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[41] All the troops who had been holding it under Gen. Huger were withdrawn yesterday — the public buildings and public property in the Navy-Yard were all destroyed. The people remained in the city, and our forces entered into peaceable possession of it, being encamped two miles out of town, in what is called the intrenched camp, which was very strongly fortified, and in which thirty pieces of cannon fell into our possession.

For some time past Gen. Wool has been of the opinion that Norfolk might be taken with but little cost; but nothing definite has been done in regard to it, partly because the cooperation of the Navy Department could not be secured, and partly because such a movement was not consistent with the general plan of the campaign which had been decided upon. After the fall of Yorktown and the withdrawal of the great body of the rebel army, it was believed that the abandonment of Norfolk would speedily follow as a necessary consequence. When Gen. McClellan, therefore, on Monday after the fall of Yorktown, telegraphed to Gen. Wool asking for more troops, in order to make an effective pursuit of the rebels up York River, Gen. Wool declined to send any, on the ground that it might become necessary for him to take and hold Norfolk.

On Thursday the little steam-tug J. B. White came in from Norfolk, having deserted from the rebel service. She had been sent to bring in a couple of rebel schooners from the mouth of Tanner's Creek; the officers in charge of her being Northern men, and having been long desirous of escaping from the rebel regime, considered this a favorable opportunity for effecting their object. They slipped past Craney Island without attracting any hostile observation, and then steered directly for Newport News. On arriving they reported that the rebel troops were evacuating Norfolk — that very many had already gone, and that not over two or three thousand remained, and even these, it was confidently believed, would very speedily be withdrawn. They were men of intelligence and of evident sincerity, and their statements commanded full confidence.

Under these circumstances Gen. Wool decided to make a military demonstration there. A large body of troops was embarked upon the transports lying in the Roads, and all preparations were made with a view to a landing on Sewell's Point during Thursday night. Several of our vessels were sent to shell the Point during the preceding day, and as you have already heard, they did it with a good deal of effect. But they received very vigorous replies from the batteries there, and were finally put to flight by the appearance of the Merrimac, which came to take part in the contest. This vigorous demonstration on the part of the rebels satisfied the military authorities that the attack could not safely be made at that time or at that point. The troops were accordingly disembarked on Friday morning, and the expedition was for the time abandoned.

On Friday Secretary Chase, who had been spending two or three days here, as had also President Lincoln and Secretary Stanton, learned from a pilot familiar with the coast, that there was a place where a landing could be effected a mile or so beyond Willoughby Point, and that a very good road led directly from that shore to Norfolk. In company with Gen. Wool and Col. T. J. Cram, of the Topographical Engineers, Secretary Chase on Friday crossed over in the steam revenue cutter Miami, and sent a boat to sound the depth of the water and examine the shore, with a view to a landing for troops. While doing so, they perceived signs of a mounted picket-guard on the shore above, and not deeming it safe to venture too far, they pulled back for the Miami. On their way, however, a woman was seen in a house on shore waving a white flag. The boat's crew at once returned, and were told by the woman that her husband had fled to the woods, to avoid being forced into the rebel service by the mounted scouts who came every day to find him, and that on his last departure he had instructed her to wave a white flag on the approach of any boats from the Union side. She gave the party a good deal of valuable information concerning the roads and the condition of the country between there and Norfolk. Secretary Chase and Col. Cram went ashore and satisfied themselves that a landing was perfectly feasible. On returning to Fortress Monroe, they found that President Lincoln and Secretary Stanton, on examining the maps, had been led to make a similar exploration and had come to a similar conclusion, though the points at which the parties had struck the shore proved to have been a mile or two apart.

The result of all this was that Gen. Wool decided upon an immediate march upon Norfolk from that point, and orders were at once issued to carry it into effect. The steamer Adelaide, which was filled with freight and passengers for Baltimore, was stopped half an hour before her time of sailing, and with half a dozen others, was at once occupied by the infantry and artillery destined for the expedition. They began to embark at about four o'clock, on Friday afternoon, and by midnight several of them had started for the opposite shore. A vigorous bombardment was opened from the Rip Raps upon Sewell's Point, and kept up for two hours, to induce the belief that this was the intended point of debarkation. The steamers crossed over, and at daylight preparations were made for landing. The infantry regiments were landed first, and started at once upon their march. The negroes, who alone remained behind, said that a mounted picket had left, saying that the Union men were coming over in a day or two.

One leading object of pushing forward the infantry rapidly, was to secure, if possible, the bridge across Tanner's Creek, by which the route to Norfolk would be shortened several miles. The route lay through pine woods and over roads in only tolerable condition. At about one o'clock the leading regiment, under Max Weber, came to the bridge and found it burning, having just been set on fire by a body of men who had planted a couple of small guns on the opposite bank, which they opened upon our advance. Gen. Mansfield,


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John E. Wool (6)
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