We are not idle, but send her straight
Defiance back in a full broadside!
As hail rebounds from a roof of slate,
Rebounds our heavier hail
From each iron scale
Of the monster's hide.
THE "QUAKER MEETIN'-HOUSE FLOATING DOWN THE BAY"
 DURING the Civil War, in our own country, the Union forces retreated from Norfolk and left the Navy-Yard a mass of flames. Among the Confederate craft destroyed at this time was the fine steam frigate Merrimac, of forty guns, which was scuttled and sunk in the channel.
Three or four months after the occupation of the Norfolk Navy-Yard by the Confederates, Lieutenant George M. Brooke was inspired with the idea of raising the Merrimac and converting her into a new and very formidable type of war vessel. He carefully worked out his plans, and submitted them to the Confederate government. They were approved, and orders immediately given for beginning the work of redemption.
As originally built the Merrimac had no superior in the United States waters. Her solid oak sides rose high above the water, and were pierced by a long row of gaping port-holes. Her masts were tall and imposing, with long yard-arms; and when her sails were all set they pre-  sented such a great expanse of canvas that her hull, big as it was, looked small and insignificant.
This splendid ship was accordingly raised, worked into dry-dock, and all her rigging removed, leaving only the massive hull. Then both ends, for a distance of seventy feet, were decked over. The gap between, one hundred and seventy feet long, was covered with a slanting roof which extended about seven feet above the gun-deck. This was of pitch pine and oak, twenty-four inches thick, and was finally covered with a shield of two-inch iron plates. The upper part of the roof, which was flat, was railed in, making a kind of promenade deck. The gun-deck was completely inclosed by this heavy wall of wood and iron, nothing appearing above it but a short smokestack and two flag-staffs. In the chamber formed by the roof were mounted ten guns, the bow and stern pieces being of seven-inch caliber—fairly powerful weapons in that day.
A queer feature of the craft—one not discovered until she was launched—was that the weight of the iron plating and heavy guns sank her so deeply in the water that the low decks forward and aft of the gun-room were always under water. This practically submerged her hull entirely, giving her a very strange appearance. Indeed, the  old salt on the Cumberland, who was the first Federal seaman to sight her, gravely reported her thus to his superior officer, "Quaker meetin' house floating down the bay, sir."
When this naval monster was completed she was christened the Virginia, but somehow the public did not take kindly to the new appellation, and ever after she was known by the name of the old frigate from which she had come into being. And thus shall I speak of her.
The new Merrimac received as commander Commodore Franklin Buchanan, an ex-Union officer of ability and daring. His junior officers were also very capable men; but his crew was far from as efficient as he would have liked. While there were a few good sailors, most of them knew nothing about seamanship, having been picked out of the Confederate army ranks. There was no chance to drill these men, for up to the very hour of sailing to do battle, the ship was crowded with workmen getting her ready for her task of breaking the Yankee blockade. When she did finally leave her berth, she was an untried ship, not a gun had been fired, and not a revolution of her engines had been made in open waters since their resurrection, slimy and rusty, from the bottom of the channel.
On Saturday, the 8th of March, 1862—the  same day that Fremont fought the battle of Pea Ridge,—the strange iron leviathan steamed into the mouth of the James River from Norfolk. She was accompanied by four small Confederate gunboats—the Yorktown, the Beaufort, the Jamestown, and the Teaser. Boldly and calmly the Merrimac headed straight for the Federal blockading fleet, which she could plainly make out off Newport News in Hampton Roads.
It was a fine, mild morning, such as is common in' southern Virginia during the early spring. On board the Union frigates Cumberland and Congress, which were doing guard-duty and anchored a half-mile off shore, every sailor was enjoying the weather and pleasing himself with the prospect of going North in a day or two at the farthest and being relieved of the monotony of blockading at anchor. Some were pacing the poop, gazing idly off at the blue waters; others were lounging on deck watching the ever-present sea-gulls fighting for remnants of victuals which the galley-boy had just thrown over the rail; still others leaned against the capstan and sat on coils of rope, swapping yarns with one another.
One bell had struck some time, and the quarter-master on watch was expecting to hear the tolling off of another division of the day when his attention was drawn to an unusual appearance against the fringe of woods away over in the Norfolk  channel. After gazing intently for several minutes, he approached the officer of the deck, and presenting him the glass, said, "I believe that pesky contraption of the Johnny Rebs is a-comin' down at last, sir!"
The fact of the matter is, the Confederates had not been working long on the new craft before word of their operations had reached the Federals. While the news was the subject of a good deal of scoffing, nevertheless the Union fleet had been curiously watching for her appearance for some time, not without some vague uneasiness at that.
So now the officer of the deck was quick to seize the quarter-master's glass and level it across the waters. Sure enough! There was a huge black roof, with a short smokestack emerging from it, creeping down toward Sewall's Point. Three or four satellites, in the shape of small gunboats, clustered near her. There was a great stir among the Union shipping when the strangers finally showed themselves clear of the point. But they turned up into the James River channel instead of down toward the fort, and approached the anchorage of the Cumberland and Congress with great deliberation.
As soon as it was apparent that the strange creature intended to make an attack on them, the drums of both vessels beat to quarters, and as  quickly as possible everything was put in ship-shape order for fighting.
The Merrimac was such a grotesque, clumsy looking craft that the majority of the sailors thought she would be speedily destroyed. Even most of the officers on the Cumberland and Congress had little misgivings on that score, now that they saw her coming leisurely toward them. So they made their preparations to fight gayly, fully believing in their ability to gain the mastery, as up to that time Northern arms had easily maintained the supremacy at sea.
By a little after four bells, or two o'clock, the iron clad ship was close enough for a shot, and the Cumberland, which stood nearest, tried her with a solid shot from one of their stern guns. To the unbounded surprise of the crew, who saw the shot strike fair against the Merrimac's sloping casement, the ball slid off like a drop of water on a duck's back.
Before another shot was forthcoming, the Merrimac threw aside the screen from one of her forward ports, and answered with a charge of grape which killed and wounded quite a number of those on the Cumberland. Without pausing, she then began passing her adversary. As she did so the Cumberland fired a broadside into her at a distance of less than two hundred yards. Like peas thrown from a tin shooter, these shot rattled  harmlessly against her boiler plate, and the men on the big ship opened their eyes still wider in surprise.
Then surprise turned into consternation. The Merrimac's own broadside was suddenly let loose with terrible effect. One of the shells dismounted an eight-inch gun, bringing every member of its crew to the deck, while the slaughter of many of the other shells was nearly as frightful. Few were wounded, the fragments of the huge shells of the Confederate ironclad killing almost every man they touched.
Meanwhile the grim monster which had caused all this bloodshed passed on up the stream. Thinking that perhaps they had damaged her more than outward appearances showed, and that she had received enough punishment and was about to make off, the survivors aboard the Cumberland began to cheer. But, unhappy, deceived mortals, it was the last cheer that many of them ever gave.
Standing up abreast of the bow of the Union ship, the Merrimac suddenly put her helm aport, and ran her sharp, submerged steel bow into the frigate. There was a sickening crunch of timbers, a heart-rending tearing and ripping. Then, reversing her engines, the powerful ram ran back a little, and once more came steaming forward upon her prey, paying not the slightest  attention to the shots that were rained upon her armor. Again she struck amidships; again there rose that depressing rending of wood as a great gap opened up in the side of the hapless Cumberland. At the same time the Merrimac played her guns mercilessly upon the unprotected sailors of her enemy.
Rapidly now the Cumberland went down. Her lower deck was soon awash. Yet her guns still huskily barked out defiance. Deeper she sank, and some of her red hot guns sizzled in the water that closed around them. The very last gun to be engulfed was fired while her mad gunner stood knee deep in water. Then, with a moaning lurch almost human, the old frigate settled to the bottom, but not entirely into oblivion. For "a few feet of her top-masts rose above the waves, and there the Stars-and-Stripes still floated, victorious in death."
It had taken about three quarters of an hour for the formidable new monster of the sea to dispatch the Cumberland in the summary manner shown. That vessel taken care of, she now turned her grim attention to the Congress.
In the meantime this ship, seeing the fate of her sister vessel and not caring to share a like one, had set her topsails and jib, slipped her chains, and made a run for it. After her went many shots from the small gunboats which had  accompanied the Merrimac, and which had been laying-to during the fight of their ugly consort, as if they knew she could amply take care of herself and wanted to have the Congress left as dessert. These shots killed and wounded a number on the fleeing craft.
As she was running over the flats which make off from Newport News, the Congress was unfortunate enough to ground in the shallow waters. She struggled in every way to release herself, but it was a hopeless task, for the tide was running out and her buoyancy thereby constantly decreasing. As the waters continued to fall she keeled over, leaving only the two guns in the stern ports which could be used.
Two large Union steam-frigates and a sailing-frigate had noted the peril of the Congress. Towed by tugs these now started up from Hampton Roads to the assistance of the stranded vessel; but, before they had achieved half the distance, they also ran aground. Undoubtedly it was fortunate for them that they did, as otherwise the chances are, the dreadful Merrimac, which could not reach them in their present position, would have served them as she had served the luckless Cumberland.
Having discovered the new position of her prospective prey, the iron leviathan now made leisurely toward the grounded ship. Taking up  a position about one hundred and fifty yards astern of the Congress, she deliberately raked her with eighty pound shell, while her consorts, the Yorktown, the Beaufort, the Jamestown, and the Teaser, assisted by throwing in their smaller charges. The acting master and coast pilot of the frigate fell, mortally wounded, along with many less important men.
The Congress fought back desperately with her pitifully poor armament, using her stern guns so incessantly that they grew so hot the gunners dare not lay hand on their breeches. But in a little while even these two pieces were disabled, one having its muzzle knocked off by a direct hit from the Merrimac. Then rifles and carbines had to be depended upon wholly, their users making every effort, from deck and the tops, to pick off the enemy crew whenever the huge ports of the iron monster were seen to open for her guns to be thrust out and fired.
The dry timbers of the doomed vessel now caught fire in three places almost simultaneously. In vain the crew fought these flames, while the enemy shot continued to rain in upon them. Only a handful could handle the pails and hose; the remainder of the crew lay stretched all about with pain riven eyes and paralyzed limbs, or with closed eyes and clammy limbs that would never move again.
 Seeing the dreadfulness of the situation, the acting commander of the Congress ordered the flag to be struck. With wet eyes he stood with his back to it during this humiliating operation.
At once the commander of the Merrimac sent a boat up to the surrendered craft, but when the officer in charge found that Federal soldiers were firing toward him and his crew from the shore, he refused to take off any of the wounded, and beat a hasty retreat to the ram. The ironclad then began to fire once more into the Congress in a most heartless manner, even though she flew a white flag.
After ten or fifteen minutes of this, she ceased shooting and with her consorts proceeded down the channel, to bestow attention upon the frigate Minnesota which, as previously stated, was hard aground. But, owing to the shallow water, the ram could not reach her third prey, and with a few parting shots she and her sister ships made their way up the Norfolk Channel, satisfied to wait till another sunrise before attacking other ships of the Federal blockaders.
It was found that only twenty-one of her crew had been wounded, most of these having been struck by the rifle-fire of the soldiers on shore while alongside the surrendered Congress, and not a single man had been killed. Not an atom of damage had been done to the interior of the  craft, but nothing outside seemed to have escaped. The muzzles of two guns had been shot away; her ram had been wrenched loose in withdrawing from the Cumberland, her boat davits, smokestack, railings, and flag-staffs had been swept entirely away as if they never existed, and great dents covered her impenetrable sides. But as far as her fighting qualities went she was as good as when she started out that morning.
THE "CHEESE-BOX ON A RAFT"
THE news of the engagement between the Merrimac and her Federal victims, the Cumberland and the Congress, caused the most intense excitement throughout America, and indeed throughout the whole world; but the North and South, of course, were particularly affected by it.
At a hastily called cabinet meeting in Washington, the Secretary of War said: "The Merrimac will destroy every one of our naval craft. If she can get up the Potomac it is not unlikely she will throw her shells or cannon-balls in the White House itself." In an hour's time, figuratively, the strength of the Union navy and coast defenses had crumbled before this absurd "Quaker meetin' house" which had come "float-  ing down the bay." No one knew where the ravages thus begun would end.
In this excited condition, mad with joy, or filled with dread and consternation, all of the contending States went to sleep that March night, little dreaming that the morrow would change the whole face of the situation and introduce a newer and more terrible form of sea-fighter than had sprung up yet. Even as people slept this queer little untried vessel was steaming toward Hampton Roads, there to give challenge to the dreaded Merrimac. In the next twenty-four hours this unknown craft—the Monitor—and her inventor—John Ericsson—would be talked about on every street corner, at every cross-roads, and in every home, throughout the length and breadth of the land.
Captain John Ericsson was a Swedish engineer, residing in America, who had already placed his name on the roll of fame by inventing the screw-propeller for driving steamships. With the opening of the war Ericsson had become much interested in devising a new type of battleship which should be covered with metal to make her impenetrable to the shot then in use. He became so abstracted in his idea that he worked on it day and night, first drawing careful plans, then working out and assembling the parts of a small model. This he tried in secret in a small body of water  one night near his home. Delighted with the behavior of his little ship, he appealed to a Connecticut capitalist by the name of C.S. Bushnell for money with which to produce a full sized counterpart of the "monitor," as he termed the craft. Mr. Bushnell, however, insisted upon first taking the model to Washington to see what the Naval Board thought of it.
Their efforts at the seat of government met with a somewhat cold reception. After a long explanation had been made by Ericsson of the virtues of his little model, he and his friend were calmly dismissed with these words: "It resembles nothing in the heavens above, or the earth beneath, or the waters under the earth. It would sink of itself if put in the water. You can take it home, and worship it without violating any Commandment."
Such a verdict was really insulting, but the wise inventor knew that these Government officials could not be expected to know the valuable points about his product at a first hearing of this kind. So he did not give up, but persisted in demonstrating his model's good features again and again. Finally some members of the Board were convinced that it might be well to try out the new craft, and a resolution was passed to have John Ericsson build a monitor for the Govern-  ment, provided he would stand the expense of production if the venture proved a failure.
With this grudging permission, the inventor, aided by capital furnished by Mr. Bushnell, worked with might and main to build the new ship. Night and day the adzes sent huge chips flying from the great oaken timbers, and night and day the ringing blows of the hammers, as they headed over rivets in the iron plates, could be heard in the vicinity. Constantly the operations were guarded, and no man without a pass was permitted to come near.
At last, one day in the spring, just one hundred days after her starting, the last rivet had been sent home, and the Monitor was ready to be launched. Great was the discussion over her strange proportions. Like the men in Washington when they first saw the model, distinguished engineers now declared she would never float; many attended the launching expecting to see the new ship plunge from the ways to the bottom of the river, like a turtle from a log. The truth is, so general was this impression that they had insisted on having boats in readiness to rescue her passengers in case she met their expectations.
But Captain Ericsson had laid his plans carefully; he knew far more about novel craft than these engineers and other naval critics. The  queer vessel glided down the ways heavily but gracefully, threw a great geyser of water high into the air as her bow cut in, then came to a level on the surface, where she floated as buoyantly at her cables as a duck.
Truly she was an odd-looking craft. Her deck, as flat as a shingle, lay only two feet above the water. In its center was a large round turret of iron plates, with no visible openings except two port-holes for the guns, which were powerful enough to discharge great balls weighing one hundred and seventy pounds each. This turret was pivoted in the center, so that its inmates could revolve it at will, thus directing the muzzles of the guns to any point of the horizon without changing the position of the ship.
Besides the turret, the smooth surface of the deck was broken by two other elevations. One of these was the pilot-house, in front, while behind was the low smokestack. The pilot-house contained the wheel that communicated with the rudder, and was also round and made of iron plates about ten inches thick. It had one visible opening in the shape of a window for the pilot to watch his course ahead, and this was covered with a protecting screen of heavy metal bars.
It was about midnight of that eventful Saturday which I have described, and while the burning Congress was still sending her flaming brands  into the sputtering waters that waited to swallow her, that the anxious garrison at Fortress Monroe noticed a singular-looking craft approaching from the sea, towed by two small steamers. Although they did not know it then, this was the new little Monitor—the David of the seas that had come to save her people from the mighty bludgeon of the Southern Goliath. She was but a speck on the blue waters of the night, and not much larger in the light of day, but she had the bite of a mosquito, the sting of a wasp, and carried as much fear of the large in her track as they, as we shall presently see. Lieutenant Worden was in command of the Monitor, and acted as her pilot, while Lieutenant Green had charge of the gunners in the turret, and Chief Engineer Stimers looked after the control of the revolving structure.
As the gray dawn of Sunday morning began to break, the newcomer passed under the quarter of the stranded Minnesota, and cast anchor. The tars on the great frigate looked curiously at the strange craft that had seemingly come to them out of the very mists of night, and wondered if that insignificant "cheese-box on a raft" were really thinking of staying there till the dreaded Merrimac returned to annihilate them every one. They warned her of the situation, and told her she had better scamper away while  the scampering was good. Judge of their unbounded astonishment and amusement when advised by Lieutenant Worden that the small stranger was there to protect them and the other grounded vessel, the St. Lawrence! Loudly they guffawed. Small hopes had they that their noble frigate and her sister ship could be saved by such a pygmy warrior.
Meanwhile, what of the Merrimac herself? This black-coated hero of the sea, up at Norfolk, had had men working on her all night, repairing the slight damage she had suffered in her actions with the Cumberland and Congress. Her loose ram was reset rigidly, her fractured rudder was mended with reënforcing metal plates, and her complaining old rusty engine was gone over and dosed with oil. By daybreak all was in readiness for the gruesome finishing of her work out in the channel.
Soon the batteries on both sides of the bay were crowded with men, waiting morbidly and curiously to see the Merrimac destroy the stranded Federal ships in Hampton Roads, as she had promised. At Norfolk a gay holiday party of the rough-constitutioned was embarking on steam-tugs with the purpose of accompanying the Confederate ram as far as safety would permit. No thought of defeat ever entered the minds of these mad admirers of the new naval king.
 Even when, as they were weighing anchor, the crew of the Merrimac herself discovered that strange-looking object floating close to the Minnesota, far out on the waters, they entertained no misgivings. If this were some new fighting craft that the Federals, in their moment of desperation, had sent out to give them battle, her insignificant size silenced all doubts as to the outcome; probably, they thought, this was merely a raft or scow making an attempt to get the unlucky Minnesota off the sandbar.
Leisurely, like one out for a stroll in the morning air, the big Merrimac came down the bay, followed by her retinue of tugs. Disdaining a look toward the Monitor she kept on till she was within good range of the Minnesota, when, of a sudden, her ports flew open and she sent a withering broadside toward the frigate. The Minnesota promptly returned the hostility with her own broadside, the shot of which, while well directed, merely beat a tattoo against the mailed sides of the Southerner.
The little Monitor seemed to consider that things had now gone far enough against her big friend. She now steamed boldly and swiftly out from behind the Minnesota, and the next moment both of her huge guns growled in thunder tones, and two immense iron balls of close to two hundred pounds each came hurtling against the Mer-  rimac's armor. While they did not penetrate the heavy plate of the enemy, the concussion was such as to frighten the Confederate crew immeasurably. They saw that they would have their hands full enough to attend to this buzzing little hornet for the present, and at once forsook the Minnesota and turned to her midget protector.
As the Merrimac slowed up her engines, embarrassed for the moment, the Monitor attempted to revolve her turret for two more deliveries. But something went wrong, and it stuck. Not to be frustrated, she quickly swung her bow around till her guns were in the position desired, and again they rang out, one after the other. One of these balls struck the roof of the enemy, glanced upward, went whistling through the air, and finally plunged into the sea fully a half-mile distant. The other shot hit squarely on the armored side, and fell, broken into fragments.
Confident in the power of her own ten heavy guns, the Merrimac maneuvered to bring these to bear upon her agile antagonist, and finally let them fly with a roar that echoed from headland to headland. Her gunners had aimed carefully; but they might just as well have done so carelessly. To their intense surprise every one of the shot that struck the Monitor (most of them had passed over, owing to her lowness in the  water) had glanced off her round turret and pilot-house, or been smashed as if they were made of putty. These fellows now began to realize how the Unionists felt when firing at them. Anxiety, and even alarm, began to show in some of their faces. If they could not harm this creature with their heavy shells and ball, what could they do to accomplish her destruction?
Her commander bethought himself of his powerful ram. Ah! here was the solution to the problem; he had pierced the hull of the Cumberland as if it had been made of paper; now he would do likewise with this saucy little upstart. Trust him to bring her to time!
Ordering all firing to be withheld, he had his engineer and pilot bring the Merrimac around for the plunge. Gaining a favorable position at length, all speed was put on and the heavy craft rushed down upon her smaller antagonist like a towering house. She struck quite fair, but it was not with her wicked ram, but her bow; the latter rode upon the sharp armored edge of the Monitor's deck, receiving a bad gash and a jolt so terrific that the men on the Merrimac's deck were thrown violently to the planks, with ears ringing and blood streaming from their nostrils.
For a brief moment or two the larger vessel hung upon the edge of the smaller, her great weight dangerously submerging the near side;  then the Merrimac slipped off, and the Monitor righted as quickly and smilingly as a chip. As the ram pulled off anxiety on the part of her commander and crew had given place to universal dumbfoundment and fear.
"Reserve your fire, my lads," said Worden, on the Monitor. "Aim deliberately, and make every shot hit him."
Like opposing pugilists the two vessels now worked themselves into this and that favorable position, and then fired their guns. Round and round they sailed, backing, advancing, making quick dashes forward, reversing, and again firing. The two shots of the little Monitor would come banging one after the other against the iron jacket of her adversary, none penetrating, but each seeming to jar her harder than its predecessor. In this dancing contest the smaller ship had an enormous advantage on account of her diminutive size and speed. She dashed right into the face of her enemy and away again, for all the world like a sparrow tantalizing a great hawk. When an occasional shot from the guns of the Merrimac did strike her it was more luck than good marksmanship, at which she paid absolutely no attention at all.
All this time her turret contrarily refused to revolve, as planned, but by wheeling about she could overcome this deficiency, and her two guns  continued to rain their immense balls upon the plate of the foe ship with unerring and persistent regularity. Rap rap! they came, about a minute apart,—rap rap!
Finally these tremendous blows commenced to tell, even against the heavy sheet iron; and if the crew of the Merrimac had not been so busy at their guns they would have heard the oak timbers behind the plate creaking, groaning, and cracking.
At this critical moment in the fight the Southern boat ran aground. The Monitor steamed around her several times, seeking for weakening places in which to plant more shot, Once Lieutenant Worden made a dash toward the enemy's propeller, hoping to strike and disable it, but missed by a narrow margin. Before backing away he sent two shots which were so well-aimed that they struck the muzzles of a couple of cannon protruding from the port-holes of the Merrimac, and broke them off, scattering ugly splinters of iron among the gunners inside and injuring a number.
Thus the battle went on till about noon. In the meantime the spectators tugs from Norfolk had scuttled back quite a distance, to avoid the great cannon balls that were ricocheting along the waters in every direction. Three jagged openings had been finally torn through metal and oak  in the Merrimac's mailed side, and deeming discretion the better part of valor she signaled for aid.
While two Confederate tugs were running forward in response, she managed to place a shot fair against the grating of the pilot-house of the Monitor. Through this, unfortunately, Lieutenant Worden happened to be looking as he directed his ship into a new position. The concussion, so close to his head, knocked him senseless. Flakes of iron were driven into his face, blinding him completely for the time. He fell back from the wheel, and the Monitor was left for a few moments without a guiding hand.
Of course all was confusion on board the Monitor; but within a few minutes Worden had recovered sufficiently to give the order to sheer away. While the second officer took the wheel, he was carried to the cabin below deck. Here, lying on a sofa with his eyes bandaged, and the horror of life-long blindness upon him, the brave commander asked faintly, "Have I saved the Minnesota?"
"Yes," said the surgeon, "and whipped the Merrimac."
"Then I care not what becomes of me," was the response.
Aside from this single injury to her commander, the Monitor's crew had suffered no  wounds at all during the long fight, which now closed; nor was the ship damaged. It is stated that while the two tugs were towing the Merrimac off the shoal and back to Norfolk, one officer aboard the little victor stood before a mirror leisurely combing his hair, while an old tar in blue middy sat calmly smoking his pipe.
The two ironclads never met again. After being repaired, the Merrimac made some short sorties in Hampton Roads, but failed to engage any more Union vessels. When, on the 9th of May, the Confederate land forces abandoned Norfolk, the officers of the Merrimac tried to save her by running her up the James River. But this was found impossible, owing to her great draught, and she was run ashore on Craney Island and deliberately set afire, after being heavily trained with gunpowder.
These two antagonists, each then a queer type, were the forerunners of the modern steel battleship or dreadnought.