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[170] conflagration, was yet the most available and equipped yard in the Confederacy. A land force under General Huger had been placed there for its protection, and defensive works had also been constructed with a view to holding it as well for naval construction and repair as for its strategic importance in connection with the defense of the capital, Richmond. On the opposite side of the lower James, on the Peninsula between the James and York Rivers, we occupied an entrenched position of much natural strength. The two positions, Norfolk and the Peninsula, were necessary to each other, and the command of the channel between them essential to both. As long as the Virginia closed the entrance to the James River, and the entrenchment on the Peninsula was held, it was deemed possible to keep possession of Norfolk.

On May 1st General Johnston, commanding on the Peninsula, having decided to retreat, sent an order to General Huger to evacuate Norfolk. The Secretary of War, General Randolph, having arrived just at that time in Norfolk, assumed the authority of postponing the execution of the order ‘until he [General Huger] could remove such stores, munitions, and arms as could be carried off.’ The Secretary of the Navy, Mr. Mallory, was there also, and gave like instructions to the commandant of the yard. To the system and energy with which General Huger conducted the removal of heavy guns, machinery, stores, and munitions, we were greatly indebted in our future operations both of construction and defense. A week was thus employed in the removal of machinery, etc., and the enemy, occupied with the retreating army on the Peninsula, did not cross the James River above, either to interrupt the transportation or to obstruct the retreat of the garrisons of the forts at Norfolk and its surroundings. When our army had been withdrawn from the Peninsula, and Norfolk had been evacuated, and the James River did not furnish depth of channel which would suffice for the Virginia to ascend it more than a few miles, her mission was ended. It is not surprising that her brilliant career created a great desire to preserve her, and that it was contemplated to lighten her and thus try to take her up the river, but the pilots declared this to be impracticable, and the court which subsequently investigated the matter sustained their opinion that ‘the only alternative was then and there to abandon and burn the ship.’ The statement of Commodore Tatnall shows that the Virginia could not have been taken seaward, and that such was the opinion of her first commander. He said: ‘I consulted Commodore Buchanan on the character and power of the ship. He expressed the distinct opinion that she was unseaworthy, that she was not sufficiently buoyant, and that in a ’

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