Sunday, May 8, 2011

May 8, 1861 (Wednesday): "This is an Entire Mistake"

William B. Taliaferro

GLOUCHESTER POINT, Va., May 8, 1861.

Maj. Gen. R.E. Lee, Commander-in-Chief:
    SIR: I have the honor to report that I assumed command at this post at 7 o’clock yesterday evening.  I hastened to assume the command from the fact that I learned, on my way from Richmond, that the howitzer batter under Lieutenant Brown, acting under the orders of Captain Whittle, of the Virginia Navy, had resisted the approach of the steamer Yankee and driven her back, after the firing of some ten or twelve rounds on the other side…..
     Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
                                                    W. B. Taliaferro,
                                                               Colonel, Commanding.

   This letter came to me unsealed.  I presumed that I might read it.  I know not on what authority Conel Taliaferro says that the firing at Cloucester Point was authorized by me.  This is an entire mistake.
    Your obedient servant,
                                                                                      WM. C. WHITTLE
                                                                                      Captain, Virginia Navy.
  The firing was not directed by Captain Whittle.  The major-general has expressed, through me, his disapproval of the firing at such a distance.
                                                                                        S. Barron

  Six 9-inch guns now at the river.  There will be three 32 pounders for West Point to-day or to-morrow.

The first meaningful shots fired in Virginia yielded no result of note and no one willing to take credit for initiating the firing.  The guns fired by the Confederates at the steamer Yankee were small howitzers and out of range.  The shots fired in reply by the steamer did not reach land.  General Lee had not intended to bring on an engagement and had previously responded to Taliaferro that he should first fire a single shot across the bow of any ship attempting to pass up river.  It was not his desire to bring on an engagement.

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