From the Montgomery, Ala., Advertiser, Dec. 8,
Reprinted in the Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 26, Page 215.
Instructive and Eloquent Speeches by Prominent
Men. Southland Moans for its Heroes. Reverence and Patriotism Guiding Spirits
of the Occasion.
Splendid Oration by Ex-Governor Thomas O. Jones, with Inspiring Addresses by Colonel W. J. Sanford, Colonel J. W. A. Sanford, Captain Ben. H. Screws, and Hon. Hilary A. Herbert.
HON. H. A. HERBERT'S SPEECH.
Ladies and Gentlemen and Ladies of the Memoria1 Association:
I thank you, ladies, for the opportunity given to me, a Confederate soldier, to say a few words for the Confederate sailor. A simple recital of the circumstances by which our sailors were surrounded and mention of a few only of their achievements will be more eloquent than any eulogy I could pronounce.
When the Confederacy was born on this hill in 1861, it had, in a few days, a Secretary of the Navy, a broad-minded, far-seeing, resourceful statesman, Stephen R. Mallory; it soon had many able naval officers--officers who had parted in tears from their comrades in the old navy to follow the call of duty.
But the new government had not a naval vessel for its naval officers to command, not a merchant vessel that could be changed into an efficient man-of-war, no ship yard, save one at New Orleans, and that had never built or attempted to build a naval vessel, no shop that could build an engine complete, no foundry that could cast a large sized cannon or a cannon ball. The Federal government had its naval vessels afloat on every sea; it had numerous ship yards, foundries, machinists and machine shops; it had ports open to the world; it had the shipping that did our vast coastwise trade, and the sails of its merchantmen whitened all the great waters of the habitable globe.
All its vessels could be utilized; there were sailors to man them. The task of the Federal government was, with the vast fleets it could command, to blockade our ports, to permeate the rivers that ran through our land, to aid its own armies and protect their lines of supply, to cut communications between Confederate armies and destroy Confederate depots of supply. The water was the weak point of the Confederacy; it was the opportunity of the Federal government.
The task before the Navy Department of the Confederacy seemed utterly hopeless, but true courage never despairs. What was accomplished, if I had time to tell it all, would sound like a tale of fairy land. Confederate genius seemed to have discovered anew the Lamp of Aladdin.
When Virginia added herself to the Confederacy, she brought with her the Tredegar Iron Works, which had never cast a large gun, had never made a naval engine, but had a plant which was a foundation on which to build. Virginia brought also the Norfolk Navy Yard, which was a construction yard; but the few ships at the Norfolk yard which could not be carried away had been burned or scuttled and sunk. And yet, in less than eleven months, the Confederate navy astonished the world. The sunken Merrimac, now the Virginia, had been raised, covered with deflective armor, and, on new lines, reconstructed into the grandest fighting machine that up that day had ever fired a gun in battle.
On March 8, 1862, the Virginia appeared in Hampton Roads, and with her ten guns confronted the Minnesota, the St. Lawrence, the Roanoke, the Congress and the Cumberland, mounting altogether 174 guns. The Congress and the Cumberland were destroyed, and every other vessel that could, sought safety in flight.
That was a glorious day for the new navy of the Confederacy, and a glorious day, too, it was for the old navy of the United States. As the Cumberland went down in the unequal contest, the Stars and Stripes still floated from her mast, and her guns still thundered and sent their useless missiles against the impenetrable sides of the Virginia, until they were enveloped in the water.
While dedicating this monument, which is to tell to future generations the story of Confederate valor, let us, as we recall the memories of that combat, recall also the fact that all who are entitled to share in the glories of that day are our countrymen. Buchanan and Catesby Jones and Littlepage and others who fought the Virginia, and the gallant officers and men of the Congress and the Cumberland--they were Americans all, and the memory of the illustrious deeds of the 8th of March, 1862, is the common heritage of what is now our common country.
On the 9th was the fight between the Virginia and the Monitor, a drawn battle, but in its results one of the most decisive naval contests in history. That battle, coupled with the battle of the day before, which showed that no unarmored could stand before an armored vessel, decided the construction of future navies.
Instantly workshops all over the world resounded with the work of building new navies with deflective armor, high power guns, improved projectiles and improved machinery. But when we trace effect to cause, it was not the battle between the Virginia and the Monitor that begat modern navies: that was but a link in the chain of causation; it was the Virginia that begat the Monitor.
The Navy Department at Washington only listened to and adopted the plans of Ericsson for the Monitor when repeated reports from Norfolk showed that the Virginia, with her deflective armor, was under way, and that in all probability nothing could meet her but another ship with deflective armor. One experiment begat another; one success was met with another. So it is, my countrymen, that in the genius of Confederate naval officers is found the germ of the naval armaments that now attract the wonder of the world.
The Virginia was not the only marvel wrought by Confederate constructors. There were the Louisiana, the Mississippi, the Arkansas, the Albemarle and others.
The Albemarle was built in a cornfield in North Carolina, out of timber, some of which was standing when she was started, and of iron that was hunted up here, there and everywhere. The Albemarle went down the sound, encountered a fleet of six vessels off Plymouth, sank one of them, the Southfield, drove the others away and aided the Confederates on land to recapture Plymouth. At another time the Albemarle fought a drawn battle against nine gunboats of the enemy.
The Arkansas, with all her guns ablaze at the same time, three on each side, two forward and two aft, perhaps the only vessel that ever made a successful fire in four directions at once, ran through the whole fleet of Farragut and Davis and reached Vicksburg in safety.
The Tennessee was built on the banks of the Alabama river at Selma, and who is there that does not know of her brave fight against Farragut's whole fleet after it had passed the fortifications at the mouth of Mobile Bay?
If it had been possible for courage and genius to will with the resources at command, the Confederates would have whipped the fight upon the water, but the task was superhuman. We were not fighting Spaniards then, but men of our own blood, the odds against us were too great.
In the United States Home Squadron and Potomac Flotilla, alone, there were ninety-nine ships. The Federal vessels in our western rivers were almost without number. The Confederate fighting ships, one after another, were destroyed, many of them as they were nearing completion. So successfully were we building ships at New Orleans that Admiral Porter in his naval history expresses the opinion that if Farragut had been three months later we should have driven the Federal fleets North, raised the blockade and secured from European governments recognition of the independence of the Confederacy.
In another branch of naval warfare the genius
of Confederate naval officers was similarly conspicuous.
They developed the use of the torpedo to an extent never before dreamed
of. More than forty United States vessels were badly injured
or totally destroyed by this weapon.
There is no better illustration of Confederate devotion and daring than the history of the "Fish," a little submarine torpedo boat, that was built at Mobile. There, in the first experiment, the little craft failed to rise and buried her crew of eight in the waters. The "Fish" was raised and taken to Charleston. Another crew of nine went down with her and only one escaped. There were volunteers again, and the third crew went down, only three escaping. Still there were volunteers, a fourth time the little boat went down and failed to rise. Still another crew volunteered and all were drowned. Out of five crews of eight men each, all but four men had been lost, but the spirit of the Confederates was not yet daunted.
Lieutenant George E. Dixon, of the 21st Alabama Infantry, begged to be allowed to take out the "Fish" to attack the iron-clad Housatonic that lay off Charleston harbor. Beauregard consented, but only on condition that the boat should not go under water. The conditions were accepted; the Housatonic was destroyed, but Dixon and all his brave crew went down to rise no more.
When wrecks in Charleston harbor were being destroyed, after the close of the civil war, near the Housatonic lay the "Fish." In it were the skeletons of Dixon and his six companions, every man at his post.
In that other field of naval warfare the destruction
of an enemy's commerce, Confederate genius was also resplendent.
We had but few cruisers afloat, more than fifty vessels were searching
for them, they had no port of refuge, their own ports were blockaded, and
yet the Geneva Commission found that three of these cruisers had destroyed
ships and cargoes of the value of $15,,000,000. Maffitt
in the Florida and Semmes
in the Alabama won immortal fame, and
the exploits of Waddell in the Shenandoah
will ever be remembered with admiration.
When the flag of the new nation was furled forever upon land, the Shenandoah was far off in the Northern Pacific among American whalers, and the last gun for the Confederacy was fired from her deck June 22d, 1865. The Shenandoah found her way to a British port, and surrendered to a British Admiral, November 6th, 1865.
To sum up the history of the Confederate Navy it is an almost unbroken record of energy and devotion and genius making a brave struggle, and often almost on the point of succeeding against odds that were absolutely overwhelming.
We build monuments to heroes, prompted by the noblest impulses of the human heart, and that future generations may imitate their example. In performing our sacred duties to-day let Alabamians rejoice that, as Alabama in the civil war gave Dixon and Semmes and thousands of other brave men to the Confederacy, so now in our war with Spain she has given Richmond Pearson Hobson to the Navy and Joseph Wheeler to the Army of the United States.
At the conclusion of his speech Mr. Herbert escorted Miss Janie Watts to the sailor statue, which she gracefully unveiled while reciting the following anonymous lines which are inscribed on the pedestal:
"The seaman of Confederate fame
Startled the wondering world,
For braver fight was never fought.
And fairer flag was never furled."
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