Monitor Survivor Relates Historic Merrimac Fight

Ships Battling - AI Stock Photo

Camden Courier-Post – February 20, 1928

Captain James H. Carey, retired employee of the Pennsylvania Railroad and one of the last survivors of the battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac will celebrate on March 9th the sixty-sixth anniversary of the event. He was one of the Monitor’s crew.

Captain Carey, born in Philadelphia, has lived most of his life in Camden. He resided for many years at 215 Royden Street and was active in Camden’s old volunteer fire department. He relates with enthusiasm how he rescued two children from a burning building at Front Street and Kaighn Avenue in the good old days.

Carey is 89 years old, white haired, cheerful and quite active. He ambles about the home of his daughter, Mrs. George Thomas, 820 State Street, with whom he has been living with for some time. He likes reading the newspapers and enjoys visits to Wildwood.

The fight between the Union ship Monitor and the Confederate ram Merrimac didn’t amount to anything compared with the battles of the World War,” jovial old Captain Carey explained as he adjusted his glasses and glanced at his service record. “The fight started about 9:00 o’clock in the morning and lasted about half-an-hour. Most of the time we were so close to the other that we couldn’t miss our aim. After several volleys at each other both ships retired.”

Aboard Saint Laurence

“I was a member of the crew of the U.S. Frigate Saint Laurence, stationed at Norfolk, Virginia,” he continued. “Early in the morning, the rebels set fire to a boat called the Germantown. The first shot of the war, a 250-pound shell, was fired by the Union forces at Fort Monroe. It struck between U.S.S. Keystone State and the warship Charleston. Both boats retired to Norfolk.”

“The Merrimac started an attack on the warship Minnesota, which was aground. It was covered with railroad tracks for armor plating. The Monitor, an iron clad vessel, came up from Cape Henry. I was transferred from my boat to the crew of the Monitor as a gunner’s mate. There were 250 men aboard the vessel as I recall.”

“The two boats pulled alongside each other and we fired a broadside from our two gun turret which ripped off all the iron rails off the Merrimac. All her firing only dented our armor plating. We were hit five or six times.”

“The amusing part of the battle,” said Captain Carey with a chuckle “was when we turned the hot water hose on them. All through the fighting we were so close to each other that every time they opened their port-hole shutters to take a shot we could see their gun crew. We hooked up a fire hose to our boiler and when they opened the shutters we squirted it in. The Merrimac fellows didn’t like that much I don’t suppose.”

Honorable Record

After the battle Carey was transferred back to his own vessel, the Saint Laurence. His service record shows that after his enlistment at Philadelphia on April 10, 1861 he served on the U. S. S. Keystone State until June of 1861, the Saint Laurence until June of 1863, and the Shenandoah for the following year. He was wounded in the wrist at Masonboro, North Carolina on November 27, 1863 and honorably discharged from the Navy on June 30 of the next year.

The old veterans other two children also live in Camden. They are Mrs. John Levins, wife of the court crier, and Benjamin Carey.

“Of course I saw other action during the Civil War,” Carey explained as he held up the framed record of his part in the combat. “You see, I aided in dozens of captures and was under fire numerous times. I wouldn’t part with this record for a thousand dollars.”


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