| This Country of Ours|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|Stories from the history of the United States beginning with a full account of exploration and settlement and ending with the presidency of Woodrow Wilson. The 99 chapters are grouped under 7 headings: Stories of Explorers and Pioneers, Stories of Virginia, Stories of New England, Stories of the Middle and Southern Colonies, Stories of the French in America, Stories of the Struggle for Liberty, and Stories of the United States under the Constitution. Ages 10-14 |
LINCOLN—THE STORY OF THE FIRST BATTLE BETWEEN IRONCLADS
 THERE was fighting too on sea as well as on land. The South sent
out privateers to catch the merchant vessels of the North, and so
bring ruin on their trade. But Lincoln replied by proclaiming a
blockade of all Confederate ports.
This was a bold thing to do, for the coast to be watched was some
three thousand miles long, and the Government had less than fifty
ships to blockade it with. When the blockade was proclaimed, too,
many of these ships were far away in foreign lands. The greatest
navy yard, also, at Norfolk in Virginia, was in the hands of the
Confederates, and was therefore not available for the building of
So at first the blockade amounted to little. But by degrees it
took effect. Ships that had been far away returned, others of all
sorts and sizes were bought, still others were built with the utmost
Slowly but surely the iron hand of the North gripped the commerce
of the South, and before the end of the war the Southern ports were
shut off from all the world.
This was a disaster for the Southerners, for they depended almost
entirely on their cotton trade with Europe. Now the cotton rotted
on the wharves. There were no factories in the South, for manufactures
could not be carried on with slave labour. So the Southerners depended
 entirely on the outside world for clothes, boots, blankets, iron,
and all sorts of war material. Now they were cut off from the
outside world, and could get none of these things.
But the Southerners did not meekly submit to be cut off from the
world. They had hardly any ships of any kind, and none at all meant
for war. But they had possession of the Government navy yard at
Norfolk. There they found a half-finished frigate, and they proceeded
to finish her, and turn her into an ironclad. When finished she was
an ugly looking, black monster with sloping sides and a terrible
iron beak, and she was given the name of the Merrimac.
At this time there were only about three ironclads in all the
world. They belonged to Britain and to France, and had never yet
been used in naval warfare. So when this ugly black monster appeared
among the wooden ships of the North she created frightful havoc.
It was one day in March that the black monster appeared in Hampton
Roads where there was a little fleet of five Federal warships.
The Federal ships at once opened fire upon the uncouth thing. But
to their surprise their shots fell harmlessly from its sides, and
paying no heed to their guns it made straight for the Cumberland,
and struck her such a terrible blow with her sharp beak that she
sank with all on board. She went down gallantly flying her flag to
The Merrimac then turned upon another ship named the Congress. The
struggle between a wooden vessel and an ironclad was a hopeless
one from the beginning. But the Congress put up a splendid fight,
and only when the ship was afire did she give in.
It was dusk by now and the terrible Merrimac sheered off leaving
the Congress a blazing wreck.
The Federals were filled with consternation. This
horri-  ble strange
vessel would certainly return with daylight. And what chance had
any wooden ship against it?
But help was near.
The Government also had been busy ship-building. A Swede named
Ericsson had invented a new vessel which would resist cannon.
This ship was just finished, and came into Hampton Roads almost
immediately after the battle with the Merrimac. And when the
Commander heard the news he took up his position beside the burning
Congress, and waited for dawn.
This new vessel was called the Monitor, and a stranger vessel was
never seen afloat. Its hull, which was ironclad, hardly showed
above the water, and in the middle there was a large round turret.
It looked, said those who saw it, more like a cheesebox on a raft
than anything else.
Like a tiger hungry for prey the Merrimac came back next morning.
The captain expected an easy victory, but to his surprise he found
this queer little cheesebox between him and his victims. He would
soon do for the impertinent little minnow, he thought, and he opened
fire. But his shells might have been peas for all the effect they
had, and the Monitor steamed on unhurt, until she was close to the
Merrimac. Then she fired.
A tremendous duel now began which lasted three hours. The lumbering
Merrimac tried to run down her enemy, but the quick little Monitor
danced round and round, turning the turret now this way, now that,
and firing how she pleased, like a terrier yapping at a maddened
bull. And at length the Merrimac gave up the tussle, and sailed
This was the first battle ever fought between ironclads and it has
been called a draw. But after all the honours were with the little
Monitor, for she forced her big opponent to run away.
It might almost be said that this battle saved the Union, for it
showed the Confederates that they would not have
 it all their own
way on sea, and that if they were building ironclads the Federals
were building them also. And indeed the Government built ships so
fast that by the end of the war, instead of having only about forty
they had over six hundred ships, many of them ironclad.
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