Sunday, December 12, 2010

Exit the Merrimac

Our skeleton in the closet has crumbled into dust, and nervous people inhabiting seacoast cities can sleep o’ nights hereafter without fear of being awakened by the thunder of the Merrimac’s guns at their very doors.  This vessel – the one navel success of the South, that accomplished the rare feat of compelling an American frigate to strike her colors to an enemy, and whose advent into Hampton Roads marks an era in conflicts at sea – was scuttled and sunk by the rebels to prevent her falling into the hands of our naval forces.  Her loss is more damaging to the rebellion than if an army of 50,000 men had been killed or captured.  Better to have lost Savannah, Charleston, Memphis or Richmond, than have destroyed this naval monster without a fight.  Had she gone down, as did the Cumberland or the Varuna, firing until the water closed over her, all the world would have wondered, and Southern valor, as well as Southern skill, would have claimed a proud page in the history of battles; but the pitiful panic which must have possessed the councils in which her destruction was determined upon will bring contempt upon the Confederate cause, even in those foreign circles whose interest or whose humor it has been to sustain and countenance the great rebellion.

It is to be regretted, for many reasons, that this vessel did not venture on another conflict with our fleet in Hampton Roads.  Her first exploit proved the folly of building any more wooden frigates.  The contest with the Monitor on the second day was of great scientific interest, as showing the relative value of heavy ordnance and thick iron plating in an actual sea fight.  The third fight, if a chance had been given, would have demonstrated the value of a swift steam ram against an iron clad vessel.  The Vanderbilt, the Arago, and the Baltimore, as is now well known, were in readiness to make the attempt, at least had she ventured into deep water or got out of the range of the guns at Sewall’s Point.  But this experiment is now postponed until another war takes place, for the rebels have no vessel left that a few guns would not sink with ease.

It is more than probable, although it has been denied by the rebel press, that the Merrimac was seriously injured in her contest with the Monitor, so much so as to disable her for another fight.  The report that she leaked continuously is no doubt true.

The destruction of the Merrimac is of the utmost consequence to us in the progress of the war.  After the occupation of Richmond the Galena, the Monitor, the Naugatuck and a large fleet of wooden vessels can pay their respects to Fort Sumter and reduce it promptly.  Gen. Hunter is already drawing his lines about the city of Charleston, but his work will be greatly expedited by the cooperation of these invulnerable vessels.  Iron-clad batteries, as against forts, were first tried by the rebels upon Sumter, but they took months to erect them, and finally opened fire upon a half-starved garrison of seventy men, let us show that the same work can be done against greater odds, and with much less fuss and waste of powder. – {N. Y. World.

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, May 17, 1862, p. 3

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