And Canada's 50,000, of which there may have been as many as 5,000 deaths, contributed one of the highest in numbers on non-Americans in the war. One in four in the total number were Non-American. The Canadians fought in sailors uniforms on several dozen ships. They were in hundreds of army regiments and did proud service also in the US Marine Corps. Canadians fought and died at most of the famous battles and a hundred other smaller skirmishes. We were at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Petersburg and Antietam and we sailed against Fort Morgan, Fort Henry and Fort Donelson and hundreds of other places and served with the famous 54th Massachussetts coloured regiment and fought in the famous battles known as the Alabama and the Kearsarge and at Hampton Roads in the USS Monitor and CSS Merrimac battle and many, many other battlefields.
In 1905, the 40th anniversary of the closing of the war, the US government finally released a campaign medal for those few still alive who served during Civil War days. Many came to Canadians. They issued one type for the army and a different one for the navy. Pictured below, the navy medal is suspended by a blue and grey ribbon to reflect the armies
The Confederate's Virginia is at the top and the Union's Monitor is the smaller vessel shown attacking it.
Popular folk lore has the battle taking place of the 8th of March, 151 years ago today, but truth be told the battle really started the day before and it was then a battle, or better stated a slaughter, between the the Virginia and several other vessels that were for the most part crippled and left for further destruction the next day.
But one of the victims of the Virginia, often left out of many of the stories about the famous battle was a Union vessel called the USS Cumberland. When it first saw the Virginia coming at it, it knew it had trouble. In fact the battle would only take about 15 minutes and the Cumberland would be sunk taking many of her crew with her. A few did escape, and among them woul be two Canadians sailors, James McIntosh from Montreal, whom you read about recently in another blog at this site, and sailor... Albert Oliver O'Brien of Newfoundland. Both would live to fight many more battles and actually would also be awarded Medals of Honor for their bravery later on in the war.
The USS Cumberland was one of the most powerful warships the Union had. She manned 50 cannons and a crew of about 400. But she relied totally on sail for power. No wind and you have a problem and need to be towed.
The vessel's hull was made of wood as were almost all navy vessels of the day... around the world. But events of the 7th and 8th would result in panic throughout the US navy and quit literally at Washington DC were meetings with Lincoln and others were constantly interupted with updates and looking out the window to see if the dreaded victor of the battle was on route to bomb DC.
Above is the Confederate new powerful weapon...the CSS Virginia, oft called the Merrimac. On the right is an depiction of it as it was being built.
The vessel was called an ironclad because it was clad with iron. In fact the iron was actual rail from a rail line pulled up. It was mounted on all parts of the vessel above the waterline and because of the steep angles, the cannon balls fired at it more often than not simply bounced off. But in addition, and not noticeable from above the waterline was a massive ram built into the front of the vessel. That ram is what killed the Cumberland.
On the 7th the Virginia was driven into the waterway known as Newport News in the State of Virginia and met up with several of the powerful Union vessels...all wooden vessels. It sailed past several, almost thumbing its nose, and fired many a cannon shot into these vessels, Canadians were on many of the vessels, and one was even on the Virginia. Thus you have a situation where Canadians were shooting at Canadians. This would happen often during the Civil War.
Two of the Union vessels were forced to almost scuttle to avoid capture and sinking, and were left like fish dangling on a hook for destruction after the Virginia finished its work on the Cumberland. While each vessel fired continuously at the other, the Virginia finally rammed the Cumberland and within 15 minutes it sunk. It was later said that the hole it drove into the side of the Cumberland was big enough to drive a horse and wagon through. But the Virginia almost went down with the Cumberland because it got its ram stuck inside the Union vessel. It was only after some serious rocking about that it managed to dislodge itself.
Freeing itself and harrassing the other vessels the Virginia finally came to realize that it had to get out of there as the tides were droping. And its massive iron protection only went down so far...then left the rest of the vessel... a wooden hull... vulnerable to carefully placed cannon fire. So it left only to return the next day to create more havoc... till the Union brought in its own secret weapon...
But more on that on Tuesday next week.