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April 2oth, 1861. The Gosport Naval Shipyard.
They torched the ship. They stood for a moment, gazing with wonder as the flames, like some devilish, insatiable beast, tore at the ship, clawing at the rigging, sending columns of fire ripping up the masts, while gorging itself on wooden planks at the ship's deck.
The onlookers, their minds numbed by the lateness of the night and the fiery h*** before them, began running for the boats which were to take them to safety. As they ran towards the docks, they passed twisted hulks of metal, spiked cannons knocked of their carriages, and the charred remains of warehouses, all set against the fiery backdrop of the blazing ship. Soon, as they reached the boats, other ships were torched, the fiery beast feasting on the wreckage.
The boats pushed off, quietly disappearing into the darkness. As the men within the boats turned to watch the flames consume the ships, a collective sentiment of despair fell upon them, embodied by the thick fog swirling around them.
These men were sailors and engineers of the shipyard they had just burned, and the execution of their beloved ships seemed to sound a death knell for the United States Navy. Small to begin with, the Navy was divided by civil war, and needed every ship available. Within the wall of flames before them, there was the quickly burning hulk of the Merrimack, considered the most formidable ship in the Navy, now thought to be lost forever below the dark waters of the Elizabeth River.
But the Merrimack was not a charred skeleton, as many had at that moment believed. The raging fire, so invincible before, met its death as its hot flames collided into the cold water of the river, therefore only burning the famed ship to its hull, and allowing it to be reincarnated as one of the most feared ships on the water: the Virginia.





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