The weeks of inaction were finally over, and 150 years ago today, the men of the Monitor prepared their vessel for the bombardment of Sewell’s Point with incendiary shells. The Monitor was joined by the Seminole, Dacotah, Susquehanna, San Jacinto and Naugatuck.
The fleet rained “an uninterrupted storm of iron…into the rebel defenses,” except for the Naugatuck, which, far to the rear of the action, sent exploding shells into the midst of her own fleet. Captain Jeffers of the Monitor remarked to his paymaster, “Why the beggar…we are in more danger from him than the enemy!” Abraham Lincoln and his party remained far nearer the action than the tiny Naugatuck!
The attack was of short duration. The Confederate forces within the fortifications were small in number and were unable to return effective fire. Shelling continued throughout the following day, and the Virginia continued to be a menacing, yet distant presence. Still under orders not to engage the Confederate ironclad directly, Jeffers left her alone, to the chagrin of his men. They did not want the Galena or any of the other gun boats to be the vessel that destroyed the Virginia. Let them have the Jamestown, Yorktown, and Teaser, only save the “Big Thing,” as the men called the Virginia, for the Monitor. They desired to once again take her on single-handed, “as a crowning glory to our career so finely commenced,” wrote William Keeler.
Remarks Thursday May 8th 1862
Midnight to 4 A.M
Strong wind from N.E. & clear weather
4 to 8 A.M
Light breeze from N.E. & clear weather at 5 A.M saw a small
tug run out from Elizabeth river towards Newport News. At 6 A.M the
U S Iron Clad Galena & Gun boats Aroostook & Port Royal got underweigh and proceeded up James river E.V. Gager
From 8 to Meridian
Fair breeze from N.E. & clear. At Meridian got
under weigh & stood towards Sewalls point. U.S. Steamer Seminole on port beam
From Meridian to 4 P.M
Clear & pleasant, standing in for the battery at Sewells point in company with “Susquehanna” “Seminole” “Dacotah” & “San Jacinto”. At 1.10 P.M Susquehanna opened fire at 1.30 P.M being about 1000 yds from fort. opened fire without eliciting any reply. Continual firing slowly & effectively. passed up above & round sunken obstructions. being fired at several times. the barracks in the fort were set on fire three times on the last occasion some buildings burnt. Counted seven guns on the work and saw but a very small number of men. The enemy being thoroughly sheltered by bomb proofs. firing at long intervals when our fire slackened. at 2.30 P.M ran down to the Susquehanna & reported. shortly after the Merrimac made her appearance standing down. In accordance with the general order dropped down. The Merrimac came down to Sewalls Point then retired. At 4 by signal resumed our moorings
From 4 to 6 P.M
Moderate breeze from the westward and pleasant. At 5. P.M came down
from Sewells point and took up our moorings
From 6 to 8 P.M
Light airs from the S.W. and pleasant, picket boats out and Dacotah
acting guard ship E.V. Gager
From 8 to Midnight
Fine breezes from west & clear weather