The Civil War Connections Blog

“Once mistress of the seas…”

In the same book we mentioned here, an anonymous poet penned this little ditty about the USS Cumberland as well. Enjoy!

THE CUMBERLAND – anonymous

Magnificent thy fate!
Once mistress of the seas;
No braver vessel ever flung
A pennon to the breeze;
No bark e’er died a death so grand;
Such heroes never vessel manned;
Your parting broadside broke the wave
That surged above your patriot grave;
Your flag, the gamest of the game,
Sank proudly with you – not in shame
But in its ancient glory;
The memory of its parting gleam
Will never fade while poets dream;
The echo of your dying gun
Will last till man his race has run,
Then live in angel story.

“Shall we give them a broadside, my boys, as she goes?”

Inspired by the reports of the bravery of the USS Cumberland‘s crew against the might of the CSS Virginia on March 8, 1862 – and by the words supposedly uttered by Lt. George Upham Morris even as his ship was sinking beneath the waves, poet Elizabeth T. Porter Beach wrote the following lines sometime in 1862. The poem was eventually printed in the book with the impossibly long title of Pen-pictures of the war: Lyrics, incidents, and sketches of the rebellion; comprising a choice selection of pieces by our best poets, also, current and well authenticated anecdotes and incidents of the war. Together with a full account of many of the great battles, also, a complete historical record of all events, both civil and military, from the commencement of the rebellion which was published in 1864. It became an (aptly named) broadside ballad in 1862 – and we know, we know…..we’ve printed this before. But here it is again, in its poetic form.

The Last Broadside – Elizabeth T. Porter Beach

Shall we give them a broadside, my boys, as she goes?
Shall we send yet another to tell,
In iron-tongued words, to Columbia’s foes
How bravely her sons say ‘Farewell’?

“Aye! what though we sink ‘neath the turbulent wave,
‘Tis with DUTY and RIGHT at the helm!
And over the form should the fierce waters rave
No tide can the spirit o’erwhelm!

For swift o’er the billows of Charon’s dark stream
We’ll pass to the immortal shore,
Where the ‘waters of life’ in brilliancy beam,
And the pure float in peace evermore!

“Shall we give them a broadside once more my brave men?”
“Aye, aye!” rose the full, earnest cry.
“A broadside! A broadside we’ll give them again!
Then, for God and the Right nobly die!”

“Haste, haste!” For amid all that battering din
Comes a gurgling sound fraught with fear
As swift flowing waters pour rushingly in
Up! up! ’till her portholes they near.

No blenching. No faltering! Still fearless all seem.
Each man firm to duty doth bide.
A flash! and a “Broadside!” A shout! A careen!
And the Cumberland sinks ‘neath the tide!

The “Star Spangled Banner” still floating above
As a beacon upon the dark wave!
Our Ensign of Glory, proud streaming in love,
O’er the tomb of the Loyal and Brave!

Bold hearts! Mighty spirits! “Tried gold” of our land!
A halo of glory your meed!
All honored, the noble-souled Cumberland band!
So true in Columbia’s need!

‘The spectral blue lights rose in vain…’

The January 24, 1863 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper carries the story of the Monitor‘s sinking on the front page. But buried within the issue was also the following poem. What I find interesting is that part two deals with the search that ensued after the sinking. There is no author listed – likely a staff writer who specialized in such quick turnaround on current events. But no matter. So, in honor of the events of 151 years ago, I bring it to you now.

The Monitor: December 31, 1862


In gallant trim, with fame elate,
the foremost of our Ironsides,
the Monitor, with noble freight
forth on the Atlantic billow rides.

Monroe’s grim fort, from iron mouth,
thunders “God Speed” and “Victory!”
With answering cheer, towards the South
on steams the hero of the sea.

Old Ocean smiled, the wind was light,
the sailors wore a joyous air,
so passed the day, and so the night,
and all around was calm and fair.

But with the morning clouds arose,
which deepened, till, when evening came,
fierce on her fell those giant blows,
sending dull tremors thro’ her frame.

But as a rider strides his horse,
which rages neath his weight, so kept
our gallant boat her onward course,
and thro’ the tempest swept.

But art is weak when Nature rears
in wrath sublime her giant form,
and clothed in lurid night, rides forth
upon the volleying storm.

Down thro’ the gaping seams the wave
poured its insidious tide, as erst
o’er Arqua’s walls the invaders crept,
ere fell swoop the stormers burst.

Firm at their post, the gallant crew
struggled with night, and storm, and sea,
’twas all in vain— the tempest grew,
and battled for its victory.

The spectral blue lights rose in vain,
from the Rhode Island–soaring high–
in one brief gleam they pierce the rain,
then perish in the sky.

O’er deck and tower the maddened waves
like living creatures rush and leap
as ‘tho Old Ocean had unchained
the demons of the deep.

‘Twas the threshold of the morn–
Midnight, without a star looked on;
and as the stormy day was born,
the Monitor was gone!

For with one shuddering lurch, as tho
it knew its doom, above the wave
it rose an instant, then below
plunged deep into its grave.

Brave hearts were quenched forever then,
they died as honor loves to die,
in striking chains from fellow men–
for Truth and Liberty!

And honor to the glorious band,
who, scorning the wild tempests breath,
grappled their sinking comrades hand,
and dragged them back from death!

Worden and Bankhead—gallant twain,
for one brief minute ye may weep
your ocean home beneath the main,
then to fresh triumphs on the deep!

‘Twas the last morn of ’62,
and by the long gray strips of sand
of Hatteras the seagulls flew,
at instincts blind command.

And all that day around the spot
where sank the noble Monitor,
The staunch Rhode Island cruised–
forgot were storm and oceans roar.

But fathoms deep below the wave,
our grand heroic brothers rest,
the corals guard their sacred grave;
and sea flowers deck each breast.

Where o’er their billowy pall each night
the sighing winds roll and surge,
the choral voices, vast and dim–
Old Oceans solemn dirge.

Christmas in wartime

Harpers Weekly, 12-26-1863 - Courtesy of HarpWeek

Harpers Weekly, 12-26-1863 – Courtesy of HarpWeek

In the December 26, 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly, the following wish appeared.


Ought it not to be a merry Christmas? Even
with all the sorrow that hangs, and will forever
hang, over so many households; even while the
war still rages; even while there are serious ques-
tions yet to be settled—ought it not to be, and is it
not, a merry Christmas?

How well Mr. Nast has seized the spirit of the
great festival in the elaborate and beautiful pic-
ture which we publish this week! The central
scene is the home of the soldier and his Christmas
welcome from wife and darlings, for just that is the
central scene of our American holidays this year.
It is the soldier who has saved us our homes and
filled our holidays with joy. It is the soldier who
is lifting the dark winter-cloud beyond which
smiles the bright spring of national regeneration.
It is the soldier who is securing the peace that will
make the life of the children sleeping together in
the crib, and over whom the dear old bear, Santa
Claus, is bending, a long and happy holiday.

Next year let us hope that the delicate, and
thoughtful, and forcible pencil of our friend Nast
may draw a picture of the National reunion, of the
return of the prodigal who has been living on husks
and with harlots, the rebel soldier returning to his
country and his fellow-citizens, the soldier who did
not know that in fighting the brave man whom we
see in the picture of to-day, he was fighting his true
friend, as well as honor and liberty. Peace on
earth is the Christmas benediction. Blessed then
the brave men upon the Rio Grande, in Louisiana,
along the Mississippi, in the mountains of Chatta-
nooga, in the Valley at Knoxville, upon the Poto-
mac, and the Rappahannock, and the James River;
among the North Carolina barrens and the South
Carolina Islands, with the great army of sailors
upon the rivers and the sea—to all, whether on sea
or land, heroes of the good cause, honor and bless-
ing; for their stout hands and hearts, with the sup-
porting sympathy and faith of the whole people,
are the peacemakers of the nation.

From all of us at the USS Monitor Center, may your holidays be peaceful – and may you have fair winds and following seas in 2014.

Monitor Crewman Lives the Dream!

On March 9, 1916, page 4 of the Bisbee Daily Review of Bisbee Arizona carried the following article. The Mariners’ Museum’s Library and Archives has a photocopy of a letter from John Driscoll which mentions this event, but I had not been able to spend time finding more information about it. Thank you interwebs and! Other articles carried in the Washington Post go on to explain that it was Franklin D. Roosevelt – then Assistant Secretary of the Navy – who granted Driscoll the request.

John Driscoll - one of the last survivors of the Monitor's crew - made headlines when he was a guest of honor at the Panama Canal

John Driscoll – one of the last survivors of the Monitor’s crew – made headlines when he was a guest of honor at the Panama Canal. This image is courtesy of

It is altogether fitting and proper….

150 years ago today, the following words were spoken. And though Lincoln demurred to the contrary, the world certainly has noted these 270 words  – and these are words that are among the most beautiful in the English language. They were echoed on an August day 50 years ago and they continue to remind us of the great sacrifices made in the past so that we might have a bright future.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


To boldly go……

Well! This week began with an impressive new vessel being launched by the US Navy.  The USS Zumwalt, named for Admiral (and the Navy’s 19th, and youngest CNO) Elmo Russell Zumwalt, Jr. (who passed away in 2000) is an impressive – and strange looking beastie. My first thought was……ironclad! Or rather, a modern take on an old look. But the similarities are more than superficial. The Museum’s friend Norman Polmar confirmed my thoughts – he said this of the new vessel: The Zumwalt introduces new hull form and machinery concepts that could be the harbinger of the next generation of surface warships. In some respects the advancements are comparable to the Monitor of Civil War fame that revolutionized naval ship design.

To make matters more interesting – her first commanding officer is Captain James Kirk. And yes, she carries lasers. Not sure about the phasers, though.

See for yourself.  Here she is:

USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000)

USS Zumwalt (US Navy photo)

Chocolate-Cream Generals…..

From the William & Mary Quarterly, July, 1915, Volume 24, Issue 1 – so writes Robert L. Preston on page 66:

As fifty years have passed since that eventful combat, let us relegate to the rubbish heap all such tales as that the Monitor drove the Merrimac back to Norfolk, never to come out again. Burn up the histories, if they are incorrect, and re-write them. The hot blood of patriotism is excellent in time of war, but in peace by all means let us have the cold facts of history.

If fairy tales are necessary, serve them up to the little tin soldiers and the chocolate-cream generals, who have feasted on them so long. The real soldiers have no taste for them, and the children of the country need plain and simple food.

Now I’m hungry…..

But- this voice of the past raises a very good question – how have the histories of the Battle of Hampton Roads influenced our understanding of the battle? What do you think the “cold facts of history” tell us?

…the whole land resounds with ERICSSON!

From time to time we come across new…old poetry about the Monitor and Virginia.  Today, we found this. The entire poem is extremely long and deals with all of the events of 1862. But the piece about the Battle of Hampton Roads was particularly nice:


Excerpt from New Year’s Address of the Carriers of the Providence Journal., January 1, 1863


Old England’s wooden walls are walls no more,

Her frigates find their occupation o’er.

Sinking our ships and threatening our forts,

Ready to pounce on unprotected ports,

Bristling with guns, impervious to attack,

Triumphantly sails forth the Merrimac;

When, like a champion in the days of yore,

Armed at all points in panoply of war,

Forth from her moorings steams the Monitor,

The “Yankee cheese-box, mounted on a raft” –

The latest style of iron-plated craft –

Comes dauntless forth to unexpected fight,

And challenges the monster in its might.

Short was the contest, desperate the fray:

The mail-clad monster, baffled of its prey,

Battered and crippled, turns and steams away.

Our ports are safe, the victory is won,

And the whole land resounds with ERICSSON!


We stand between the Future and the Past,

Where mighty destinies their shadows cast;

And in the darkness of the lurid dawn,

We hail the presage of the coming morn.

Come out and see us on September 6!

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