Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 19.djvu/40

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34
Southern Historical Society Papers.

are of the same type as the vessels just described, and of dimensions between the Inflexible and the Ajax."

In Constructor Porter's reply to "Justice," he says:

"Of the great and skillful calculations of the displacements and weights of timber and iron involved in the planning and construction of this great piece of naval architecture, and of her present weights with everything on board, no other man than myself has, or ever had, any knowledge. If he has let him show it; for while public opinion said she would never float, no one save myself knew to the contrary or what she was capable of bearing."

The time came when this knowledge would have been of service to the Confederacy.

Norfolk had fallen, and the brave Tattnall sought to save the Virginia by taking her up the James—success depending upon her stability when lightened to a draft of eighteen feet. He applied to Constructor Porter for information.

In Flag-officer Tattnall's triumphant defence will be found this statement [see Scharf's Confederate States Navy, p. 235]:

"To the constructor, Mr. Porter, I applied through Paymaster Semple, for information on the subject, who swears positively that he obtained the constructor's written report that the ship could be lightened to even seventeen feet, and would have stability to that draft in the James river. Now, whether Mr. Semple misunderstood Mr. Porter or not, there can be no doubt of the nature of the reply communicated to me through a reliable source, upon which, in the nature of things, having no knowledge of my own, I was obliged to rely. Nor will the positive and reliable testimony thus given be much shaken by Mr. Porter's flippant answer to the question why he he did not give full information, " that I never spent a thought on the subject; I was busy; I supposed the officers all knew what they were about, and I gave all the information that was asked of me." It will be recollected he was apprised of the meditated disposition of the ship, and had been asked for written official information on the subject.

I regret that the persistency of Constructor Porter and the indiscretion of his friends have rendered it necessary to make this exposition.

JOHN M. BROOKE.