Gideon Welles and the Naval Battle

Presidential History Blog

Gideon Welles was Secretary of the Navy during the Civil War.

March 9, 1862

It was a Sunday. Navy Secretary Gideon Welles rushed over to Lincoln’s office, where he found the President and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton in a frenzy over the terrible news of the previous day.

The USS frigate Merrimack was a beautiful ship.

The old US wooden frigate Merrimack (with a “k” then) had been sunk in Portsmouth, VA months earlier to prevent it from falling into Southern hands. The minuscule Confederate navy needed ships, believed the Merrimack’s hull to be worthy, raised it and refitted it with iron plate and 14 guns, and renamed it the Virginia. It was peculiar-looking, but deemed mighty. On March 8, it steamed into Hampton Roads (a vital Union-held naval area in the Chesapeake), and within hours rammed, sunk and burned the Congress, had driven the Cumberland aground…

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