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Doc. 77.--burning of Gosport Navy Yard.

Portsmouth, Va., Sunday Morning, April 21, 1861.
The Pawnee, with the Commodore's flag at her peak, and about six hundred trusty men aboard, cast off from the dock of Fort Monroe, about 7 o'clock on Saturday evening. The crowded parapets of the fort sent a loud and hearty cheer to the departing ship, which was answered with an exulting huzza from her populous deck. The night was bright and still, and the moon, at half-full, shed abundant light on land and sea. The Pawnee steamed up the Roads toward Norfolk, easily passing between the sunken vessels with which the channel was intended to be blocked, and about 8 1/2 entered [120] 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 [121] alarm that the light of the conflagration had spread through the surrounding country. The Pennsylvania burnt like a volcano for five hours and a half before her mainmast fell. I stood watching the proud but perishing old leviathan as this sign of her manhood was about to come down. At precisely 91 o'clock, by my watch, the tall tree that stood in her centre tottered and fell, and crushed deep into her burning sides, whilst a storm of sparks flooded the sky.

As soon as the Pawnee and Cumberland had fairly left the waters, and were known to be gone, the gathering crowds of Portsmouth and Norfolk burst open the gates of the navy-yard and rushed in. They could do nothing, however, but gaze upon the ruin wrought. The Commodore's residence, left locked but unharmed, was burst open, and a pillage commenced, which was summarily stopped. As early as six o'clock, a Volunteer Company had taken formal possession in the name of Virginia, and run up her flag from the flag-staff. In another hour, several companies were on hand, and men were at work unspiking cannon, and by 9 o'clock they were moving them to the dock, whence they were begun to be transferred, on keels, to points below, where sand batteries were to be built. Notwithstanding the effort to keep out persons from the yard, hundreds found their way in, and spent hours in wandering over its spacious area, and inspecting its yet stupendous works, and comparing the value of that saved with that lost.

There was general surprise expressed that so much that was valuable was spared. The Secessionists forgot that it was only the immediate agencies of war that it was worth while to destroy. Long before the workshops and armories, the foundries, and ship-wood left unharmed can bring forth new weapons of offence, this war will be ended. And may be, as of yore, the Stars and Stripes will float over Gosport Navy-yard. All that is now spared will then be so much gained!

The Secessionists are excessively chagrined by this movement. The vessels were sunk in the entrance of the harbor expressly to catch the Cumberland and other valuable ships of war. The act was done by Gov. Letcher's order; and the despatch to Richmond, announcing the execution of the scheme, exultingly proclaimed: “Thus have we secured for Virginia three of the best ships of the Navy” --alluding to the Cumberland, Merrimac, and Pennsylvania.

But they have lost all, and ten millions of dollars' worth of property besides. The Cumberland has been piloted successfully between the seven sunken vessels, and now floats proudly in front of Fort Monroe, with her great war guns thrust far out of her sides, as if hungering and hunting for prey. It will be a hard thing for Norfolk and Portsmouth to fill their harbors with ships while she lies here in the gateway.

As usual when a set of people are foiled, the officer in command gets heaps of censure. It is so in this case. Gen. Taliaferro, who was put in command at Norfolk by Gov. Letcher, is riddled by sarcasm and ridicule. He is charged with being imbecile and a drunkard. It is said that he was dead asleep (or dead drunk) at 6 o'clock on Sunday morning, and with difficulty was aroused at that hour to be told that the Navy-yard was sacked and on fire! Gen. Taliaferro will be superseded immediately, or the Virginians here will revolt.

I will send you, in this letter, as there is no mail leaving here this evening, such accounts as the Norfolk papers of the morning may contain of this burning. It only remains to say that by 8 o'clock Sunday morning the Pawnee lay off comfortably near Fort Monroe, where towards night she was joined by the Cumberland, who took more time to get out. Your correspondent waited to see the dying embers of Gosport Navy-yard.

Much excitement has prevailed in Norfolk and Portsmouth all day for the following cause: Two officers from the Pawnee--one a son of Com. Rodgers and the other a Capt. Wright of the Massachusetts Volunteers--were left in the Navy-yard, and were to come to the ship in a small boat. From the quickness and fierceness of the fire they were cut off and bewildered, and made to the Norfolk shore. It was broad daylight when they landed, and being in uniform they were instantly arrested as prisoners. It was with difficulty their lives were saved from the populace. It was stated during the day that Com. Paulding had sent up word if they were not released he would come up and blow the towns to pieces. This appalled the timid, and many fled to the woods; but the mass remained and went bravely to work planting cannon below the towns to oppose the ships. The prisoners are not surrendered.

--N. Y. Times, April 26.

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