The USS Merrimack, in its heyday, was considered the most important ship at Gosport – what is today known as Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
Built at the Charlestown shipyard in Boston, it was a first-in-class steam frigate and state-of-the-art vessel when it was launched in 1855.
In April 1861, the month that included the bombardment of Fort Sumter, setting the Civil War in motion, as well as Virginia's secession from the Union five days later, shipyard commander Charles McCauley had been ordered to get the Merrimack out of the port to prevent its capture.
McCauley had been spooked, though, through a clever ruse devised by William Mahone, a railroad executive who built the Norfolk & Petersburg Railroad and later became a Confederate general.
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