, when so prepared, overcome any place accessible by water. How these powerful machines are to be stopped is a problem I can not solve. At present, in the Virginia; we have the advantage; but we can not tell how long this may last.

I remain very respectfully, your obedient servant,

BENJ. HUGER,
Major-General, Commanding.

General S. COOPER,
Adjutant and Inspector General

 

Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Series 1, vol. 7 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1898): 54-55.


Note: During the battle, U.S. Navy personnel referred to CSS Virginia as Merrimack, the name the ship previously had while in U.S. Navy service.