previous next

The evacuation of Norfolk.
official history of the Affair.

Major-General Huger publishes the following letters by authority of the War-Department. The permission was granted, as he states in a published letter preceding them, ‘"as a means of refuting the calumnious falsehoods circulated by designing persons"’ to induce the public to believe that he abandoned Norfolk. We publish the letters as the history of a very important movement of the war:

Headq'rs Department of Norfolk, April 29, 1862.
Gen. R. E. Lee, Commanding, &c.,
--1 yesterday received a letter from General J. E. Johnston, informing me the enemy seems preparing to attack. Yorktown with a powerful artillery, and we may be compelled to abandon the Peninsula. He desires me to be prepared for such a contingency.

For a week past the enemy has kept a brigade afloat near Elizabeth City, which can move to any position on Chowan river,--This force landed on the night of the 18th, and marched on South Mills, where they were met by the 3d Georgia regiment and four pieces of artillery, and repulsed with great loss. They have been reinforced during the week, and are now afloat to the south of me.

If the enemy gets possession of the James river, and can have a moving force on it to land where he pleases, I do not see how I am to prevent them from landing; and if they get possession of the country west of this place, through which the railroads pass as well as the waters on the other three sides, any escape from here is very doubtful.

It would not do to give up any part of the position, as they would at once occupy it, and I cannot begin to move the public property. The guns scattered at the different batteries could not be removed with our means in weeks; and where to move them to? The ammunition could be destroyed when not wanted.

As to the valuable establishment of the Navy-Yard, which has more public property than the rest of the country, it is not under my control, and others must determine concerning it.

I do not see what preparations I can make for the contingency, but to repel every attack as promptly as possible, and defend the position as long as I can.

When they have the waters on both sides of me, you can calculate how long I can hold out as well as I can.

Very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

Benj. Huger,
Major. General.

Headquarters Lee's House, May 1st, 1862.
--I shall withdraw from this position towards Richmond to-morrow night.

This movement requires a corresponding one on your part. You will please, therefore, leave Norfolk for Richmond with your troops without delay.

Leave as little public property to the enemy as possible.

Co-operate as well as you can with the commandant of the Navy-Yard.

Send orders to any troops that may be stationed on the south side of James river to march at once to Richmond. If they have heavy guns, they should be rendered unserviceable, unless they can be removed. Powder should be saved in preference to anything else.

Flag Officer Tatnall is desired to cover your movement by preventing the passage of the enemy's vessels up James river.

Report your approach to Gen. Lee. Confer, with Flag Officer Tatnall.

Most respectfully.

Your obedient servant,

[Signed] J. E. Johnston, General.

Norfolk,may 3, 1862.

Hdq'rs Dep't of Norfolk,Norfolk, May 2, 1862.
Gen. J. E. Johnston, Commanding, &c., &c.,
--Your messenger delivered to me your letter of the 1st of May, and one for Capt. Lee and Com. Tatnall, which were delivered.

The Secretaries of War and Navy arrived by the cars to-day, and were present when I received your letter, which I submitted to the Secretary of War. He has given me similar notice and instructions, but directed the stores moved first, and not to move the troops in the haste your letter requires.

I will commence dispatching the ammunition and stores at once, and get the sick who can be moved sent off, and such regiments as are not guarding approaches.

The move must be made with order, or it will be a flight.

Very respectfully, your obd't serv't,

Benj. Huger, Major General.

Major Gen. Benj. Huger, Commanding Department of Norfolk:
--The determination of Gen. Johnston to fall back on the Peninsula renders it necessary that you should prepare for a specify evacuation of Norfolk. You will, accordingly send to Raleigh all the ammunition not necessary for your field batteries, and for such heavy guns a you may use to cover the evacuation. You will text send to the same point all your provisions no required for the use of the troops during the evacuation and their march to Petersburg, and such clothing as you may have on hand. And you will them send to Richmond or Raleigh, according to your means of transportation, as many of the heavy guns as you have time to move, preferring those of the heaviest calibre, and especially the banded rifle guns of the navy pattern. The carriages should be sent with the guns, if possible, and such shot and shell, especially for the rifled guns, as can be carried.

Whatever public property will be of use to the enemy and cannot be carried off, must be destroyed. You will take control of the railroads leading out of Norfolk and Portsmouth, and allow nothing to impede the transportation of the Government. I wish you to act in concert with the commandant of the Navy-Yard, and to facilitate the removal of such property from the Navy- Yard as may be selected for removal.

You will bear in mind, however, that the preservation of your army is of the first importance and that its safety must not be too much hazarded by your efforts to save the public property.

I would suggest, therefore, that it will be well to concentrate it as speedily as possible near Suffolk, leaving in position only such portion as may be necessary to cover the evacuation. To do this effectually, it will be well to observe the shores of James river, and the approaches to Norfolk on the North Carolina side, and to hold the enemy in cheek, if he advances, until your entire army is withdrawn from Norfolk and Portsmouth, and placed beyond the possibility of capture by a superior force.

A brigade of not less than three regiments, will be required at once for service north of Richmond, and should be marched forthwith to Suffolk, to be sent thence by railroad or by the county roads, as may be hereafter directed.

If transportation, in addition to that already on the railroads, can be used to advantage, call upon the Department, and such rolling stock will be furnished as can be procured from other roads.

I would further suggest, as additional means of protection on the North Carolina side, that you destroy the locks of the Dismal Swamp Canal forthwith.

Very respectfully, your ob't serv't,

[Signed] Geo. W. Randolph,
Secretary of War.

Headq'rs Department of Norfolk, May 3d, 1862.
Gen. R. E. Lee, Commanding, &c.:
--The Secretary of War and Secretary of the Navy reached here yesterday, and have communicated to me the views of the Government as regards this place.

I also received yesterday General Johnston's letter of May the 1st, the substance of which you telegraphed to the Secretary of War last evening. My idea is, that abandoning this place is abandoning Virginia, and it would be better to sacrifice every man of us in its defence than to give it up.

I shall carry out the orders as promptly and regularly as I can, but I must keep troops enough to preserve order and stop communication with the enemy, or all the black and part of the white population will be visiting. Old Point and Washington and applying for office.

Very respectfully, your ob't servant,

[Signed,] Benjamin Huger,

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 Places (automatically extracted)
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.
J. E. Johnston (5)
Benjamin Huger (5)
R. E. Lee (4)
Tatnall (3)
Most Respectfully (1)
George W. Randolph (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.
January, 5 AD (2)
May 3rd, 1862 AD (2)
May 2nd, 1862 AD (1)
May 1st, 1862 AD (1)
April 29th, 1862 AD (1)
18th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: