The following was transcribed from The Norfolk Ledger-Dispatch of March 23, 1912, by Martha H. Tyson and Mabry Tyson.  

Norfolk Day-Book's Story of Monitor-Merrimac Fight

Highly Interesting Narrative Printed on the Morning of March 10, 1862.

In these days of Merrimac-Monitor half-century anniversary stories, it will, no doubt, be very gratifying to the readers Ledger-Dispatch to have one that was printed "right off the bat"--as would be said in these times--on account of the two days' fight which appeared on the editorial page of the Norfolk Day Book on the morning of March 10, 1862, the day after the famous fight between the world renowned iron-clads. The paper containing this story, as it appeared the streets of Norfolk, that Monday morning is yellow with age and is the property of James K. Cooke, auditor of the Fosburgh Lumber Company, to whom the Ledger-Dispatch is indebted for the privilege for the publication of these extracts from it--the whole story covering five columns of the Day Book, of which John R. Hathaway, now deceased, was editor and proprietor. This is the story:


"The 8th and 9th day of the present month have been branded illustrious in the annals of this war of all warfare--by the conspicuous gallantry of Southern seaman, displayed on Southern waters. The events which we have to chronicle need no aid of the rhetorician's art. They stand out in their simple grandure above all ornament, and rise to a dignity which discards all pompous phrases.

"We shall attempt, writing current calomo, to give a candid narrative of the facts which we observed and an impartial statement of those derived from other sources. * * On the morning of the 8th the steamer Virginia (Merrimac), Flag Officer Franklin Buchanan, commanding, left her mooring at the navy yard here, and, attended by the steam tugs, Beaufort, Lieut. Commander Parker and the Raleigh, Lieut. Commander Alexander, steamed down the harbor. It was a great sight to see the iron-clad Leviathan gliding noiselessly through the water, flying the red pennon of her commander at the fore flag-staff, and the gay Confederate ensign aft. * * In the wake of the vessels named came the Port Admiral with a staff of naval officers. Thus down the harbor they moved, the wharves thronged with eager citizens, and on past the batteries, whose parapets were dark with soldiers, steamed the squadron. Through the two barricades and then the Virginia put her helm hard a-starboard and took the south channel.

"The morning was as still as a Sabbath. The two frigates--the Cumberland and the Congress--lay with their boats at the booms and wash-clothes in the rigging. Did they see the long, dark hull? Had they made her out? Was it ignorance, apathy, or composure? These the questions we discussed as we steamed across the flats to the south of the Virginia with the two gallant little gun-boats, Beaufort and Raleigh well on our starboard beam, heading up for the enemy.

* * *

"Steadily with a grim and ominous silence the Virginia glides through the water, steadily and with defiant valor the Beaufort and Raleigh followed where she led. Ten minutes to two--still the clothes in the rigging of the Federal vessels, still the boats at their booms. Was this confidence? It could not be ignorance. Did it mean torpedoes, submarine batteries, infernal machines? * * *

"The Virginia goes on steadily to do her work. Now the inshore frigate, the Cumberland, fires, now the Virginia, close aboard, now Sewell's Point battery, now the Minnesota, now the Roanoke, now the air trembles with the cannonade. Now the Virginia delivers both broadsides, now she runs full against the Cumberland's starboard bow, now the smoke clears away and she appears heading up the James river. This at 22 minutes to 2.

"The Congress now lets fall foretopsail and then the main, and so with a tug alongside starts down the north channel, where the Minnesota has grounded, and presently runs plump ashore.

"Meanwhile the Virginia opens on the Yankee fort, slowly she steams back, and the Cumberland, sunk to her white streak, opens upon her again. A gallant man fought that ship---a man worthy to have maintained a better cause. Gun after gun he fired, lower and lower sunk his ship, his last discharge comes from his pivot gun, the ship lurches to starboard, now to port, his flag streams out wildly, and now the Cumberland goes down on her beam-ends, at once a monument and an epitaph of the gallant men who fought her.


"The Virginia stops. Is she aground? And the Confederate gunboats, Raleigh and Beaufort! Glorious Parker! Glorious Alexander! There they are on the quarters of the Congress, hammering away, and creeping closer and closer all the time.

"At 10 minutes to 4, the Congress struck--Parker, of the Beaufort, hauled down the enemy's ensign and ran up his own battle-flag in its place--there the hero Tayloe,[E1] who fought the Fanny at Roanoke Island and Elizabeth City, got his wound, there the gallant young Hutter fell, shot by the dastards who fired from the ship and shore when the white flag was flying at the main and mizzen of the Congress. Here, too, and in the same way, Flag Officer Buchanan, of the Virginia, and Flag Lieutenant Miner, were wounded. * * *

"Now the U. S. S. Roanoke puts up her helm and declines battle. Now the Virginia is thundering away again. The little Teaser, of the Confederate James River fleet, is closer in. We are closer in--sizz comes a shell ahead, presently another astern, finally a third with a clear, sharp whiz just overhead, to the great delight of the commodore, who appreciated the compliment of these good shots, which were the last of six directed at the Harmony (this presumably, was the boat from which the writer of this story saw the fight). * * *

"The Beaufort runs down to us, and Parker steps aboard and brings the great piece of bunting we saw hauled down from the Congress just now. He brought also some 30 prisoners and some wounded men--men wounded under the white flag yonder desecrated by the Yankees. One of these lies stretched out, decently covered over, gasping out his life on the deck--a Yankee shot through the head, all bloody and ghastly, killed in the inhuman fire of his own people. Another, pale and stern, captain of the Beaufort's gun, lies there, too, a noble specimen of a man who has since gone where the weary are at rest--a gallant man, a brave seaman.

"We shake hands with Parker, he gets back to his vessel slightly wounded, as is Alexander, of the Raleigh, also and steams back gallantly to the fight.

"The Patrick Henry, the Jamestown, the Teaser, the Beaufort, the Raleigh, and the grand old Virginia--comprising the Confederate fleet--are all thundering away. We steam down and speak the first, we hear a report of the casualties, we shake hands with friends, we shove off, cheer, and steam toward the Swash channel.

"Presently, through the thickening gloom of the evening, we see a red glare---it grows larger, and brighter, and fuller and redder--it creeps higher and higher, as the Congress, set afire by the Virginia's hot shots, burns, and now gun after gun booms on the still night as the fire reaches them--the batteries of the Congress discharging across the water in harmless thunder.

"It was a grand sight to see, and by the light of the burning ship, we made our way back to Norfolk. At half past eleven the act of retribution was complete, for at that hour with a great noise the Congress blew up.


"The Virginia lay at anchor off Sewell's Point that night, after the engagement of March 8th, and at 8:30 o'clock the next morning--Sunday--getting in good range she opened fire on the U. S. S. Minnesota, which was stilll[E1] aground, completely riddling her, and rendering constant exertion at her pumps necessary to prevent her from filling.

"Early in the morning the Ericsson battery, now called the Monitor, was discovered off Newport News Point, she having arrived and gone up there during the night. A sharp encounter soon took place between her and the Virginia, during which time they were frequently not more than 30 or 40 yards apart. Unfortunately the Virginia ran aground and the Ericsson, using her advantage, poured shot after shot into her, but without doing any serious damage. In a short while, however, the Virginia succeeded in getting off, and putting on full head of steam, ran her bow into the Ericsson.

"We are rejoiced to say that notwithstanding the firing was much heavier than on Saturday there were no casualties on either of our vessels--not a man being the least injured by shots from the enemy or otherwise.

"Several of the enemy's gunboats being within range they were favored with a shell or two from the Virginia, with telling effect, and in every case disabling or sinking them.

One of these lying alongside the Minnesota had a shell thrown aboard of her which on bursting, tore her asunder, and sent her to the bottom.

"Having completely riddled the Minnesota, and disabled the St. Lawrence and Monitor, besides, as stated above, destroying several of the enemy's gunboats--in a word, having accomplished all that they designed--and having no more material to work upon, our noble vessels left the scene of their triumphs and returned to the navy yard here, where they await another opportunity of displaying their prowess.

"The enemy's loss, killed and wounded, during the two days' battle, is exceedingly large, and estimated at from six to twelve hundred. The scene on the Congress is represented as heart-sickening. The officers of the Confederate gunboat Beaufort who ran alongside of her on Saturday, and who boarded her for the purpose of removing the wounded, and who were brutally fired upon by the enemy while engaged in this work of mercy to the Federals' kith and kin, represent the deck of the ship as being literally covered with the dead and dying. One of them tells us that as he went from fore to aft his shoes were well night buried in blood and brains; that arms and legs and heads were scattered in every direction, while here and there, in the agonies of death, were found poor wretches with their brains torn completely out.


"Of the 500 aboard the Cumberland it is estimated that not over 100 at most escaped. On our side the loss was indeed small. On the Virginia there were two killed and eight wounded, the Confederates' total casualties in the two days fight being seven killed and seventeen wounded.

"The Congress was set afire, with hot shot from the Virginia, because of the firing into our boats while she, the Congress, had a flag of truce flying, after she had struck her colors and surrendered to us.

"On the arrival of the Viginia[E1] at the navy yard, after the two days battle, her men were mustered and addressed by the commanding officer in terms of praise for their noble bearing during the engagement. They responded with hearty cheers, and expressed a desire to again re-enact the scenes through which they had just passed.

"The officers of the Virginia are said to have acted with the utmost courage and bravery during the conflict. It is related that Captain Buchanan during the thickest of the fight remained on the Virginia's deck and discharged at the enemy musket after musket as they were handed up to him.

"Andrew J. Dalton, a printer, who left our office a few days since to join the Virginia, and who was at the bombardment of Fort Sumpter,[E1] and who has participated in several other engagements of the war, we learn was one of the wounded on board that vessel." (This is Justice A. J. Dalton, of Norfolk, of 50 years later.)

It is worthy of note that there are several survivers[E1] of the Virginia's ship's company still resident here, and that there is also living here one of the crew of the Cumberland, who was on her when the Virginia struck her--John Miller (colored), he being employed in the navy yard, and has been for many years, his home being in Portsmouth.

This same old paper from which the above story is taken bristles with war matters, among them being many advertisements of men whose names are still very familiar here--some of them still living--who were then engaged in getting up military companies or regiments for service in the Confederate army, bounty and leaves of absrence,[E1] and a probable long service in this vicinity, being used as inducements to get the men to enlist, and the possibility of being drafted, if they didn't enter the army voluntarily, was pointed out by way of argument for an early enrolment[E1] of those who were still out of the ranks. It also contains advertisements for negroes who had escaped from their owners here, and for the purchase of negroes whose services were needed by the advertiser.

Transcription notes:

[E1] As (mis)spelled in the article.

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Transcription copyright 1997 by Martha H. Tyson and Mabry Tyson