Mount Vernon News

By Mount Vernon News
March 8, 2012 10:35 am EST


On March 11, Banner readers found this little item:

“Mr. Ericsson’s iron-clad steamer, called the Monitor, went to sea on Thursday for some unknown destination. The armament consists only of two eleven-inch columbiads.”

Not until the next week, in the March 18 issue, would they read about how the Merrimack (C.S.S. Virginia) had steamed out of Norfolk on March 8 and attacked the Federal blockading squadron. The iron-clad ship sank the sail frigates U.S.S. Cumberland and U.S.S. Congress, drove the steam frigate U.S.S. Minnesota ashore and engaged other warships. The wooden warships were unable to inflict any significant damage on the ungainly Virginia.

They would then read about how the Monitor, with its mere two guns, appeared the next day and engaged the Confederate ironclad, fighting it to a draw, but preventing any further damage to the blockading ships.

The Virginia sailed only twice more, once on April 11 in a failed attempt to lure the Monitor into a trap, and again on May 8 when it went out to challenge the Monitor and four other ships bombarding Confederate batteries. That was apparently a Federal attempt to trap the Virginia, but it failed when she returned to port. Not long after that, the Virginia was destroyed by the Confederates when they evacuated the naval base at Norfolk.

One wonders what would have happened if the crew of the Monitor had been able to load full charges into the Dahlgren guns. However, the designer of the guns, Commander John Dahlgren, had ordered that the guns be fired with reduced charges.

The Monitor, and other craft built on the same lines, proved useful in the rivers and bays of North America, but they weren’t very seaworthy. The Monitor sank on Dec. 31, 1862, in a storm off Cape Hatteras.

The design was adopted in several foreign navies, including Great Britain’s, and the last Monitor-class ship was not retired from the U.S. Navy until 1937.

Gen. George W. Morgan

Also reported in the Democratic Banner on March 11, 1862:

“Our townsman Gen. Morgan, was on Monday last confirmed as Brigadier General of Volunteers by the U.S. Senate. Gen. M. has been in Washington for several weeks past. There are rumors in circulation that he is to enter the service in the Potomac division of the army, under Gen. McClellan, in the advance upon Manassas and Richmond. We are unadvised as to the truth of this rumor, but one thing is certain, if fighting is to be done, Morgan will be in the midst of it.”

The following week the Banner reported:

“Gen. Morgan left this city on Thursday morning last, destined for Nashville, Tenn., at which place he will take command of the Brigade that has been assigned him. He was accompanied by his family as far as Cincinnati. That Gen. Morgan will distinguish his command we do not entertain a single doubt. May prosperity and victory attend him.”

Instead of service with McClellan, Morgan would first serve under Gen. Don Carlos Buell in Kentucky, then with Gen. Jacob Cox in West Virginia. At the beginning of 1863 he became part of 13th Corps under Gen. William T. Sherman, but was criticized by Sherman for his performance at Chickasaw Bayou. However, he led the force that captured Fort Hindman in Arkansas.

Apparently due to failing health and dissatisfaction with the use of black troops, Morgan resigned his commission on June 8, 1863, and returned to Ohio and entered politics, campaigning for Gen. George B. McClellan in the 1864 presidential election.

Curtis praised

Also in the March 18 edition, Lecky Harper used his lead editorial to tout the performance of Gen. Samuel Curtis in Arkansas. Curtis had defeated confederate forces in the battle of Pea Ridge (also known as Elkhorn Tavern) on March 6-8 in northwest Arkansas.

“Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, brother of our townsman, Henry B. Curtis, Esq., has met the combined forces of the rebels in Arkansas under Price, McCollough, VanDorn and McIntosh, and after three days of desperate and bloody fighting, gave them a Waterloo defeat. The official account of the battle is given in another column. Gen. Curtis has everywhere distinguished himself in his Western campaign. He has taken the field at the head of his column and by personally giving orders and directing every movement, he knows exactly when and where to strike the heaviest and most effective blows. If Ben McCollough has been killed, as reported, we think the main spoke in the rebel wheel in the West is gone, and it is likely the whole rickety machine will soon tumble to pieces.”

New Mexico fights

The Banner of the 18th also carried reports from fighting in late February near Fort Craig in New Mexico, a part of the war often forgotten today. The reports were of fighting between Confederate forces out of Texas and federal troops under Col. E.S. Canby, supported by New Mexico volunteers under Kit Carson. This was the battle of Valverde. The forces involved were small compared to what was developing in other parts of the country — maybe 2,000 on each side — but the Confederates were attempting to take control of more of what is now Arizona and New Mexico and move into California.

When Canby was driven back into Fort Craig, Confederate commander Brig. Gen. Henry Sibley bypassed the fort (leaving Canby to harass his supply lines) and advanced to Santa Fe, where the battle of Glorietta Pass would prove decisive in maintaining Union dominance in the far west.

The Confederates actually were successful in driving Union forces out of the pass, but their supply train was captured and destroyed and the Confederates were forced to retreat to Texas.

One of the Union officers at Glorietta Pass was Maj. John Chivington, who would be heard from again in 1864 because of his actions against a peaceful Cheyenne village at a place known as Sand Creek.

Contact Chuck Martin

Rules: Please keep your comments smart and civil. Don’t attack other commenters personally and keep your language decent.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.