Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

Southern States: Hampton Roads, Va.

The Attack

By Thomas Buchanan Read (1822–1872)

IN Hampton Roads the airs of March were bland,

Peace on the deck, and in the fortress sleeping,

Till, in the lookout of the Cumberland,

The sailor, with his well-poised glass in hand,

Descried the iron island downward creeping.

A sudden wonder seized on land and bay,

And Tumult, with her train, was there to follow;

For still the stranger kept its seaward way,

Looking a great leviathan blowing spray,

Seeking with steady course his ocean wallow.

And still it came, and largened on the sight;

A floating monster, ugly and gigantic;

In shape, a wave, with long and shelving height,

As if a mighty billow, heaved at night,

Should turn to iron in the mid-Atlantic.

Then ship and fortress gazed with anxious stare,

Until the Cumberland’s cannon, silence breaking,

Thundered its guardian challenge, “Who comes there?”

But, like a rock-flung echo in the air,

The shot rebounded, no impression making.

Then roared a broadside; though directed well,

On, like a nightmare, moved the shape defiant;

The tempest of our pounding shot and shell,

Crumbled to harmless nothing, thickly fell

From off the sounding armor of the giant!

Unchecked, still onward through the storm it broke,

With beak directed at the vessel’s centre;

Then through the constant cloud of sulphurous smoke

Drove, till it struck the warrior’s wall of oak,

Making a gateway for the waves to enter.

Struck, and to note the mischief done, withdrew,

And then, with all a murderer’s impatience,

Rushed on again, crushing her ribs anew,

Cleaving the noble hull wellnigh in two,

And on it sped its fiery imprecations.

Swift through the vessel swept the drowning swell,

With splash, and rush, and guilty rise appalling;

While sinking cannon rung their own loud knell.

Then cried the traitor, from his sulphurous cell,

“Do you surrender?” Oh, those words were galling!

How spake our captain to his comrades then?

It was a shout from out a soul of splendor,

Echoed from lofty maintop, and again

Between-decks, from the lips of dying men,

“Sink! sink, boys, sink! but never say surrender!”

Down went the ship! Down, down; but never down

Her sacred flag to insolent dictator.

Weep for the patriot heroes, doomed to drown;

Pledge to the sunken Cumberland’s renown.

She sank, thank God! unsoiled by foot of traitor!