During the second year of the war, there appeared in the ocean not far from Fortress Monroe, a strange looking monster. Big, and black, and shining—what do you suppose it was?
It was an iron-clad war vessel which had once belonged to the United States Navy. The Confederates at the beginning of the war had sunk this vessel in the harbor; but afterwards some one had thought it would be a good idea to raise the hulk, and fit it up for a fighter.
They found, on raising this hulk, that it was firm and strong; so they had put a great iron roof over the deck, slanting it so that balls would glance off and so do no harm, had plated her sides all over with iron, and put on a great beak of iron and wood, making her indeed a most terrible looking enemy.
Down came this iron vessel straight upon the good old "Cumberland." Of course, no wooden vessel could stand an attack from this iron monster. For two hours these two vessels fought, although the Cumberland knew there was no hope. Bang went the cruel iron beak into the sides of the wooden Cumberland; and at last she sank, carrying with her her brave commander and his men, every one of whom fought to the last, preferring to sink rather than surrender to a Confederate ship.
Even when the vessel had sunk, it is said that the flag still floated above the waves for many hours.
Without a moment's rest, this iron fiend turned upon another Union vessel, and soon she, too, was a wreck. On went the Merrimac, attacking other vessels, until fortunately night came on and put a stop to this day's work; then she withdrew, to rest a while, chuckling no doubt over her day's doings, and planning all sorts of wickedness for the coming day. But to her great surprise, when the sun rose on the following morning, there stood not far away, a funny looking little vessel, dressed in fire-proof coat just like her own.
The Merrimac glared from all her port-holes at this funny looking affair, and for a time couldn't seem to get it through her stupid head what it was. It looked like an iron raft with a round iron box in the middle.
What in the world that box could be, and what could be inside the box were a wonder to the Merrimac.
"Does that little Yankee cheese-box on a raft think to fight with me?" said the Merrimac, puffed up with her yesterday's victories.
But the Merrimac did not know that that cheese-box could revolve on a big screw, and that it had within itself some terrible guns which could be aimed almost as true as a rifle.
Up came the little Monitor, much like a little hornet at a great bull. The Merrimac really laughed to see her coming. She did look so funny! But soon bang went one of the great two-hundred pound balls from that little cheese-box, shaking the Merrimac and denting in her iron sides as if she had been made of tin.
The Merrimac stopped laughing now, and went to work. Some one said that the whole affair made him think of the boy David with his little sling walking up to fight the giant Goliah. But you remember Goliah was the one to fall, and in this battle, too, the big Merrimac fell before the little "Cheese-box."
No matter what the Merrimac did, it seemed to harm the Monitor not one whit. The balls from the Merrimac rolled from her like raindrops from a duck's back.
Next, the Merrimac tried her game of running at her with that great iron beak; but only found herself all the more at the mercy of those great guns turning round and round in the cheese-box.
For four long hours this battle went on. At last the Merrimac quietly sailed away, not half understanding yet what this little raft was, and how it had been able to drive her away.
Cheer after cheer went up from the vessels lying about in the harbor; and there was no cause for further dread of the Confederate monster so long as the harbor was guarded by "The Yankee Cheese-box."