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THE MEEEIMAO AND THE MONITOB.
March 9, 1862.
The most remarkable naval battle which haa ever taken place in the history of the world was the encounter between the two iron-clad steam batteries, Merrimac and Monitor, in Hampton-Roads, Va.
The Merrimac was one of five war-steamers authorized to be constructed by an act of Congress, passed at the session of 1844-5, and was built at Charlestown, Mass. The spar deck was 281 feet long, and 52 broad, in her original condition. The vessel was completed and launched in 1856. She was soon put in commission, and continued* in the service until April, 1861, when she was lying at Norfolk Navy Yard for repairs.
When the Government property at the Navy Yard and in the neighborhood of Norfolk was destroyed or rendered unserviceable, to secure it from seizure by the Confederates, the Merrimac was scuttled.
Not long after the rebels had taken possession of the Navy Yard the Merrimac was raised, and placed in the floating-dock. Here she was remodeled, and covered by a sloping roof of iron plates, four inches thick, which bore her down so heavily, that it became almost impossible to launch her. When launched she drew four feet of water over the calculated draught, and was again placed upon the dry-dock, and under went material changes in her construction. Her bow and stern were steel-clad, and the bow furnished with a projecting ram for the purpose of piercing an antagonist. The armament consisted of four eleven-inch navy guns, broadside, and two one hundred-pounder rifled guns, at the bow and at the stern.
The Monitor was built by contract, under the act of Congress of July, 1861, appropriating $1,500,000 for iron-clad vessels. Captaii Ericsson presented proposals for a battery to be launched within one hundred working days from the date of the contract. The contract was awarded to him in October, and on the one hundred and first working day the Monitor was launched from the Continental Iron Works at Greenpoint, New York.
The Monitor is low, wide, and flat-bottomed, with vertical sides, and pointed ends, requiring but shallow water to float in. The sides of the vessel are formed of plate-iron, half an inch thick, outside of which is attached solid white oak twenty-six inches thick:. outside this again is rolled iron armor five inches thick. The inclination of the lower hull is such that a ball to strike it in any part must pass through at least twenty-five feet of water, and then strike an inclined iron surface at an angle of about ten degrees. In the event of an enemy boarding the
battery they can do no harm, as the only entrance is at the top of the turret or citadel, which cannot easily be scaled, and even then only one man at a time can descend into the hull.
The principal novelty of this vessel is the cylindrical revolving turret, rising from its exact centre, in ,which the guns are placed. This is formed of rolled one-inch iron plates bolted together to the thickness of eight inches; its internal diameter is twenty feet, and it is nine feet high. It rests at its lower edge on a smooth, flat ring of composition metal, but when in action the principal portion of its weight is sustained by a central shaft, about which it revolves; a massive wedge being driven below the steps of the shaft on such occasion to raise it, and thus cause it to bear up the turret. A large spur wheel upon the shaft is connected by a train *o( gearing with a small steam-engine, which supplies the power for turning the turret.
Two eleven-inch guns are placed within the turret, in position precisely parallel with each other, on smooth ways, or slides; a clamp being arranged upon the sides of the ways for adjusting the friction and taking up the recoil in such distance as may be desired.
The turret is pierced in difl'erent places with four holes for the insertion of telescopes, and just outside of the holes reflectors are fixed to bend the rays of light which come in a direction parallel with the guns through the axis of the telescope, which is crossed by a vertical thread of spider's web through the line of collimation. The sailing-master takes his position in the turret, with his eye to the telescope, and his hand upon the wheel that governs the motion of the small engine, and turns the turret so as to keep the guns always directed with absolute precision to the object against which the fire is directed. A scale is also arranged for adjusting the elevation of the guns with similar engineering precision.
Upon the sides of the turret that have the port-holes through which the guns are discharged, the massiveness is increased by an additional plating three inches in thickness; making the sides of the turret presented to the enemy eleven inches.
In preparing for action, the awning over the turret is removed, and the square smoke stacks as well as the shorter pipes, through which air is drawn into the vessel, are taken down. A small, square tower at the bow is the wheelhouse, in which the steersman stands. It is made of bars or beams of iron nine by twelve inches, interlocked at the corners.
After a preliminary trial trip, the Monitor sailed from the Brooklyn Navy Yard for Fortress Monroe, on the 6th of March, and at five o'clock on the afternoon of that day, discharged her pilot off Sandy Hook. Her officers at this time were as follows:
Lieutenant-commanding John S. Worden; Lieutenant and Executive Officer, S. D. Green; Acting Masters, I. N. Stoddard, J. W. Webber; Acting Assistant-Paymaster, Wm. E. Keeler; Acting Assistant-Surgeon, D. C. Logue; Government Inspector, Alban C. Stimers; First AssistantEngineer, Isaac Newton; Second Assistant-Engineer, Albert S. Campbell; Third Assistant-Engineers, R. W. Sands, M. T. Sunstron; Acting Masters'-Mate, George Frederickson.
The voyage to Fortress Monroe was safely terminated by the arrival of the vessel with her consort about eight o'clock on the evening of the eighth. Important events had transpired in Hampton Roads on that day. The Merrimac had steamed down towards the sloop-of-war Cumberland, blockading James river, and demanded a surrender. This was refused, when the monster turned ponderously, and bringing her bow to bear on the Cumberland, dashed into her side, rending the timbers as she went. She then drew her iron prow from the shattered vessel, scattering a storm of splintered wood on the water, and receding to a safe distance, poured a broadside in from her guns. The crippled Cumberland, still vibrating in all her timbers, returned the broadside. This was answered and returned without intermission for fifteen minutes. During this time shot and shell boomed over the water, crashed into the doomed vessel, and fell like mighty hail on the iron coat of the Merrimac. But while every shot told on the quivering wood-work of the Cumberland, the Merrimac threw off the iron missiles as a rock beats back the tempest, sending in her volleys more triumphantly each moment. The brave old man-of-war stood up to the slaughter much as a blinded horse, forced among the wild bulls of a Spanish arena falls, gored to the heart, but fighting desperately. Half full of water, which still came pouring in through her wounded side, recoiling like a living thing from each outburst of shot and shell, she at last settled slowly to the waters' edge, and sunk, pouring out a defiant broadside as she went down, with the stars and stripes floating at her mast-head.
The Merrimac then challenged the Congress, a Federal sailing frigate, of 1,867 tons, but was also refused a surrender. This refusal was replied to by the guns of the rebel vessel, and after a short contest, when it became hopeless to continue resistance, the Congress surrendered, and was fired and abandoned. The evening was clear, the air still, the water without a ripple, and the scene was magnificent, as the noble vessel became wrapped in its fiery shroud. When entirely enveloped in flame, the fire reached the magazine, and an explosion took place which scattered the burning wreck in one vast upheaving of fragments and cinders, kindling up the sky with its glare, and throwing portions of the wreck the distance of a mile. The Merrimac having succeeded in sinking the Cumberland and compelling the Congress to surrender, withdrew