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Monday, July 25, 2011

History Matters: Gosport, Raising & Repairing the Ships – 150 Years Ago


By Marcus W. Robbins, Code 1100, Blog #12 (written July 20, 2011)

Although the Federal forces at Gosport managed to render useless for the moment all of the ships found at the yard I want to touch on each one briefly before we explore in depth the conversion of the most valuable of them all, the steamer MERRIMAC. 

Upon entry into the stone drydock, it would to the South, evermore be referred to as the Confederate States Ship; CSS VIRGINIA while the North would continually remain defiant by reporting its former name; MERRIMAC or MERRIMACK depending upon the author. 

To this day, these three interchangeable names exist in typeset, conversation and memorial with some degree of pride, depending on the storyteller or by some degree of confusion unless the receiver is familiar with the timeline. 

Remember, at Gosport begins the historic timeline leading up to the Battle of Hampton Roads, 1862.

As cited in the Burton's History of Norfolk Virginia, 1877 we find a reference recorded on October 28th of 1861 that states in part: "The large force of workmen at the Navy-yard made wonderful progress in manufacturing war implements and in repair the ships which the Federals had rendered useless".

In my last blog I provided a table based upon the listing provided in a Navy Department letter dated November 12, 1861 that named each ship and its estimated value prior to its loss.  Some of these ships went on to continue services thus becoming reborn into a second life but at present I will focus only on their conditions as reported 150 years ago. 

The following quotes are compiled between Burton's History of Norfolk Virginia, 1877, John W. H. Porter History of Norfolk County 1861-1865 published 1892 and the 37th Congress, 2nd Session special report that examined THE SURRENDER AND DESTRUCTION OF THE NAVY YARDS ECT. published 1862.

MERRIMAC ~ "All I could see of the "Merrimack" was her timbers and smoke stack; she was burnt to the water's edge. 

MERRIMAC ~ "She had been raised by the Baker Wrecking Company on 30th of May 1861 and Mr. Porter, as Constructor at the Yard, had her put in the dry-dock and made a thorough examination of her".

PENNSYLVANIA ~ "On the same day (October 28th 1861) divers examined the guns of the Pennsylvania, and found her sixty-eight pounders in good order; her 32-pounders were all burst.

COLUMBUS & DELAWARE ~ "They are sunk, near the mouth of the dry dock"

NEW YORK ~ (in response to a question of what was destroyed on the night of 20th and morning of the 21st of April) … "In the yard, the two ship houses, one of them containing the unfinished United States vessel "New York" …

RARITAN & COLUMBIA ~ (from a longer paragraph) … "Raritan", "Columbia" … "were all destroyed, and the guns were spiked".

UNITED STATES ~ "The "United States" was still afloat.  They had, as I understood, towed her down the river on Sunday morning, with a view to sink her for the obstruction of the channel.  They didn't sink her, however, but brought her back to the yard for a receiving ship; she appeared to be uninjured".

PLYMOUTH ~ "I could just see the masts of the "Plymouth;" she was not burnt.  I was told that she had been scuttled, and had sunk at the stern".

GERMANTOWN ~ "In going to the yard in a steam-tug, I saw the "Germantown" sunk under the shears.

DOLPHIN ~ "She was burnt to the water and sunk.  They have raised her, but she was found to be burnt to a coal".

As it is our modern motto at here at Norfolk Naval Shipyard - ANY SHIP, ANY WHERE, ANY TIME; look back 150 years ago.  The Virginia secessionist movement became identified with the Confederate States flag flying over Gosport in July of 1861.  The fire did not injure Gosport's basic industrial plant; men were working in the shops the very next day.

The South raised the huge gift from the river bottom being the ex-USS MERRIMAC.

Now, what would they do with their gift to be known as the CSS VIRGINIA? - because "history matters".


REMODELING THE "MERRIMAC" AT THE NORFOLK NAVY YARD.
THE CENTURY ILLUSTRATED MONTHY MAGAZINE, New Series Vol. VII 1885
(this view indicates an almost completed conversion - circa 1862)
(Courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

History Matters: Gosport, Summary of Destruction – 150 Years Ago


By Marcus W. Robbins, Code 1100, Blog #11 (written July 13, 2011)

Numbers tell a story. 

Today in the age of the Internet, we can see that the page visit counters at the recently launched NNSY “History Matters” blog are approaching 600 hits after a few months and at my personal website of a couple of years now devoted to the old Norfolk Navy Yard (pre -1945) are approaching 6,400 hits.

I shall continue to be true to the reader by only using documented numbers, written works, publications, engravings and photos to properly put things in historic perspective without favoritism to either side in both of my Internet forums regarding the late unpleasantness. 

The Civil War continues to inspire a much spirited debate over 150 years later.  We can learn from our past, we must continue to study the facts about Gosport.

As I said before numbers tell a story.  One of the most useful documents I have in my personal collection is an original 37th Congress, 2nd Session, of which the proceedings appoint a select committee to inquire on the destruction of the Navy Yard at Norfolk. 

Published in 1862 this document provides the following summaries of the destruction left by the Federal forces as they burned and evacuated Gosport on April 21, 1861.  While not every line item will be repeated here it is interesting to note that the sub-line item dollar amounts cited are specific and deliberate.  These people cared to the smallest degree of the items placed under there care.  I dare say lessons could be learned today of their accounting methods.

The following are of various letters concerning the destruction of the Gosport Navy Yard (as formatted and presented) summarized under the APPENDIX.  Navy Department, November 12, 1861


BUREAU OF PROVISIONS AND CLOTHING – November 7, 1861

Provisions………………….……   $55,148  25
Clothing………………………....     71,678  75
Small stores………………….….       8,023  14
Contingent………………….…...       3,643  62
                                                       $138,493 93


BUREAU OF CONSTRUCTION – November 8, 1861

Steamer Merrimac………………………$600,000  00
Ship-of-the line Pennsylvania…………….. 275,000  00
Ship-of-the line Columbus………………... 185,000  00
Ship-of-the line Delaware…………………   65,000  00
Ship-of-the line New York……………….. 220,000  00
Frigate Raritan……………………………. 155,000  00
Frigate Columbia………………………….  130,000  00
Frigate United States………………………    30,000  00
Sloop-of-war Plymouth…………………...   140,000  00
Sloop-of-war Germantown………………..   140,000  00
Brig Dolphin……………………………….    40,000  00

            Total value…………………………1,980,000  00 



BUREAU OF ORDANCE AND HYDROGRAPHY – November 8, 1861

…."the whole value of the ordnance, ordnance stores, nautical instruments, &c., was $664,883  78."   
                               

BUREAU OF MEDICINE AND SURGERY – November 11, 1861

Medical property on receiving ship Pennsylvania,    $398  51
At the navy yard…………………………………. 498  08
At the naval hospital……………………………..6,403  03
         Total………………………………………7,299  89


MARINE CORPS – November 8, 1861

….."The whole value of the clothing and marine stores at the yard, according to the schedule accompanying is $1,527  05."


BUREAU OF YARDS AND DOCKS – November 8, 1861

SIR: In compliance with your letter of the 6th instant, I transmit herewith and inventory of naval stores pertaining to this bureau at the Norfolk navy yard on the 1st of January, 1861 – the date of the last returns received prior to the destruction of the yard.
  I enclose, also, a plan of the yard, showing, in black ink, the buildings, &c., which had been constructed or were in progress, and, in red ink, those which it was proposed to build, together with a statement of the expenditures for improvements and repairs of the yard, hospital, and magazine, as far as can be ascertained.

Navy yard………………………………………  $4,508,439  95
Hospital………………………………………...       393,174  70
Magazine and ordnance works…………………        204,562  53
                                                                                 5,106177  18


As the report concludes a line item concerning miscellaneous articles in the amount of $1,865,433  72 is listed.

The report now brings forward a grand total of $9,760,181  93 that was lost at the Gosport Navy Yard under the command of Captain Charles S. McCauley whom had been in command since the 7th  of August,1860. 

If the walls of Quarters A could talk we might have his insight to why the chain of events in April of 1861 began to reach a fever pitch leading up the final inferno that started with the striking of the smallest matches.

The result of Shipyard Commander McCauley's decisions 150 years ago resulted in numbers. 

Numbers that tell the story of the yard's 2nd burning, because "history matters".






"Merrimac" Destroyed at the Burning of the Norfolk Navy Yard, April 19, 1861.
1906 postcard - Painting by B. A. Richardson.
(Courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)