"I Fired The First Gun And Thus Commenced The Great Battle”


I felt proud and happy then Mother, and felt fully repaid for all I had suffered. When our noble Captn. heard the Merrimac had retreated he said he was happy & willing to die since he had saved the Minnesota. Ah! how I love & venerate that man.

Most fortunately for him his classmate and most intimate friend Lieut. Wise saw the fight and was alongside immediately after the engagement. He took him on board the Baltimore boat and carried him to Washington that night. The Minnesota was still aground and we stood by her until she floated about 4 P.M. She grounded again shortly and we anchored for the night.

I was now Captn. & first lieut and had not a soul to help me in the ship as Stodder was injured & Webber was useless. I had been up so long, had had so little rest, and been under such a state of excitement, that my nervous system was completely run down. Every bone in my body ached, my limbs & joints were so sore that I could not stand. My nerves and muscles twitched as though electric shocks were continually passing through them and my head ached as though it would burst. Sometimes I thought my brain would come right out over my brows.

I laid down and tried to sleep but I might as well have tried to fly. About 12 o’clock acting Lieut Flye came on board and reported to me for duty. He lives in Topsham, opposite Brunswick and recollects Father very well. He immediately assumed the duties of 1st lieut & I felt considerably relieved, but no sleep did I get that night owing to my excitement.

The next morning we got under weigh at 8 o’clock and stood through our fleet. Cheer after cheer went up from frigates and small craft for the glorious little Monitor & happy indeed did we all feel. I was Captn. then of the vessel that had saved Newport News, Hampden Roads, Fortress Monroe (as Gen Wool himself said) and perhaps four Northern Ports. I am unable to express the joy and happiness I felt to think I had served my country & flag so well at such an important time. I passed Farquhars vessel and answered his welcome salute.

About 10 A.M. Gen. Wool & Sec. Fox came on board and congratulated me upon our victory etc. etc. We have a standing invitation to dine with Gen. Wool, but no officer is allowed to leave the ship until we sink the Merrimac. At 8 o’clock that night Tom Selfridge came on board and took command and brought the following letter from Fox to me.

U. S. Steamer Roanoke
Old Point Comfort
March 10/62

My dear Mr. Greene

Under the extraordinary circumstances of the contest of yesterday & the responsibilities devolving upon me, and your extreme youth, I have suggested to Captn. Marston to send on board the Monitor, as temporary commanding, Lieut Selfridge until the arrival of Com Goldsborough, which will be in a few days. I appreciate your position and you must appreciate mine & serve with the same zeal & fidelity. With the kindest wishes for you all.

Most truly (sgd) G. V. Fox

Of course I was a little taken aback at first but on a second thought I saw it was as it should be. You must recollect the immense responsibility resting upon this vessel. We literally hold all the property ashore & afloat in these regions as the wooden vessels are useless against the Merrimac. At no time during the war either in the navy or Army has any one position been so important as this vessel.

You may think perhaps I am exaggerating because I am in the Monitor. But the President, Secy, Gen Wool, all think and have telegraphed to that effect, for us to be vigilant etc. The Captn. receives every day numbers of anonymous letters suggesting plans to him & I think some north of Mason’s & Dixon’s line have a little fear of the Merrimac. Under these circumstances it was perfectly right and proper in Mr. Fox to relieve me from the command for you must recollect I had never performed but midshipmans duty before this.

But between you and me I would have kept the command with all its responsibility and either the Merrimac or the Monitor should have gone down in our next engagement. But then you know all young people are vain, conceited & without judgment. Even the President telegraphed to Mr. Fox to do so & so. Mr. President I suppose thinking Mr. Fox rather young he being only about 40. Mr. Fox had already done however what the President telegraphed to him several hours before. Selfridge was only in command two days until Lieut Jeffers arrived from Roanoke Island. Mr. Jeffers is everything desirable, talented, educated, energetic & experienced in battle.

Well I believe I have about finished. Battsy my old roommate [Lieutenant Walter Batt, of the Confederate Navy, an officer aboard Merrimac during the battle] was on board the Merrimac. Little did we ever think at the Academy we should be firing 150 Ib Balls at each other. But so goes the world.