Monday, October 3, 2011

October 6, 1861 (Sunday): A Position More Important Than Washington

C.S.S. Virginia (US Naval Historical Center)


Lieutenant General WINFIELD SCOTT, Genera-in-Chief:
   GENERAL: Permit me to call your earnest attention to the condition of this most important position in the possession of the Federal Government. You made the remark when I conversed with you on the subject that the loss of Fort Monroe would be the loss of the Union. I mentioned to you that I had not more than enough of artillerists to man ten guns. I also mentioned the few men detained of the four companies recently ordered to Washington were necessary to aid in instructing volunteers for artillery service.
   I also mentioned to you that Newport News was threatened by the Confederates, in order to aid in getting to sea two steamers in James River, and also the Merrimac at Norfolk. This ship is constructed to resist cannon shot. I have this morning seen the flag-officer in the Roads (Goldsborough), who more than confirms all that to have said on the subject, and that it is settled that an attempt will be very soon made to get these vessels to sea. In order to facilitate this movement an attempt will be made to get possession of Newport News. We have guns, but not artillerists sufficient to man them, at Newport News. I hope you will at once send back the four companies of artillery recently sent to Washington. If you do not send us these, or some other companies of artillery to supply their places, I trust you will not hold me responsible for any disaster that may befall us at Newport News.    
   The danger, I assure you, is imminent. This subject I presented to the President in Cabinet council, when I assured them of the intentions of the rebels, and that it was their design to attack Newport News, and, as it was reported, very soon. The flag-officer is satisfied that such will be the case. He says there is no mistake as to their intentions. He further expresses his apprehension that they will succeed in capturing Newport News and that the steamers may get to sea. He also says the Merrimac is so constructed that no cannon shot can make an impression upon her.
   If it is the intention of the Government to strengthen my position and the Navy, no time is to be lost. Why should this position, more important than Washington, be left, as it is, without means of defense? If from this fact any injury should result from it, it might prove no less fatal to the Union than to the administration. I send this by Major Jones.
    have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant, 

JOHN E. WOOL, Major-General.  

Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, Page 621
During the Fall of 1861 the Merrimack (now ‘Virginia’) was already making quite an impression in the minds of Union planners.  It was in the process of being converted into an ironclad and was (in October) no where near ready to get underway.  But the introduction of iron cladding had already given it a reputation for invulnerability which would influence strategic thinking in eastern Virginia.

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