previous next

[47] with the first and flag-lieutenants, and learning that the officers generally thought it the most judicious course, I determined to lighten the ship at once, and run up the river for the protection of Richmond.

All hands having been called on deck, I stated to them the condition of things, and my hope that, by getting up the river before the enemy could be made aware of our designs, we might capture his vessels which had ascended it, and render efficient aid in the defence of Richmond; but that to effect this would require all their energy in lightening the ship. They replied with three cheers, and went to work at once. The pilots were on deck and heard this address to the crew.

Being quite unwell, I had retired to bed. Between one and two o'clock in the morning the first lieutenant reported to me that, after the crew had worked for five or six hours, and lifted the ship so as to render her unfit for action, the pilots had declared their inability to carry eighteen feet above the Jamestown Flats, up to which point the shore on each side was occupied by the enemy.

On demanding from the chief pilot, Mr. Parrish, an explanation of this palpable deception, he replied that eighteen feet could be carried after the prevalence of easterly winds, and that the wind for the last two days had been westerly.

I had no time to lose. The ship was not in condition for battle, even with an enemy of equal force, and their force was overwhelming. I therefore determined, with the concurrence of the first and flag-lieutenants, to save the crew for future service by landing them at Craney Island, the only road for retreat open to us, and to destroy the ship, to prevent her falling into the hands of the enemy. I may add that, although not formally consulted, the course was approved by every commissioned officer in the ship.

There is no dissenting opinion. The ship was accordingly put on shore as near the mainland in the vicinity of Craney Island as possible, and the crew landed. She was then fired, and after burning fiercely fore and aft for upward of an hour, blew up a little before five on the morning of the eleventh.

We marched for Suffolk, twenty-two miles, and reached it in the evening, and from thence came by railroad to this city.

It will be asked what motives the pilots. could have had .to deceive me. The only imaginable one is that they wished to avoid going into battle.

Had the ship not have been lifted so as to render her unfit for action, a desperate contest must have ensued with a force against us too great to justify much hope of success, and as battle is not their occupation, they adopted this deceitful course to avoid it. I cannot imagine another motive, for I had seen no reason to distrust their good faith to the Confederacy.

My acknowledgments are due to the First Lieutenant, Ap Catesby Jones, for his untiring exertions and for the aid he rendered me in all things. The details for firing for the ship and landing the crew were left to him, and everything was conducted with the most perfect order.

To the other officers of the ship, generally, I am also thankful for the great zeal they displayed throughout.

The Virginia no longer exists, but three hundred brave and skilful officers and seamen are saved to the Confederacy.

I presume that a Court of Inquiry will be ordered to examine into all the circumstances I have narrated, and I earnestly solicit it. Public opinion will never be put right without it.

I am, sir, with great respect, your ob't servant,

Josiah Tatnall, Flag-Officer Commanding. Hon. S. R. Mallory, Secretary of Navy.

Findings of the Court of Inquiry.

C. S. Navy Department, Richmond, June 11.
The Court of Inquiry convoked by the order of this Department of the twentieth ultimo, whereof French Forrest, Captain in the navy of the confederate States, is president, and which court convened at the city of Richmond on the twenty-second day of May, 1862, to investigate and “inquire into the destruction of the steamer Virginia, and report the same, together with their opinion as to the necessity of destroying her, and particularly whether any, and what disposition could have been made of the vessel,” have found as follows:

The court, having heard the statement read submitted by Flag-Officer Tatnall, was cleared for deliberation, and, after mature consideration, adopted the following report:

The court, after a full and careful examination and investigation of the evidence connected with the destruction by fire of the confederate States Steamer Virginia, on the morning of May eleventh, 1862, near Craney Island, respectfully report that it was effected by the order and under the supervision of Flag-Officer Tatnall, after her draft had been reduced to twenty feet six inches, and on the representations of the pilots that in consequence of recent prevalent westerly winds, she could not be taken with a draft of eighteen feet as high as Westover, near Harrison's Bar, in James River, (whither he designed to take her,) which they previously stated they could do.

1. The destruction of the Virginia was, in the opinion of the court, unnecessary at the time and place it was effected.

2. It being clearly in evidence that Norfolk being evacuated, and Flag-Officer Tatnall having been instructed to prevent the enemy from ascending James River, the Virginia, with very little more, if any, lessening of draft, after lightening her to twenty feet six inches aft, with her iron sheathing still extending three feet under water, could have been taken up to Hog Island in James River, (where the channel is narrow,) and could then have prevented the larger vessels and transports of the enemy from ascending. The court is of opinion that such disposition ought to have been made of her, and if it should be ascertained that her provisions could have been replenished

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Josiah Tatnall (4)
Parrish (1)
S. R. Mallory (1)
Ap Catesby Jones (1)
Frederick Harrison (1)
French Forrest (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
May 22nd, 1862 AD (1)
May 11th, 1862 AD (1)
June 11th (1)
20th (1)
11th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: