8 March 1862, Norfolk, Virginia.
“Sir, today is the Sabbath,” King said, “so I think we should celebrate by killing Yankees.”
“Going west didn’t calm you down in the slightest,” Captain Buchanan, former Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy, noted. He was scanning the Union fleet blockading Hampton Roads through a telescope. “Laundry day in the fleet. Their riggings are full of it. I suspect they don’t anticipate being attacked on a Sunday.”
Both men were standing on top the C.S.S. Virginia, once the U.S.S. Merrimack, which King had watched burn when the Confederacy seized Norfolk. The hull and the rusty steam engines were the only things the two had in common. From the waterline up, the ship had been completely rebuilt with a radical design. The hull had been sliced along the waterline and a deck planked on. Over that deck was built an armored casemate framed with two feet of oak and layered with four inches of iron armor. The sides were sloped to deflect cannon fire. In sum, she looked like a barn’s metal roof placed on top of a raft. She had fourteen gun ports, four on each side and three forward and aft. She was heavy, she was slow, but she was almost impregnable to cannon fire.
King and Buchanan were on the narrow, flat top of the ship, forward of the smoke-stack. The Virginia was lumbering down the mouth of the James River, toward the Yankee fleet. Their approach was noted as laundry started to get scooped out of the rigging and sails deployed. There were five Union man-of-war ahead: the Cumberland, the Congress, the St. Lawrence, the Roanoke and the Minnesota. The odds excited King as they extended the opportunity for a great victory, which the South desperately needed. Travelling east had been galling as the south reeled from the twin defeats of Forts Henry and Donelson and the mood of the people he met was glum.
“’And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them’,” King quoted.
Buchanan smiled. “Let us rebuke, Captain King. Order the gun crews to prepare to fire.”
Duty, Honor, Country is an epic novel spanning the years from 1840 to the battle of Shiloh in 1862. The first in a series of novels covering history. I stopped the first book on the first night of Shiloh because that evening the future of the Civil War, and warfare itself, changed dramatically. More men were killed at Shiloh in one day than in all United States war combined up to that point.
The book will be out a week from today in ebook, Tuesday, the 12th of April, the 150th Anniversary of the start of the Civil War.