Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Figure 1: Colored lithograph by N. Currier, 1843, of USS Cumberland (1843-1862) entitled: "US Frigate Cumberland, 54 Guns. The flag ship of the Gulf Squadron, Com. Perry." Courtesy of the US Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Cumberland (1843-1862). Halftone reproduction of a wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett, circa 1900, depicting the ship after her 1855-56 conversion from a frigate to a sloop of war. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on the photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Cumberland (1843-1862) docked between the Ferry House and the Paymaster's building (at right) at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, Kittery, Maine, probably in September 1860. The reverse of the original print is marked "H.K. Halsey, Sept., 1860." Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation, Raymond Stone Collection. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: "Destruction of the United States Navy Yard at Norfolk, Virginia, by Fire, by the United States Troops on April 20, 1861." Line engraving published in "Harper's Weekly,” 1861, providing two scenes of the burning of Norfolk Navy Yard and the destruction of ships located there. Ships shown in the lower scene (as identified below the print), from left to right: USS United States (afire); tug Yankee with USS Cumberland (underway, leaving the area); USS Merrimack (afire in left center distance); USS Pawnee (underway, leaving the area), and USS Pennsylvania (afire). US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: "Bombardment of Forts Hatteras & Clark, by the US Fleet under the command of Flag Officer Silas H. Stringham, on the 28th and 29th of August 1861." Colored lithograph by J.P. Newell after a drawing by Francis Garland, Seaman on USS Cumberland, published by J.H. Buford, Boston, Massachusetts, 1862. Features identified below the image are (from left to right): USS Susquehanna; transport Fanny; Fort Hatteras; USS Harriet Lane; Fort Clark; USS Cumberland; steamer Adelaide; USS Minnesota; steamer George Peabody; USS Wabash; USS Pawnee; and USS Monticello. Courtesy of the US Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: "Naval Skirmish between the Rebel Iron-plated War Steamer Yorktown, and a portion of the Federal Fleet anchored in James River, Va., off Newport News." Line engraving published in "Frank Leslie's Illustrated," 1861. It probably depicts the action of 13 September 1861. Ships shown are (from left to right): USS Louisiana, CSS Patrick Henry (ex-Yorktown), USS Savannah and USS Cumberland. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: "Iron versus Wood -- Sinking of the Cumberland by the Merrimac. In Hampton Roads, March 8, 1862." Oil painting by Edward Moran (1829-1901), depicting CSS Virginia (ex-USS Merrimack) ramming USS Cumberland in the teeth of a broadside from the wooden warship. This painting was presented to the US Naval Academy in 1941 by Paul E. Sutro, of Philadelphia. It was photographed by Taggart in December 1953. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: CSS Virginia rams and sinks USS Cumberland, 8 March 1862. Halftone reproduction of an artwork, copyright 1906 by G.S. Richardson. The original print was presented by the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: CSS Virginia rams USS Cumberland, 8 March 1862. Halftone reproduction of an artwork, published in Fiveash, "Virginia-Monitor Engagement," Norfolk, Va., 1907. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: "The Rebel Steamer 'Merrimac' running down the Frigate 'Cumberland' off Newport News." Line engraving, published in the "Harper's Weekly," January-June 1862, pages 184-185, depicting CSS Virginia (ex-USS Merrimack) ramming USS Cumberland, 8 March 1862. USS Congress and the bow of a Confederate gunboat are shown at right. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: USS Cumberland sunk by CSS Virginia (ex-USS Merrimack), 8 March 1862. Colored lithograph by Currier and Ives, 1862, entitled "The Sinking of the 'Cumberland' by the Iron Clad 'Merrimac,' off Newport News, Virginia, 8 March 1862. Cumberland went down with all her Flags flying: -- destroyed, but not conquered. Her gallant Commander Lieut. Morris calling to his crew 'Given them a Broadside boys, as she goes'." Courtesy of the Beverly Robinson Collection, US Naval Academy Museum, Annapolis, Maryland. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 12: Lieutenant George Upham Morris, USN. Photographed by the Brady studio, circa 1861-1862. Lieutenant Morris was acting commander of USS Cumberland during her 8 March 1862 action with CSS Virginia. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 13: Chaplain John L. Lenhart, USN. A Methodist Minister, Chaplain Lenhart was a member of the US Navy’s Chaplain Corps from 1847 until the time of his death in 1862. Chaplain Lenhart was killed in action during the 8 March 1862 battle at Hampton Roads, Virginia, between USS Cumberland and CSS Virginia. He was the first Navy Chaplain to lose his life in battle. The original print is in National Archives' Record Group 24. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a river that crosses the states of Kentucky and Tennessee, USS Cumberland was a 1,726-ton sailing frigate that was built between 1825 and 1843 at the Boston Navy Yard, Boston, Massachusetts. The ship was commissioned in November of 1843. Cumberland was approximately 175 feet long and 45 feet wide and had a crew of 400 officers and men. She was heavily armed with 40 32-pounder cannons and 10 8-inch guns.
Cumberland began her career as flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron from 1843 to 1845. She then became the flagship of the Home Squadron from February to December 1846 and served in the Gulf of Mexico during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). After sailing in Mexican waters during the war, Cumberland returned to the United States in 1848 and was, once again, assigned to the Home Squadron.
Cumberland returned to the Mediterranean from 1849 to 1851 and was again made flagship of the Mediterranean Squadron from 1852 to 1855. From 1857 to 1859, Cumberland patrolled off the coast of Africa as flagship of the African Squadron. Her major assignment was to help in the suppression of the slave trade. After leaving the African Squadron, Cumberland was sent back to the Home Squadron in 1860.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Cumberland was at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia, after having just returned from a trip to Vera Cruz, Mexico. As Confederate forces advanced on the Norfolk Navy Yard on 20 April 1861, Union forces scuttled and burned many of the ships there to prevent them from falling into the hands of the rebels. Fortunately, Cumberland was towed out of the Navy Yard and to safety before the order was given to destroy her. After escaping destruction at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Cumberland was assigned to the blockade of the Confederacy’s Atlantic coast ports. Cumberland also participated in the Union’s successful amphibious assault on Forts Hatteras and Clark in late August 1861. After that operation, Cumberland returned to blockade duty.
Around mid-day on 8 March 1862, a very low and heavily armored warship steamed slowly down the Elizabeth River from Norfolk and entered the waters of Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was the CSS Virginia, a new “ironclad” warship built from the remains of the USS Merrimack, a federal warship that was burned during the Union’s retreat from the Norfolk Navy Yard. The Confederates took what was left of Merrimack and re-built her into a new warship with no sails and clad in iron plating, hence the term ironclad. It was an odd-looking warship and few realized that it was about to change the entire course of naval warfare.
As Virginia entered Hampton Roads, she faced five major Union warships that were on blockade duty. The first was the frigate USS Congress and the second was Cumberland, both off Newport News, Virginia. The next three Union warships, St. Lawrence, Minnesota, and Roanoke lay several miles to the east near Fortress Monroe. All five of these ships were conventionally armed and made of wood. Although Minnesota and Roanoke had some auxiliary steam propulsion, the other three ships were powered by sails alone, putting them at the mercy of the wind or the availability of smaller, steam-powered tugboats. As Virginia crossed Hampton Roads, the Union warships called their crews to quarters and prepared for action. The Union warships had never seen anything like Virginia. One sailor said she looked like, “The roof of a very big barn belching forth smoke as from a chimney on fire.”
Congress and Cumberland began firing at Virginia. But the cannonballs from the Union warships bounced harmlessly off of Virginia’s iron plating. Virginia steamed past Congress and headed directly for Cumberland. Virginia picked up speed and, while nearing Cumberland, fired her heavy cannons into the sides of both Union warships. Virginia, which was equipped with a long iron ram, crashed into the Cumberland’s starboard side. Virginia’s iron ram tore into Cumberland’s vulnerable wooden side, tearing a huge gash in the Union warship. Cumberland began sinking immediately. As the ship sank, Cumberland’s gun crews kept firing at Virginia. It was a gallant display of courage, but it was useless. Virginia put her engines in reverse and backed away from Cumberland, tearing most of her iron ram away in the process. Approximately 121 officers and men of Cumberland’s crew were lost during the battle and as the ship went down.
Virginia then turned her attention to Congress, which had gone aground while trying to get away. The Confederate gunners pounded the now immobile Congress mercilessly, causing heavy casualties. After roughly an hour, Congress raised the white flag and surrendered. But as the Confederates began evacuating some of Congress’ surviving crewmembers, several men from the rebel warship were hit by Union gunfire from shore; among them was Virginia’s Commanding Officer, Captain Franklin Buchanan. Buchanan was so outraged by this that he ordered red hot cannon shot to be fired at Congress, setting the wooden ship ablaze. Congress burned brightly well into the night and then exploded at approximately 0200 hours when the flames finally reached her powder magazines.
In one morning the very nature of naval warfare changed. The age of wood and sail was replaced by iron and steam. No longer would wooden sailing ships rule the waves. The seas now belonged to steam-powered ironclad warships that were not dependent on the wind for their mobility. In one day, warships like Cumberland, which sailed the seas for centuries, became obsolete and the world would never be the same again.