Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 20, 1861 (Saturday): Destruction at Gosport Navy Yard (Norfolk)

CSS Virginia, formerly USS Merrimack, being rebuilt in dry dock at Gosport.

Report of Capt. H. G. Wright, U.S. Engineer Corps

…On reaching the yard it was found that all the ships afloat except the Cumberland had been scuttled, by order of Commodore McCauley, the commandant of the yard, to prevent their seizure by the Virginia forces, and that they were fast sinking.  One of the objects of the expedition-that of removing those vessels and taking them to sea-was therefore frustrated.

…We accordingly proceeded to construct in this gallery a platform of such materials as could be collected to a heigh above the surface of the water, and on this we placed the power (2,000 pounds) which we brought from the ship, established a train from the gallery to the outside and connected it with four separate slow matches.

…From what we could learn in Norfolk, I am of opinion that the attempt to destroy the dock did not succeed.  We were told that the mine did explode and that it did not.

Captain of Engineers.

Lieut. Col. E.D. Townsend,
     Asst. Adjt. Gen., Hdqrs. of the Army, Washington, D.C.

Wright had been told by Winfield Scott to keep in mind that, although the navy yard and its contents were important, Fort Monroe was more so.  MacCauley had scuttled 11 ships of various capability due to a perceived threat from a small Virginia force under Billy Mahone.  The mine described did not destroy the dock, as it was flooded in time to avert damage.

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