James Ford Rhodes (18481927). History of the Civil War, 18611865 1917.
Merrimac raked her fore and aft with shells.1 Being now on fire she hauled down her colors and hoisted a white flag. A misunderstanding that ensued with regard to her surrender led to the Merrimac firing hot shot into the Congress; this completed her destruction.
As soon as the Merrimac was sighted, the frigate Minnesota left her anchorage at Fort Monroe and steamed toward Newport News to the support of the Congress and the Cumberland. She ran aground and, as there still remained two hours of daylight she was apparently at the mercy of the ironclad, but the pilots were afraid to attempt the channel at ebbtide. The Merrimac therefore returned to Sewells Point and anchored, to await the light of next day when the commander expected to return to destroy the Minnesota and the rest of the fleet at Fort Monroe.
That night there was consternation in the Union fleet and among the Union troops in Fort Monroe and at Newport News. The stately wooden frigates, in the morning deemed powerful men-of-war, had been proved absolutely useless to cope with this new engine of destruction. The following day in Washington, a Sunday, was one of profound disquietude. Seward, Chase, Stanton and Welles hastened to the White House to confer with the President, who was much perturbed. Stanton, wrote Hay in his Diary, was fearfully stampeded. He said they would capture our fleet, take Fort Monroe, be in Washington before night.2 The President and Stanton went repeatedly to the window and looked down the Potomacthe view being uninterrupted for milesto see if the Merrimac was not coming to Washington.3 The despatches from the War Department that day reflect the general excitement and apprehension. The capability of the Merrimac for future performance was much