The destruction of the Virginia.
a reply to Commodore Tatnall's report.
[published by Request.]
Richmond, May 21st, 1862.
The undersigned, Pilots on board the late noble steamer Virginia
, were astonished and amazed to see in the Richmond Enquirer
, of May the 19th, the Afterthought communication of Josiah Tatnall
, late Flag Officer
commanding the steamer Virginia
, as it was the First Intimation we had that we were to be made the ‘"scapegoats for the sins"’ of those higher in authority.
Humble as we are in station, yet we are free, native born Virginians
, and dare to hurl back in the teeth of a Commodore his futile and contradictory missiles, and, if we have the ability, to pour hot shot into his Exposed Broadsides.
To do this, it is necessary to begin at the beginning of his letter to Secretary Mallory
Near the commencement he says: ‘"I begin with your telegraphic dispatches to me of the 4th and 5th instant, directing me to take such a position in the James river
as would Entirely prevent the enemy's ascending it."’
Farther on he says: ‘"On the 6th you (Secretary Mallory
) telegraphed me to endeavor to afford protection to Norfolk
as well as the James river
, which replaced me in my original position."’ Why did he not state that his ‘"original position"’ was in the Elizabeth river
, a short distance below Craney Island
, which position only protected Norfolk
, when, by Lying in the Mouth of the James river
, he protected Norfolk
and at the same time protected Richmond
; because at all tides and at any time, night or day, the ship could be gotten under way, and either intercept the Monitor
, if she attempted to go to Norfolk
, (of which there was no danger, as she was afraid as death of the ‘"Virginia
, "’) or get in her rear, and follow her up and capture her?
He says: ‘"On the 7th inst. Commodore Hollins
with orders from you (Sec. Mallory
) to conduct with me and such officers as I might select in regard to the best disposition to be made of the Virginia
, under the present aspect of things."’
--But on the next day, before the time appointed for conference, the enemy attacked Sewell
's Point battery, and he (the Commodore
) left the Navy Yard
to attack the Yankee
fleet, and in the meantime three of the enemy's vessels had gone up the James river
, bound for Richmond
--one of them being the iron-clad steamer Galena
, that lately attacked Drury's Bluff, below Richmond
But it will be said that Commodore Tatnall
had to go to Norfolk
with the Virginia
, to get water, provisions, &c. This we deny, because the Virginia
might have been kept in the mouth of the Elizabeth river
or in the mouth of the James river
, and water, provisions, coal — yea, all she required, could have been carried down the rivers to her without the slightest difficulty or danger.
So the awful blunder of going up to Norfolk
, where she could only come out at high water,
and permitting the enemy to ascend the James river
unmolested, cannot be justified or excused by falsely accusing the pilots of deception.
The order from the Secretary of the Navy
directed that the ‘"Virginia
"’ should afford protection to the James river
, as well as to Norfolk
; and this order Commodore Tatnall Disobeyed
by going up to Norfolk
and leaving the James river
Entirely open and Exposed to the enemy!
And even when the ‘"Virginia
"’ was not at the Navy-Yard
she lay in the Elizabeth river
just below Craney Island
, instead of lying in the mouth of the James river
, where she protected both Richmond
We now come to the assertion where Commodore Tatnall
says, "The pilots had assured me that they could take the ship, with a draught of eighteen feet, to within forty miles of Richmond
. " This we deny.
We said with favorable tides
we could take the ship to Westover
, about three miles below Harrison
's bar, which is about fifty-three miles from Richmond
But let us see what was the real object in lightening the ship.
On the return from Norfolk
, where they learned that Gen. Huger
had retreated, the batteries been abandoned, and the enemy about to take possession of Norfolk
, he says.
It was about seven o'clock in the evening, and this unexpected information rendered prompt measures necessary for the safety of the ‘"Virginia."’
Now, it's words are to convey ideas, is it not plain that the lightening of the ship was not for the purpose of coming up James river
to attack the iron-clad steamer Galena
and two other formidable gunboats, with the wooden sides, bow, stern and rudder of the Virginia
At first the Commodore
says the Virginia
was lightened for the safety of the ship; and yet, in the same communication, he says, ‘"I determined to lighten the ship at once, and run up James River
for the protection of Richmond
."’ Now, was there no panic here?--Was there not wanting the spirit, the coolness and calm decision of our dear and beloved Buchanan
What! the Virginia
, that noble specimen of the genius of her constructor — she that was mistress at least of all of Virginia
's waters — required prompt measures for her safety!
At her very approach the Yankee iron-clad gunboats — yea, the whole Yankee navy, seemed to tremble, and she had only to make her appearance and they ran in a moment.
But let us lift the veil a little higher.
said he ‘"had retired to bed, and between one and two o'clock the First Lieutenant
reported to me that after the ship had been lifted so as to render her unfit for action the pilots had declared their inability to carry eighteen feet above Jamestown
flats."’ Now here is an admission that she was unfit for action; and yet this Commodore
says he intended to take her up James river
to contend with the ‘"iron-clad Galena
and two gunboats,"’ that had ascended James river
, while he was protecting Richmond
by lying at Norfolk.
Now, we desire to state a fact, and we defy contradiction: that after the Virginia
was lightened so as to render her ‘"unfit for action,"’
having thrown over all her ballast and much of her coal, she drew aft twenty feet
six inches, and twenty feet forward.
This was ascertained by Chief Pilot Parrish
's going in a boat and ascertaining her exact draft.
And here we wish to state another fact, exposing the ignorance of this Commander
of the draft of his ship — so plainly that even he that ‘"runs may read."’ When the ‘"Virginia
" ’ was first floated from the Dry Dock
at the Gosport Navy-Yard
, she drew eighteen feet four inches aft, and seventeen feet forward, with fifty tons of coal, ten tanks of water forward, and her boilers filled.
She had no guns on no shell, no ballast, and has had put upon her upwards of two hundred tons of iron.
Thus she drew two feet six inches more than we had ever said she could carry to within forty miles of Richmond
, (even admitting what he says, though we deny its correctness.) Now, is it not plain that the fact of the ‘"Virginia
's"’ having had added to her weight more than two hundred tons of iron, besides her guns, shot, and shell, and stores, since she first came out of Dock, when she drew eighteen feet four inches, had escaped the memory of the Commander
, or he was ignorant of what he ought to have known?
He says:-- ‘"After the ship was rendered unfit for action, he was informed by the First Lieutenant
that the pilots had declared their inability to carry eighteen feet above the Jamestown Flats
." ’ What the pilots did say was, that they desired, if possible, the ship should be lightened to less than eighteen feet, as the wind had been several days to the westward, which makes the tides much lower.
But at the same time we said we were ready and willing to obey the commands of the Commander
One of us remarked we were not afraid, when a Lieutenant replied, ‘"No, we know that; for you have been tried, and have proven yourselves men of courage."’ The fact is, the ship could not be lightened to draw eighteen feet water unless the guns, ammunition, provisions, and nearly her entire supply of fuel, had been thrown overboard, which would have placed her at the mercy of the enemy, and Commodore Tatnall
ought to have known, it before he attempted to lighten her.
says we heard his address to the crew.
But at the same time we were not consul tides, wind, or death of water, they could be carried at that time.
He says: ‘"On commanding from the Chief Pilot
, Mr. Perriah
, an explanation of the palpable deception, he replied, 'that eighteen feet would be carried after the prevalence of easterly winds, and that the wind for the last two days had been westerly.'"’ This statement Pilot Parish utterly denies, and says no such demand of an explanation of ‘"this palpable deception"’ was made.
No man charged him with it. So far from it, not one word of censure or complaint was uttered during the whole time.
In fact, we all felt grateful for the kind treatment we had received, and the Commodore
in particular acted generously and kindly.
So much so that on our way to Suffolk
he took one of us (Pilot Parrish
) up in the part with him and gave him a good drink out of his tickler; and moreover, when we arrived in Richmond
he endorsed all our bills for pay. Now, we did not deserve this treatment.
If we had acted with palpable deception,
why were we not charged with this deception on board the ship, and at the time the First Lieutenant
informed him the pilots said eighteen feet water could not be carried over the Jamestown Flats
"It will be asked (he says) what motives the pilots would have had to deceive me. The only imaginable one is, that they wished to
avoid going into battle.
Had the ship not 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, for I had seen no reason to doubt their good faith to the Confederacy
One would suppose, from the foregoing paragraph, that the Pilots
ordered the ‘"Virginia
"’ to be lightened, to prevent her going into action; for he Commodore
says "if she had not been lightened a desperate contest must have ensued, against a force too great to justify much hope of success." It was the Commodore
that knew of the great force he had to contend with, and he
had, he ship lightened.
But he says it was fear hut prompted us to deceive, and that as battle is not our Occupation, we adopted this Deceitful Course to Avoid it. It is true, our occupation sends us on the tempestuous ocean in sunshine and in storm, and we do not tread the decks of men-of-war Commodores
; but we encounter some danger, at least, in bringing in the weather-beaten mariner to a haven of safety.
We have never served our country in times of place on Dead Sam's deck, but we were present with the brave Buchanan
, and other officers and crew, when they sank the Cumberland
and destroyed the Congress
We have stood exposed to the enemy's fire on the uncalled-for destroyed ‘"Virginia
, "’ when Minnie balls and cannon balls fell thick as hall.
One of us (First Pilot Parrish
) was on board the Harmony
, commanded by the brave Captain Fairfax
when she fought the Savannah
off Newport News.
He was also on board the Sea Bird
, under the brave veteran Com. Lynch
, when he took the Sherwood
from the ‘"Express,"’ and was under fire of the enemy for two hours. From the first day the ‘"Virginia
"’ flung to the breeze the flag of our beloved Southern Confederacy we have acted as her pilots; and if we have shown cowardice, or an unwillingness to obey orders, or incompetency, let Buchanan
, and others, say so.
Now a few words as to the management of the ship: On the memorable battle of the 8th and 9th of March, when the wonder of the world, (the ‘"Virginia
,"’) under command of Buchanan
, gallantly encountered the Cumberland
, the Congress
, the Minnesota
, the Monitor, the St. Lawrence
, and several gunboats, a crowd of twenty thousand persons, with many naval officers, united in one voice in saying that the ‘"Virginia
"’ is ‘"splendidly managed."’ One of us (Pilot George Wright
) piloted the French ship ‘"Gassendi"’ from-Norfolk, with the French Minister
on board, and had the high gratification of hearing from the lips of the French Commander
, the compliment ‘"that on the battle of the 8th and 9th, the 'Virginia
' was handled in a masterly and seaman-like manner."’ ‘"And, sir,"’ he said, ‘"I have a drawing I will show you of the battle, and the victory."’ Pilot Wright
remarked ‘"sir, it is very correct."’ Thus it will be seen that, so far from fault being expressed, nothing but commendation was bestowed upon us till we reached Richmond
, when, for the first time, we are charged with deception.
says: ‘"I have seen no reason to distract their good faith to the Confederacy
."’ Sir, we did not require your
We are known by men at least fully your equals; and no man has r red to doubt our loyalty to our State a the South
If we had chosed to be traitors, thousands and tens of thousands might have been at our command, if we could have been bribed to pilot Union ships instead of Southern ships.
Though poor, and three of us men of large families, dependent on us for subsistence, there is not Yankee gold enough in all the land to induce us to betray the Southern Confederacy.
pilot has disobeyed the proclamation of our Governor, prohibiting them from piloting Yankee men-of-war or merchant vessels.
We have nearly concluded this communication; and though a more thorough and elaborate answer could have exposed the fallacy and inconsistency of Commodore Tatnall
's communication, yet we hope enough has been said to open the eyes of the authorities and the public.
Before closing, it is proper to notice the unjust and unmerited treatment manifested towards Chief Pilot Parrish
Since the ‘"Virginia
"’ was launched, Pilot Parrish
has been with her in good and in evil report.
He received a commission as Master in the Navy, signed by President Davis
, and has endeavored to do his duty to his State and country.
On his arrival in Richmond
he was ordered to the batteries of Drury's Bluff.
He immediately repaired to that post, and commenced with all his powers to aid in blockading the James river
, which had been exposed to Yankee gunboats, by the withdrawal of the ‘"Virginia
" ’ from the defence of the James river
While thus engaged, Pilot Parrish
received from Secretary Mallory
an order revoking his commission and dismissing him from the service without affording him the form of a trial, and without even a notice of a charge.
would rather have failed in defence of his country, leaving a good name to his wife and children, than thus, without a hearing, to be deprived of that to which he is justly entitled.
But conscious that a full investigation of this whole matter will fully exonerate the pilots from all blame in relation to the destruction of the Virginia
, Pilot Parrish
well content himself meanwhile with the consciousness that he has done his duty; as have also the pilots associated with him on board the Virginia
In conclusion, we say that, in the destruction of the ‘"Price
of the South
,"’ the pilots on board had no part or lot, and no fault or blame can be attached to us.