Voice from the Past: “How These Powerful Machines Are To Be Stopped Is A Problem I Can Not Solve”

Good morning! We continue our celebration of the Battle of Hampton Roads with another “Voice from the Past.” The following is Confederate Major General Benjamin Hunger’s report on the famed battle of the ironclads and its corresponding impact on naval warfare:

SIR: I telegraphed yesterday to the Secretary of War the fact of the naval engagement on the 8th and 9th instants. As the battle was fought by the navy, Flag-Officer Forrest will no doubt report to the Navy Department the result of the engagement.

The batteries at Sewell’s Point opened fire on the steamers Minnesota and Roanoke, which attempted on the 8th to pass to Newport News to the assistance of the frigates attacked by the Virginia. The Minnesota ran aground before reaching there. The Roanoke was struck several times, and for some cause turned around and went back to Old Point.

The two sailing vessels (Cumberland and Congress) were destroyed–the first sunk and the other burned by the Virginia–and on the 9th the Minnesota; still aground, would probably have been destroyed but for the ironclad battery of the enemy called, I think, the Monitor. The Virginia and this battery were in actual contact, without inflicting serious injury on either.

At 2 p. m. on yesterday, the 9th, all our vessels came up to the navy yard for repairs. The Virginia, I understand, has gone into dock for repairs, which will be made at once. This action shows the power and endurance of ironclad vessels. Cannon shot do not harm them, and they can pass batteries or destroy large ships. A vessel like the Virginia or the Monitor, with her two guns, can pass any of our batteries with impunity. The only means of stopping them is by vessels of the same kind. The Virginia, being the most powerful, can stop the Monitor, but a more powerful one would run her down or ashore. As the enemy can build such boats faster than we, they could, when so prepared, overcome any place accessible by water. How these powerful machines are to be stopped is a problem I can not solve. At present, in the Virginia; we have the advantage; but we can not tell how long this may last.

I remain very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Major-General, Commanding.

Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion.

Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, March 22, 1862.

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