and as this was the only vessel of any considerable capacity in these waters that was manned, I detained her at Norfolk to await events that were gradually developing in Virginia and the adjoining States. The Navy-Yard at Norfolk, protected by no fortress or garrison, has always been a favored depot with the Government. It was filled with arms and munitions, and several ships were in the harbor, dismantled and in ordinary, and in no condition to be moved, had there been men to move them. There were, however, no seamen there or on home stations to man these vessels, or even one of them of the larger class, and any attempt to withdraw them, or either of them, without a crew, would, in the then sensitive and disturbed condition of the public mind, have betrayed alarm and distrust, and been likely to cause difficulty. Apprehensive, however, that action might be necessary, the commandant of the yard was, early in April, advised of this feeling, and cautioned to extreme vigilance and circumspection. These admonitions were a few days later repeated to Commodore McCauley. This commandant, whose patriotism and fidelity were not doubted, was surrounded by officers in whom he placed confidence; but most of them, as events soon proved, were faithless to the flag and the country. On the 10th of April, Commodore McCauley was ordered to put the shipping and public property in condition to be moved and placed beyond danger, should it become necessary; but, in doing this, he was warned to take to steps that could give needless alarm. The steam frigate Merrimack could, it was believed, were here machinery in order, he made available in this emergency, not only to extricate herself, but the other shipping in the harbor. Not knowing, however, who could be confided in to take charge of her, a commander and two engineers were detailed to proceed to Norfolk for that purpose. Two days after, on the 12th of April, the Department directed that the Merrimack should be prepared to proceed to Philadelphia with the utmost despatch. It was stated that to repair the engine and put it in working condition would require four weeks. Discrediting this report, the engineer-in-chief was ordered to proceed forthwith in person, and attend to the necessary preparations. On the 16th of April the commandant was directed to lose no time in placing armament on board the Merrimack, to get the Plymouth and Dolphin beyond danger, to have the Germantown in a condition to be towed out, and to put the more valuable public property, ordnance, stores, &c., on shipboard, so that they could, at any moment, be moved beyond danger. Such were the energy and despatch of the engineer-in-chief that on the 16th the Department was advised by the commandant of the yard that on the 17th the Merrimack would be ready for temporary service; but when, on the afternoon of that day, the engineer-in-chief reported her ready for steam, Commodore McCauley refused to have her fired up. Fires were, however, built early the next morning, and at 9 o'clock the engines were working, engineers, firemen, &c., on board, but the commandant still refused to permit her to be moved, and in the afternoon gave directions to draw the fires. The cause of this refusal to move the Merrimack has no explanation other than that of misplaced confidence in his junior officers, who opposed it. As soon as this fatal error was reported to the Department, orders were instantly issued to Commodore Paulding to proceed forthwith to Norfolk, with such officers and marines as could be obtained, and take command of all the vessels afloat on that station; to repel force by force, and prevent the ships and public property at all hazards from passing into the hands of the insurrectionists. But when that officer reached Norfolk, on the evening of Saturday, the 20th, he found that the powder magazine had already been seized, and that an armed force had commenced throwing up batteries in the vicinity. The commandant of the yard, after refusing to permit the vessels to be moved on Thursday, and omitting it on Friday, ordered them to be scuttled on Saturday evening, and they were sinking when Commodore Paulding, with the force under his command, arrived at Norfolk. This officer, knowing that to sink the ships would be only a temporary deprivation to the insurgents, who would, when in full possession of the place, again have them afloat, ordered the torch to be applied to the sinking ships. Pursuant to instructions, he also destroyed, so far as he was able with his limited force, the public property in the yard before abandoning the place. The Cumberland was towed down the river, and passed, after some little delay, over the obstructions that had been sunk in the channel to prevent her removal. This unfortunate calamity at Norfolk not only deprived the Government of several vessels, but of a large amount of ordnance and stores which had there accumulated. In preventing the shipping and property from passing into the hands of the insurgents, who had gathered in considerable force in that vicinity under Gen. Talliaferro, Commodore Paulding, the officers, and those under them, performed their duty, and carried out, so far as was in their power, the wishes of the Government and the instructions of the Department. extraordinary measures. The demonstration at Norfolk was but one of a series of measures that occurred at that juncture. Simultaneously with it, Baltimore appeared in insurrection, and by force and violence destroyed the railroad communication and cut off mail and telegraphic facilities between the seat of Government and the States
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
Battle of Bull Run .
Doc . 4 .- N. Y. Tribune narrative.
Doc . 59 : a Virginian who is not a traitor: response of Lieut. Mayo , U. S. N. , to the proclamation of Gov. Letcher .
Doc . 65 -speech of Galusha A. Grow , on taking the Chair of the House of Representatives of the United States , July 4 .
Doc . 135 .- Virginia ordinance, prohibiting citizens of Virginia from holding office under the United States , passed July , 1861 .
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