the Gosport Harbor. Her coming was not unexpected, and as she glided to her place at the dock, the men on the Pennsylvania and the Cumberland, several hundred in number, greeted her with a volley of cheers that echoed and reechoed, till all of Norfolk and Portsmouth must have heard the hail. The men of the Pennsylvania fairly outdid themselves, in their enthusiasm on this occasion. They clambered into the shrouds, and not only answered to the “three cheers,” but volunteered “three times three,” and gave them with a hurricane of heartiness. This intense feeling on their part is easily explicable. They have been a long time almost imprisoned on shipboard, on a ship imbedded in the river, motionless and helpless, and subject to promises from the Secessionists of speedy demolition. In the advent of the Pawnee they saw deliverance from such durance, and they exulted with tremendous emphasis. All Portsmouth and Norfolk were thoroughly aroused by the arrival of the Pawnee. They did not expect her, and were not prepared for her. They were seized with trepidation, thinking, perhaps, she had come, and along with the Cumberland and Pennsylvania, meant to bombard the towns for having obstructed the channel, and for having, the night before, rifled the United States magazine, just below Norfolk, of about 4,000 kegs of powder. Being utterly defenceless and quite terrified, the Secessionists made no protest against the Pawnee's presence, nor did they venture too near the Navy-yard. The Pawnee made fast to the dock, and Col. Wardrop marched out his regiment, and stationed them at the several gates of the Navy-yard to oppose the entrance of any forces from without, in case any attempt to enter should be made. Having adopted this precaution, the Commodore set the marines on the Pennsylvania, the Cumberland, the Pawnee, and in the yard, to work. All the books and papers, the archives of the establishment, were transferred to the Pawnee. Every thing of interest to the Government to preserve on the Pennsylvania, was transferred to the Cumberland. On this latter, it was also said, a large amount of gold from the Customhouse at Norfolk, had been in good time placed. Having made safe every thing that was to be brought away, the marines were next set to work to destroy every thing on the Pennsylvania, on the Cumberland, and in the yard, that might be of immediate use in waging war upon the Government. Many thousand stands of arms were destroyed. Carbines had their stocks broken by a blow from the barrels, and were thrown overboard. A large lot of revolvers shared the like fate. Shot and shell by thousands went with hurried plunge to the bottom. Most of the cannon had been spiked the day and night before. There were at least 1,500 pieces in the yard — some elegant Dahlgren guns, and Columbiads of all sizes. It is impossible to describe the scene of destruction that was exhibited. Unweariedly it was continued from 9 o'clock until about 12, during which time the moon gave light to direct the operations. But when the moon sank behind the western horizon, the barracks near the centre of the yard were set on fire, that by its illumination the work might be continued. The crackling flames and the glare of light inspired with new energies the destroying marines, and havoc was carried everywhere, within the limits of orders. But time was not left to complete the work. Four o'clock of Sunday morning came, and the Pawnee was passing down from Gosport harbor with the Cumberland, the coveted prize of the Secessionists, in tow — every soul from the other ships and the yard being aboard of them, save two. Just as they left their moorings, a rocket was sent up from the deck of the Pawnee. It sped high in air, paused a second, and burst in shivers of many-colored lights. And as it did so, the well-set trains at the ship-houses, and on the decks of the fated vessels left behind, went off as if lit simultaneously by the rocket. One of the ship-houses contained the old New York, a ship thirty years on the stocks, and yet unfinished. The other was vacant; but both houses and the old New York burnt like tinder. The vessels fired were the Pennsylvania, the Merrimac, the Germantown, the Plymouth, the Raritan, the Columbia, the Dolphin. The old Delaware and Columbus, worn out and dismantled seventy-fours, were scuttled and sunk at the upper docks on Friday. I need not try to picture the scene of the grand conflagration that now burst, like the day of judgment, on the startled citizens of Norfolk, Portsmouth, and all the surrounding country. Any one who has seen a ship burn, and knows how like a fiery serpent the flame leaps from pitchy deck to smoking shrouds, and writhes to their very top, around the masts that stand like martyrs doomed, can form some idea of the wonderful display that followed. It was not 30 minutes from the time the trains were fired till the conflagration roared like a hurricane, and the flames from land and water swayed, and met, and mingled together, and darted high, and fell, and leaped up again, and by their very motion showed their sympathy with the crackling, crashing roar of destruction beneath. But in all this magnificent scene, the old ship Pennsylvania was the centre-piece. She was a very giant in death, as she had been in life. She was a sea of flame, and when “the iron had entered into her soul,” and her bowels were consuming, then did she spout from every port-hole of every deck, torrents and cataracts of fire that to the mind of Milton would have represented her a frigate of hell pouring out unremitting broadsides of infernal fire. Several of her guns were left loaded, but not shotted, and as the fire reached them, they sent out on the startled and morning air minute guns of fearful peal, that added greatly to the
This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
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.