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DESTRUCTION OF THE
Destruction of the Gosport Navy - yard.
Destruction of the Gosport Navy - yard.
This same writer, who, evidently, was in the Commodore's confidence, further added: "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 work
ing country. Any one who | teer company had taken has seen a ship burn, and formal possession in the knows how like a fiery name of Virginia, and run serpent the flame leaps from pitchy deck to up her flag from the flag-staff. smoking shrouds, and writhes to their very hour, several companies were on hand, and top around the masts, that stand like mar- men were at work unspiking cannon, and by tyrs doomed, can form some idea of the won- nine o'clock they were moving them to the derful display that followed. It was not dock, whence they were begun to be transthirty minutes from the time the trains were ferred, on keels, to points below, where sand fired, till the conflagration roared like a hur- batteries were to be built. Notwithstanding ricane, and the flames from land and water the effort to keep out persons from the yard, swayed, and met, and mingled together, and hundreds found their way in, and spent darted high, and fell, and leaped up again, hours in wandering over its spacious area, and by their very motion showed their sym- and inspecting its yet stupendous works, pathy with the crackling, crashing roar of and comparing the value of that saved with destruction beneath. But in all this magni- that lost." ficent 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 rep-shops and armories, the foundries and shipresented 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 morning air minute guns of fearful peal, that added greatly Long before they could be used the war to the alarm that the light of the confla- would be ended! What hallucination! In gration had spread through the surrounding one month's time the harbor was impregnacountry. The Pennsylvania burnt like a vol- ble to approach, and three thousand men cano for five hours and a half, before her were busy restoring the entire property to its mainmast fell. I stood watching the proud full efficiency. The succeeding history of but perishing old leviathan as this sign of that Navy-yard-of the resurrected guns and her manhood was about to come down. At restored frigate Merrimac-will not fail to precisely nine and a half o'clock, by my reflect severely upon the Department which watch, the tall tree that stood in her centre ordered the destruction and abandonment of tottered and fell, and crushed deep into her the post, and of the miserably inefficient burning sides, while a storm of sparks floodmanner in which the questionable order was executed.*
ed 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 volun
wood, left unharmed can bring forth new weapons of offense, 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 report made by the Senate committee (Messrs. Hale, Johnson of Tenn., and Grimes),
* An amusing construction was placed by Mr. Stephens, in his celebrated Atlanta address, April 30th, upon the failure of the attempted destruction, wherein he imputed the salvation of the greater portion of the property to a direct interposition of Providence. The speaker's pious congratulations contrasted oddly with the spirit betrayed toward the North by his people.
Investigating Committee's Report.
appointed in July, 1861, to inquire into the | felt at liberty to leave within circumstances of and reasons for the destruc- a few hours after his arrival, tion of property at the Gosport station and this yard and the property conat Harper's Ferry, was given to the public nected therewith, in the defense of which he was intrusted, without first having determined in consulta. April 19th, 1862, in substance as follows: "The Committee relate at tion with Captains McCauley and Prendergrast upon some definite course to be pursued in the event of length the facts as to the tee's Report. amount of property at the Norfolk Navy-yard, valued at $9,760,000, the vessels worth nearly $2,000,000. There were in the yard at least 2000 heavy guns, of which 300 were of the Dahlgren pattern.
"The Administration of Mr. Buchanan must have been perfectly cognizant of the series of events distinctly foreshadowing the civil war about to be enacted; therefore, the Committee regard it as negligence and dereliction of official duty of the gravest character; that it was a party to that fatal policy of temporization and negotiation with armed and causeless rebellion against the rightful authority of the laws, and of scrupulous tendencies toward sedition, agencies which seem to have actuated the Government at that time. Want of vigor and decision in the discharge of its duties on the part of the new Administration was to be regarded as strange, if not a failure to appreciate the actual condition of the country, at least until the 10th of April, or thirtyseven days after the expiration of the previous Administration. The Committee can find extenuation in this only in that insane delusion which seemed to have occupied the public mind that the portentous clouds that had blackened the heavens for months, were charged with no real danger, and were to be dissipated by a continuation of forbearance which had been continued so long that it had ceased to be a virtue, and had become the most disgraceful weakness and pusillanimity. Captain McCauley was induced to believe that the peace and security of the yard depended upon preserving the existing state of things, upon doing nothing further to excite the already maddened public feeling, and who was willing to see the Government lie still, and be bound hand and foot, till it should be completely in the power of the insurgents. In the threats and menaces of the mob, exaggerated by the representations of the base and treacherous officers, who surrendered the command, and against whom he was warned, with out avail, the Committee find the key to his deplorable conclusion; and the fact that neither he nor Captain Paulding and Captain Prendergrast now remember or acknowledge the operation of such influences upon their conduct, goes far to show the inconsiderate haste, if not timidity and want of nerve, under which they acted. The Committee cannot understand why Captain Paulding, the special and confidential agent of the Department, should have
imminent danger to or attack upon the yard. The Committee come to the following conclusions:
First. The Administration of Buchanan was guil ty of negligence, in taking extraordinary care, and employing every possible means to protect and defend this yard, after indications of danger had manifested themselves.
Fourth. Captain Paulding was censurable for neglecting to consult with Captain McCauley and Captain Prendergrast, while he was at the yard on the 17th of April, in regard to the course to be pur sued in the event of an attack upon the yard, and also for immediately, upon his arrival at the yard on the 20th, ordering the property to be burned, and the yard abandoned, before taking proper means to satisfy himself that any necessity for such measures existed.
"Fifth. Captain Prendergrast, in command of the Cumberland, the flagship of the Home Squadron, made no suggestions as to the measures proper to be adopted, and seems to have taken no part in the transaction, except to move his ship as he was di rected.
"The Committee say they can suggest no remedy for the errors which they think have been proved in this case. So far as the officers of the Navy are concerned, it belongs to the Executive Department of the Government to determine what course shall be pursued.
"The estimation formed by that Department of the conduct of Captains McCauley, Paulding and Prendergast, has been manifested by leaving the first-named without active duty, and assigning to the others the commands of two of the most impor tant Navy-yards we have left, namely: Brooklyn and Philadelphia.
"In concluding what they have thought it their
NEW YORK "UNION DEFENSE COMMITTEE."
The New York "Union Defense Committee."
duty to say on this subject, the Committee would | exigencies of the times, simply remark, that the lesson afforded by the sur- deserves notice, viz. the render of the Norfolk Navy-yard will not be wholly "New York Union Defense without its value to us, if we shall learn by it, as a Committee”—an organization which grew nation, that pusillanimity in the defense of our rights out of the great Union demonstration of may be as seriously injurious as the open assaults April 20th. Twenty-six influential citizens of our enemies." were named by that meeting as a committee "to represent the citizens in the collection of funds, and the transaction of such other
Pending these important transactions, the military
movements of the North were of a nature to excite the astonishment
of both the friends and the enemies of the Government. The rapidity with which regiments filled up and hastened southward; the absorption into the ranks, as officers and men, of those occupying, in many instances, eminent positions in commercial, political, religious, and literary circles; the formation of societies devoted to the welfare of the volunteers and their families; the heavy donations of individuals and corporations to the funds of regiments for arming, equipping, and sustaining them; the action of banks and men of wealth in placing immense sums at the disposal of States--all contributed to render the spectacle one of extraordinary solemnity and novelty. The Harper's Ferry and Gosport Navy-yard affairs, the threatened assault on Washington and its isolated condition, the notes of defiance which came up from the South, and the gathering of its armies for a Northern campaign, while they added intensity to the war-spirit of the Free States, also served to assure the people of the necessity for providing for the common defense"-for an obstinate if not a prolonged struggle.
business in aid of the movements of the Government, as the public interest may require." The funds flowed in in heavy amounts, while the New York city authorities soon placed
the munificent sum of one million of dollars to be expended under the Committee's management. Thus empowered, the work of assistance commenced; and, as the Committee stated in their report of September 19th, 1861: "Mainly owing to the exertions of the city and citizens of New York, and to the zeal and efficiency of eminent officers, [particularly referring to General Wool,] an army was placed in the field, armed and equipped for the defense of the National cause, in a briefer space of time and with less expenditure of money, than, so far as any record shows, ever before was accomplished by any Government, no matter how great its power, how abundant its resources, or how powerful the motive for its action." We should, also, in justice to New York and her sister Commonwealth, Massachusetts, further quote the Committee's words: "With a generous frankness which confers honor upon the stations they fill, the chief Executive officers of the National Government, and the distinguished Commanding General of the army, have been The sudden call for troops found the Gen- pleased to say that the safety of the National eral Government in a comparatively help- Capital and the preservation of the archives 'less condition. With no stores of arms and of the Government at a moment when both ordnance to draw upon, no organized subwere seriously menaced, may fairly be attrisistence and quartermaster departments, no buted to the prompt and efficient action of depots of clothing and camp equipment, no the State and city of New York, united with means at its immediate disposal to provide the vigorous efforts of the noble Commonfor the immense drains upon its treasury-wealth of Massachusetts, devoted to the same the emergency was one of peril; but, the patriotic object." As Rhode Island was patriotism of States, cities, individuals and among the pioneers having her superb banks came to the relief, bountifully supply-regiment and splendidly-equipped battery ing all that money could secure, though the in the field with those first forward, want of arms was not fully obviated for many that little State of wise heads and busy anxious months. hands should have been named in this roll
One of these agencies, called forth by the of honor.