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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)