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[477] Thus ended the most shameful, cowardly, disastrous performance that stains the annals of the American Navy.1

Many, perhaps most, of the Union delegates to the Virginia Convention left it directly after the passage of the Ordinance of Secession, feeling that they had no longer any business in such company. The residue proceeded, in utter contempt of their own vote directing the submission of the act to the people, to adopt and ratify the Confederate Constitution; and to enter2 into a convention with the Confederacy, through A. H. Stephens, whereby all the public property, naval stores, munitions of war, etc., acquired by their State at Norfolk and elsewhere, from the United States, were turned over to said Confederacy; and it was agreed that

the whole military force and military operations, offensive and defensive, of said Commonwealth, in the impending conflict with the United States, shall be under the chief control and direction of the President of said Confederate States, upon the same principles, basis, and footing, as if said Commonwealth were now, and during the interval, a member of said Confederacy.

This agreement was approved and ratified by the Convention on the 25th; although, so early as April 20th, the movement of Confederate troops, from Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, to Richmond, had commenced. The treaty of offensive and defensive alliance negotiated by Vice-President Stephens did not, therefore, inaugurate that movement: it could but regulate and perhaps augment it.

1 It is impossible to interpret the course of many officers of the Army and Navy in this and similar emergencies, save on the presumption that they were in doubt as to whether they ought, as loyal men, to stand by the “Black Republican” rulers who had just been invested with power at Washington or side with the militant champions of that Slave Power which had somehow become confounded, in their not very lucid or intelligent conceptions, with the Constitution and the Union. At all events, it is certain that their indecision or pusillanimity potently aided to crush out the Unionism of the South, and came very near wrecking the Union itself. Mr. Hale's Report, already cited, says:

The aid which might have been derived from the workmen in the Yard, and other loyal citizens of Norfolk and Portsmouth, is, in some degree, a matter of conjecture, and it is not proposed to introduce it as an element in the decision of this question. During the closing days of the United States authority at Norfolk, the revolt had acquired such strength, momentum, and confidence, that perhaps no material assistance of this kind was to be depended upon. It is proper to remark, however, that there was abundant evidence before the Committee that at least a majority of the citizens of both Norfolk and Portsmouth were on the side of the Union, and would have been warmly and openly so had the Government shown a strong hand and a timely determination to defend itself. An election for mayor was held in Portsmouth a few days previous to the surrender, at which the Union candidate was elected by an overwhelming majority. A voluntary military association, considerable in numbers and influence, was formed in Norfolk for the exclusive purpose of assisting in the defense of the Yard against the insurgents, proffered their services, and offered such tests of their fidelity as should have at once secured their acceptance by the authorities of the Yard. How suicidal a policy was pursued, all know and remember. The Government exhibited such utter feebleness and irresolution, and the enemy so much vigor and fierce purpose, unencumbered by scruples of any kind, that it is not strange that the friends of the Union, finding themselves unsupported by the Government they were anxious to serve and protect, should finally yield to the tempest of treason and passion surging around them, and find, in a compulsory submission and in silence, at least a refuge from the insults and outrages of a ferocious revolutionary mob. But, so irrepressible was the loyal feeling of many of the citizens of Norfolk, that, on the evening of the 20th of April, they greeted the arrival of the “Pawnee” at the dock with cheer on cheer, under the supposition that she had come to reinforce and hold the Yard, and bring them deliverance from the perils and dishonor of a war against that Union which they loved. That hope was cruelly disappointed by the hasty attempt to destroy the Yard; and the Government afforded the loyal men at Norfolk — as, indeed, everywhere else at that time — every possible reason for the conviction that the Rebellion was the winning side, and that devotion to the Government could end only in defeat, loss, and death.

2 April 24th.

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