Welcome to the third part of the nineteenth installment of -
"A TIME TO EVERY PURPOSE UNTO HEAVEN " By Pepe K.
(Winner of 31 UKE Awards)
Please send all comments to PepeK62@gmail.com
The following story concerns the Toonsters' freshman year of Acme Looniversity at college level. This tale of mystery and adventure is best read from the beginning - other parts are available at Fur Affinity, among others.
I suggest you read it from the start or you'll not know what is transpiring.
All characters portrayed that are not based on those owned by Warner Brothers; Amblin, MGM, Tezuka, Mitsuteru Yokoyama, & Disney are created and owned by the author. Andy Fox is courtesy of his player. The WB Character “Bernice Beauvine” was named by Able DuSable.
This part of the tale is rated R for realistic violence.
This story contains many references to music, some of which you may be familiar with. It contains and was inspired by the music of Danny Elfman's film soundtracks. In order to enhance this experience, I've made notations as to where each specific piece of music fits into the story. If it's available to you, I'd *strongly* suggest getting the CD or cassette tape, so that you'll not only read the story, but hear it happen as well. All the music is available on CD. Most is from Danny Elfman's Original Motion Picture Soundtracks: “Planet of the Apes” - (#MCAD-10133), “Charlotte’s Web” - (Sony/Classical #88697-02989-2), Max Steiner’s classic score of “King Kong” (Turner movie Classics & Rhino Movie Music #R2 75597) and the Music of Sol Kaplan -The Original Television Soundtrack of “STAR TREK” Volume 2 “From the Episode “The Doomsday Machine” (Crescendo Records #GNPD 8025)
I'd like to thank Dennis Smith, HKUriah, Thorne, Paul Zook and Danny Elfman.
This story is dedicated to my Beloved Wife –
In Memory of over Three Hundred Brave Men who gave their lives In Defense of their Countries at the Battle of Hampton Roads,
March the Eighth, 1862.
- And for my late Beloved Brother –
JAMES CORNELL KELLOGG
Born January 30th, 1957 –
Died July 11th, 2008
All historical data of the years 1861-1862 contained herein is based on authenticated facts.
And now – Part 3 of Part 19 of -
"A TIME TO EVERY PURPOSE UNTO HEAVEN" - A Time To Kill”
“The U.S.S. CUMBERLAND”
[“Now hold on! Buchanan gets badly wounded, but he survives the war’], Dr. Lord insisted, [“No one will be lost nor left behind here today! Not on my watch! Do you hear me?!”]
After his fierce declaration, the cowed toons were silent. Calamity wished he’d studied before he’d opened his big mouth as his host went below. After a moment, Lord thought softly to Shirley in a fatherly way, as if patting her on the shoulder.
[“Don’t cry Shirley. I’ll figure a way to get you out of this…the others too. Be a brave girl now.”]
[“You promise?”] the loon asked, sniffing her tears back.
[“I promise”] he told her. [“If only the two of you weren’t getting wounded in the legs...”]
[“What do you mean?”] asked Buster.
[“Those uniforms I gave you all are actually body armor. Even the hats are helmets”] the Doctor explained. [“Since they’re designed as Civil War jackets, they don’t cover your legs.”]
[“So zat’s why zey felt heavy”] Fifi thought.
[“Looks like we’ve got company”] Furball announced as the ship began a turn to port and the city of Norfolk came into view on the eastern shore.
[“What company? Who? Where? Why?”] asked Plucky.
[“What Plucky is trying to say is that we can’t see”], Babs explained, [“Would somebody please tell us whatever it is?”]
Fifi looked through the eyes of her host and saw the figures of hundreds of people lining the banks of both sides of the river. It appeared as though the entire populations of Portsmouth and Norfolk had dropped everything and had run to the riverbanks to see the Virginia. The people stood silently for the most part, staring at the monstrous black ironclad as she slowly slipped through the waters. Young men and boys were scrambling to join the ship, jumping into rowboats and oysterman’s skiffs, climbing onto rafts and poling their way along to follow the lumbering giant. Little sailboats scooted around the ship.
Everywhere – there were girls waving white handkerchiefs. Finely-dressed ladies waved to the crew with worried faces. Others bowed their heads in prayer for their husbands, sons and fathers who were about to go into battle. In the local churches, the Confederates prayed for their struggling country and for the safe return of their loved ones. Many of the men on the shore had serious countenances. An attempt at cheering would have ended in tears. Their hearts were too full for utterance.
All the people knew that this was a decisive moment for the Confederacy. If the Virginia broke the enemy blockade, then there was a significant chance that the new nation would gain the recognition and support of foreign powers like Britain and France. With their support, the Confederacy might survive.
[“Ah’ll tell vous what mah host, Docteur Pheeleepz eez theenking”],Fifi announced in an oddly dispassionate tone, [“Both sides of zee riverbanks are thronged with people. Most ov zem, perhaps attracted by our novel appearance, and desirous ov witnessing our movements through zee water.”]
Fowlmouth and his host watched a group of old men on a nearby wharf shake their heads at the ironclad.
“Go on with your old metallic coffin!” shouted one, “She will never amount to anything else!”
[“Few, eef any, entertain an exalted idea ov our efficiency”] Fifi continued, [“Many predeect a total failure.”]
Buster, who had been quiet since learning his fate, spoke up bravely.
[“Maybe not everybody’], he thought, [“My man has realized that this is the day. That here is to be tried the great experiment of the ram and iron-clad in naval warfare.”]
[“Lieutenant Wood agrees with the others”], Mary contradicted as the ship began a slight turn to port, [“From the start we could see that she was slow, not over five knots. Uh-oh!”]
The ship was not making the turn and was aiming at a jetty, alarming the man at the wheel and the officers. The helmsman spun the wheel hard to port to avoid a collision but nothing happened! The crew waited breathlessly. Finally, the great length of the ship lurched slowly aside under everyone’s feet and swung gradually out of danger.
[“This is like trying to steer a dinosaur!”] thought Hamton as his host, the pilot talked with the other men in the tiny pilot-house.
Mary continued to relay her host’s thoughts: [“She steers so badly that, with her great length, it will take thirty to forty minutes to turn. She’s as unmanageable as a water-logged vessel.”]
“”What’s her speed?” Captain Buchanan called down from behind the conical pilothouse to the leadsman on the foredeck.
Standing ankle-deep in the river water that ran over the semi-submerged deck, the crewman threw his lead bob ahead of the ship and paid out the line it was attached to. The lead struck the bottom and the man watched the ship’s nose pass it - then, hand over hand, he drew it back up, noting how much line had gone out.
“Six knots, Sir. Our keel is close to the bottom, Captain” he called back.
While Buchanan mused sullenly over this, people on shore gasped at the sight of the leadsman standing on what to all appearances was thirty feet of water.
“It is de debil ship! Dat man is walkin’ on de water!!” they exclaimed.
The captain was not satisfied and ordered Buster’s tugboat to take the Virginia in tow. Guiding the man at the helm, Buster’s host slowed his tugboat, bringing it in close to the Virginia’s sharp prow and a crewman dropped a thick hawser rope to the leadsman, who looped it around the ironclad’s bitt. The Beaufort pulled ahead, steering the sluggish behemoth along the river.
Calamity’s host went topside and reported to the captain.
“The machinery is all right, sir. Beyond expectations.”
“Very good”, Buchanan replied,” Report to me on the exact condition of the engines with the utmost diligence. This is very important! In the event of a collision - do not wait for the signal to reverse. Do so with full power and without hesitation! I may be in the heat of battle or wounded, so you are not to wait for orders.”
Within him, Shirley was very nearly frightened by the aggressive nature of her host. She had seldom felt such fierce determination within herself.
“Boatswain - Pipe the hands to dinner,” ordered the captain.
As the Bosun’s pipe whistled a series of squeaky squeals, the men slowly filed down the hatches and stairways to the galley to chew on butter-fried hardtack and coffee, while the officers went forward to the curtained-off wardroom.
Fowlmouth found himself seated across from Wakko, as they were served a picnic of hot biscuits and cold sliced meat.
[“What’s dis stuff?”] the rooster asked, making a face as his host swallowed a bite of the cold-cuts.
[“Mmm! Cold tongue. Ya like it?”] Wakko smiled as his host daintily ate.
[“ACK! Ptooey!”], FM gagged, [“Ya mean we’s eatin’ beef tongue?!”]
[“Yup. Try not to think of Bernice Beauvine while yer eating it.”] the Warner kid grinned sarcastically.
[“@%#*&! That Perfecto cheerleader cow?! I wouldn’t take no tongue frum her! Ya dunno where it’s been!”] swore Fowlmouth as Wakko chuckled.
[“You’ve got a pretty dirty mouth yerself.”]
(Star Trek VOL2, “The Doomsday Machine” ”Decker Takes Over” #6)
On deck, the ship’s caterer hailed Calamity’s host.
“Better get your lunch now, Mister Ramsay. It will be your last chance. The galley-fires must be put out when the magazines are opened.”
[“Perhaps this secret attack isn’t so secret”] Calamity observed as he walked down to the gun deck.
What he saw there confirmed the fact. Passing along inside the cramped, angular casemate he was particularly struck by the countenances of the gun’s crews, as they stood motionless at their posts with ramrods or gun sponges in their hands, their set lips unsmiling. As he passed down the whitewashed, slanted-in wall of the armored shield, the scene was eerily lit by the jagged shafts of sunlight from the grating only seven feet above and by the sickly yellow light of the caged oil lamps that swung from the ceiling with the swell of the river beneath them. The vertically slanted strips of white wooden backing and the five rows of hexagonal nuts holding the bolted iron armor on made it look like draftsman’s study in perspective… or the sealed walls of a tomb. Only the massive black cannons and their heavy wooden carriages broke up the scene, the somber men at their sides seeming like funereal pallbearers around a group of caskets.
Calamity listened to the thoughts of his host: “The appearance of ship cleared away for action is nothing new…but these men look pale and determined, standing straight and stiff, showing their nerves were wrought to a high state of tension. From the time of leaving the yard I had not reflected much on the deadly conflict we were to engage in...The appearance of these men, with the surrounding warlike preparations, brings it all to mind…
Here we are, with an untried, experimental ship… about to make an attack on a fleet of the very best material in the U.S. Navy… ten guns against two hundred – three hundred men against three thousand… yet this was our hazardous enterprise.”
Calamity gulped as he realized the danger. As he reached the wardroom, he noticed the Assistant Surgeon, Algernon S. Garret, calmly laying out his surgical instruments and lint for bandages on the wooden table alongside the food as they prepared for battle. The sight took away his host’s appetite. He descended into the depths of the engine room with a cold lump in his throat. Ramsay remembered how his friend had teased him about his new posting to the Virginia.
“Goodbye, Ramsay”, he’d said,” I shall never see you again. She will prove your coffin.”
Neither Calamity nor his host found anything funny about it now.
Chapter CXVI (“Charlotte’s Web” (2007), #1“Main Titles”)
[“How could anybody want to fight on a beautiful day like this?”] thought Babs Bunny as her host stepped out onto the quarterdeck of the U.S.S. Congress.
The salty taste and tangy smell of the sea filled her head as she walked across the clean wood of the sparkling white, holystoned deck. The cries of seagulls and the creak of the wooden ship mingled with the sounds of men laughing and talking. Somewhere, crewmen were repairing caulking with fresh black tar. The vivid black and white painted ship was warm to the touch as the sun beat down on it through the cloudless azure blue sky. Overhead rose the towering masts and spars with furled canvas strung aloft with miles of rope ratlines and rigging. This was still the Age of Sail – of wooden ships and iron men.
Within her host, Lieutenant Pendergrast, Babs looked out upon the wide expanse of blue-grey seas at the faraway sandy shores of the bay. To the northeast was Fort Monroe, a great stone citadel with one hundred and eighty heavy cannon and manned by the thousands of General McClellan’s “Army of the Potomac”. She saw the Union fleet; sixty or more vessels of all shapes and sizes. There was everything from converted New York ferryboats to tugboats, side-wheelers and the mighty forty-gunned steam frigates. The pink bunny had a chance to see again what the U.S.S. Merrimack had looked like before she’d been put to the torch, as her sister-ships U.S.S. Minnesota and U.S.S. Roanoke stood rising like prodigious castles over the placid water.
Ahead of the Congress to the west, Babs saw the twenty-four gunned sloop of war U.S.S. Cumberland riding at anchor next to the point of Newport News and Camp Butler, another Union fortification mounting eight heavy cannon and manned by eight thousand of the Federal Army.
How could all these multitudes lose the battle against a single ship?
As onboard the Virginia, the crew of the Congress and Cumberland were eating their noonday meal, but Bab’s host was still quite sated from the party he’d attended that morning onshore. His friend Acting Captain Joe Smith stood smiling at his side, along with the ship’s former commander. The ship was preparing to leave for a new post and the thought of leaving the boring task of blockade duty behind had everyone in a good mood.
“Did the oysters agree with you, Mister Pendergrast?” the handsome captain asked.
“Aye, that they did Sir! As did the wine” answered the lieutenant.
“That was as fine a military farewell as any since the days of Caesar’s legions” agreed the former captain, whose name was also Smith.
[“No relation”] thought Babs to herself as she watched the new Captain Smith.
Like many of the men, the Captain had a full close-cropped beard. The popular young officer was the son of Commodore Smith who had been on the Navy’s Ironclad Board that had selected the Monitor’s design. A generous man of good cheer, he was confident in his ship and crew.
“The Ericsson Battery will be here soon”, he said, ”They‘ll deal with this old Merrimack soundly.”
All this cheer and self-assurance rang hollow, Babs thought, for she knew the ship was doomed.
A few hundred yards away onboard the U.S.S. Cumberland, Plucky and his host looked up from the main deck at the colorful spectacle overhead. Saturday was washday and the crew had strung their wet laundry in the ship’s rigging to dry. In a tradition hundreds of years old, blue clothing hung on the port side and whites on the starboard. The shirts, pants and underwear flapping in the breeze looked like the bright flags at a carnival. A ship’s boy, barely twelve years old, skipped about on the smooth white deck, dancing and rattling his tambourine.
With Plucky inside, young Lieutenant George Morris stood smiling as he watched the powder monkey dance. The mustachioed Morris was in command while his captain was ashore. At his side, Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge stood with the big man, John Harrington, the Master’s Mate.
The powder monkey’s tambourine rattled and thumped cheerfully, bringing something to mind…
The sound of rhythmic clapping filled the minds of the Toonsters.
[“What in the name of Ziggy Stardust is that?!”] exclaimed Babs.
[“Oh, gag me with a spoon, Plucky! Not now!”] Shirley complained uselessly.
[“Hey, I’m the Captain and what I say goes! C’mon it’s fun!”] the Pluckster said with relaxed arrogance as the music became the funky disco beat of The Village People singing in their heads.
[“Where can you find pleasure? Search the world for treasure!
Learn science, technology!?
Where can you begin to - make your dreams all come true -
On the land or on the sea?
Where can you learn to fly? Play in sports and skin dive!
Sign up for the big band! - Or sit in the grandstand!
When your team and others meet!”]
[“Where?!”] added Arnold as his grinning spirit danced within his host.
[“In the Navy! Yes, you can sail the seven seas! In the Navy!”]
[“Someone like put my mind at ease?”] Shirley remarked sourly.
[“In the Navy! Come on now people make a stand…”]
The rousing male chorus died away as Plucky became aware of everyone else’s grim feelings. Only Arnold continued his carefree singing till he too stopped with a very tiny embarrassed voice.
[“In the Navy! In the Navy!…Can’t you…see we need …a hand?”]
[“Your levity is good”], thought the Doctor pointedly to Plucky, [“It helps to relieve the tension and thoughts of death. You’re not scared, are you Plucky?”]
[“Naw! A’course not!”] boasted the duck.
[“Hm, really? If you had any sense, you’d be scared.”] Lord smiled.
[“You mean it’s not a bad thing - to be afraid, Doc?”] Mary asked.
[“Fear is a natural reaction. By being on edge, we are prepared for action. It heightens our senses and often saves our lives. The trick is, not to stay fearful and keep hiding – that makes us vulnerable and keeps us from doing what we need to do. Only a madman or a fool allows himself to be scared longer than necessary- and only a fool or a madman would feel no fear. Courage is doing what you have to do – even though you’re scared.”]
Even Shirley smiled at this.
[“So, are you totally scared too, Sensai?”] she asked.
[“Naw, a’ course not”] Lord shrugged casually.
Most everyone chuckled at the remark, thinking it was in jest, but Hamton noticed that Lord wasn’t joking.
[“Shouldn’t you be working on how to get us out of this mess?”] insisted Plucky.
[“…I am”] Lord told him simply, leaving the duck to grumble.
[“But I’ll need help from everyone”], he continued, [“We need to know what happens to the hosts of Plucky, Buster, Babs and Shirley. Let’s see how well you studied, folks. What will happen to Buster’s host - Commander Parker of the Beaufort?”]
Buster stood inside Parker in the wheelhouse of his tugboat, thinking. [“Well, we fire the first Confederate shot of the battle, we go in close and take the surrender of the Congress from her commander –“]
[“So we’ll come face to face, Buster…”] Babs piped up.
[“That shall be our opportunity”], Lord announced, [“When the Beaufort is alongside the Congress, we’ll get Babs aboard somehow. The Beaufort returns to Sewell’s point before the Virginia –“]
[“But Pendergrast doesn’t get on board the Beaufort – he eludes capture and gets to shore”] Wakko interrupted, as his host tried to chew a piece of hardtack.
[“If he does, Babs won’t be able to get back with us!”] Buster agreed.
[“True…but it does give us the chance to get her back to you before Pendergrast leaves..”] thought the Doctor. [“What else happens then?”]
[“When the Federals ashore fire at us… Buster will get wounded”] Babs reminded them sadly.
[“They’ll also get me”] Shirley added with a gulp.
[“Then the Beaufort will leave the scene with the wounded men of the Congress”] Calamity observed, while his host tapped the steam pressure gauge on the engine.
[“The Beaufort has to be the key! It’s the only ship to come in close enough to pick up Babs”] Furball realized.
[“Not quite – ze Jamestown also comes alongside zee Congress –“] Fifi argued.
[“But the Jamestown doesn’t have time to take the wounded men aboard – she leaves too”] Fowlmouth disputed.
[“But vere does dis leave Plucky?”] bickered Arnold.
[“Yeah! What about me?… and what about Shirley?!”] the duck objected.
The Doctor considered.
[“Our only chances to recover you will be when our ships are the closest together… Logically that means when the Cumberland is being rammed by the Virginia, but that would also be at the point of the most danger – both ships will be firing on each other from point blank range with heavy cannons and rifles…”]
[“That…sounds a little on the dangerous side”], Plucky commented, [“Got any safer ideas?”]
[“Just a darned minute, there!”] Babs interrupted [“That only tells us where we’ll be. How are we gonna shift ourselves? If we change what our hosts do – we’ll end up changing history!”]
[“We can’t do that! Any little change could ruin the future – our future”] Buster agreed, as his host thoughtfully swept his mustache with his fingers.
[“Would it really wreck *our* future?”] Wakko asked, swallowing.
[“We can’t take any chances. Even a small alteration might cause an imbalance between the two universes.”] Calamity concurred.
[“Then how do we get home? Huh? Huh? I dunno.”] Gogo exclaimed, [“My wackiness quotient is gonna be seeeeeriously depleted with all this dire drama.”]
[“I need to call home and find out exactly what we can and cannot do, then we’ll know for certain”], the Doctor told them, [“This situation is dangerous, but you have to admit that by your being placed into these hosts – especially the four captains – we may learn more than we would have if we’d all been aboard the Virginia.”]
[“Maybe yer right …but I’d like rather be totally stupid than face this”] Shirley said morbidly.
After the Toonsters sighed sadly in unison, Lord spoke with reassurance.
[“Don’t worry. We’ll get home. All of us. I have an idea. Have any of you ever played the old shell game? Now this is what we’re going to do…”]
“Impossible!” exclaimed Wile E. Coyote.
He stared again at the communications monitor where Dr. Lord’s thought-transmissions were displayed, then threw up his hands and stalked away.
“Highly improbable perhaps – but not impossible” Ralph Wolf concluded. Wile spun on his heel and exploded, “Stop one continuum entirely while keeping theirs going?! It can’t be done!”
“I’ll admit it’s a difficult proposition, but if we can apply sufficient power –“
“Even if it were possible – do you have any idea of the risk to history that’s involved? This could destroy both universes! The space-time continuum itself could be ripped apart!” the coyote stormed.
“Don’t be such a fatalist”, Ralph said flatly, “It’s like editing a song –you simply pause one track while you let the one you want run to the right place.”
Wile raised a shaggy eyebrow and scowled: ”I’m a genius – not a disk-jockey, damnit!”
“Well that’s just fascinating, Wile. Thanks for sharing that”, the wolf remarked sarcastically, “Look cousin – if we can just crunch the numbers the right way, we can do this.”
“My dear boy, I’m telling you that it won’t work” Wile told him
Egghead Junior politely tugged on the hem of the coyote’s white lab coat and pointed to a chalkboard covered with an immense equation in nuclear, space-time quantum mechanics that he had silently drawn out while the two canids had been arguing. Wile and Ralph read the dizzying amount of numbers and symbols – and at the answer at the bottom corner. Miss Prissy’s little boy waited for them patiently, occasionally blinking his innocent beady eyes.
Wile’s mouth finally closed and his long ears hung straight down.
“Apparently, it can work” he commented.
“You know your lips move when you read?” Ralph observed sardonically.
“However – there’s just one big problem with this plan!” the super genius pointed out by tapping on one of the figures scrawled on the blackboard. He then walked to the Wellesian control panel of the Space-Time Displacement apparatus and pointed at a setting on the gauges.
“We haven’t got enough power to do it.”
Ralph’s jaw dropped to the floor and Wile slapped him upside the head, causing it to return to his face. Junior raced to the controls and stood on tiptoe, trying to see the gauges, but he was too short. Wile provided him with a small stepladder, but looking at the settings only made the chick’s tiny beak frown pathetically. It was true – the machine’s maximum power was too low to achieve their goals.
A small black cloud labeled “Gloom” hovered over the three scientists and rained on them. Wile put up a tiny umbrella, but Ralph grabbed at it and the two cousins fought over it briefly, slapping at each other like sissies before Junior blew the rain cloud away with an electric fan. The canids stopped and stared at the paper he waved patiently at them. They then fought briefly over the paper, before the coyote grabbed it.
“Esteemed colleagues - It will be a simple matter to raise the power input settings to achieve our objectives” Wile E. read.
Before he had time to shake his head at this suggestion, another message from Doctor Lord filled the monitor screen.
“Changing the power setting will do you no good. The power source is beyond your reach,” it said.
The cloud of “Gloom” returned.
“Fear not– the power will be increased to the required intensity in approximately two hours, your time. You have *that* long to make the adjustments to the system crucial to handling the zettatons of power “, Lord continued, ” I’ll assist you.”
This time, all three of the scientist’s jaws hit the floor.
“…Oh my god” whispered Wile in disbelief.
“He…he didn’t just say what I thought he said…did he?” Ralph stammered.
Egghead Junior’s scribbling on the chalkboard was frantic. He finally stopped, then began jumping and pointing to the algebraic hieroglyphics.
“H-bomb = Megatons of power = 10^1
Zettaton = Megatons to the 21st Power = 10^21!!!”
The three experts looked at each other and began opening the control panels, revealing the guts of the machinery.
“Let’s go, we’ve got alot of work to do,” said Wile with determination.
On board of the CSS Beaufort, Buster sweated along with his host, Lieutenant Parker. He knew, as Parker did, what the Virginia’s captain’s intentions were. He felt the terrible tension building.
“Mister Foreman, watch the flagship for any signals, especially the new one” Parker said.
“And which is that, Sir?” the man asked.
“The one Captain Buchanan said he might fly – “Sink Before You Surrender!”
Astern, Buster watched the monstrous Virginia slowly plow the waters before her. The officers and men who stood on her narrow top deck seemed calm, despite the impending battle. As the men onboard his own ship joked amongst themselves, exhibiting a careless insouciance, it only served to reinforce the anxiety he felt.
[“How can they act like they don’t care?”] he wondered as he watched them.
But the story was different ashore as the Confederate fleet passed by. By now, the whole city of Norfolk was in an uproar. Women, children, and men on horseback and on foot were all running towards the river from every conceivable direction, shouting: “The Merrimac is going down!”
Rebel soldiers and officers were riding down to the riverbanks from as far away as twelve miles to the message passed from mouth to mouth:
”The Virginia is coming up the river!”
The Virginia’s crew received enthusiastic cheers from the excited populace without a single response. Everything betokened serious business. Standing within the ship’s doctor with the officers on deck, Fifi listened to the people on the shore. She watched women cry and wave their handkerchiefs as others took up a cheer she had never heard before.
“Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!” the people roared, their voices echoing across the river.
As the ship approached the Confederate artillery battery near Craney Island, the army of men in gray uniforms were cheering lustily and waving their hats. From the midst of this outcry came a new sound. A nine-year-old little drummer boy stood beating out a rhythm on the stretched calfskin of the wooden drum that dwarfed his small frame. The men’s voices stilled for a moment – and then rang across the waters.
“We are a band of brothers – and native to the soil!
A-fighting for our liberty – with treasure, blood and toil!
And when our rights were threatened – the word spread near and far!
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star!
Hurrah! HURRAH!! For Southern Rights, Hurrah!
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star!”
As the young men sang, Fifi saw another patriot standing closer than the others. His spectacles showed him to be an older man. He stood stiffly at attention with his right arm bent in a military salute, his fingertips fanning his eyebrow, like a knight about to lower his visor. The patriot saluted the ship as she drew by, deeply affected, but trying stoically not to show it. A single tear ran down the patriot’s deeply lined cheek.
Fifi gulped down her own emotions. Her host, the doctor, also felt a lump in his throat. His boot-heels thudded together and he proudly returned the man’s salute for a long moment. Not until he lowered his hand did the old patriot’s arm relax as he watched the ship pass by.
Standing nearby, Shirley and the Doctor witnessed Captain Buchanan’s commands.
“Mister Jones – have all the workers disembark. This is no place for civilians.”
“Aye aye, Sir” answered the Exec, exiting down the stairs. There he ordered all the remaining ship-builders off the ship. The small steamer Harmony came alongside and the last few workmen ducked carefully out though one of the ship’s gun ports.
[“Looks like they’re happy tuh leave,”] Shirley thought nervously, [“Could I like, go with em?”]
[“You’ll get through this”] Lord assured her as the boat pulled away toward Craney Island.
The captain followed Jones down the hatchway and stood on the stairs.
“All hands forward!” called Jones.
Inside their walls of iron, the solemn eyes of the crew and officers all looked up. The noonday sun shining through the grating of the roof lit their faces with sharp squares of light and darkness. The only brightly lit spot was where Buchanan now boldly stood. The gaze of all the Virginia’s crew, including the Toonsters and Lord, now rested on the bluff, steely-eyed Captain, who stared down from above and spoke with a Nelsonian flourish.
“Sailors! In a few minutes you will have the long-awaited opportunity to show your devotion to your country and our cause! Remember that you are about to strike for your country and your homes - your wives and your children! The whole world is watching you today! The Confederacy expects every man to do his duty! Beat to quarters!”
The ships’ drum rolled ominously. The odd sound of a fife joined it. The crew knew that this was no longer a trial exercise. The Toonsters all gulped at the danger.
As the drumming continued to echo though the long casemate, the Captain continued. “Many Confederates have complained that they have not been taken near enough to the enemy. I assure you all that there shall be no such complaint this time. I intend to head straight for the Cumberland. Go to your guns” he commanded them.
The insistent drumbeat was now joined by footsteps on the gun deck as the crew went to their stations. Quietly, the men secured the guns for action and stood at the ready. As the other toons went to their officer’s stations, Arnold and Hamton watched the laborious process that would be repeated so many times that day.
Gogo’s host Curtis took part as the gun’s captain gave the orders.
With a hearty grin, Curtis’ friend Dunbar moved to the muzzle of the giant black gun with a lengthy wooden pole, the business end of which was covered in thick cotton-wool. Dunbar stuck the other end out of the gun port as he thrust the sponge into the cannon’s mouth and down the barrel till it made a satisfactory thump at the breech. The smiling Canadian then drew it out backwards through the open port and back into the casemate, moving away to the left and out of the way of the next man. After the gun’s captain had inspected the silken powder bags and the seven-inch explosive shell, he called out: “Load!”
Another man sealed the breech vent by holding his thick leather gloved fingers over the hole to prevent a premature explosion, while the dangerous black powder bags were carefully rammed down the gun barrel by the rammer. The men then gingerly placed the grooved conical shell into the rifle’s mouth and carefully rammed it in after the gunpowder. The rammer was joined by another man and with a grunt, they muscled the twisting shell down through the rifling of the gun’s tube.
“Run ‘er out!” ordered the captain.
Wordlessly, the gun crew took up the thick ropes of the breeching tackle and heaved away, pulling the tons of deadly metal towards the open gun port.
As his host strained at the block and tackle, Gogo’s mind squeaked: [“HOLY HERNIA! Why don’t we just try hoisting Hoppopotamus up Mount Everest? That’d be easier than this!” Hey Arnold? A lil’ help??”]
[“Sorry, I’m an officer now. You do der manual labor!”] Arnold ordered, [“Come on girly-bird! Get pumped! Hit it harder! Feel de burn! Yah!”]
The pivot gun’s muzzle stuck out through the gun port and the gun crew relaxed. Arnold’s host now moved to the gun’s breech and the vent was uncovered as he slipped a metal tube into it and attached the lanyard. The friction primer was filled with fulminate of mercury that would explode when the pin was pulled out of it with the lanyard and the massive gun would go off. The cannon was ready to fire. All there was to do now was wait. The men stood in silence at their posts – almost all the guns were ready, except two.
Fowlmouth’s and Wakko’s hosts had overseen the loading of guns 4 and 5 - but the nine-inch cannon balls were only to be loaded just before firing.
[“What’re we waitin’ for? Let’s get this ting loaded!”] fumed the rooster.
[“Oh, we can’t”], Wakko sighed calmly, [“The buns are still in the oven.”]
[“What’re you talking about? The only buns that’re bakin’ around here are mine’], Fowlmouth complained, [“We wound up getting stuck right next to da smokestack – right over da boilers! …Ah’m gonna end up a Kentucky Fried chicken.”]
[“Ah like mine “extra crispy”], Wakko quipped, [“Din’t ja study at all?”]
[“Whadya mean ya limey clown? A’ course I did!”]
[“Wull then, you know that these are “hot-shot” guns. Look down that hole in the deck”] the Warner brother told him, [“The cannon balls’re getting’ heated red hot in the furnaces, so when we shoot ‘em – Poof! The enemy gets a hot foot.“]
[“Heh, sorta like shootin’ flamin’ arrows – only woise, huh?”] FM noticed.
[“Hey! Who’re you callin’ a clown!”] Wakko suddenly realized, [“I hate clowns!”]
[“Gee, thanks a lot guys - I don’t need reminding!”] thought the far-away voice of Babs as she looked at her flammable wooden ship.
[“Oops… sorry Babs”] Wakko apologized.
He and Fowlmouth looked at each other’s guilty faces, knowing that Babs’ ship was destined to burn.
“Officers? The Captain wants to see you all topside, Sirs” called the Bosun.
Silently, the Virginia’s officers climbed the stairs back to the roof. Most of the Toonsters now joined Shirley and the Doctor as their hosts took them up into the sunshine and open air once more.
Mary felt as though she were standing on top of a slow-moving train. She felt the motion of the massive metal fortress beneath her feet and felt the horrendous heat radiating from the huge blackened iron cylinder of the smokestack. Glancing up, she saw the top of the stack chugging out billows of black, choking coal smoke and saw the tiny red glints of sparks and cinders melting and disappearing as the smoke poured and drifted off behind them. Her host avoided the heat and bitter fumes by walking around the twelve-foot high chimney toward the ship’s bow. Now that there was nothing to do but wait, she began to notice more of their surroundings. The river was widening out into the bay of Hampton Roads, a wide stretch of sea was before them, the cold water a dim bluish-gray. Miles away to the north was the shoreline, littered with strange dots. Northeast was a yellow stone island and to the northwest was a spit of pale sandy beach.
Black and white dots seemed to line the shores ahead and there were more to the west. Mary stared harder at the dots and saw that some were tall and many were short… then she realized that these were ships. Black and white sailing frigates with masts and spars that dwarfed their vast hulls. It was hard to see, but Mary counted over sixty of them. She knew that this was the Union fleet that the Virginia and her two tugboats faced. The big frigates were larger than the Virginia and the ships-of-the-line had as many as fives times her ten guns. The yellow stone island was Fort Monroe and there was also the batteries at Camp Butler, Rip Raps and Camp Harrison…All these ships and fortresses bristled with hundreds of heavy guns and thousands of men.
Mary gulped and thought [“…We’re outnumbered by more than ten to one.”]
With his arms crossed, Captain Buchanan explained his plan of attack; first to get in close and ram the Cumberland, so as to dispatch her quickly and save as much of their precious gunpowder as they could – they would need it to destroy the rest of the Federal fleet.
[“Like, the Captain may seem totally aggressive, but he’s hoping to ram and sink the fleet rather than shoot everybody’], Shirley told them, [“His own brother is the Paymaster on the Congress.“]
[“Most of the officers know about his brother but they don’t talk about it out of respect for him”] Mary confirmed.
[“Like, he doesn’t talk about it. If his men thought he was soft on the North, he’s afraid of getting carded or that someone might start raggin’ on ‘em and narc on him. So, he’s in like this awesome karmic trap! He totally wants to be a good soldier – but he doesn’t wanna kill his old friends in the Union Navy”], the loon explained, [“It’s like, a way cosmic dilemma!”]
[“Totally”] thought Fifi as her host approached the Captain.
“Sir?” said Doctor Philips skeptically, “Do you really intend to attack the Union fleet with our untried, experimental vessel?”
“Those ships must be sunk!” Buchanan answered, pointing at the Cumberland and the Congress.
“But Sir, how are we to measure the success of the Virginia?” the Doctor asked.
“If we sink them – we are a success”, said the Captain, ”If they sink us –then we are a true failure.”
All of the Toonsters and many of the officers gulped in fear at this.
“Mister Jones, prepare to cast off!” the Captain ordered.
“Prepare to cast off, Aye Sir” Lord’s host repeated, walking to the hatchway.
“Very well” Buchanan acknowledged.
Following a series of shouts between the Virginia and the Beaufort, the Captain commanded: ”Cast off!” and the tow line was thrown overboard to be hauled in by the men on the tugboat’s stern. The heavy ironclad slowed a little, but surged forward under her own power. The rebel monster was loose at last!
Chapter CXIX Across Hampton Roads, Plucky was fully enjoying being treated as the Captain. Like his host, Lieutenant Morris, he stood tall as his brother officer reported to him.
“Anything unusual, Mister Selfridge?”
“Normal routine this morning, Sir…except that Captain Tucker’s rebel squadron seems to have anchored closer to the Roads. You can see them, sir, just next to the point of Mulberry Island.”
Plucky’s host took the brass spyglass that Selfridge offered him and opened it, looking westward. Within the glassy circle far away, he saw three steamboats; the Jamestown, the larger Patrick Henry and the smallish Teaser, all riding at anchor but with smoke flowing from their smokestacks.
“They have steam up”, said Morris with a smile, “Perhaps we’ll see some target practice today.”
[“If only they knew”] Plucky thought.
Just a few hundred yards away, Babs’ host was giving a report to his officer.
“Something odd, Captain – those two Frenchie ships have moved down to the mouth of the Roads” reported Lt. Pendergrast.
“They must be preparing to leave port”, concluded Lt. Smith, “They should have signaled to Fortress Monroe about it. That’s the international law.”
“They did not report, Sir.”
Smith paused, thinking. “…I heard the two French captains visited Norfolk yesterday.”
“Do ye think they know something we don’t Sir?”
Back in Acme Acres, Wile Coyote stood on a catwalk above the central cooling and power tube, tightening a harness and a tether on himself, preparing to be lowered into it. Ralph Wolf looked anxious.
“Do you know what you’re doing?” he asked.
“I always know what I’m doing”, the coyote declared, “I’m doing what the Doctor told me to do. The cooling system’s frequency modulation must be altered to withstand the huge influx of power and it can only be done –manually.”
“Shouldn’t we let the lil guy do this?” Ralph implored, “No offense, but both you and I have a reputation for – how shall I say it? – Screwing Up?”
“I am perfectly capable of making this adjustment without blowing us all to Kingdom Come, thank you very much!” Wile insisted, then muttered under his breath, “As long as the Doctor hasn’t used any Acme products in this design…”
Ralph snapped the tether’s safety hook to an electrical crane and stood at the controls.
“You do realize that you’ll be inside the cooling system and close to the Time data stream, don’t you?”
This gave the Coyote pause for reflection but he turned back to his cousin with a supercilious smirk.
“Of course! But someone has to save our intrepid little band, don’t they?” he grinned arrogantly.
The crane lifted with a jerk and he looked down at the heavy steel hatch covered in frost and flowing with freezing vapor. Wile gulped nervously.
Back in Hampton Roads, the Toonsters and their hosts gazed out at the face of their foes – many, many foes. Men they knew personally, sailors they had served with before the war began. Old friends.
[“ My host served aboard the Congress”], thought Wakko sadly, [“She wuz his floating home for three years…Little did ‘ee think ‘ee should ever raise a hand for her destruction.”]
“Look! Plucky vas right”], noticed Arnold, [“Das ist undervear in dere masts.”]
Blue pants and shirts hung on the spars and rigging of the Cumberland like leaves on a tree, while the white underwear hung to starboard, towards shore. There were so many… so many men… so many guns. With the battle about to begin, the Toonsters and their hosts grew fearful, but only their thoughts betrayed them. They felt cold again. Shirley’s thoughts chilled them, her voice like that of a terrified toddler.
[“…Doc?…Like…I’m way scared.”]
There was a pause before Lord answered, as his mind was crowded with calculations of power conversions and the stress factors of photo-optic cable.
[“You’ll be okay. Keep calm…Can’t talk now– must prepare time machinery.”]
Behind his host’s bearded face, Lord’s eyes glowed solid white as he thought his instructions back through time to the screen Egghead Junior was reading.
[“I hate texting”] he thought.
[“There’s so many against us”], Calamity thought introspectively, [“And yet we’ll be the winners. Ours is the triumph of new technology over ancient dogma.”]
[“But at such a terrible cost”] Hamton’s guilt-ridden mind muttered.
The Toonsters were sore afraid, but kept their silence, until one brave voice filled their heads.
[“We’ve got a job to do. Take heart from these men”] Furball told them, [“They’re afraid too – but you don’t see them showin’ it.”]
[“Furball’s right – we’ll get through this!”], echoed Buster, [“We can’t let our feelings influence these men or we might change history! We’ve got to stay detached.”]
Fowlmouth saw lookouts on the ship’s bow and bragged [“I ain’t afraid!”]
“Keep your eyes skinned for torpedoes!” called Captain Buchanan.
[“Scratch that! I’m afraid!”] the chicken recanted.
Within Lieutenant Jones, Lord’s white eyes returned to their normal silver and he resumed his commanding tone.
[“All right, now everyone listen and listen hard! You are going into battle for the first time and there are some rules you must abide by. First; when I give you a command – you must obey immediately and without question. You life will depend on that. If I tell you to move – you jump and move fast. Second; Do not panic. If there’s any chances to be taken – I’ll take them – Not you. You’re All going home tonight – so don’t forget that. Third; If you can see the enemy – they can see you. Keep your heads down and try not to get shot. Fourth; If you know there’s an explosion coming your way – open your mouth. That will lessen the concussion on your ear drums. Watch out for flying splinters – they’ll kill you as sure as any bullet will. Last; if you have to shoot, aim for the center and squeeze the trigger, don’t jerk it… Shoot to kill – because the enemy will do the same to you. Got that?”
[“Yavol herr Baron”] thought Arnold amidst the grave silence that followed.
The Toonsters and the men of the Virginia stood anxiously awaiting the battle to come. The sun beat down on the slimy black iron mountain. The eerie stillness was palpable.
[“…Now I know what ‘deathly quiet’ means”] whispered Gogo, regarding his doomed friend Dunbar.
Chapter CXX Ralph Wolf stood waiting at the controls of the crane hanging over the huge cooling conduits leading into the bowels of Doctor Lord’s huge time machine. The end of the hoists’ cable disappeared into the frosty hatchway, which overflowed with frosty vapor, then there were three sudden tugs on it from below.
Egghead Junior scampered down the ladder to join the wolf as he pushed the lever that pulled up the cable.
Like an anchor on a chain, the frozen form of Wile E. Coyote rose through the hatch hanging from his harness on the end of the wire, one hand frozen solid in the act of tugging on the cable, the other outstretched with a standard screwdriver in it. Wile’s tongue hung out ridiculously, with a couple of metal screws stuck to it.
The ice-covered coyote’s pleading eyes looked at them and a strained squeak met their ears.
Junior looked at Ralph and his sign read ”He said ‘blow-torch.”
The wolf blinked innocently and asked “Blow torch what?”
He then reached aside knowingly and picked up an acetylene blowtorch. Wile’s eyes widened as Ralph ignited the roaring flame and stepped up closer to him.
“I told you so!” the wolf literally sang, “Now this may sting a little…”
On board the Cumberland, Plucky listened to a Union sailor bragging of how bored he was with blockade duty and how much he hoped the Merrimac would show herself, and how certainly she would be sunk by their war vessels.
[“Pride cometh before a fall”] thought the duck, recalling the many times he’d heard that himself.
Aboard the Virginia, no floating mines were found and the Captain ordered the rudder hard to starboard to test the ship’s maneuverability. Hamton’s host swung the wrought iron wheel and waited for the ship to respond. For a minute or so, nothing seemed to be happening and the pilots grew nervous. Then the bow slowly began to creep to the right. Captain Buchanan could see how difficult turning the ship would be and ordered her hard to port. The pilot with Hamton inside swung the wheel the other way as the Captain spoke to Calamity’s host.
“Full speed ahead, Mister Ramsey. We must make this attack as quickly as we can. The rest of their fleet will try to trap us in a crossfire, so we must hurry with the work before us. Be prepared to ram as I told you” Buchanan announced.
With a nod, the chief engineer called out the order to the helmsman and the telegraph in the engine room rang up for “Full Ahead”. The sweaty, bare-chested stokers below shoveled more coal into the blazing hot furnaces and the roaring of the boilers and the shriek of escaping steam increased as black smoke belched from the towering smokestack. The engines thumped and pulsated like an ancient iron lung.
[“Listen to that…have you ever heard such a brutish engine before?”] thought Calamity in amazement.
[“As a matter of fact, I have”] Lord thought, ominously ending the conversation.
As the heavy iron ship surged forward towards Newport News, all those on deck looked upon the face of the enemy. It seemed as though the Yankees had been caught completely unaware.
[“Nothing indicates that we were expected”] observed Mary.
Within Lieutenant Pendergrast, Babs nervously waited on the bridge of the Congress. What Mary had thought seemed to be true. Babs looked back upon the memories of her host and found that there had been so many false alarms that cries of “The Merrimack is coming!” rang hallow. The messengers of such sightings were referred to as the boy who cried, “Wolf!” Babs began to wonder if the men around her would believe their own eyes.
There was a quiet commotion on deck. Crewmen crowded at the stern.
“Look! The Merrimack is coming down the river!” said one man.
“Be quiet, I want to read my paper” said another.
With a long brass spyglass in his hands, the ship’s quartermaster quietly saluted Pendergrast and said: ”I wish you would take the glass and have a look over there, Sir. I believe that thing is a-comin’ down at last.”
“Where away?” asked the lieutenant, taking the spyglass.
“Sewell’s Point, Sir. You can see the heavy black smoke.”
The bunny inside him was as anxious to see it as he was. Squinting through the monocular tube, Babs saw the dark cloud on the horizon… and then the squat black metallic shape that was creating it. As it was nearly seven miles away, it was hard to see anything more than a dark mass that didn’t seem to be moving. Two other small steamers were with the larger one. The shiny brass scope was cold in her paws but Babs did not care. The black humped shape of the enemy vessel was indistinct, but unlike anything her host had ever seen before. The lieutenant slid the spyglass closed decisively and strode away to tell his captain.
Aboard the Cumberland, a similar scene was taking place. The intrepid Lieutenant Selfridge was the first to spot it. There was a slight mirage effect because of the distance so that at first it was not clear if the ironclad was really coming out. Soon enough, there was no doubt.
“Three vessels approaching. One is the hull of a large vessel shaped like the roof of a house, with one smokestack, Sir” Acting Master’s Mate Charles O’Neil reported to Lieutenant Morris and the duck within him. “It must be the Merrimack!”
Morris’s eyes narrowed with determination as he looked through his spyglass at the approaching Virginia. It didn’t faze him. If the Merrimack was going to attack – he was ready to spring the trap on her. The Union Navy’s secret plan to defeat the ironclad had been kept fairly well and he was ready, willing and able to implement it. When the Confederate ship came close enough to attack – the Cumberland would block the channel while the rest of the Fleet would close it off behind the Rebels, catching them in the crossfire. Morris saw his chance to make an end of the South’s naval ambitions by showing what the Union Fleet was really made of.
The more Plucky heard of Morris’s daredevil-ish thoughts, the better he liked the man. The chance to be a real hero thrilled him to his very core and he began to feel more and more brave and courageous himself, despite the imminent danger.
“Furl the sails! Cut down that wash! Prepare for action!” barked Morris, “Signal the Zouave to come alongside! Send word ashore to General Mansfield and lower the cutters aft.”
[“Hoist the mizzenmast, you landlubbers! Lower the boom! Clean up the poop deck!”], thought Plucky, [“Jive the jib! Raise the spanker! Paddle the spankee! And all that nautical talk!”]
The other Toonsters heard Plucky’s zealous jokes and laughed, smiling with a moment’s relief amidst the growing tension.
“Beat to quarters!” ordered Lieutenant Morris.
The ship’s chunky drummer boy began to play “the long roll” which silenced everyone. The Cumberland’s patriotic crew instantly went to their work. Down came the clotheslines, the fresh laundry fluttering to the deck. Bosun’s pipes squealed as the men cleared the decks for action. The Congress shook out her topsails, the white canvas being loosed by the men aloft standing along the spars and the men below pulling on miles of raw rope. The ship’s magazines were opened, the powder monkeys carrying the gunpowder bags to double-charge the ship’s huge Dalgren cannons. As the gun crews loaded their weapons, the ships’ Marines loaded their rifles with powder and shot. Some climbed the rigging, with their Springfields slung over their shoulders, to stand at the mastheads, their guns cocked and ready. Pistols and cutlasses were handed out, boarding pikes and axes were made ready. Scabbards sang with the steel sound of swords.
As the warriors prepared for their dreadful work, their captain lowered his voice and Plucky heard him give a grim command. “Sand the gun deck.”
Master’s Mate Harrington simply nodded and saluted as he went to carry out the order. Soon the young ship’s boys were at work scattering bucketfuls of yellow beach sand onto the freshly holy-stoned white planking of the ship’s decks. Plucky was puzzled.
[“Hey Doc? They’re throwing sand all over the floor. What’s that for?”]
The Doctor hesitated, then told them [“That’s for the blood.”]
[“What?!”] asked the shocked Toonsters.
[“It’s for added traction. The sand soaks up the blood and keeps the men from slipping in their comrade’s blood and gore”] Lord thought grimly.
[“…My God…”], thought Babs in horror, [“They’re spreading sand here too!”]
The Toonsters all felt their stomachs drop. Some of the officers left the upper deck of the Virginia in silence, staring back over their shoulders at the enemy ships.
Aboard the Cumberland and the Congress, the crews lost sight of the ironclad as she moved out of sight around the bend in the river channel, coming closer. The men around Babs began to wonder if the fight was coming or not.
“The Rebels is a-feared of us. They jest be putting the Merrimack through her trials” boasted an old tar, spitting a chaw of tobacco overboard.
Captain Smith turned to Pendergrast. Babs could see the man thinking before he became once more the bold leader.
“Action Stations, my lads!” said Smith,” They may yet make an appearance that we’ll want to be well-prepared for.”
[“I wish I could warn them”] Babs silently prayed as her host carried out the orders.
[“We are merely observers. We cannot change history”] Lord told her.
[“I wish there was at least something we could do for ‘em”] Plucky thought.
At that moment, his host Lieutenant Morris looked thoughtfully down the deck at his men and spoke to the Mate again.
“Mister Harrington, have the crew finish dinner, but keep a weather eye out.”
The bosun piped the hands back “to dinner” as Plucky watched them and thought [“At least they’ll get to finish eating.”]
[“For many of them, it will be their last meal”] Hamton thought unhappily.
Within his host, Wakko was becoming increasingly uncomfortable – and not quite because of the anxious situation aboard the Virginia.
[“Uh… Doc?… Um, I ‘ave a problem”] he thought.
[“What’s wrong Wakko?”]
The Warner kid squirmed and shyly whispered [“…Potty emergency.”]
There was a round of snickering from some of the other Toonsters as the Doctor winced in exasperation [“Oh for heaven’s sake! Why didn’t you go before we left?”]
[“Sorry. I’d forgotten”], Wakko apologized helplessly, [“What can I do?”]
[“You’ll just have to wait until your host has the same need”] Lord advised.
[“Oh peanuts…I wish ya hadn’t mentioned it”] Babs thought as her anxiety caused her to feel the same pressure.
[“Like, my stomach’s doing 360’s”] whined Shirley.
[“Mine too”] moaned Hamton.
[“Fermez` le bouche!”], Fifi thought abruptly at Hamton. Instantly aware that everyone heard her she added, [“Toute la monde!”]
There was a long awkward pause before Fowlmouth quietly wondered.
[“What’d she say?”]
[“She said ‘Shut up everybody’“] Arnold reported bluntly.
[“Ah’m sorry, but all zis whining eez getting on mah nerves and theengz are ‘ard enough alreadee”] Fifi hastily half apologized, half lied.
[“Potty!”] complained Wakko.
The Union tugboat Zouave chugged alongside the Cumberland and Lt. Selfridge shouted his orders through a tin mouth trumpet.
[“That looks like what that singer from the Thirties sang with”], Plucky thought absently, [“What was his name?”]
Doctor Lord answered [“Bing?”]
[“Somebody’s at the door!”] Plucky laughed weakly.
The Toonsters all groaned in annoyance and Lord thought dryly [“What are you trying to do?”]
[“Lighten up the otherwise dark mood?”] thought the duck sheepishly.
After a pause, Lord’s thought rang ominously as he simply said [“Don’t.]
The Zouave left the Cumberland to investigate the approaching steamers, chugging away to the deeper southern channel. The Virginia too, turned into the south channel, as she needed more than twenty-two feet of water underneath her. The two enemies steamed towards each other.
Far behind them, Shirley watched the activity aboard the big Union frigates. Men kept peering curiously at the Virginia, sticking their heads out of the gun ports.
[“Like, I don’t get it. They see us, but why aren’t they doing anything?”], she wondered, [“This is totally ridic.”]
[“The ironclad is almost unknown to this world. They have never seen anything like this ship in their lives”], Lord answered, his host standing next to hers, [“Let me tell you all a story of what is known as ‘the shock of armor’ … “]
As the Toonsters stood on or below deck in silence listening to the old skunk, his words coalesced into visual thoughts and they saw it in their minds.
[“Long, long ago there was a proud city. Its citizens had great pride: for they thought themselves safe behind the strong fortress they had built and were content to live free of the fear of marauders. They lived well and became rich and thought themselves invulnerable…Then one day, something strange came out of the forest.
They had never seen the like of it before. At first they laughed at the scaly creature and scoffed because it seemed so ponderous and ugly. But their mocking laughter did not stop it – their spears, arrows and swords did not stop it – their cavalry and ballistas and catapults did not stop it – and when it opened it’s crooked jaws – and breathed fire upon their wooden walls – their fortress did not stop it. … When the dragon finally returned to the forest… the pride – and the city – was gone…
Today, ladies and gentlemen - We – are the dragon.”]
Everyone was silent for a while as the vision sobered them.
[“Visual thoughts – Far out”], thought Shirley in wonder, [“You’ll hafta teach me that… like, once we get through this.”]
Back at the stern gun, Mary was having a crisis of consciousness. Her host looked out of the gun port at the Union Fleet.
[“Doc?”], she asked hesitantly, [“…I know who I am … I know who these men are and I know who we’re going to attack… The question is – are we on the bad side? Are these men evil?”]
[“These men are fighting for the right to live in the way that they choose, just as those men are. You can see in their minds that this is over states’ rights; the right to choose, the right not to be unfairly taxed, the right of fair trade, the right of domain – it’s not just about slavery”], thought the Doctor, [“From our point of view in the future, slavery is seen as being evil, but slaves have existed here since the dawn of time. Habits that are that old are hard to stop. Even today in some rare corners of Reality – slavery still exists.”]
[“But are these men evil? Are we bad for being part of this – inside them?”]
[“Look into your host’s mind and heart to find out”], Lord sighed, [“ Do you think they are genuinely evil?”].
The Toonsters all looked at their hosts’ lives through their memories. They studied them for many moments, but finally all agreed and thought: [“No.”]
[“Dey are tough”] Arnold affirmed.
[“They are clever and resourceful”] thought Calamity.
[“They hafta potty!”] Wakko whined painfully.
[“They’re good men”] Gogo thought sadly as he watched the sponge man, Dunbar, who exchanged an encouraging grin with his own host.
[“Gogo? You don’t sound quite yourself”], Babs wondered, [“You okay?”]
[I dunno…I never watched somebody die before”] the Dodo thought timidly, [“I don’t think I want to.”]
[“That makes two of us”] Babs agreed.
[“I’m sorry – “] Doctor Lord began, but then found his host suddenly in action.
Lieutenant Jones had sighted the Zouave through his spyglass.
“Federal tugboat off the starboard bow, Commodore. She’s approaching.”
“Just a scout vessel. Maintain course for the Cumberland”, said Captain Buchanan, “Mister Ramsey, more speed.”
“Aye-aye, Sir” answered Calamity’s host.
(Star Trek VOL#2, “The Doomsday Machine” “Light Beams/Tractor Beam” #7)
Suddenly an explosion made the Toonsters jump! After a silent second of rushing adrenalin ran through their bodies, a louder, closer detonation followed as a shell exploded above the water just a few hundred yards away! Some of the Virginia’s men rushed to look out of the gun ports, only to be stopped by their officers, who instead looked out the ports themselves.
[“The first Federal shot of the day”] mused Lord calmly.
The shot had come from the Zouave’s single Parrot rifle and its thirty-pound exploding shell had missed the ironclad, throwing up a ragged splash as its hot shrapnel slammed into the sea.
[“I guess this is it?”] thought Babs fearfully.
[“No, just a signal to the fleet”] answered Buster as his host gave new orders.
“Quarters” Lieutenant Parker told his men, who began loading their own thirty-two pounder cannon on the tugboat’s bow.
A second shot flashed and rang out from the Zouave, a cloud of white gunsmoke following the shell as it skidded into the water in the Virginia’s path!
“Hold your fire,” ordered Captain Buchanan coolly, “We have a more pressing engagement.”
[“They’re out of range”], Lord declared, [“About two miles away.”]
As Calamity’s host watched alongside the ship’s commanders, the white-winged sailing craft sprinkling the bay and the long lines of tugs and boats scurried to the far shore like chickens on the approach of a hovering hawk. Suddenly, huge volumes of smoke began to pour from the funnels of the frigates Minnesota and Roanoke at Old Point. Brightly colored signal flags fluttered up and down the masts of all the ships of the Federal Fleet! “The Merrimack has come down,” they said.
The tugboat fired again and missed.
[“They’ve seen us and are getting up steam!”] Calamity exclaimed.
[“Relax, they’ll never catch us. Those are the Merrimack’s sister-ships”] the Doctor told him, [“The Roanoke’s drive shaft is offline.”]
[“The Minnesota has the same engines as we do, so they can only match our speed,”] the coyote reasoned.
The faraway gun on the Zouave boomed again, missing the Virginia’s hull only by a hundred feet or so, sending an implosion into the water, like a stone thrown from a high angle.
[“Ohhh…potty!”] Wakko bellyached.
“Hold your course” ordered the Captain.
[“Like, he’s bluffing them”], Shirley reported, [“He knows that he’ll scare them off.”]
As the ironclad seemed to steer directly towards them, the federal tug bravely stood it’s ground, firing again, but missing by a wide berth.
[“Vy doesn’t der kapitan fire?”] wondered Arnold, as he and his host looked out the bow gun port.
Shirley’s thoughts were clear. She seemed to have lost her fear, as if she had seen something new in her inexorable host.
[“He’s like, saving his gunpowder and…he really doesn’t want to cause more death than he has to. That’s why he’s attacking the Cumberland first!”], she explained, [“He just wants tuh sink the ships and make the Fleet surrender. He’s gonna ram the Cumberland and like intimidate the other ships. He doesn’t wanna shoot at his brother’s ship, he wants ‘em to surrender and then share a glass of sherry with him in his own ward room like Commadore Perry did with the British back at the Battle of Lake Erie. He’s like a totally ‘old school’ Navy man…”]
[“Doc?”], Shirley confessed earnestly, [“He is a good man…he just has to do his duty.”]
The Zouave fired a final shot and then spun around and headed back for the safety of Newport News.
[“Nyeeeeh! Ya missed me!”] jeered Gogo.
A ragged cheer broke from the men, but Lieutenant Simms quickly ordered: “Silence on board!”.
The men feel silent but grinned at each other broadly.
[“We called them back, Gogo”] Plucky replied aboard the Cumberland.
[“Like, um.. how are things over there, Plucky?”] Shirley wondered
The duck looked at the men on the gun deck, standing at their guns, waiting.
[“Cool…grim, silent… determined… To be honest it’s pretty scary”] he replied quietly.
[“Um…like… same here”] the loon thought, feeling guilty that they were on opposite sides, [“The strictest discipline is in force on our gun deck… uh…No one at the guns is allowed to talk er some junk…Not even in a whisper…”].
[“Uh…sorry I’m not with you”] he thought nervously.
[“Me too…totally”] Shirley agreed, forgetting that they were not alone.
[“Wackadoo! Plucky actually apologized! Will wonders never cease?”] Fowlmouth thought in amazement.
[“Un-cool, FM”] commented Mary as her host looked out through his gun port.
[“Ah dadgummit! I waz just thinkin’ it. I didn’ say it out loud. Sorry.”]
[“Thanks a lot!”] grumbled Plucky. Then he added [“I trust you Rebels will tell me when yer gonna start shooting at me?”]
[“It’s not their fault that we wound up on the wrong side, Plucky. It was an accident,”] Buster asserted as the Beaufort and the Raleigh drew out ahead of the Virginia to starboard.
Hamton swallowed another cold lump of guilt.
[“Arguing won’t help us”], Lord insisted, [“Please let me concentrate on the task at hand. Now you concentrate on your assignments.”]
The Toonsters were feeling increasingly edgy. The only sounds aboard the Virginia were the hiss and the steady thud-thudding of her steam engine as the ship moved slowly across the bay at four and a half miles per hour. The tension was palpable as the agony of waiting for battle continued for the toons and their hosts. The crew sweated in silence, their drawn faces looking positively grim.
[“Potty, potty, potty!”] whimpered Wakko as he squirmed.
Luckily, his nervous host also had the same urge and retired downstairs to the dark orlop deck and the officer’s head. Wakko’s sigh of relief trailed off as he opened what amounted to an outhouse door and saw nothing in the faint lantern-light but a large chamberpot inside on the floor.
[“That’s a little too literal”] he thought, nonplussed.
Chapter CXXII In the Doctor’s underground laboratory, Wile Coyote was sweating over the twelfth console he’d rewired in the last twenty minutes. The last of the icicles in his ears had melted as he worked to improve the machine’s ability to control the higher level of power that would soon be coursing through it. The old heavy gauge wiring had been built to last and it was a hard job to change it out. High above him on the ceiling’s catwalk hung the tethered Ralph Wolf working on the cable trunking between two of the large electrode diffuser balls.
“Cousin? If we use the impulse control circuits, they’ll be fused solid!” Ralph called down as he twisted his torque wrench, loosening the power lines.
“What about the warp core control circuits?” the coyote reminded him without looking up from his labors.
“Uh… yeah, we can cross-connect the controls”, the wolf admitted, but then cautioned him, “But that’ll make the machine almost impossible for one man to handle!”
Wile’s gaze and voice didn’t waver as he continued his efforts.
“You worry about your miracles, Ralphie. I’ll worry about mine. Get to work.”
“Yes sir!” Ralph said mockingly, but the next moment there was a great flash of electrical voltage as the wolf touched the wrong wire! Ralph glowed like a stoplight, then a Christmas tree, then like a lighthouse as the current went through his body like lightening! Thoroughly Friz frizzled, he hung sizzling by his tether with an astounded look on his face, his red nose flashing like a strobe light.
“That’s what ya get for not listening! The Doctor warned us about the bare wires” Wile chided him as he continued working with a laser cutting torch. Calling out over his shoulder he said “Junior? Try the 2G6 circuit.”
As the bespectacled chicken nodded amidst a veritable Sargasso sea of hanging colored wires, Ralph grew impatient with his blinking snout and used his torque wrench to ratchet it tight, his eyes crossing as he focused on his own nose.
Like a rocket-powered dagger, Commander Winters’ SR-71 flew at Mach three point five over the ridges of a snow-covered mountain range. Though the polarized greenish visor of his golden space helmet, he saw the frozen tundra miles below and the blinding sun at ten o’clock behind him. The slight draft of his pressure suit’s air-conditioner whirred softly in his sensitive owl’s ears, as did the roar of the Blackbird’s ultra-powerful ramjet engines.
Abruptly, a warning buzzer sounded in the cockpit and the code indicators began spinning on the black radio discriminator panel. A letter locked into place, then two more followed by three numerals: “CRM114” – then the radio in his helmet crackled with a familiar voice.
“Blackbird, this is Dick Strong – do you copy? Over?”
“Affirmative, Detective. This is Blackbird”, the snowy owl replied, perplexed, “Breaking radio silence is highly irregular. What the devil do you mean by contacting me? You may be giving away my position. Over.”
“It couldn’t be helped. We have a problem back here and you may be the only one able to save us in time”, the hard-boiled policeman told him, “We need you to raise the power output of the PMD mainframe immediately! Over.”
In a moment of puzzled silence, Winters huge yellow eyes blinked and his beak hung open a moment in confusion before his head turned quizzically aside.
“Just a moment – did you say the PMD? Over?”
“That’s affirm. The power output levels at Point K must be raised to ‘Full’. Over.”
“Ha-ha! I think there’s been a bit of miss-communication, Richard because that’s already my mission!” chuckled Winters, “The Doctor gave me that assignment last night.. I’m nearly over – eh… I am over Canada now. Over.”
Now it was Dick Strong’s turn to be surprised, “Last night?? But that’s impossible! How could he have -?”
“Oh come now, old man,” the owl reminded him, “You know him better than that. This is Lord we’re discussing. Now then, what’s all this fuss about? Over?”
As the black spy plane flew north-northeast, it’s pilot was told of the desperate problem the Toonsters now faced.
Hamton sweated inside his host as he now sat in a chair on a small platform underneath the Virginia’s pilothouse. He was alone looking through the tiny slits in the bell-like iron cone. These view ports were very small and were widely spaced so that he had to be close enough to peep through while he called out directions to the messengers below, who ran back and forth to the ship’s wheel amidships.
Directly below was the breech of the seven-inch bow rifle, with its gun crew standing at the ready, Arnold and Gogo among them.
Hamton held onto the cold iron edges of the armor with his sweating palms. He bit his lip as he concentrated on anything other than his own feelings. He sought to look out the front eye slit of the conning tower – to do anything rather than feel guilty. He struggled not to think out loud of the trouble he’d caused and how he may have jeopardized the entire future by his little scheme to scare Dr. Lord with Boris the spider. To think out loud now would let everyone know of what he had done - the terrible thing he’d done. His stomach churning with his swallowed guilt, the pig was nauseated, but stood still and stolid.
Below him, every man stood on the deck in silence – all but one.
Amid the mounting tension, a young boy of twelve from North Carolina cautiously approached the captain of his gun. The small powder boy was pale and his hands trembled, but his little voice was clear and stoic.
“Mister Marmaduke?” he whispered to the midshipman, “I’m likely to be killed in this fight… If I am, will you send my money to my father?”
The boy reached up to hand the taller man his money purse. Henry Marmaduke simply nodded, tucking the leather bag into his jacket and then looked to his gun. The child blinked and quietly returned to his task of fetching the heavy bags of gunpowder. Hamton’s cheek tightened as he witnessed the little boy’s bravery and felt ashamed for thinking only of himself. The time for sentimentality was over.
Aboard the Cumberland, Plucky Duck was feeling like more of a man than he had ever been before as he stood within the bold interior of the Captain.
“Swing ship! Heave now, lads! Pull!” Lieutenant Morris barked.
As the circle of sailors pushed the yokes of the capstan round, the great ship pulled in on her anchor-chains, slowly pivoting the bow of the sloop-of-war around with the river’s current. The crew steadied themselves against the ship’s movement as it swung heavily through the water to port. Morris turned around to face along the ship’s course. Plucky felt like he was riding the deck of the battlewagon like a surfboard – and all without the slightest pang of seasickness!
The seventeen hundred ton vessel swung to a gentle halt on the swell. Up swung the gun ports as her eleven broadside cannons were run out and brought to bear on the oncoming ironclad. With twenty-four heavy guns – the Cumberland could outgun the Virginia by more than two to one. The trap was set!
[“Now I am Captain Pluck”] the duck thought to himself with pride.
Aboard the Congress, Babs stared at the approaching Virginia through the eyes of her host who gazed at it through his cold brass spyglass. The rabbit recognized the wooden structure she had seen before in the drydock at Portsmouth - but it had changed dramatically. This was a glistening black, armored war machine that moved slowly towards them through the water like a half-submerged crocodile intent on its prey. Black smoke erupted from its smokestack and guns jutted from its gun ports, but unlike her own vessel – there was no sign of life. It seemed they would not be fighting against living men – just a hissing, smoking soulless robot of destruction. Babs saw it coming and knew what it would do – and she was afraid.
Her host and the men around him stared at the Virginia. Lieutenant Smith climbed partway into the rigging to point at the oncoming menace and bold as brass, he scoffed at the Virginia.
“Well, my hearties!” the captain shouted to his crew, “You see before you the great Southern bugaboo, got up to fright us out of our wits. Stand to your guns, and let me assure you that one good broadside from our gallant frigate – and she is ours!”
“HUZZAH!” cheered the brave men of the Congress.
[“What do they think this is? A football game?!”] Babs thought in disbelief.
The crew stared at the Virginia. Every eye was upon her. All hands stood ready. No one stirred. The silence was awful.
On the hurricane deck of the Virginia, Lieutenant Jones turned to his commander.
“They’ve capped the T, sir” Jones reported calmly.
“So shall we” replied Captain Buchanan.
Jones (and Dr. Lord within him) took a last glance of the scene of battle and slowly walked down the steps to the gun deck below. The ship was slowly steaming into harm’s way towards the Cumberland’s broadside and approaching the bow of the Congress about 2,500 feet away. Their single bow rifle now faced nearly fifty guns. The Captain took a few steps down the stairs but kept his head in the hatchway so he could see to direct the vessel’s course.
Shirley gulped in terror as the Captain decided to remain exposed alone to the fire of the enemy, making her also exposed, but her fright was overwhelmed now by the absolute fearlessness displayed by her host.
“Signal ‘Close Action’!” he ordered.
The signalman switched the forward flags, running the red pennant up the flagpole before the towering smokestack, which hissed and snorted like a chimney on fire.
As the smoking, deadly leviathan slipped silently through the sea toward its prey, Franklin Buchanan’s fierce determination to win began to defeat Shirley the Loon’s peacefully centered oneness.
[“Like what’s ‘capping the T’ mean?”] she asked.
[“It means they’ve turned their broadside guns at us while we’re only bow onwards”] Lord told her, [“It’s one of the oldest naval combat maneuvers. Now they can rake our entire ship with their broadside guns.”]
[“So now we’re gonna do the same thing, Doc?”] asked Furball.
[“They’re gonna shoot at us before we can turn at they rate we’re going! This ship is too slow!”] worried Hamton.
[“It is kinda like driving in first gear, ain’t it?”] agreed Fowlmouth.
[“The channel is narrow here, we could easily run aground and be stuck”] Mary added as her host peered out of his gunport.
[“The captain knows all that”], Shirley thought abruptly, [“He’s presenting as little of our ship as a target while we get close enough to ram. He’ll set a course that will keep us out of their line of fire too.”]
Down in the lamp-lit Captain’s quarters, the ship’s doctors prepared for the worst, laying out bandages, tourniquets, scalpels and surgical probes as they set up their sickbay. All Fifi could do was to listen to the thoughts of the others and the changing tones of her friends.
Aboard the Beaufort, Buster could only admire the nerves of steel of his host, Lieutenant Parker. He tasted the bitter flavor of tobacco as the Captain put a brand-new cigar in his mouth and coolly gave the order.
“Steer for the Congress. Raise our battle flag. Prepare to open fire.”
His Bosun’s mate pulled their tri-colored pennant up the mast. It resembled the French national flag.
“The frogs have joint the Rebs!” shouted a man on the Congress’s deck.
“Stand to your guns!” ordered their Captain.
[“..Babs?….I, uh… sorry…Watch out”] Buster stammered awkwardly.
On the Congress, a frightened Babs understood and gulped as she knew the moment of truth had arrived.
[“… I love you too…Watch yer tail…”]
Chapter CXXIII (“The Planets” by Gustav Holst – “Mars, the Bringer of War”)
Buster could only stand and watch as his host gave the order.
“Mister Robinson, let’s get their attention – Open fire on the Congress.”
Jack Robinson, the captain of the gun, looked down the sights of the massive banded cannon and yelled: “FIRING!”
His gun crew all turned and leaned away, covering their ears as the Midshipman pulled the lanyard and the gun went off with an ear-splitting roar, the recoil bucking the titanic weapon backwards across the deck with a blast of orange flame! A three-foot ring of fire appeared for a moment and Buster felt the concussion wave and heat flash smack his chest. It was as though he’d stuck his face into a blast furnace and then been clonked by a club. His ears rang like a steel bell. White gunsmoke clouded his eyes and the chemical, rotten-egg smell of gunpowder filled his nose. Although the shock had jarred him - his host didn’t even bat an eyelash. Parker watched the shell rocket past the Congress’s port side by a foot or so and hit the beach beyond, the resulting explosion throwing a column of sand into the air.
Buster swore a mighty oath that surprised even Fowlmouth.
[“Whoa, not bad, Bustah”], the rooster thought with admiration, [“Now yer even swearin’ like a sailor!”]
[“Gentlemen, I will not tolerate bad language in front of the ladies!”] Lord announced.
[“Well, how about in back of ‘em?”] quipped Buster.
Before she could hear Buster’s joke, Babs heard Lieutenant Smith call out “Fire as your guns bear!” and the bow cannons on the Congress roared!
[“Oh my ears and whiskers!”] yelped Babs as the thunderous reports slammed her eardrums. A white cloud blew in her face and she coughed as she breathed in the gunsmoke. The cannon balls narrowly missed the rebel ships, but it was enough to make the Beaufort fall back.
Shirley watched the shot pass over her ship with wide eyes and felt not the slightest twinge of fear from her host. Captain Buchanan stared intently on his intended target as if sighting the great ironclad like a rifle.
“Hold your fire. Full speed ahead! Steer directly for that vessel!” he ordered.
Below in the boiler room, Calamity watched as more steam was urged upon the clanking, thudding massive engines, their revolving arms turning the giant propeller shaft, while the stokers poured the coal into the raging furnaces.
Shirley watched as the guns ashore at Camp Butler opened up on the Virginia, firing in front of the Congress’s bow. The cannon balls came whistling in and struck her with a sharp crack!!… But lo and behold, the heavy iron projectiles bounced off – glancing upwards as they struck the angled armor to fall hissing into the sea! Despite the danger, the loon’s mind was focused elsewhere.
[“Plucky? Where are you?”]
[“Uh, the poop deck? The rear – the after-stern?.. eh – back here!”] he answered.
[“Good… like please stay there, kay?”]
The terrible moment Shirley sensed was upon them. The Cumberland was only 1,500 yards away – well within range. She dreaded her next actions.
Tight-lipped, Captain Buchanan stepped down the hatchway and crouched under the ironclad’s roof to see his forward gun crew waiting.
“Mister Simms – open fire on the Cumberland!” he ordered.
The crew turned to their work as the Lieutenant with Arnold inside crouched to sight the seven-inch Brooke rifle through the small gun port. His right hand held the cannon’s lanyard as he shouted ”Number One - FIRING!”
Gogo and the other crewmen at the gun’s side leaned away, covering their closer ear. Arnold winced as during the deadly pause that followed, as his host shut one eye to aim the shot perfectly.
[“Oh-”] Arnold managed to think before Simms yanked the lanyard.
The Virginia’s bow gun fired with a titanic roar that reverberated up and down the inside of its casemate. The shell screamed across the Roads and hit the Union warship squarely, passing through the starboard-quarter rail. Plucky saw the white explosion and huge wooden splinters flying into the line of blue-uniformed Marines who’d been standing there. Nine men tumbled to the deck, impaled with the broken wooden shrapnel, screaming as they lay there with shredded limbs. Plucky stood on the perfectly clean white deck and stared…
The flag he stood next to was now shockingly similar to the colors before him; the pure white deck, the smart, perfectly blue uniforms – and the streaming red blood which stained everything. The groans of these men, the first to fall, as they were carried below, was something new to the rest of the gunners aboard.
Plucky had no time to react as his host shouted: “RETURN FIRE!”
Quickly, the crew of the Cumberland’s pivot gun loaded and ran the cannon out. The gun Buchanan feared most went off with a shocking blast, but the ten inch shot missed it’s mark. Now the gun crews on both ships raced to fire faster, hoping to stop each other. Gogo and Arnold fought their gun, struggling to load the deadly weapon and straining to pull it into position. The Cumberland’s crew of Bostonians threw all their might and mane into reloading, but Simms’ crew was ahead of them. Arnold squinted as his host aimed for the heart of them. The crewmen frantically struggled at breakneck speed, but the Virginia’s gun fired first.
Again, the ironclad’s gun jolted back with a sharp report, the casemate filling with acrid white gunsmoke. The Confederate shell burst in the very midst of the crew reloading the Cumberland’s cannon, striking the gun carriage and knocking the nine-ton weapon off onto the men. This time, there were no screams. The explosion killed every man there except the young powder monkey and the gun’s captain Kirker, who while holding a handspike to guide the gun’s aiming, had both arms taken off at the shoulder. White-faced, he stared in shock at his completely disabled gun. Without uttering a groan, he was taken below. Dead and wounded were everywhere, but no one flinched. They went on loading and firing, taking the place of some fallen comrade, killed or wounded, as they had been told to do.
As his host sought desperately to turn his ship so that more guns would bear, Plucky began to jabber nervously.
[“ Hey…those guys aren’t getting up! There’s arms and legs all over the place, but they’re not – Why aren’t they coming back… together? This is – too gross… it’s like Ren & Stimpy!”] he babbled in horror.
[‘They’re dead, son. Concentrate on your mission and you’ll be all right.”] Lord told the shocked duck.
[“I’m sorry, darlin’…”] gasped Shirley, barely in control.
Master’s Mate Harrington called away thirty men to move a gun from the port side to replace the disabled cannon. The black slanted bow of the Virginia erupted with flame as Arnold’s host fired again. The bursting shell killed most of Harrington’s crew. The head of the Master’s Mate rolled across the deck like a bloody billiard ball.
The Cumberland’s captain and the duck within him fought to bring more guns to bear on their attacker.
“Spring ship to the starboard quarter!” he shouted as his men pulled at the capstan, but it was no use. The tide was pushing them the wrong way.
Morris’s fierce determination out-ruled Plucky’s fear as his voice rang out!
“PORT BATTERY – FIRE!!”
Trained as close as possible, the Cumberland’s nine-inch guns fired a tremendous broadside, sending nearly a ton of iron flying into the Virginia! Shirley ducked inside the hatch as the massive explosion rocked both ships, but the plunging cannon balls merely bounced off the ironclad’s sloping sides and pilothouse. Inside the wrought-iron cone, Hamton’s head felt like the clapper of a bell as the pilothouse rang from the impact. When Shirley peeked outside again, she and the Captain saw that much of the forward railing had been smashed, but that was all. The great hulking vessel continued it’s steady and unswerving course, it’s forward gun wreaking havoc with every shot.
Chapter CXXIV ( “King Kong Music Suite” “Main Title” #12)
Within the armor-plated behemoth, Mary and the others could only guess at what was going on by the smoke and terrible sounds of battle.
[“What’s happening?”] she wondered, feeling hot fever-like chills.
Amidst the rapidly firing guns, Plucky watched in horror as Morris’ men were cut to pieces. The dead, as they fell, were thrown to the port side of the deck, out of the way, while the wounded were carried below. The ironclad monster kept on slowly coming towards them, spewing fire and smoke. Its shells went through the wooden ship’s sides as if they were made of paper, the splinters impaling anyone in their path. The first and second captains of every forward gun were either killed or wounded, so Lieutenant Selfridge, with a box of cannon primers in his pocket, ran from gun to gun, placing the primers in the breech vents and firing the cannons as fast as the decimated crews could load them.
[“We’re – we’re getting’ literally creamed out here!”] Plucky gasped.
By now, though still three or four hundred yards from the Cumberland; the Virginia’s snail-like advance had brought her abreast of the Congress, which had been firing on her for some time.
Shirley anticipated Buchanan’s actions and warned: [“Like, get down, Babs!”]
[“Who thinks about dancing at a time like this?”] the bunny questioned.
Within his host, Hunter Davidson, Furball yelled [“Fire in the hole!”]
A stand of grapeshot struck the Congress’s gun deck, mowing down a few sailors.
[“Oh”], Babs muttered, [“Thanks, but you better watch out yerself, Shirl!”]
Still waiting for action, Wakko stood within his host, looking out the gun port he was commanding. For a long while only the wide waters of the bay and the distant shores were visible, till suddenly the port became the frame of the picture of a great ship. It was the Congress, about one hundred yards away.
[“Aww, that’s pretty!“] , he thought, [“Hey FM, you ought to see-“]
Suddenly he saw the flashes of thirty-five guns leap at him from the Congress’s gun ports! His host jumped back just as the broadside all struck the Virginia at once!
[“Never mind”] shrugged Wakko.
The noise was terrible, giving everyone a fearful shock, but the solid shot bounced off the plated sides like so many basketballs. Gogo watched as the crew muttered in terror, only to be silenced by Arnold’s resolute host, Lieutenant Simms.
“Be quiet men”, he said calmly, “I have received as heavy a fire in open air.”
A call came from amidships; “No damage”, and the Virginia’s crew gave a mighty cheer! Their ironclad was truly shotproof. It was a miracle that none of the shot had entered through the starboard four open gun ports.
“Starboard battery – Prepare to Fire!” called out Lieutenant Jones.
[“Wull, time to take the buns out of the oven”] Wakko mused to Fowlmouth.
Together they watched as glowing 9-inch cannon balls were rolled out of the ship’s furnaces below and into iron buckets. The smoking hot shot were hoisted up to the mouth of the Dahlgren guns as water-soaked wads were rammed in. The loading men gripped the red-hot cannon balls with huge tongs that fit into the tugs in them. Using sheer muscle, the loaders gingerly rolled the burning shot down the gun tubes and backed off as the rammer put another wad in to hold the hot-shot in place. The two hot-shot guns were then lugged into firing position with more muscle.
[“Ohh yer mother’s tomato!”], swore Fowlmouth at the exertion, [“I’m gonna bust a giblet doing this!”]
[“Could be worse –“], thought Wakko, [“You could be ramming wet wads.”]
The rooster and the Warner kid snickered like sixth graders and FM commented: [“Heh! Heheheheheh! … You said ‘wads’.”]
(“King Kong Music Suite” “Jungle Dance” #16)
Their juvenile moment ended as Jones ordered “STARBOARD BATTERY! FIRE!”
At the command, the Virginia’s four-gun broadside belched flame and glowing shot at the Congress. The effect was terrible. Babs felt the sudden warmth and the next instant she lay on the deck among her host’s fallen comrades. One of the Virginia’s shells had come in through the port hole of gun number seven, struck the gun carriage and dismounted the gun, killing or wounding the entire sixteen man crew. Merely knocked down by the others, the bunny’s host struggled to stand up while the men lay around him, swept by the explosion into a bruised and bleeding heap.
Then she heard the type of cry sailors fear most.
“FIRE! THE SHIP’S ON FIRE!”
The rest of the men scrambled back to their guns as the damage control parties grabbed their fire-axes and began to viciously chop away at the bulkheads to get to the fire with their hoses. Wounded men tried to crawl away from the flames. Babs’ host grabbed a man by the shoulders and hauled him across the deck, but safety there was merely temporary. Another shout went up.
“FIRE NEAR THE AFTER MAGAZINE!”
Wondering if they meant People or Cosmopolitan, Babs and her host hurried to the Captain, Lieutenant Smith, who shouted orders to encourage his crew.
“We’ve taken two hot-shot!” Smith said, “If the fire hose can’t put it out, the fire will hit the ship’s gunpowder! Get the fire under control!”
As the men raced to cheat death, the Beaufort and the Raleigh returned to make trouble.
[“Sorry Babs”] Buster muttered as his host opened fire again.
One of the Confederate shot hit the Congress’s bow, but the Federal ship’s return fire knocked out the Raleigh’s only cannon. She could still fight, but the Congress was now critically damaged.
[“Ricky, yer going to have some ‘splaining to do!”] Babs thought angrily at Buster.
Lieutenant Jones stuck his head up through the hatchway to get a view of the effect of their broadside on the Congress and the Doctor within him saw the frigate smoking as the Virginia moved past it. The face of Captain Buchanan was flushed with emotion, but his eyes were fixed fiercely upon his target. He did not pause to finish off the stricken prey, as nothing would delay his intended rendezvous with the Cumberland.
“Turn forty-five degrees port”, ordered ‘Old Buck’, “Bring us around her bow!”
Jones paused to look, but relayed the order to the helmsman.
[“This maneuver might ground us on the mud”] Lord thought to Shirley.
[“Damn the mud – Full speed ahead!”] , the Loon answered, [“..Like sorry… I guess I’m getting caught up in his aggressive vibes er sum junk. He’s like, going to outgun them while protecting his ship and getting in closer. They have like, almost no guns at their bow, so he can get the ship in close without getting hurt.”]
The ironclad slowly turned her heavy bulk away to go around the Cumberland’s bowsprit while the sloop-of-war kept up her fire. Lord and Shirley ducked as several shot rattled down her length, punching gashes through the smokestack, smashing the railings and cutting down the flagstaff.
“Our flag has fallen!” someone shouted inside the casemate.
Wakko was watching his host oversee the re-loading of his cannon, when he suddenly found himself charging up the main stairway towards the top hatch! Lieutenant Eggelston crouched in the open hatchway before leaping out onto the exposed upper deck and running aft at full speed! The crewmen looked up in surprise as his footsteps resounded over their heads.
[“Boy, it’s a much better view from up here”] Wakko observed passively.
Ahead, Eggleston saw the fallen flagstaff and ran to pick it up. The ten foot pole was as thick as his arm and quite heavy, but he swung the Confederate flag up high, the colors streaming with the breeze. As he struggled to stuff it’s broken base into the holes in the grating, a bullet ricocheted off the armor plate at his feet!
[‘”Z’wounds, Wakko! What do you think you’re doing?!”] Dr. Lord yelled abruptly as his host saw Eggleston under fire on the stern.
[“Sorry, I was overcome by patriotism”] the Warner kid shrugged with a grin.
[“Wakko Wakkarotti DuPont Warner!! You get your tail back down that hole this instant!!”] the Doctor shouted sternly.
As musket balls zinged off the armor plating around him, Eggleston stuffed the broken flagstaff into the grating and ran back to the hatchway, dodging bullets as he went, as the ship swung under his feet! Wakko was biting his tongue as he ran down the stairs to safety. His host returned to his gun with a grin that was returned by everyone who saw him.
[“Sorry Doc, it was his idea – not mine”] Wakko apologized.
Lord sighed in relief and thought [“We should have remembered that Eggleston would do that. Next time give me fair warning.”]
Their emotions were quickly forgotten as the heavy ironclad turned hard to the left and the starboard broadside guns were run out. The ship jerked slowly ahead as its keel dragged in the mud. Within their hosts, the Toonsters waited in dread silence until their weapons were pointed at the Cumberland’s bow. On the hurricane deck, Shirley and Lord could see that they had now “capped the T”.
“STARBORD BATTERY – FIRE!” shouted Lieutenant Jones.
(“King Kong Suite” “The Bronte” #18)
Plucky and his host, the Captain, began to run forward just as the guns went off. All four shells raked the Cumberland’s bow, blasting it into a shambles. The Cumberland’s gunners replied with all they had, but their cheers became vicious curses as they saw their shot and shell bounce harmlessly off the Virginia’s tough hide like peas from a popgun. Plucky watched the dead men, little more than reddish barrels of bloody meat, as they were unceremoniously stacked like cordwood on the deck for later burial. Torn limbs lay on the deck.
[“This can’t be happening…I don’t believe it…”], thought the terrified duck, [“It can’t be real!..Cut! …Cut it! Somebody please cut it out!!”]
His host, Lieutenant Morris shouted to the ship’s pilot. “Smith! Turn the ship! Hell and damnation –TURN HER!!”
“We’re trying, Captain!” replied A.B. Smith as he pointed, “The tide is too strong! We can’t turn against it!”
Indeed, men on the nearby wharf were struggling to haul the ship around with a block and tackle, but it was no use. The tide from the James River was pushing them the wrong direction!
“It’s impossible for our vessel to get out of her way” Smith lamented.
Morris and the duck within him grimly clawed and climbed their way to the bowsprit through shattered wood and smashed bodies. Over the bow he saw the Virginia about five hundred feet away turning slowly towards them again, looking silent and still, weird and mysterious, like some devilish and superhuman monster, or the horrid creation of a nightmare. Now at close range the two warships poured out a living tide of fire and smoke, of shot and heavy shells. From the Cumberland’s ship’s scuppers, streams of crimson gore ran into the sea from the deck like wash water. Onward came the glistening black monster, looking like a half-submerged crocodile as she ploughed through the water towards the bow. At her prow, Plucky saw the iron ram he and Hamton had mounted there, projecting straight forward somewhat about the water’s edge.
“FIRE!” both he and his angry host shouted simultaneously.
The Federals fired as best they could, only to see their projectiles bouncing off her mailed sides like rubber balls, apparently not making the least impression.
Frightened and furious, Plucky and his host shouted as one! “Come on, you damned rebels!”
[“Plucky it’s nothing personal, rilly!”] Shirley apologized uselessly.
[“Plucky – get a hold of yourself!”] Buster told him.
Inside the Virginia’s iron shell, the Cumberland’s ferocious barrage of fire made a terrible din. The deafening roar of the guns and the sharp crack of the enemy shot pounding it made everyone’s ears ring, but the ship remained undamaged. Calamity’s host had cautiously climbed to the gun deck to witness the fighting. The coyote flinched fearfully as he watched the Cumberland’s shot strike the sloping sides and be deflected upward to burst harmlessly in the air or roll noisily down to fall hissing into the water, dashing the spray up into the gun ports.
Looking up, he saw Captain Buchanan still standing where he had been since the action commenced, in the open hatchway on the hurricane deck, foolishly exposed, but miraculously unhurt. Buchanan raised his speaking trumpet, his clear voice shouting across the waters.
“DO YOU - SURRENDER?” he hollered at the Cumberland.
Lieutenant Morris – the Captain of the sloop-of-war had but one answer, and full-throated, he yelled back at his enemy.
“NEVER!! I’LL SINK ALONG SIDE!! I’LL GO DOWN WITH MY COLORS FLYING!!!”
“…So be it,” Buchanan said reluctantly.
[“Like, he was trying to stop the fighting”], Shirley thought sadly, [“Now he has no choice.”]
[“He had a choice! He could have stayed loyal to his country!”] Plucky thought angrily.
[“He’d already tried that once – they wouldn’t take him back”] replied the loon.
[“Plucky Duck – you’re taking this too hard”], Lord told him, [“You’re an observer – not a participant.”]
[“Too hard?! Tell that to the guy who just had his head blown off!”]
[“Plucky? Keep cool. We’ve still got to rescue you”] Hamton reminded him.
[“Look out, here comes yer first chance!”] Shirley warned as Buchanan stepped down to the platform below and called Ramsey to him.
“Full ahead Mister Ramsey! You have your orders”, the Captain shouted over the sounds of battle, “Helmsman – Steer directly for that vessel!”
Calamity’s host ran to the down ladder and yelled to his engineers:
The cranky old engines throttled up, the steady thumping becoming a thrashing of hissing steam as the drive shaft spun the huge seventeen and a half foot propeller, dragging the ship’s keel out of the muddy bottom and into deeper water.
The monster charged like a rhinoceros, dipping its horn to strike!
Gogo looked painfully at Dunbar, knowing the end was near. If there was only something he could do! As they prepared to fire the bow gun, the sponge-man deftly leaped over the breaching tackle with the sponger in his hands and plunged it down the cannon’s throat to swab out the hot metal. Skillfully he pulled it out and moved cleanly out of the way for the loaders.
Exerting all the will power he could muster, the Dodo spoke, actually causing his host Curtis to speak aloud.
“Good work Soldier!” Gogo and Curtis cried.
The gun’s captain, Lieutenant Simms (and Arnold within him) gave him a moment’s pause, but returned to business. An image became indelibly stamped on Gogo’s memory, as Dunbar stood at ease amidst the violence and gunsmoke with his sponger at the ready, flashing a big grin at him
Chapter CXXVI (Star TrekVOL#2, The Doomsday Machine”, Kirk Does It Again” #12)
On the deck of the Cumberland, Plucky and his host drew his officer’s sword from its scabbard and brandished the weapon at the oncoming ironclad! He waved his officer’s cocked hat high with the other arm and cheered on his crew!
“The damned cessesh aim to board us! What say ye, men?” he shouted.
“NEVER!!!” roared the men, shaking their fists and hurling insults at their enemies.
“Then give them your answer! BLAST THEM TO HELL!!!” Morris cried.
The Cumberland’s guns went off with a thunderous roar and all the armed men on deck leveled their muskets and pistols at the ironclad’s open gun ports. With a tremendous crash and white clouds of smoke, they fired their side arms and rifles at the armored beast, their shot and Minie` balls hitting it’s sloping sides like a hailstorm.
At the Virginia’s stern, Mary had nothing to do but wait.
[“Won’t this be an opportunity to get Plucky back aboard?”] she wondered.
[“Not yet”] the Doctor answered. [“The power’s not high enough”], he said as his host popped his head up to see if the ship’s ramming course was true.
As the thirty-five-hundred ton ironclad moved in at six knots, Richard Curtis cautiously peered out the bow gun port and Gogo saw a sight he would never forget – the whole starboard side of the Cumberland was lined with officers and men with cutlasses and boarding pikes, ready to repel any rebel boarders. The angry mob shook their fists and weapons ferociously, their furious faces grimacing with deadly hatred! Gogo saw their heroic captain Morris and Plucky within him, with his hat off and his sword raised, cheering on his men! The sight of the moment passed as he and the gun crew ran out their weapon to fire at point-blank range.
“Look out, men! I am going to ram that ship!” warned Captain Buchanan.
[“Stand Fast!”] Lord commanded.
The ironclad monster ploughed her way towards the sloop-of-war’s starboard bow like a unstoppable locomotive. In the engine room, Calamity heard two rings of the ship’s gong, meaning stop engines. Then came three gongs, the signal to reverse. Either the Captain had gotten excited and ordered the engines reversed too soon, or else he hoped to have them already reversed before striking the Cumberland so that the ironclad might back away all the sooner.
Ramsey followed his orders. Pushing the cranky old steam engines into reverse took a concerted effort with his assistant engineers who had to stand atop the steam boxes and work the levers and reversing wheels in tandem. It was difficult work even when they weren’t rushed, and now they were in the midst of combat. Calamity helped to shove the lever, the gears changed and the engines reversed. Then there was an awful pause as the men waited for the deadly crash.
[“What eez happeneeng?”] Fifi asked from the sickbay.
From her vantage point on the stern of the Congress, a shaken Babs tried to describe what she saw.
[“The Merrimack is moving in towards the side of the Cumberland’s bow… The Yankees are shooting with everything they got - but it just bounces off! The Merrimack’s ram is so much lower than the side of the wooden ship… it’s gonna be a train-wreck! …I wanna go home.“]
Standing on the Cumberland’s bow, Plucky was surprised as the men calmly waited for the collision and worked their guns right up to the moment of the inevitable crash.
“Stand by to Repel Boarders!!” he shouted with his host, waving his sword.
Marines and sailors crowded to the ship’s rail with cutlasses and muskets!
Arnold and Gogo peeped out of the forward gun ports and saw the side of the Cumberland looming over them, as hot lead ricocheted off the plating only inches away. Arnold wanted to cover his eyes, but his host’s steady gaze was un-flinching. He saw a series of timbers floating around the wooden ship, chained together to prevent mines from hitting it.
Like a sea monster of old, the Virginia crashed through the floating logs to smash into the Cumberland, forcing it backwards! The ship reeled sideways with the mortal blow, listing to port and pulling her anchor-chains out of the water as the ironclad’s massive weight drove her back against them!
On the bridge platform below the hatchway, Shirley and Lord heard the crash and snapping of the timbers as the Virginia’s formidable cast-iron ram, backed by several hundred tons of ironclad propelled at about seven miles per hour, tore into the Cumberland’s starboard side below the water line, striking under her fore-chains near the bow. Calamity’s host was nearly knocked from his feet as the ship trembled with the impact.
When the Cumberland was hit, Plucky and his host’s men fell and rolled across the deck like bowling pins! Angrily, they let loose their firepower on the enemy, firing at point-blank range at their attackers. Below decks in the sickbay, ten wounded men lay groaning in agony on the floor. They suddenly heard the cracking and breaking of the ship’s hull underneath them as the ram punched through the ship’s wooden sides like a knife through ripe cheese. At the same instant, Lieutenant Simms fired the Virginia’s bow gun into the very heart of the rammed ship! The shell exploded in the sickbay, reducing the wounded men to shreds like so much strawberry jelly.
The crash into the Cumberland was devastating in it’s results. The ram had made a seven–foot hole in her wide enough to drive in a horse and cart. The water rushed in with irresistible force, almost instantly flooding the ship’s hold. The cracking and breaking of her timbers told full well how fatal to her the collision was.
Gogo’s host Curtis stood to the right of the Virginia’s bow rifle as the gun recoiled backward and the crew prepared to reload. The Dodo watched anxiously as Arnold’s host Lieutenant Simms called out, “Sponge!”
Dunbar, the brave sponge man, leaped over the breeching tackle and threw his head partially out of the open gun port to obey. A Marine on the Cumberland’s deck who’d been waiting for just such an opportunity squeezed his trigger and fired his rifle.
Dunbar dropped dead on the deck at Gogo’s feet, shot through the head.
His sponge had barely clattered to the floor when his replacement picked it up and fulfilled the dead man’s task. Curtis and the Dodo within him winced in anguish as they pulled their lifeless friend away from the action behind the gun. Curtis knelt and cradled his fallen comrade’s head a moment while Arnold and his host looked on.
[“I’m so sorry, Gogo”] the pit bull whimpered.
[“Oh my God, they’ve killed Dunbar!”], Gogo screamed, [“YOU BASTARDS!!!”]
The body was swiftly taken away to the sickbay, right out of Curtis’s hands.
Gogo now noticed the blood of his good friend staining his palms. His hands clenched into tight fists as he looked up at Arnold with tear-filled eyes full of hatred.
[“Of Course you know - This Means War!”] thought the enraged Dodo, as he and his host returned to their post with deadly purpose.
(Star TrekVOL#2 “The Doomsday Machine”, “Violent Shakes” #8)
Meanwhile, shouts rang out on the Cumberland’s deck amidst the heavy firing.
“We’re shipping water forward!” “They shot up the sickbay!” “The forward magazine is flooding!” “More powder!” “Pass along the cartridges!”
“Man the pumps! “ called Morris and Plucky.
“Water’s coming in too fast! It’s hopeless!” Lieutenant Selfridge told him.
Morris looked over the side at the ironclad still stuck into the hull of his ship. He saw his own vessel’s weight bearing down on it as the Virginia’s propeller churned the water behind it as it tried to escape.
“Maybe it is for the Merrimack as well,” said he.
Now it became painfully evident just why Buchanan had wanted to have the engines reversed as soon as possible. The Virginia had opened such a hole in her adversary that the sloop immediately began to list to starboard as the water filled her. In doing so, she bore down on the ironclad’s ram, still inside her, and began forcing the Virginia down by the bow. Unless Buchanan could get his ship backed out quickly, the sinking Cumberland could hold her trapped in this position – perhaps even taking the ironclad down with her!
As Gogo watched from the gun port, he saw the side of the Cumberland listing towards them.
[“The ship’s gonna fall on us!”] he thought, panicked.
At the same time, the Commodore’s aide, Flag Lieutenant Robert Minor ran down the Virginia’s gun deck, shouting in triumph “We’ve sunk the Cumberland!”
[“What’s happening?”] asked Mary again from her position in the stern.
As if in answer, the deck slowly began to tilt forward as the Cumberland began to pull the Virginia’s nose under! The alarmed men looked to their officers in charge.
“Ramsey, get us out of here!” shouted the Captain.
Calamity’s host turned to his assistant engineers and ordered: ”Full Astern! Emergency!”
The coyote and the men threw the rusty levers and the old engines thumped louder. The engines labored till the vessel was shaken in every fiber – but the ironclad did not move. Instead, Calamity noticed that the deck was starting to depress visibly toward the bow!
[“We’ve got to break loose! Or else she’ll pull us down with her!”] the coyote warned as the giant pistons and push-rods slammed back and forth.
Suddenly there was a terrific explosion in the center of the ship!
[“The boilers have burst! We’re gonna blow up!”] Calamity cried.
[“Look again, Calamity”], Shirley told him from the deck, [“We just took a shell in the smokestack, an’ it exploded. My ears are totally blitzed now!”]
“The black gang” in the engine room ducked as hot smoking fragments of shrapnel rained down on the boiler room floor. They coal heavers muttered in alarm, wondering if they might be sinking. Some of the gun crews looked up with fear as a large wave washed over the ship’s submerging bow and poured into the bow gun port, splashing Gogo and Arnold’s hosts with cold seawater! Then there was another terrible blast as a further shell from the Cumberland hit just outside the port and exploded! A man fell, knocked senseless by the shock of the impact. He was carried below, bleeding from the nose and ears. The Toonsters groaned with aching ears and throbbing heads.
[“Yipe, yipe, yipe, yipe!”] Arnold whined.
[“Keep your mouths open. I warned you about the concussion”] Lord reminded them.
[“But then all I get is a lung-full of gun smoke”] Fowlmouth complained.
[“Mayday! Mayday! We’re sinking! Women and Dodos first!”] Gogo whooped.
[“She’s gonna carry us down with her!”] Furball cried.
The other toons fussed until Shirley shushed them all.
[“Yeah, like you all rilly studied well, I’m sure. Look!”]
The tidal current had caught the length of the Virginia’s hull and was pushing it downriver. With the engines going full astern, the ironclad and the sloop were twisting backwards: the James River’s power pulling the two ships around till both their starboard sides were nearly facing each other. Almost parallel, the ships’ bows grinded together and bent. The weakened ram that Plucky and Hamton had badly mounted broke off from the resulting torque with a crackling snap. A fortunate wave rolled the Federal sloop slightly in its swell and with the tension released – the Virginia finally backed out. The ram was torn away and remained behind in the Cumberland.
[“Like the wasp, we could sting but once, leaving the sting in the wound”] mused Calamity.
[“I think that’s bees”] Furball reminded him.
[“We’re free!”] , Hamton thought in relief, then admitted, [“Gosh Plucky, I guess we didn’t do such a good job on that ram after all”.]
[“That’s because you were too busy thinking of the smell of your girlfriend’s tail! Filling our minds with “Essence de la Derrière!”] Plucky thought back angrily.
If Hamton had been able to, he’d have burned up, red-faced with rage.
[“Hey! RrrrrrrrrRR! Shut up, Plucky!”] he exploded.
[“No, you shut up!”] the duck retorted.
[“Vous Both Shut Up!!”] Fifi shouted, silencing them.
Plucky was distracted as Lieutenant Selfridge pounded a fist on the rail.
“We should have dropped the anchor on them! We could have dragged them down with us!” he cried as the Virginia escaped.
With the Confederate ironclad clear of the Cumberland, the Congress opened up her broadside guns, blasting away at it’s stern. Mary shuddered in shock as the cannon balls smashed down on the iron plating just a few feet away! The heat flash of the exploding shells nearly scorched her face.
[“Incoming! … Sorry, Mary!”] warned Babs as the gunners plastered the rebel ship with solid shot.
Mary winced at the deafening blasts and thought back with a sarcastic lilt.
[“Mmmph! Thanks a lot, girlfriend.”]
On the Cumberland, it was clear to Plucky that the ship was sinking beneath his webbed feet. Dead and dying men lay around him. The once clean and beautiful deck was slippery with blood, blackened with gunpowder, shrouded in smoke and looked like a slaughterhouse. Even as the gunners continued to work the guns, the ship began to settle beneath them. Even then, with the sloop-of-war literally sinking under them, the brave men of the Cumberland dragged the dead to the unengaged side of the ship and returned to their guns, loading and firing as fast as they could.
“The forward magazine is flooded!” a man called.
“Bring the ammunition from the after-magazine forwards!” shouted Morris and Plucky “Kill those son-of-a-guns!”
[“Ooo, such strong language, Plucky”] mocked Fowlmouth.
[“This is the nineteenth century, FM”], the Doctor reminded him, [“It means what you think it should mean. Good officers didn’t swear like sailors.”]
Now that the Virginia had backed about twenty feet away, Buchanan
ordered Ramsey to nudge the engines ahead again. Calamity and the others fought to twist the lever and engage the reversing gears. The cams of the huge push-rods swung round till they slowly came to a halt - then the cam turned further unexpectedly– leaving it off-center! The engine’s pistons were stuck in mid-stroke! Ramsey and the men struggled with all their might, straining against the shift-levers, but it was no use! Calamity was aghast. The ship was unable to move and helpless!
[“It’s stuck! The engines are stuck!!”] the coyote cried.
With the engines frozen, the Virginia’s guns could not bear and her firing ceased. The vengeful gunners of the Cumberland fired a tremendous broadside into the ironclad. One shot struck the muzzle of Midshipman Marmaduke’s gun, blowing two feet of the cannon off. Steel fragments sprayed the gun’s crew like buckshot. Marmaduke was hit and knocked to the deck. Blood spurted from painful wounds in his arm, but he stood up again to man his gun.
Another shell hit the Virginia’s exposed foredeck, severing the ship’s anchor chain on one side, which sent the twelve-foot anchor falling into the seabed. Relieved of it’s weight, the heavy anchor chain whipped back into the ship with a terrible ripping sound, it’s broken iron link flying across the orlop deck over Fifi’s head like a giant horseshoe to wound a man.
The skunkette’s host, Doctor Phillips only glanced a moment from the wounded sailor he was treating. With bare, bloody hands, he removed shrapnel from a musket ball from the man’s arm. Fifi gritted her teeth at the grim business.
[“Doc - like, what do we do?! We’ve got to get this ship moving!”] Shirley cried, losing her composure.
[“We relax and let the men do their jobs. They’ll know what to do. We’re here to find out how they did it”] Lord thought firmly.
Below, Calamity could see the problem. As long as the steam pressure was engaging the piston rods – it was locked. Once the pressure was gone – the rods could be manipulated. But faster than he could think of it – his host and the engineers were already doing it. The steam drums hissed sharply as the pressure was valved off and the already oppressive heat grew worse. Gingerly, two of the engineers risked death by climbing between the piston rods to move the giant cams with levers. Sweating bullets, the two groaned and strained to shift the cam down off its center position. With a titanic effort, they slowly wedged the universal joint back into a working position. Carefully, they squirmed out from between the engine’s moving parts that could have crushed them both like eggshells had they slipped. Ramsey and Calamity manned the reversing gear again and then engaged the steam to the three-foot pistons. The engines hissed – and finally began to function again. The men drew a deep sigh of relief.
“Helm hard over! Take us alongside” Buchanan ordered.
[“The Captain’s thinkin’ of passing on the rest of this fight. He totally doesn’t wanna kill anymore sailors”], thought Shirley, [“If the ship’s gonna sink, he may let it go.”]
Aboard the Cumberland, the fighting was desperately personal now. Delirium seized the crew. They stripped to their trousers, kicked off their shoes and tied handkerchiefs around their heads. The men were enraged that their heavy fighting was hardly damaging their enemy. When they began aiming at the Virginia’s ports and scoring hits, the men cheered! They yelled and fought like demons! The sanded deck was red and slippery with blood of the wounded and the dying. They were dragged amidships as there was no one and no time to take them below.
“WE’LL SEE YOU IN HELL, JOHNNY REB!” the men screamed.
“You first, Billy Yank!” men shouted back from the Virginia’s gun ports.
“Send the cutter ashore with a line!” Morris called, still trying to save his ship. From behind the sloop-of-war, a boat was carrying a hawser rope to the nearby wharf in an effort to pull the Cumberland around. They hoped to either beach the ship on shore so she wouldn’t sink or to bring her broadside guns to bear. They did not have to wait long. Shirley and the Doctor saw them.
“They’re trying to escape to shore, Captain” said Lieutenant Jones.
Captain Buchanan blew out his lower lip in frustration and called out “Return fire!”
Jones went down the stairs and directed the starboard broadside. Calamity returned to the gun deck as his host met wordlessly with that of the Doctor. Both opened their mouths as the four broadside guns blasted the air with flame and hot shot! The coyote winced at the explosion, but Doctor Lord seemed to breath it in, taking in deep breaths of the acrid gunsmoke, savoring it as if it were a bakery full of freshly baked bread. Together they watched as the forward pressure from the guns pulled the lingering smoke out thru the gun ports like a momentary vacuum. The spurt of smoke followed the fire as the gun recoiled backward, forming a huge white, donut-shaped smoke-ring, which flew slowly through the air like an undulating ghost. The ironclad’s ports truly looked like hell mouths from a fire-breathing dragon.
The toons saw Marmaduke’s gun with it’s dangerously broken muzzle, amazingly still in action. Marmaduke himself stood clutching his painful bleeding wounded arm but still ringing out the orders: ”Sponge, load, fire”.
The flames from the broken gun barrel actually set fire to the wooden gun port and had to be smothered with sand, leaving it smoking and singed. The midshipman relaxed, slumping to the deck, as blood streamed from his face.
Just then, the boy who had entrusted him with his money purse now came to him and said: “Oh, Mister Marmaduke! Mister Marmaduke, you’re going to die! Give me back my money!”
The toons had no time to laugh as they tugged away at their guns, training and sighting their pieces. The hot-shot gun aft was ready to fire, manned by Confederate Marines and commanded by Lieutenant Davidson. Looking through his eyes was Furball, ready to give the order to fire, when suddenly with a terrible metallic crash the gun muzzle was hit by a shell from the Cumberland. The horrific explosion set off the cannon, sending the sizzling, glowing shot into the Cumberland’s hull.
One of the gun’s crew crumpled to the deck, gored by the detonation.
Louis Waldeck struggled and screamed a moment before dying, but there was no thought or time for anyone to help him. Furball wanted to turn his head away from ugly moment, but his host had to fulfill his duties.
“The muzzle of our gun has been shot away” cried one of the gunners.
“No matter, keep on loading and firing – do the best you can with it,” replied Lieutenant Jones. Then his orders rang out with warning: “Keep away from the side ports! Don’t lean against the shield! Look out for sharpshooters!”
Fowlmouth coughed at the stinking smoky atmosphere of black powder gunsmoke and coal smoke inside the casemate.
[“This is terrible fer my sinuses”] Wakko complained.
[“The smokestack has been shot full of holes”], Calamity told them, [“It’s cutting down the draft from the boilers and our speed. The steam pressure isn’t as strong as it was before. The smoke is blowing back in here with us.”]
[“That’s bad enough, but the grease they coated the casemate with is being set on fire by the heat from the guns and explosions”] the Doctor told them.
[“They greased the ship to make the cannon balls slip off?”] Calamity asked.
[“A simple solution that worked well. But now the outside of the casemate is literally frying from one end to the other”] Lord thought, looking at the
smoke curling outside the gun ports.
[“Eww! It smells like Weenie Burgers,”] thought Mary.
Despite the heat, smoke and stench, the crew was in high courage and worked with a will. The crews with the shortened, broken guns, still managed to work them despite how they set the ports on fire. Buckets of water and sand were hastily thrown out the ports as soon as the gun had recoiled to quench the flames.
“Pass along the cartridges.”
“A shell for number six.”
“A wet wad for the hot-shot gun.”
“Put out that pipe and don’t light it again on peril of your life!”
“There must be women aboard that ship. Men don’t scream like that.”
The Toonsters listened to the harsh words and stern orders given, but could see little as the gun deck became entirely enshrouded in smoke. Fowlmouth observed his gun crew, their faces all so blackened by the grimy gunpowder smoke that they looked like they wore blackface makeup.
[“Hey, what’s dis? One a dem ol’ banned cartoons?”] wondered the rooster.
[“What chu talkin’ bout, Fowlmouth?”] Mary asked with attitude.
[“Oh nuthin’, Mare”] FM thought, rolling his eyes innocently.
As the burning grease’s smoke curled into the casemate, he overheard the exchange of two of his gun crew in the midst of reloading.
“Jack, don’t this smell like hell?” John Hunt asked his comrade.
“It certainly does, and I think we’ll all be there in a few minutes,” answered Jack Cronin.
(Star TrekVOL#2 “The Doomsday Machine” “Goodbye Mr. Decker” #10)
It was, indeed, hell on the Cumberland. Plucky looked over a scene of carnage and destruction never to be recalled without horror. The shot and shell from the Virginia crashed through the wooden sides of the Cumberland as if they were made of paper, carrying huge splinters with them and dealing death and destruction on every hand. Plucky’s host Lieutenant Morris stood shouting orders and waving his sword, cheering on his men despite their hopeless predicament.
“Look out!” they both barked as more shot and shell entered through one side and passed through the ship carrying everything before them.
Morris called Acting master’s Mate O’Neil to his side.
“We must pull inshore! “
“We’re trying, Mister Morris, but the ship is too waterlogged to move!”
said the Mate, his face and uniform splattered with the blood and brains of his unfortunate predecessor, Master’s Mate Harrington.
“Keep on trying!” Morris/ Plucky cried.
O’Neil saluted as he ran to the capstan where a few men still strained at the ropes. The few gun crews left alive prepared to fire another broadside as the water crept up to the gun duck’s level just beneath their feet.
[“FIRE!”] Plucky raged blindly at the Virginia as another shell exploded, killing many of one of the gun crews.
Arms and legs were strewn about and the air reeked with the sickly smell of blood and bowels. The duck watched in horror as a gunner, with both his legs blown away, took three staggering steps on the bleeding stumps to resolutely pull the lanyard and fire one last shot at his enemy before falling dead. Another man lost both arms and was being carried by his comrades to the port side.
“Give ‘em fits!!” he cried painfully, before he too died.
Over a hundred men lay dead or dying. Arms and legs were kicked aside so that the gunners would not trip over them.
Through it all, not a man flinched. In the entire crew there was not a single case of cowardice. The gunners stood to their posts as water rose around the gun carriages. A twelve-year-old powder boy ran splashing through the water up to his ankles. His stoic, powder-blackened face was only snowy white where the tracks of his tears trickled down in silence, as he worked hard to keep the guns in action.
Black smoke drew a curtain over the sun, but the crew of the Cumberland continued to fight her as though there was still hope. They manned each gun until the rising water covered it. Some still worked the pumps in vain. One of the Virginia’s hot shot from the broken-muzzled gun set the ship on fire, but it was quickly extinguished. Smoke settled on the deck and over the sea. The cries of the wounded and the dying sounded across the waters and sea birds screamed in the distance.
(“King Kong Suite” “The Aeroplane” #20)
Plucky’s face was tight with hatred for his enemies, a bitter lump in his throat burned as he swallowed it down. But his pride in his men overwhelmed his anger and he stood proudly with one foot on the rail and one in the rigging as his undefeated ship sank beneath his feet. He still waved his sword and said:
“Give them a broadside, boys – as she goes.”
There were few guns left serviceable to fire, but fire they did. Lieutenant Selfridge gathered the remnant of his forward gun division, about thirty men and with them, hauled a gun that was about to go under back to an open port. They barely got it in place when a shell burst among them, killing or wounding almost every one. There was no one left in the first division. Not a gun’s crew could be mustered. All about him lay the blood and mangled corpses of his comrades. Some of the guns were run in where they had last been fired, spattered with blood. The rammers, sponges, buckets, and all the accoutrements of the cannon lay broken and scattered about the splintered deck.
The berth deck finally went underwater and the Cumberland’s bow began to slip under. As the wounded saw a watery grave slowly approaching, many of them were crying pitiably. Only now was it apparent that sending the injured below had been a horrible mistake. Grasping hands and fingers appeared though deck’s gratings, the trapped men below desperately trying to escape drowning. Among them was the ship’s un-hurt chaplain, who’d stayed to pray with the wounded. All of them went down with their ship.
“Save all who can!” shouted Morris/ Plucky.
Only then did the few able-bodied men left abandon the fighting. The wounded who could walk were taken with them, rushing through the gun ports and jumping into the sea. The wounded, trapped men’s high-pitched screams were horrifying.
One old gunner, an active little fellow named Matthew Tenney, paid no heed. He rushed to the spar deck where one gun was still clear of the rising sea. In water up to his ankles, he fired one more defiant shot as the Cumberland went down, and he with her.
The ship gave a mighty lurch to port! A gun broke loose from its tackle on the starboard rail and rolled down across the sloping deck like a mad bull, crushing a sailor who on the verge of escape, leaving him mangled on the deck.
[“JUMP PLUCKY! JUMP NOW!”] Shirley and Lord shouted desperately.
Morris stood at the stern as other men jumped clear into the cold water, swimming towards a small boat that was picking up the shipwrecked crew. Other men climbed frantically up the ship’s rigging. Plucky gazed at the water below.
[“Heck of a time to find out that this guy can’t swim”] he muttered.
Near the boat, Morris saw O’Neil climbing into it and called to him. Plucky took a deep breath and jumped! Suddenly the cold green water was all around him, his boots and heavy uniform dragging him down into the abrupt silence – then suddenly his body shot to the surface, popping up like a cork.
[“Swim Plucky, Swim!”] Shirley cried.
[“Oh no duh”] thought the duck as he struck out for the line O’Neil threw to him.
Lieutenant Selfrige was the last to leave, helping the ship’s pudgy drummer boy who could not swim to climb overboard, where he floated on his drum, using it as a buoy till he was picked up.
Behind them, the Cumberland finally went down by the bow, sliding down into the depths, taking her dead and wounded with her. Her stern rose high above the seas as the last bits of air buoyed her up. There was a sickening crash as the compartments inside broke loose, sending tons of smashed bulkheads to fall down upon the drowning men! Then after a final tragic pause, the sloop slid down to the bottom with a great hiss, the sea boiling up as the last of the air escaped its hold.
Morris and Plucky within him were pulled to safety into the rescue boat.
Soaking wet, they rowed to the Cumberland’s masts, which protruded from the water at an angle of forty degrees, as her hull came to rest on the bottom of Hampton Roads. If the Federals could take any consolation at all from the heartbreaking scene of their ship going down, it was that her flag still waved proudly and defiantly at her top.
Morris, Selfrige, O’Neil and the others rowed in silence as the great ship met her heroic death. They rowed to where the Stars and Stripes hung over the mass grave of one hundred and twenty-one brave souls, proud that their flag was still there. Morris stood up in the boat while the others pulled in the remaining swimmers. Plucky was moved beyond words, but Captain Morris knew just what to say.
“Three cheers for the Cumberland, men!” he shouted.
“Hip-hip! HUZZAH! Hip-hip! HUZZAH!” Hip-hip! HUZZAAAAH!!!” they all cheered.
“The Devil take the Merrimack!” said Selfrige, “They’ve not seen the last of us!”
(Star Trek Vol#2 “The Doomsday Machine”, “Cmdr. Matt Decker” #4)
Slowly the men rowed to shore and Plucky saw the distance widening between himself and the other toons. He’d still have to escape back to them when the time came. Nothing seemed real as he sat in the rear seat of the little boat, numbed by the cold and the reality of the terrible tragedy. He stared at nothing.
Mary watched the tragedy from her post at the stern gun ports of the Virginia as the ship chugged away. She and her host Lieutenant Wood were deeply moved.
“No ship ever fought more gallantly,” he said, “She went down with her colors flying.”
The Virginia fired again, this time at Camp Butler onshore.
As the ironclad moved slowly away up the James River, Lieutenant Eggleston returned to the hurricane deck to replace the flag that had been shot down again.
This time Doctor Lord didn’t say anything to Wakko, as the danger seemed to have momentarily passed. The Warner kid was surprised to see that all of the ship’s railings and howitzers had been swept away. The ironclad’s two boats were all shot up. One was so damaged that it would never be used again. The ship’s iron plating showed many indentations but was intact. The stem of the bow was twisted. The smokestack had been shot so full of holes that a flock of crows could have flown straight through it without much trouble. Wakko secured the broken flagstaff to a rip in the smokestack, so the battle-scarred Confederate colors streamed from it with the wind and smoke.
[“This is amazing! How did we survive all that?”] Wakko exclaimed.
The other toons and their hosts were relaxing from the terrible fight in grim silence. Those on the gun deck paused before they began reloading again. They breathed in the last of the gunsmoke and tasted its bitterness. The casemate was quiet as the ironclad moved off. Below in the engine room, Calamity pulled back on the steam throttle and the engines thumped at an easier pace. Fifi bandaged a man’s head from a concussion. Hamton sweated at his post in the pilothouse. He watched the Captain and Lieutenant Jones speaking quietly.
Pulling up alongside to aid the Virginia was Buster commanding the Beaufort. His men threw a towline to her bow.
At the bow gun, Arnold sadly watched Gogo as their hosts worked. The Dodo shook with emotion. The image of Dunbar’s smiling face would not leave him.
The only sounds that echoed through the Toonsters minds were that of Shirley’s thoughts. Her battle-hardened host, the Captain looked with stiffly into the cold wind blowing over the sea. If he was moved, he would not show it. But inside of him, the loon quietly cried.
[“How will we get Plucky back? What about Babs and Buster? How can I get through this?”] Shirley wept.
[We’ll get home. We’ll all get through it”], Lord told her resolutely, [“I promise.”]
(Star Trek Vol#2 “The Doomsday Machine”, “The Planet Killer” #5)
Aboard the frigate Congress, the men were cheering as they saw the Virginia going away apparently damaged. Her smokestack was a shambles, leaking black smoke out at crazy angles. Babs’ host, Lieutenant Pendergrast stood at the stern, looking through a spyglass at the retreating enemy. Lieutenant Smith, the captain, stood shading his eyes as he watched the distant vessel.
“Looks like the Merrimack’s whipped, boys! She’s going up the James to hide at Richmond!” shouted Smith.
“HUZZAH!” “We’ve won!” The Cumberland’s beat her!” Hurrah!!” cheered the men of the Congress as they saw their ship saved from destruction and the Union had triumphed over the Rebellion. They cheered again and again.
“Wait!” said Pendergrast, staring at the ironclad.
Babs saw Buster’s tugboat taking the Virginia in tow – pulling her bow around in a wide circle. Babs stared hard. Her mouth slowly opened wide.
Then she and her host both spoke the same chilling words.
“Oh my God……she’s turning around… She’s coming back!”
Look for the next Chapters of -
"A TIME TO EVERY PURPOSE UNTO HEAVEN"
coming to you soon.