USS Cumberland (1842) - American Civil War

American Civil War

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Cumberland was at the Gosport Navy Yard, with orders to monitor the situation in Norfolk and Portsmouth. After the attack on Fort Sumter, the ship's company was ordered to gather up or destroy U.S. Government property. This included several crates of small arms and possibly (not yet confirmed) gold from the U.S. Customs House in Norfolk. The company was also ordered to spike all 3,000 guns at the Navy Yard within just a few hours. This latter task was impossible, given that only 100 sailors were assigned to the task. Sailors from the Yard and the barracks ship Pennsylvania boarded Cumberland as a part of the evacuation.

She was towed out of the yard by the steam sloop Pawnee, escaping destruction when other ships there were scuttled and burned by Union forces on 20 April 1861 to prevent their capture. She sailed back to Boston for repairs. The aft 10-inch Dahlgren was removed and replaced with what many officers referred to as a 70-pounder rifle. This gun did not exist in the Navy's inventory at the time. It was possibly a 5.3 in (130 mm), 60 pdr (27 kg) Parrott rifle.

She sailed back to Hampton Roads and took up station as a blockader. She served as one several ships of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron until 8 March 1862. The sloop-of-war engaged Confederate forces in several minor actions in Hampton Roads and captured many small ships in the harbor. Additionally, Cumberland was a part of the expedition that captured the forts at Cape Hatteras.

Cumberland was rammed and sunk in an engagement with the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack) at Newport News, Virginia on 8 March 1862. The engagement known as the first day of the Battle of Hampton Roads between the two ships is considered to be a turning point in the history of world naval affairs as it showed the advantage of steam powered, armored ships over sail powered wooden hulled ships. It should be noted that because of Cumberland, Virginia lost two of her guns, her ram, and suffered some internal damage. Congress later recognized that Cumberland did more damage to Virginia than the U.S. Navy's ironclad Monitor, which did battle with Virginia the next day.

One of the men who died aboard Cumberland was Navy chaplain John L. Lenhart, a Methodist minister. He was the first Navy chaplain to lose his life in battle.

The battle with Virginia was commemorated in a poem On Board the Cumberland that was illustrated by F. O. C. Darley.

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