| || The Sinking of the Cumberland || |
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The Sinking of the USS Cumberland
Photo from Leslie’s Weekly Courtesy of the
U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph
The Cumberland's Crew
Come all ye bold sailors, give an ear to my ditty,
Of a terrible battle that happened of late.
Let each Union tar shed a tear of his pity,
When he thinks on the once-gallant Cumberland's fate.
The eighth day of March told a terrible story,
When many a brave tar to this world bid adieu.
Our flag it was wrapped in a mantle of glory,
By the heroic deeds of the Cumberland's crew.
On the eighth day of March, about ten in the morning,
The day it was clear and bright shone the sun.
The drums of the Cumberland sounded a warning,
Which told every sailor to stand by his gun.
An ironclad frigate down on us came bearing,
And high up above, the Rebel flag flew.
It’s pennant of treason it proudly was nearing,
Determined to conquer the Cumberland's crew.
Then up spoke our Captain with stern resolution,
Saying, "Boys, by this monster, now don't be dismayed.
We've sworn to defend our beloved Constitution,
And to die for our Country we are not afraid".
"We'll fight for the Union, our cause it is glorious,
For the Stars and the Stripes we'll stand ever true.
We'll die at our stations or conquer victorious,''
He was answered by cheers from the Cumberland's crew.
Our noble ship fired, huge guns' dreadful thunder,
Our fierce shot like hail on the rebels did fall.
The crowds all stood gazing in terror and wonder,
As our shot struck her hull and glanced harmlessly o'er.
But the pride of the Union could never be daunted,
Though our decks with dead and the wounded did strew.
The Star Spangled Banner, how proudly it flaunted,
It was nailed to the mast by the Cumberland’s crew.
Three hours they fought us with stern resolution,
Till these rebels found cannon could never decide.
The flag of Secession had no power to quell us,
Though our blood in the scuppers did crimson the tide.
She struck us amid-ships, our planks she did sever,
Her cruel iron prow pierced our noble ship through.
They cried as they sank in that dark rolling river,
“We’ll die at our guns!” said the Cumberland’s crew.
So slowly they sank in that dark rolling water,
Their voices on Earth won’t be heard anymore.
They'll be wept by Columbia's brave sons and fair daughters,
May their blood be avenged on Virginia's old shore.
Whenever our sailors in battle assemble,
God Bless our fair Banner the Red, White and Blue.
Beneath its proud folds we’ll cause tyrants to tremble,
Or die at our guns like the Cumberland’s crew.
The CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack) made her way slowly out of the Elizabeth River and into Hampton Roads. She ignored the Minnesota, Roanoke and St. Lawrence and turned straight into the North Channel towards the USS Congress and Cumberland. As she came up to the Congress, the two exchanged broadsides, but she continued directly towards the Cumberland. The Virginia slowed as it crossed the bow of the Cumberland. The Cumberland fired first from the 10-inch pivot bow, her shots bounced off the sloped iron clad and flew into the air. The Virginia’s 7-inch bow gun fired into the starboard hammock netting, killing nine. Heavy and rapid firing from both ships commenced.
“Then the roar of cannon became loud and terrific. Our shot apparently glanced harmlessly from her donkey roof. We had not time to take care of the wounded after the first fifteen minutes fighting—dead and wounded were pulled from under guns and piled up together amidships. The deck was slippery with human gore—but amid all that fearful scene, every order was calmly obeyed. Every man stood fast at his station, loading and firing the guns amid the shouts and groans of the wounded”...1st Lt. Charles Heywood, USMC
The Virginia poured broadside after broadside, the Cumberland returned furiously. Every shot fired from the Virginia hit its target. The Virginia, at a distance of 300 yards, ceased fire and then turned directly towards the Cumberland at full steam. She struck the Cumberland just below the water line on the starboard bow below the anchor. For a moment the two ships clung together, then with a loud snap, the Virginia’s iron prow broke off inside the Cumberland. With the water rushing in, the two ships, now 100 yards apart resumed firing, ‘as rapidly as human flesh and muscle permitted’.
When the Cumberland went to the bottom, she took 121 sailors and marines. Many were already dead, but an unknown number of wounded went with her. “Before I left the ship I heard some cursing some praying and some giving a wild hollow laugh in the last agonies of death which is dreadful to relate”. The Cumberland settled in 54 feet of water, with everything above the tops out of the water, her colors were still flying.
With the very first shot fired that day, every navy in the world was now obsolete. By late afternoon, March 8th, 1862, the US Navy had losses of 261 killed, 108 wounded, the Cumberland sunk, the Congress destroyed, the Minnesota run aground, saved only by lowering tides. This would be the worst single day in US Naval history…. until December 7, 1941.
2/Lt Daniel Krock
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