Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 20.djvu/13

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The Merrimac or Virginia. 7

under command of Captain Franklin Buchanan, at n A. M. of March 8th, cast loose from the navy-yard and started on her venture in the game of war, attended by the gunboats Beaufort (Captain W. H. Parker) and Raleigh (Captain J. W. Alexander). These two vessels mounted but one gun each (a banded rifled thirty-two- pounder, for which we are indebted to the inventive genius of Captain Archibald Fairfax, Confederate States Navy), and were the sole sur- vivors of our disaster at Roanoke Island. As we passed the wharves of Portsmouth and Norfolk we discovered the landings to be well crowded with men, women, and children, who gave us salutation, but seemed too deeply moved by the gravity of the moment to break into cheers.

At this time the Merrimac was drawing twenty-two feet aft and twenty-one forward, and seemed to be making a speed of four and one half miles. The two gun-boats, whose ordinary speed was about seven miles an hour, kept along with her under nearly half speed. All went well until we were abreast of Craney Island (five miles from Norfolk), when the Merrimac was so near the bottom that she would not answer her helm. The Beaufort, being called to her assistance, took a haw- ser from her and towed her past Craney-Island light, where, the water getting deeper, we let her go. The gunboats drew but eight feet of water and were able to cut across the flats of Craney Island, whilst the Merrimac had to keep the channel until abreast of our batteries at Sewell's Point, at which position she could turn up the south channel of James river, making the distance to Newport News about four or five miles further. The day was fresh and clear, and we could see the Congress and Cumberland lying quietly at anchor off the land batteries at Newport News, apparently so unexpectant of danger that their boats were swinging at the lower booms and washed clothes were hanging in the rigging. As the Merrimac headed up the south channel, in a moment inactivity gave place to stir and bustle. The evidences of " wash-day " quickly disappeared; the boats were brought alongside and hoisted, booms were swung in, and both ships cleared for action. The Beaufort and Raleigh steamed at half speed across the flats awaiting the detour of the Merrimac. At about 2.20 P. M. the Beaufort, having got within range, opened the action with a shot at the Congress, and attended by the Raleigh slowly approached the enemy until a favorable position on the quarter of the Congress was secured and maintained until this vessel was surrendered.