Page:Southern Historical Society Papers volume 32.djvu/363

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Historic Waters of Virginia. 351

stirring episodes were about to pass unnoticed. Deep-mouthed cannon away to the eastward were now braying their hoarse contri- butions to the terrible din. The steam frigates at Fortress Monroe were under way at last to give succor to their weaker consorts; there were the guns at Sewell's Point throwing shot and shell in the pathway of the Minnesota and Roanoke, and in reply the giant ordnance at the Rip- Raps were lending deeper voice to the dis- cordant chorus. Just at this juncture the excited accents of one of my companions rose clear above the tumult of detonations and con- cussions:

" What a glorious sight ! Just see the splendid fellows coming into action !" he exclaimed, at the same time tugging at my coat sleeve like mad. I turned, and it was indeed the sight of a life- time that met my gaze. Standing down the long open reach, under full head of steam, right into the pelting storm of missiles, dashed the five wooden vessels of the James River Squadron, Tucker lead- ing, in the Patrick Henry, closely followed by the Jamestown and the saucy little gunboats. Why they were not totally destroyed I did not then and do not now understand. Admiral Buchanan says that their escape was miraculous; for they sustained for several hours a galling fire of solid shot, shell, grape and canister, at close quarters; and the hull of each ship was perforated time and time again. It was particularly fine to see how Webb, with his mite of a Teaser, romped and frolicked in the very teeth of the enemy's batteries, while nothing could have exceeded the gallantry with which Parker and Alexander repeatedly came into the closest con- flict. The gallantry of all appeared to border on recklessness in the eye of an inexperienced spectator. By this time we had come to look upon the flagship as invulnerable, but watched with painful interest the bold manoevering of her comparatively unprotected consorts. Only the highest skill, in conjunction with superb cour- age, could have saved one or all of them from utter disaster.

Meanwhile, amid the gathering smoke, the ill-starred Congress was still battling with a desperation worthy of success. It warms the blood yet, to remember how those American seamen fought in the very shadow of death against the inevitable. Harried and ha- rassed on every side by the nimbler of the Confederate ships, her- self a sailing craft, incapable of manoeuvering for offensive or defensive position, she was spared for yet a little while from direct attack by her most formidable antagonist. After sinking the Cum- berland, the Virginia' s heavy draught prevented a direct approach