The following account is from Putnam's The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, Vol 4, (1862) on pages 268-269.
FORTRESS MONROE VA., March 10, 1862.
SIR: It is my painful duty to have to report the loss of the United States ship Cumberland, under my command, on the eighth inst., at Newport News, Va. I was on board the United States frigate Roanoke, by order of the Hon. Secretary of the Navy, as member of a Court of Inquiry, when the Merrimac came out from Norfolk. I immediately procured a horse, and proceeded with all despatch to Newport News, where I arrived only in time to see the Cumberland sunk, by being run into by the rebel iron-clad steamer Merrimac. Though I could not reach the Cumberland before the action was over, I have the satisfaction of reporting that, so long as her guns were above water, every one on board must have done his duty nobly. I send with this the report, by Lieut. George W. Morris, of the action, he being, in my absence, the commanding officer, and also the Surgeon's report of the wounded saved. The loss was very large in killed, wounded and drowned, though the number cannot be ascertained. Enough is known, however, to make the loss one hundred. I send also a list of the men known to have been saved, but have no accurate means of giving the names of those lost or killed, as no officer or man brought anything on shore save what he stood in, consequently I have no muster roll of the crew.
Very respectfully your obedient servant,
The Hon. GIDEON
Secretary of the Navy.
Report of the Sick and Wounded of the United States sloop-of-war Cumberland, March 10, 1862:
Geo. W. Butt, seaman, Virginia, hospital of Seventh regiment, Camp Butler; burns and contusions of head and face.
John Grady, seaman, Ireland, hospital of the Seventh regiment, Camp Butler; lacerated wound of right arm, burns of face.
John McGwin, Providence, R. I., hospital at Fort Monroe; slight wound right side of head.
John Bates, New York City, hospital at Fort Monroe; slight wounds on left arm and buttock.
John Orvine, Assistant Mate, Roxbury, Mass., hospital at Fort Monroe; wound on left heel.
Edward Cobb, Signal-Quartermaster, Boston, hospital at Fort Monroe; wounds slight of head, throat and abdomen.
John Gardner, Quartermaster, New-York City, hospital at Fort Monroe; contusion of right thigh.
Alexander McFadden, Mate, Philadelphia, hospital at Fort Monroe; lacerated wound of left fore-arm.
John B. Cavenaugh, Whitehall, N. Y., hospital at Fort Monroe; slight wound over the left temple.
John Bart, Ireland, hospital at Fort Monroe; contusion and abrasion of back.
J. V. Russell, Philadelphia, hospital at Fort Monroe; exhaustion--a long time in the water.
Lochlin Livingston, Boston, Mass., hospital at Fort Monroe; intermittent fever.
James Benson, Detroit, Mich., hospital at Fort Monroe; rheumatism.
M. Stuyvesant, Master, Cincinnati, O., hospital at Fort Monroe; slight penetration-wound on left forearm from splinter.
Respectfully your obedient servants,
United States Navy.
Commander, United States Navy.
NEWPORT NEWS, VA., March 9, 1862.
SIR: Yesterday morning, at nine A.M., I discovered two steamers at anchor off Smithfield Point, on the left-hand or western side of the river, distant about twelve miles. At twelve meridian I discovered three vessels under steam, standing down the Elizabeth river toward Sewall's Point. I beat to quarters, double-breeched the guns on the main deck, and cleared ship for action.
At one P.M. the enemy hove in sight, gradually nearing us. The iron-clad steamer Merrimac, accompanied by two steam gunboats, passed ahead of the Congress frigate and steered down toward us. We opened fire on her. She stood on and struck us under the starboard fore-channels. She delivered her fire at the same time. The destruction was great. We returned the fire with solid shot with alacrity.
At thirty minutes past three the water had gained upon us, notwithstanding the pumps were kept actively employed to a degree that, the forward-magazine being drowned, we had to take powder from the after-magazine for the ten-inch gun. At thirty-five minutes past three, the water had risen to the main hatchway, and the ship cantered to port, and we delivered a parting fire--each man trying to save himself by jumping overboard.
Timely notice was given, and all the wounded who could walk were ordered out of the cockpit; but those of the wounded who had been carried into the sick bay and on the berth-deck, were so mangled that it was impossible to save them.
It is impossible for me to individualize. Alike, the officers and men all behaved in the most gallant manner. Lieut. Selfridge and Master Stuyvesant were in command of the gun-deck divisions, and they did all that noble and gallant officers could do. Acting Masters Randall and Kennison, who had charge each of a pivot-gun, showed the most perfect coolness, and did all they could to save our noble ship; but, I am sorry to say, without avail. Among the last to leave the ship were Sergeant Martin and Assistant-Surgeon Kershaw, who did all they could for the wounded promptly and faithfully.
The loss we sustained I cannot yet inform you of, but it has been very great. The warrant and steerage officers could not have been more prompt and active than they were at their different stations. Chaplain Lenhart is missing. Master's mate John Harrington was killed. I should judge we have lost upward of one hundred men. I can only say, in conclusion, that all did their duty, and we sank with the American flag flying at the peak. I am, sir, etc.,
Lieut. And Executive Officer.