The ordinary work was going on actively; and there was nothing to be seen on the spot to indicate that a crisis was at hand.
The vessels at the Yard
comprised an old ship-of-the-line, the Pennsylvania
, which was used as a receiving ship; five large sailing-vessels, laid up in ordinary; the sailing-sloops Germantown
; and the brig Dolphin
The last three were ready for sea. The steam-frigate Merrimac
, whose importance was greater than that of all the others combined, was undergoing repairs in her machinery.
The Navy Yard
was situated on the left bank of Elizabeth River
, nearly opposite the town of Norfolk
, and nine miles above Sewall's Point
, where the narrow channel that forms a continuation of the river enters the Roads
There were only a few seamen and marines to hold it, the community outside was unfriendly, and the employees were only waiting for the action of the State
to range themselves against the Government
The majority of the officers were Southern men, and were in sympathy with the Southern
Late in March, the Cumberland
, the flagship of the Home Squadron, came in from the Gulf
and was sent to Norfolk
She had a crew of 300 men, and a heavy battery, and the towns on both sides of the river were at her mercy, if she chose to attack them.
As a sailing sloop-of-war, she could not be of material assistance in bringing off the threatened vessels; but she held the key to the position.
The State convention of Virginia
had been in session since the middle of February, but nothing had yet been done which indicated its final action.
The secret session, at which the ultimate question was to be decided, began on the 16th of April.
Up to the critical moment the idea had prevailed in Washington
that any action tending to show a want of confidence in public sentiment in Virginia
would crystallize the opposition to the Union
, and drive the State