to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.
American Civil War in the eighteen sixties was fought not only on land. There
was a great deal of fighting between the Union and Confederate navies.
of the war -- the sea war -- is often forgotten, but it was important. The
Union victory might not have been possible without the successes of its navy.
battles took place just off the coast of the United States. Many others took
place farther away, in international waters.
in our series, Kay Gallant and Harry Monroe talk about the naval side of the
As soon as
the war started, President Abraham Lincoln wanted to block the South's major ports.
He wanted to prevent the South from shipping its agricultural products to other
countries in exchange for industrial goods.
plan was good. But it had one major weakness. The Union navy was too small for
Confederate seacoast was long. It extended from Chesapeake Bay to Mexico, a
distance of five thousand six hundred kilometers. There were not enough ships
in the Union navy to blockade all of it. Many months would pass before the
Union could build up an effective naval force.
Confederacy had no navy at the start of the Civil War. The Confederate
government had little money to create one. And the South had no factories to
while, the Confederacy was able to get warships from Britain. Then the Union
put diplomatic pressure on Britain to stop this support. For the most part, the
Confederacy depended on privately owned ships to get goods in and out of the South.
twenty of these private ships flew the Confederate flag. Most were very
successful in the beginning.
Florida, for example, captured more than thirty ships before being captured
itself off the coast of Brazil in eighteen sixty-four. The Alabama captured
more than sixty ships. It was finally sunk in a battle with the Kearsarge off
the coast of France.
Shenandoah sailed in the Pacific Ocean. It captured forty ships. After the war
ended, the Shenandoah tied up in Liverpool, England.
addition to these victories, the Confederacy claimed responsibility for several
new naval technologies during the Civil War. One was the first modern
was ten meters long. It sank four times while being tested. It was raised each
time and put back into service. One night, it fired its torpedoes at a much
larger Union ship and sank it. But the explosion was so great that it tore
apart the submarine. And it sank, too.
Confederacy also developed very effective underwater explosive devices for use
in the harbors.
its victories and technologies, however, the Confederacy could not stop the
Union navy. The Union navy was bigger to begin with and grew much faster.
first two years of the Civil War, the Union captured several southern ports:
Fort Hatteras and Roanoke Island, North Carolina. Port Royal, South Carolina.
Pensacola, Florida. And -- perhaps most importantly -- New Orleans, Louisiana.
Orleans lay near the mouth of the Mississippi River. It was the largest city in
the south. It was the largest seaport. It had become a busy industrial center,
producing war equipment for Confederate forces. If the Union could capture New
Orleans, it would control the Mississippi River.
Lincoln appointed navy officer David Farragut to lead the attack on New
the city, Farragut had to sail his ships past two Confederate forts on the
Mississippi River. He shelled the forts for six days and nights. But the forts
were so strong that the shells caused little damage. He decided not to wait any
night, Farragut led seventeen Union warships up the river in a line. The
Confederate forces heard them and began to fire. One ship was sunk. Three
others were damaged so badly that they could not continue. But thirteen made it
safely past the forts.
Farragut reached New Orleans, he found the city defenseless. Several thousand
Confederate soldiers had fled. They knew they could not defend against the
bigger Union force. Only civilians remained. Farragut captured New Orleans
without a fight.
Confederate flag was lowered. And the United States flag was raised over the
weeks before Farragut captured New Orleans, a new kind of navy battle was
fought off Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was the first battle between iron ships.
Confederate side was the Virginia. It had been built from what remained of a
captured Union warship called the Merrimack. The Virginia was like
no other warship ever seen in the world.
eighty meters long. The part that showed above the water line was built of wood
sixty centimeters thick. This part was covered with sheets of iron ten
windows were cut into it. Behind each window was a cannon. In a battle, the
windows would open, the cannons would fire, and the windows would close again.
At the front was a sharp point of iron that could smash through the sides of
Virginia could not move fast. And it was difficult to control. It took almost
thirty minutes to turn around. Still, there seemed to be no way to stop this
iron monster. It already had destroyed two Union warships. And it was coming
back for more.
ship chosen to fight the Virginia was the Monitor. It, too, was covered with
iron. But it was much smaller than the Virginia. And it carried
only two cannons.
cannons, however, were on a part of the ship that could turn in a complete
circle. They could be aimed in any direction.
Monitor and the Virginia faced each other on the morning of March ninth, eighteen
sixty-two. They moved in close -- very close -- then began to fire.
Confederate cannon ball hit the iron side of the Monitor and bounced away.
Union sailors cheered. The cannons of the Virginia could do no damage! But the
Union sailors soon discovered that their cannons could do no damage, either.
inside the two ships suffered from noise, heat, and smoke. The roar of their
own cannons was extremely loud. Even louder was the crash of enemy cannon balls
and explosive shells on the iron walls.
the men suffered burst eardrums. At least one man was struck unconscious from
the force of a cannon ball against the iron. The men quickly learned to stay
away from the walls.
the cannons filled the ships. Then it floated out over the water. At times, the
two ships could not see each other.
Virginia and the Monitor fought for three hours. Neither ship scored an
important hit. Neither suffered serious damage.
cannons of the Virginia fell silent. The Confederate ship had used up its
gunpowder. It also had used up much of its fuel. It was lighter now and was
floating higher in the water. A well-aimed cannon ball could hit below its iron
covering and sink it.
Confederate captain decided to withdraw. The Union captain, too, was ready to
break off the battle. He decided not to follow.
ship could claim victory. But the Monitor had kept the Virginia
from destroying more of the Union's wooden warships.
Virginia itself was to live just two more months. Union forces seized the
Confederate navy base at Norfolk, where the Virginia was kept. And the iron
monster was sunk to keep it from falling into Union hands.
at Hampton Roads between the Virginia and the Monitor was undecisive. It did
not have much effect on the final result of America's Civil War. But it was
still an important battle. For it marked the beginning of the end of the world's
continue our story of the Civil War next week.
Our program was written by Frank Beardsley and Christine Johnson. The narrators
were Kay Gallant and Harry Monroe. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our
programs can be found along with historical images at voaspecialenglish.com.
Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history
series in VOA Special English.
This is program #101 of THE
MAKING OF A NATION