Calling Coyotes by Cross-Country Communication in all Counties

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Go Sox!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Battle of the Ironclads and the Brutality of the Civil War

From the March 2006 National Geographic article on the first battle of the ironclads:

Making a steady approach, Buchanan blasted the Cumberland for 15 minutes, then plowed his iron monster straight into the wooden ship. Sailors on both vessels felt a terrific crash as iron ram hit solid oak, punching a hole at the waterline some said was big enough for a horse and cart to pass through. The ram worked almost too well. The Cumberland began sinking so fast it threatened to take the ironclad down with it. At the last moment the ram wrenched off, freeing the Virginia from its victim.

Buchanan hailed the sinking ship, demanding its surrender. A defiant Morris yelled back, "No, damn you! I will never surrender!" The Virginia now lay parallel to the sinking Cumberland and fewer than a hundred yards away. The Cumberland's crew, some in water to their knees, took their revenge, pouring round after round into the ironclad at close range. Gunners aboard the ironclad, their bodies black with powder and streaked with sweat, returned fire with devastating effect. "The way was slippery with blood, and the mutilated humanity was a sight too awful for description," recalled acting master William Pritchard Randall, who ordered the last shot fired from the Cumberland. Of the 376 men on board, 121 were dead or missing and perhaps another 80 or more were wounded.

"The normal practice at that time was to fight until you had 10 percent casualties; then you could honorably surrender," says Craig Symonds, professor emeritus of history at the U.S. Naval Academy. "The 55 percent casualty rate on the Cumberland was phenomenal[...]"


As the Virginia made a lumbering turn and headed back toward the stricken Congress, Lt. Joseph Smith, hoping to escape the Cumberland's fate, ordered a nearby tug to ground his ship beneath the shore batteries at Newport News Point. But even there the Congress was still within reach of the Virginia's merciless nine-inch-diameter guns. Flying splinters ripped from the ship's wooden walls killed more than shot or shells, some men impaled by wood fragments as thick as their wrists. Within half an hour nearly a quarter of the crew were dead or wounded, including Lieutenant Smith, who was decapitated by a shell fragment. The ship raised the white flag.

The water around the Congress was too shallow for the Virginia to approach, so Buchanan sent two small Confederate vessels to claim his prize. They were met by withering fire from Union soldiers on shore under the command of Gen. Joseph Mansfield. One of Mansfield's officers reportedly complained that the ship had surrendered and the rebels had a right to take her, to which the general replied, "I know the damned ship has surrendered, but we haven't!"

Buchanan was livid. He demanded a rifle and without thinking began firing at the soldiers on shore from atop the Virginia. A hail of bullets came back in reply, and Old Buck crumbled to the iron deck, shot in the groin. Calling for Catesby Jones, his unflappable executive officer, Buchanan turned over command with an order to "plug hot shot into her and don't leave her until she's afire!" Jones quickly complied, blasting the vessel with shot heated red in the ship's furnace until the Congress was a funeral pyre for the living and the dead.

For decades afterward, veterans of the battle argued about who committed the more dastardly deed, Mansfield or Buchanan. "Here's an iron vessel firing hot shot at a stranded wooden vessel with wounded aboard," says Symonds. "It's a total violation of the traditional rules of war." Incredibly, Buchanan set the Congress aflame knowing all the while that his own brother, also a naval officer, was aboard the doomed ship.

According to the 2001 World Almanac, there were an estimated 215 thousand battle deaths combined in the Civil War, and approximately 3,263 thousand soldiers combined. That is a 6.6% death rate. No major American war before or after that has had a rate higher than 3%. The Civil War was possibly one of the most balanced wars in history in which neither sides exercised significant restraint for the purpose of self-preservation or respect for the lives of those on the other side. It was a war in which the victor, who had a morally stronger side, laid waste to vast areas of the defeated's territory en route to victory, and did not restrain looting in the major cities.

The Civil War was not especially deadly for Americans because they were on both sides. It was especially deadly because the most desperate, unwavering, and ruthless enemy Americans could fight were each other.