Tuesday, March 8, 2011

An Account of the First Day of the Battle of Hampton Roads

On this anniversary of the Battle of Hampton Roads, we presented a slightly different account of the battle. Below is a partial account as told by  Henry Reaney, a volunteer U.S. Naval officer.  At the time of the battle, Reaney was serving as the commanding officer of the armed tug USS Zouave.  His ship was one of several armed tugs assigned to U.S. Naval blockading forces in Hampton Roads.  The U.S. Navy's mishandling of the tugs was one of the reasons for the loss of both Cumberland and Congress, as the they were suppose to help the large warships manuever in the calm waters. 

Reaney published two accounts of the battle.  One was for Battles and Leaders (which can be found at http://ehistory.osu.edu/osu/books/battles/vol1/pageview.cfm?page=714&dir=712). He recalled the battle a second time in 1897 for a public presentation before the Loyal Legion of the United States.    The full account can be found at http://books.google.com/books?pg=PA167&dq=Henry+REANEY+Navy&id=Kax2AAAAMAAJ#v=onepage&q=Henry%20REANEY%20Navy&f=false.

"We had a 30-pound Parrot rifle gun forward and a 24-pound Dahlgren Howitzer aft. We took deliberate aim, fired six shots at her without a reply. About this time the Cumberland hoisted our recall signal and we ran to her. She wanted us to give her a pull, so that she could bring her broadside to bear on the Merrimac [sic] now within range. The Congress was also at quarters, and shore batteries at Newport News had opened fire. It was getting quite warm about this time; all our ships and shore batteries in full blaze and still no response from the enemy. We were astern and close to the Cumberland and doing our best at the Merrimac, every one of our shot striking, but seemingly not disturbing her.

" On she came until about a half a mile off; she let go one of her forward pivot guns, which knocked out most of the crew of the after pivot gun on the Cumberland; then passing close to the Congress, she poured a broadside into her, and came right on to the Cumberland. By this time the engagement became general; the Patrick Henry and the Jamestown, from Richmond, and the three gunboats from Norfolk opened fire; the Merrimac had rammed the Cumberland and turned her attention to the Congress, which vessel had slipped her moorings, hoisted her jib and foretopsail. It being calm, and finding her sails of no use, she hoisted my recall signal.

"We were in rather a tight place, being between the fire of the gunboats from Norfolk and Patrick Henry and Jamestown from Richmond, and our own batteries from shore, the shot from which was falling all around us. However, we had to leave the Cumberland, her flag still flying and her guns thundering, though it was plain to us that she would soon be at the bottom of the river, as the water was flowing into her forward gun-deck ports and her stern rising. It seemed to me cruel to leave her, but I had to obey orders and go to the assistance of the Congress."

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