The Civil War Connections Blog

“the forlorn hopes of the sea…”

In a statement presented to the Committee on Naval Affairs of the Confederate Congress, Secretary of the Confederate Navy Stephen Mallory proved himself to be something of a visionary yet again:

These facts are presented for your consideration. I regard the possession of an iron-armored ship, as a matter of the first necessity. Such a vessel at this time could traverse the entire coast of the United States, prevent all blockades, and encounter, with a fair prospect of success, their entire Navy.

If to cope with them upon the sea we follow their example and build wooden ships, we shall have to construct several at one time, for one or two ships would fall an easy prey to their comparatively numerous steam frigates. But inequality of numbers may be compensated by invulnerability, and thus not only does economy, but naval success, dictate the wisdom and expedience of fighting with iron against wood without regard to first cost.

Naval engagements between wooden frigates as they are now built and armed will prove to be the forlorn hopes of the sea, simply contests in which the question, not of victory, but who shall go to the bottom first, is to be solved.

Should the committee deem it expedient to begin at once the construction of such a ship, not a moment should be lost.

Wooden ships – the forlorn hopes of the sea. The death knell had clearly begun and Mallory was the man to sound the alarum. But where to find such a ship? The Europeans had them – but would they sell?

Meanwhile, the poor old Merrimack – lay forlornly at the bottom of the Elizabeth River.