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Posted By: Dave Gaddy on: 03/08/2012 11:22:04 EDT
Subject: Battle of Hampton Roads, VA

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Today marks the anniversary of the historic appearance in Hampton Roads, Virginia, in 1862, of CSS Virginia, the armored battery/ram built on the hull of the USS Merrimac. Because of his nautical background and his friendship with many of the leading figures of the Southern navy, John B. Magruder's signal officer on the Peninsula (William Norris, later Major and Chief of the Signal Corps, PACS) had crossed the James to witness the occasion. He was actually on board as she pulled out for what the visitors thought was her trial, only to have to scurry back ashore when it was obvious that her "trial" would be her run into action off Newport News.

Even before the Signal Corps was official (April-May 1862), arrangements had been made for an army signalman, Virginian George E. Tabb, Jr., to be on Virginia for ship-to-shore liaison. But restless Norris couldn't be content with that. He pressed into service the boat used for signal-related transportation over the James, and, gaily flying a small Confederate flag, he conned his oarsmen into a witnessing and "supporting" role, later escorting Union sailor prisoners back to Portsmouth (and taking one good shot at the enemy with a rifle musket).

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