'Twas in James River, not long ago,
When the tide was falling, sluggish and slow,
That from Newport News and Fortress Monroe
A Nondescript vessel was seen:
A thing like a house-roof, iron clad,
That, saucily waving over it, had
The flag of the country gone to the bad…
The Confederate colors, I mean.
The singular monster steamed along,
Its iron roof glistening, massive and strong,
While a sort of defiant and ominous song
Was sung by its puffing steam;
Nor pausing, nor turning, it held its way
Where the river widens into a bay,
And there the blockaders motionless lay
In the broad and glassy stream.
Then a row of port-holes suddenly flew
Wide open, disclosing quite plain to the view
The cannon, neither feeble nor few,
That grinned through the iron-clad side;
And as vainly the Cumberland's broadsides roared,
And the Congress…with scarcely a crew on board…
Made every gun ring out in accord,
The monster briskly replied.
The balls glanced off from her roof like rain,
As down on the Cumberland went she, amain,
And struck her amidships, again and again,
With a prow of ponderous weight;
The tall ship rocked and her timbers crashed;
The spray and foam on her deck were dashed…
She settled…the billows over her flashed…
And she went to the bottom straight!
The Congress then was the vessel doomed
And toward the spot where her rigging loomed
Dim through the smoke of her guns that boomed,
The nondescript went, full tilt;
The men on board, as I said, were few,
The strength of their foe too well they knew,
So there seemed but one thing left to do,
Lest blood should be uselessly spilt.
She struck her colors…'twas sad to see…
And two Rebel vessels that lay to the lee
Took her officers captive…the men went free…
And burned her there as she lay;
The Minnesota and Roanoke tried
To get to the scene, but the falling tide
Left both aground on the Newport side,
When the sun went down that day.
What might have happened, no one can know,
If the monster had been permitted to go
Among the blockaders, to and fro,
When the morrow's sun shone forth;
But Hampton Roads "saw another sight,"
When the morning dawned on a second fight,
For behold! the Monitor, during the night,
Had come to sustain the North,
The cannon thundered from these dread foes;
They dealt each other the doughtiest blows,
Now at long range, now hauled to a close,
And bomb-shell and round-shot sang;
A perfect tornado of iron and flame
From each of the war-dogs incessantly came,
The shot fell like rain on each heavy-mailed frame,
And loudly their armor rang.
The Monitor suffered nothing at all;
Impregnable was she to powder and ball;
But the Merrimac's pride got a grievous fall,
And her armor a grievous rent;
She signaled her consorts, their aid to see,
For she needed a tow, being badly aleak,
And looking decidedly crippled and weak,
Back to quarters at Norfolk she went.
Then all the spectators who watch far and near,
And whose hearts had been balanced between hope and fear,
Gave forth as one man a unanimous cheer,
That shook both the earth and the air;
The battle was over, and ours was the day,
That Rebels had hobbled disabled away,
And if they're not satisfied, why, we can say,
"Just try it again if you dare!"