The following account is as recorded in the Putnam's The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, Vol 4, (1862) on pages 465-468. .
AT five o'clock, about a hundred of the crews of the Cumberland and Congress, fifty marines and as many sailors, formed at the Navy–Yard, in Brooklyn, and, with the band of the North–Carolina at their head, crossed Fulton ferry and marched up Broadway to Fourteenth street, reaching the Academy at half–past six o'clock. The doors opened to the public at seven o'clock, and long before eight the house was densely crowded. The time was pleasantly beguiled by the band, who executed portions of the Traviata, Lucrezia Borgia, and II Daneo. Over the stage was a white flag edged with blue, on which was:
While on either hand were similar flags, bearing the words "Cumberland" and "Congress." The proscenium boxes were gaily decorated with the banner of liberty, and around the amphitheatre the signal–flags of a man–of–war were suspended.
The sailors and marines marched in, and were received with hearty rounds of applause, the whole house rising to receive them. After they were seated, three cheers were given them, and at the sound of the boatswain's whistle, which was repeated as if from below on shipboard, Chancellor Ferris, of the University, offered prayer.
The Chairman, Pelatiah Perit, Esq., then said:
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: We are assembled this evening to give a proper reception to the surviving officers and sailors of the frigates Cumberland and Congress, which were destroyed in the engagement with the iron–clad ship Merrimac on the eighth ultimo. Fighting to every disadvantage, they stood to their guns until, submerged in water, they could be fired no longer, and then escaped with their lives, with the loss of everything else but their honor. The flag of the Cumberland was never struck, and still floats in the face of the enemy. The killed and wounded went down with the sinking ships, and were buried in a watery grave. They will ever be remembered with honor, as heroes who have given their lives as a sacrifice to their country. This crowded assemblage gives evidence that their widows and orphans will be remembered by a grateful nation. The record of the sailor has ever been an honorable one in the history of our nation. Accustomed to the dangers of the ocean, inured to hardship, trained to strict discipline, they are ever ready at the call of their country to face danger in any form. We owe to them our unprecedented commercial advancement; we owe to them most of the luxuries and comforts which we enjoy; we owe to them our naval triumphs. In the war with Great Britain in 1812, in spite of the overwhelming navy of England, our ships of war and privateers launched forth from every port, and gained laurels in every engagement with the enemy. In the civil war now raging, they have been prompt to obey the call of their country, and among the most distinguished exploits of the campaign have been the achievements of the navy. The names of Foote, [cheers,] Stringham, [applause,] and Du Pont [cheering] will ever stand prominent in the history of our nation. The President of the United States has officially announced that, while many officers had gone over to the rebellion, not a soldier in the ranks or a sailor in the navy had ever proved a traitor. What a noble tribute to a faithful people! Such are the men whom we have invited to meet us this evening. Such are the men who ought ever to receive our sympathies and our efforts for their good. And I am sure that every heart in this assembly will respond to me when I give them a cordial welcome.
At the close of Mr. Perit's address, he formally introduced the sailors, and, amid tumultuous applause and waving of handkerchiefs by the audience, a huge flag was run up from the stage, the sailors saluting it with three cheers.
The band played the Star–Spangled Banner.
The Rev. Dr. Hitchcock, who was then introduced, said that he was proud of New–York, and of these heroic men.
At his call and the boatswain's Jack gave the flag three cheers again, and New–York gave Jack "three cheers and a New–York tiger."
Dr. Hitchcock proceeded to speak of the dark days of a year ago, of the iron–faced and iron-hearted general who saved the capital, and the noble–hearted man who had made Sumter a doubly heroic word. He spoke of Bull Run as a blessing in disguise, and said that it was the navy that turned the tide of victory in our favor. He referred to Hatteras, to the elliptic dance at Port Royal, and good Parson Foote, who held the rebels so long in conference meeting at Island Number Ten, and when they ran away before the benediction, resolute Dissenter as he was, sent the Pope after them. [Laughter.] But, he said, we had met to resolve that the widows and children of the brave men who fell in Hampton Roads should not suffer. Those men fought, not for glory, but for duty's sake; but glory they should have. He believed that the providential care which watched over us was especially marked in the Yankee cheesebox on the raft which entered Hampton Roads that Saturday night. Fear not for the Republic. The decree had been registered in heaven that it should not perish. The Cross alone should float above our flag, and they should go down together shedding benedictions on all hands until the crack of doom. These brave men had taught us a noble lesson of duty. In regard to this war, our duty was as plain as a turnpike road: it was to fight. If the fighting of this hour did not settle the question, the duty of the next hour was to fight, and so on, fight, fight, fight, until the end. He heard men on all hands saying that we were running into debt that we should never pay. These men had taught us to fight and let the debt take care of itself. He never knew a man who had a family starving, to think twice about incurring debt enough to feed them. Men said the South hated us and never would love us; we might as well let them alone. But he never knew a good father to desist from the punishment necessary for the reformation of his son for fear of any resulting alienation. He inflicted the chastisement and let the alienation take care of itself. A great many people also were troubled about the " contrabands." He thought we need not trouble ourselves about this matter. Sufficient unto the day was the good thereof as well as the evil thereof [Marked applause.] In conclusion he exhorted all, by land and sea, to do their duty of fighting boldly, and God would defend the right.
The Chairman then read the following letter:
" I would be most happy to meet with join in felicitating our noble tars, officers, and men, of the frigates Cumberland and Congress, but for my lameness and the fear that the excitement would be still more hurtful to me."Respectfully yours,
He also read a letter from Capt. Radford, which contained at the close a complimentary mention of Lieut. Morris, who was in command when the Cumberland went down.
Three cheers were given for Lieut. Morris.
Miss Maria Brainerd sang a charming song-Viva l'America-which was very warmly applauded.
A sailor of the Cumberland was then introduced. He said: My friends, the task that I have before me is at once painful and pleasant- painful when I think of my lost shipmates, and pleasant when I see so many smiling faces here. It is my task to detail as near as I can the engagement of our ship with the Merrimac. It was about eight o'clock on Saturday morning, the eighth day of March, when we first saw the Merrimac. We beat to quarters, and so did the Congress. She went on the passage down to Fortress Monroe, instead of coming toward our ship; afterward she stood for the ship. As she passed the Congress the brave ship poured two or three broadsides at her, but they were not any more than throwing peas or apples at her, when she came at us. Could we have kept her off at arm's length she never would have taken us, but she ran her steel prow into us, when Mr. Buchanan, the man who commanded her, asked our commander: "Will you surrender?" He answered, "Never will I surrender!" and he took his infernal machine off and ran it into us again. He then asked again, "Mr. Morris," calling him by name, "will you surrender that ship?" "Never," says he, " if you sink her!" Then a marine from our ship drew a bead on Mr. Buchanan, and I rather think that he is dead now. The paper that tells he was only wounded, 1 think, tells an untruth, for the marine drew a sure bead on him. Well, my friends, the Cumberland had to go, and we tried to do our duty, as I hope that every seaman that has to come after us will do his duty in like manner. [Loud applause.]
In response to loud cries for "Morris," the Chairman stated that Lieut. Morris had been ordered to Washington.
A voice––What is the sailor's name ?
The Chairman––James Marlow.
One of the Cumberland's crew, George McKenney, sang the Red, White, and Blue, the crew joining in the chorus. The song was received with vociferous applause.
Three cheers were given for the Red, White, and Blue, and between parts first and second of the performance the band played a selection from Robert le Diable.
The Chairman said there had been a request from the audience to see the marine who fired the fatal shot; he was not present. His name was Gates. It was proposed to give three cheers for Lieut. Morris.
The cheers were given with a will, the crews joining in them.
Wm. M. Evarts, Esq., was then introduced. With eloquent panegyric upon the bravery of our sailors, he prefaced a few words upon the war. We were now, he said, paying for the remissness of a whole generation, in sacrifice which would bring sorrow to thousands of hearths, and burden our posterity with debt. Having nothing but praises for our ancestors, let us see to it that our posterity should have something besides reproaches for us. "Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish," were brave words, but these men had translated them into braver deeds. He believed that the whole nation was wrought up to this resolve and to this action-"Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, we give our hands and our hearts to this war." Nothing could surpass the bravery of these men. That day was the commencement of a new era in naval warfare, and so long as that should be a science the day would be remembered as that which saw the bravery of the mien of the Cumberland and Congress. Nothing could be more dramatic than the events of these two days. In the results we had this paradox, that a tower which was shaken upon its pivot with every wave, was able to resist ordnance which no rock–built fort could stand. Mr. Evarts read an extract from a Southern paper which paid high tribute to the heroism of the Cumberland's crew. ["Three cheers for 'em."] After this, who was there who could not give new meaning to the cry, "Don't give up the ship"? It meant something. It meant, "Don't give up the ship, although you go the bottom in her." It meant: "Don't give up the good ship, the Constitution; better be buried beneath the liberties of the country, than survive theme." [Loud applause.]
Mr. S. C. Campbell then sang "The White Squall."
The Chairman then introduced Mr. Willard, a sailor from the Congress.
Mr. Willard said: Gentlemen and ladies, I am not acquainted with this kind of speaking. I am not used to it; I have been too long in a man–of–war. I enlisted in a man–of–war when I was thirteen years of age; I am now forty. I have been in one ever since. We had been a long time in the Congress, waiting for the Merrimac, with the Cumberland. I claim a timber–head in both ships. I belonged to the Cumberland in the destroying of the navy–yard and the ships at Norfolk On the eighth of March, when the Merrimac came out, we were as tickled as a boy would be with his father coming home with a new kite for him. [Loud laughter and applause.] She fired a gun at us. It went clean through the ship, and killed nobody. The next one was a shell. It came in at a port-hole, killed six men, and exploded and killed nine more. The next one killed ten. Then she went down to the Cumberland. She had an old grudge against her, and she took her hog–fashion, as I should say. [Great laughter.] The Cumberland fought her as long as she could. She fired her spar–deck guns at her after the gun–deck was under water, but the shot had no more effect than peas. She sunk the Cumberland in about seven fathoms of water You know what a fathom is––six feet. We lay in nine fathoms, and it would not do to sink in that. We slipped our cable and ran into shallower water, to get our broadside on the Merrimac, but we got her bows on; that gave them a chance to rake us, as they did. The commander opened a little port–hole, and said: "Smith, will you surrender the ship?" Says he: "No, not as long as I have got a gun or a man to man it." They fired a broadside. The men moved the dead bodies away, and manned the guns again. They fired another broadside, and dismounted both the guns and killed the crews. When they first went by us, they sot us a–fire by a shell exploding near the magazine. I know where the magazine is; you folks don't. Last broadside she killed our commander, Mr. Smith, our sailing–master, and the pilot. We had no chance at all. We were on the spar–deck, most of us; the other steamers firing at us, and we dodging the shot; no chance to dodge down below, because you could not see the shot till they were inside of the ship. We had no chance, and we surrendered. The rebel officers-we knowed 'em all- all old playmates, shipmates-came home in the Germantown with them-all old playmates, but rascals now. She left us, and she went toward Norfolk to get out of the way. She returned in the morning to have what I'd call a fandango with the Minnesota, and the first thing, she knowed, the little bumble–bee, the Monitor, was there, and she went back. I have no more to say, people, but there is the flag that the fathers of our country left us, and by the powers of God above us, we'll- [Tremendous cheering.]
One of the crew of the Congress, Walter M. Pierce, sang the "Boatswain's Call," and he was loudly applauded.
The Hon. George Bancroft was next introduced. He said we must remember the wonderful condition in which these brave men were placed -not face to face with an equal enemy, but met by a new and untried power, that proved itself vastly superior to anything with which they were acquainted. And not only were they unable to resist the iron, but the Cumberland was so badly wounded that they could see how many sands might yet flow out before she was destined to go down. It was under these circumstances that our friends who were with us manifested that extraordinary self possession that led them even to the last to continue the combat. These men were entitled to congratulation and to the gratitude of every one who had regard for the cause of Liberty. Yes, they were the champions of humanity, the champions of the great cause of the people, the champions of the great cause of this Republic, and their names should be imperishable; their glory should never fade. The greatest invention of the eighteenth century was Republics founded on the principle of equality of all men, and should that principle perish? No; these men had proved that it could not. The people, six hundred and fifty thousand in the field, had willed that it should not, and the people had perpetual succession. It was then founded on his confidence in the perpetuity of our institutions that he declared that their glory could never fade away, and that glory, while it had gone through the world in one sense, still had a nearer relation to us, who were their fellow–countrymen. Where then should be the boundary of that immediate glory that attached them to their countrymen? Should it be the Potomac? Never. The Mississippi? Never. The Rocky Mountains? Never! Our country never should be less than from the St. Lawrence to the Gulf, and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In the name of this vast assembly, once more he gave thanks to them all. Let us rejoice that these men went down fighting to the last, and that when they went down they left the Star–Spangled Banner of the Cumberland flying at her peak; the emblem that no dangers, no perils, no enemies, no treasons, not ocean itself could destroy our liberty. [Loud applause.]
Three cheers were given for Capt. Ericsson, for Lieut. Worden, and for the President.
Mr Kearney of the Congress then sang a humorous song in praise of the yacht America, the curiosity and astonishment of John Bull being represented by the chorus:
which the crew sang with great gusto. The satisfaction of the audience found huge and prolonged manifestation, and the jolly tar was called back. He sang the first verse of "Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm," and retreated under cover of the applause.
Wm. E. Dodge, Esq., gave a vivid description of the destruction of the Cumberland and Congress, which he witnessed from Fortress Monroe. He should never forget the shout which went up from the battlements of the Fortress when the arrival of the Monitor was announced. On the next day the fight between the Monitor and Merrimac shook the walls of the Fort. He never felt so strongly that the kind hand of Providence was guiding the destinies of this country as then. Had the Monitor known what the Merrimac was, we never should have heard of the Merrimac again. Had the Monitor been provided with the missiles which she now has, she would have sunk her in fifteen minutes more. He said to the sailors of these vessels that we had hearts to feel for them, if wounded, we would take care of them; if they left wives and children behind them. we would take care of them, too. (Cheers.) The reception we had given them to–night was but the expression of the country toward every man who returned from battle: Honor to–night; honor forever.
In answer to a call for the officers, the Chairman stated that there were none present. He said the committee, whose names were announced in the public papers, would be happy to receive, funds to indemnify the losses of the men of the crew of the Cumberland and Congress, and to provide for the widows and orphans of those who went down in those ships, and he was sure that he expressed the sentiments of all when he said to our brother sailors that their presence had been to us a source of the highest pleasure, and that we should follow them wherever they went, whatever they might encounter.
Capt. Charles H. Marshall offered the following resolution:
Resolved, That, as the sense of this meeting, some recognition of the heroic and gallant conduct of the officers and crews of the frigates Cumberland and Congress during the late engagement at Hampton Roads, is eminently due from the Government, and that it be recommended to the Navy Department to prepare a suitable medal to be presented to each of the surviving officers and men in commemoration of the event.
Resolved, That a copy of this resolution, signed by the Chairman and Secretary of this meeting, be transmitted to the Navy Department at Washington
The resolutions were adopted and the meeting adjourned.