Clement Anselm Evans.

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his pickets along the Potomac, and in front of Washing-
ton, in sight of the dome of the capitol. The infantry of
the army was moved to new camps beyond Bull run,
with advanced detachments in support of the cavalry.
McClellan took command at Washington on the 27th,
and at once proceeded to make that city an intrenched
camp, to which large numbers of troops were hurried
from all the Union States.



CHAPTER VIII.

OPERATIONS ABOUT NORFOLK AND YORKTOWN—
BATTLE OF BIG BETHEL— BURNING OF HAMPTON.

SCOTT'S fourth line of invasion had for its objective
the capture of Richmond by way of "the penin-
sula' ' from Fort Monroe, using the navy on the
James and York rivers to guard the flanks of the
movement. Before this could be successfully made it was
necessary to secure Norfolk and the Gosport navy yard
and their defenses, which guarded the entrance to the
waterway of the James, and Yorktown and Gloucester
point, which guarded that to the York.

The general-in-chief was a soldier, who, naturally,
placed the most reliance upon the army to carry out his
plans. Therefore he attached the greatest importance to
the direct movement on Richmond from Washington, by
way of Manassas, and gathered his largest army for that
purpose. Yet, one well informed as to the defensive
conditions of Virginia, and especially of Richmond, at the
beginning of the war, can but wonder that the most
important movement was not made by way of the penin-
sula by the army, aided by the navy on the York and
the James, since at that time there had been no prepara-
tions worth mentioning to prevent such a movement or
the capture of Virginia's capital. This can only be
accounted for by the demoralized condition in which the
war and the navy departments of the United States were
left by the resignation, as soon as Virginia passed an
ordinance of secession, of such a large proportion of the
best officers of these two arms of the service, natives of
Virginia and other Southern States.

As before stated, when it had been decided that the
Virginia convention would provide for secession, the first
two objects to demand the attention of the executive
were the capture of the armory and arsenal at Harper's
Ferry and the arsenal and navy yard at Gosport in the
vicinity of Norfolk. On the night of April i6th, some
men in Norfolk, without authority, seized light boats and

123



124 CONFEDERATE MILITARY HISTORY.

Other small craft and sank them in the channel to prevent
the escape of ships from the navy yard. There were at
the navy yard at that time 4 ships of the line, 3 frigates,
2 sloops of war, i brig and the steam frigate Merrimac,
and some 780 marines and other armed men.

On the 1 8th of April, Governor Letcher called out the
militia of Norfolk and vicinity, and dispatched Maj.-Gen.
William B. Taliaferro to take command of the same and
endeavor, by a rapid movement, to secure the navy yard.
After having done this he asked Governor Pickens, of
South Carolina, to immediately send. 2,000 troops to Nor-
folk to aid the Virginia militia. Pickens at first declined,
as "it might appear intrusive, " and besides, "we stand at
present on the defensive. ' ' He said he would ask President
Davis for advice. The latter wired Letcher for informa-
tion as to his object in asking for troops. He replied that
it was to secure the Gosport navy yard, where the Merri-
mac, the Cumberland, the Pennsylvania, and perhaps
other vessels were at that time; that the channel was
partially obstructed and it would require 5,000 men to
take the place. On the 19th the Confederate secretary
of war informed Governor Brown, of Georgia, that 2,000
troops had been ordered from South Carolina to Norfolk,
to report to General Taliaferro, and asked that several
companies be sent from Georgia to the same place, to go
at once, or they would be too late. Davis replied to
Letcher, on the 19th, that he had ordered sent him two
regiments from South Carolina and some companies from
Georgia ; also that the resolution of the Virginia conven-
tion for an alliance had been received and accepted. On
the 19th, Letcher telegraphed Taliaferro: "As we need
powder, keep an eye to securing that article." On the
20th the governor of Georgia reported that he had four
companies ready to start for Virginia. The Seaboard
railroad furnished facilities for sending these South Car-
olina and Georgia troops directly to Norfolk.

Scott, on the 19th of April, ordered Capt. H. G.
Wright, of the engineers, to proceed to the Gosport
navy yard to aid the commodore there in command, in
designing and executing a plan of defense ; instructing
him to call at Fort Monroe and consult Colonel Dimick
regarding the sending of a regiment of infantry to assist
in the defense of the navy yard, but to "bear in mind
that, although the navy yard and its contents are of very



CONFEDERATE MILITARY HISTORY. 125

great importance, Fort Monroe is still more so to the
Union." Captain Wright at once proceeded on the
steamer Pawnee to Fort Monroe. One of the two regi-
ments which had arrived at Fort Monroe that morning,
about 370 strong, under Colonel Wardrop, was marched
on board the Pawnee, which arrived at Norfolk on the
night of the 20th.

XVhen Captain Wright reached the navy yard he found
that all the ships there, except the Cumberland, had been
scuttled on the 19th by Commodore McCauley, the com-
mandant of the navy yard, and were fast sinking ; but
finding McCauley disposed to defend the yard, the troops
were landed and dispositions taken for its defense, when
Commodore Paulding, who had come on the Pawnee
from Washington, decided to finish the destruction of the
scuttled ships, and, after destroying the navy yard, to
Avithdraw with the frigate Cumberland in tow of the
Pawnee and a steam tug lying at the yard. To Captain
Wright and Commodore Rodgers was assigned the duty
of blowing up the dry dock, a massive structure of gran-
ite masonry, which they prepared to do by placing a
mine in a gallery along one of its side walls, in which
they used 2,000 pounds of powder, brought from one of
the ships, connected by a train of powder and slow
matches with the outside. This done, all the men were
sent to the ship, except one to watch for the commodore's
signal for lighting the matches to fire the mine and the
buildings, which was done by Captains Wright and
Rodgers. The lighted fires burned so rapidly that those
officers had great difficulty in escaping from the yard, and
were unable to reach the Pawnee, which had already
moved away, as the Virginia troops just then advanced
rapidly from the Portsmouth side and opened fire on the
yard, the steamer, and the boat in which Wright and
Rodgers tried to escape. They then rowed to the Nor-
folk side and delivered themselves to the commanding gen-
eral of the Virginia forces, at about 6 o'clock on Sunday
morning, April 21st. Their attempt to blow up the dock
was not successful, and to burn the arsenal but partially
so.

On the 2 2d, Vice-President Stephens telegraphed Presi-
dent Davis, from Richmond:

Gosport navy yard burned and evacuated by the enemy; 2,500
guns, artillery and ordnance saved, and 3,000 barrels of powder;



126 CONFEDERATE MILITARY HISTORY.

also large supply of caps, and shells loaded, with the Bormann fuse
attached. Yard not so much injured as supposed. Merrimac, Ger-
mantown and Dolphin sunk ; Cumberland escaped.

On Sunday, April 21st, Richmond was thrown in to-
great consternation by a dispatch stating that the steamer
Pawnee was coming up James river to destroy the
powder taken from the magazine at old Fort Norfolk
and the cannon foundry above Richmond. Alarms were
sounded, citizens rushed to arms, and troops and a bat-^
tery were at once sent down the James to Chaffin's blufif,
where the river is quite narrow, and hasty preparations
made for the defense of the city. The Pawnee, after
returning from the attempted destruction of the navy
yard, was"reported as making a reconnoissance up the
James, which caused this alarm, revealing to the author-
ities the utterly defenseless condition of Richmond, and
inducing them to take steps for its defense. The advisory
council met after the excitement had subsided, and direct-
ed Governor Letcher to instruct the governor of South
Carolina to change the destination of his troops to Rich-
mond, "where an effort would be made to concentrate as.
large a force as possible to make that city the base of
operations for defending the interests of the Southern.
States."

Maj.-Gen. Walter Gwynn, who had been assigned to
command of the Virginia forces at Norfolk, reported on.
the 23d that the Baltic had arrived off Old Point with
troops from Boston and then proceeded to Washington \
that the Cumberland, the only war vessel in Hampton
Roads, was lying off Old Point. That day the advisory
council asked the governor to direct General Gwynn to^
send a flag to Fort Monroe and ascertain whether it was
true that army officers, citizens of Virginia, were kept in
irons at that fort, or otherwise restrained against their will.
The governor was also directed to have vessels that had
been seized and detained in the waters of Virginia in-
spected, valued and detained for the defense of the State.
Ex-Governor Wise, from near Norfolk, about that time
urged the Richmond authorities to place heavy guns at
Hampton to prevent the forces at Fort Monroe from
taking the points of vantage and shutting up Virginia
bays and rivers, concluding: "We are quiet here now,
but fortifying, and daily along Lynnhaven seeing the
steamers take reinforcements up the bay and the Potomac



CONFEDERATE MILITARY HISTORY. 12T

to Washington. This can be done all the time until
we surround Fort Monroe and make the roads too hot to
hold the blockading fleets. ' '

On the 25th, the governor asked the advisory council
the very important question as to how steam vessels,
entering the navy yard at Portsmouth or other ports, on
State service, could be supplied with coal, when in want,
that being then the case with one such vessel at Ports-
mouth. Fortunately for Virginia, she had, in the vicinity
of Richmond, the fine Chesterfield coalfield, which sup-
plied during the war an abundance of coal for steam and
manufacturing purposes.

On the 24th of April, the steam tug Young America
went out from the harbor of Norfolk and was proceeding
to take charge of the schooner George M. Smith, off
Fortress Monroe, loaded with contraband of war, when
it was seized by the United States frigate Cumberland,
and there resulted quite a correspondence between Gen-
eral Gwynn and Flag-Oificer Pendergrast, of the United
States navy, in reference to that and otlaer captures of
vessels in Hampton Roads, the one claiming the right
to make such seizures and the other denying it.

Learning that the Virginia midshipmen from the naval
school at Annapolis had resigned and tendered their
services to the State, Capt. R. L. Page, of the Virginia
navy, at this time advised the establishment of a tem-
porary schoolship for their use at Norfolk, for drill, etc. ,
until their services were wanted for special duties, a
suggestion that received the approval of the advisory
council.

A strict blockade had been established by the Federal
authorities, cutting off all communication even with
other Virginia ports; Federal vessels were constantly
making soundings from Cape Henry lighthouse to the
barricades in the channel of Elizabeth river, and it was.
the opinion of Com. French Forrest, May ist, that the
United States intended to make a descent on Gosport
navy yard to correct their recent error of destruction and
evacuation. He suggested that a competent military
force be stationed to resist such efforts, saying that he
could muster only 73 men under arms in the yard, and
scarcely 40 appeared from the town, and only two of
those properly armed.

On the 30th of April, G. J. Pendergrast, command-



128 CONFEDERATE MILITARY HISTORY.

ing the Federal squadron, gave formal notice of an
efficient blockade of the ports of Virginia and North
Carolina. Col. S. Bassett French, aide to Governor
Letcher, from Norfolk, May 2d, notified General Lee of
this blockade, and that the troops from Suffolk, some 300,
had been brought to Norfolk, leaving the Nansemond
river approaches undefended. He thought 10,000 men
-absolutely necessary for the defense of the public property
in and about Norfolk.

The Bay line was permitted, on the 4th, to resume
trips for mails and passengers. A British ship from
Liverpool, with salt for Richmond, was boarded at Old
Point, but sailed on and delivered its cargo. It was
reported, on the 6th of May, that Federal vessels chased
and fired on steamers to within 12 miles of Gloucester
point.

Lewis E. Harvie, president of the Richmond & Dan-
ville railroad, patriotically offered, without charge, to
furnish transportation from his railroad to remove the
-ordnance from the navy yard at Norfolk to the interior.
The council advised the acceptance of this offer, and that
orders be immediately given to remove all ordnance from
the navy yard, not necessary for its defense and that of
Norfolk and Portsmouth, to safe points in the interior.
Early in May, Gen. R. E. Lee was assigned to the
•command of volunteer troops ordered to the battery on
Jamestown island.

Gov. I. G. Harris, of Tennessee, asked the governor
of Virginia for artillery for the defense of the Mississippi
and the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, and the coun-
cil advised Governor Letcher to fill this requisition with
fifty 3 2 -pounders, a supply of balls, and two sample gun
carriages. The governor was also directed to purchase
the steamer Northampton, for the service of the State.

D. G. Duncan, the special agent of the Confederate
government, from Richmond, reported to Secretary of
War L. P. Walker, that intelligent and distinguished
men in Richmond "believe Virginia on the very brink
of being carried back, and say no man but President
Davis can save her. . . . There is disappointment that
he does not assume entire direction of affairs here. . . .
General Lee has ordered Louisiana troops to Harper's
Ferry. . . . The South Carolina troops refuse to move
unless under orders from Montgomery. Military control



CONFEDERATE MILITARY HISTORY. 129

is essential to the interests of the Confederate States. I
doubt if there are 5,000 Virginians armed and equipped. "
That same 7 th of May the council advised Governor
Letcher to issue an order to Major-General Lee to assume
command of all forces from other States that had or
might hereafter report to him, or tender their services to
Virginia, until orders are received from the President of
the Confederate States in reference to the same.

It was reported in Richmond, on the 9th, that thirty-
vessels were detained at Old Point by Commander Pender-
grast ; one of them a Richmond ship, from South America,
with 3,000 bags of coffee, the last of the fine fleet owned at
Richmond, that by direct trade with Brazil made that city
one of the leading coffee markets of the country, a loss
she has never recovered.

On the loth, Capt. H. Coalter Cabell reported his arrival
at Gloucester point, by way of West Point, and the plac-
ing of his Virginia battery in position, and that he would
soon have that place perfectly safe from attack. He sug-
gested similar works on the Rappahannock, the Potomac
and the northern side of James river, adding: "These
positions secured and defended by heavy guns, Virginia
is safe from invasion by sea. "

From Richmond, on the nth, Rev. Dr. W. N. Pendle-
ton, of Lexington, Va. (afterward captain of the Rock-
bridge artillery, and later colonel and brigadier-general
of artillery), wrote to President Davis: "As you value
our great cause, hasten on to Richmond. Lincoln and
Scott are, if I mistake not, covering by other demonstra-
tions the great movement upon Richmond. Suppose they
should send suddenly up the York river, as they can, an
army of 30,000 or more; there are no means at hand to
repel them, and if their policy shown in Maryland gets
footing here, it will be a severe, if not a fatal blow.
Hasten, I pray you, to avert it. The very fact of your
presence will almost answer. Hasten, then. I entreat
you, don't lose a day." Pendleton was a classmate of
Davis at West Point, and an intimate friend.

Maj. Benjamin S. Ewell, in command of the Virginia
militia at Williamsburg, wrote on the nth to Adjutant-
General Gamett that a better disposition to volunteer in
the service of the State had been evinced by the citizens of
James City, York and Warwick, and he hoped to be able
to report within a week five or six companies mustered in
Va 9



130 CONFEDERATE MILITARY HISTORY.

and doing camp duty; that in Elizabeth City county,
volunteers and militia numbered about 600 men, so that
about 1,200 could be raised on the peninsula. He asked
for arms and a battery of field pieces for these men, and for
cadets to drill them. In a private letter of the same date,
Major Ewell informed General Lee that there was disaf-
fection in the Poquosin island section of York county, from
which there had been no volunteers, and it might be well
to give him authority to call out the militia of the Sixty-
eighth regiment from that section if found necessary.

Col. Charles K. Mallory, of the One Hundred and
Fifteenth regiment, Virginia militia, from Hampton, on
the 13th informed Governor Letcher that two companies
from Fort Monroe had taken possession of Mill creek
bridge and of the property adjoining, giving as a reason
for so doing that they wanted possession of a well of
water on that side of the creek. He thought their object
was to hold the north bank of Mill creek, and perhaps
erect works there. Considering that movement an inva-
sion of Virginia, he had ordered out the volunteer com-
panies of Elizabeth City county. General Lee went to
Norfolk on the i6th to look into the condition of military
affairs at that point, returning to Richmond on the 19th.

On the 1 8th, the United States steamer Monticello fired
on the unfinished Virginia battery at Sewell's point, but
did no damage. There were no guns there at that time,
but three were immediately sent forward from Norfolk
and got in position by 5 p. m. of the 19th. During the
19th the Monticello lay opposite Sewell's point, appar-
ently not suspecting the placing there of three 3 2 -pound-
ers in battery. When the Monticello opened again at
5:30 p. m., the battery at once replied with such effect
as to drive her off, and while many shot and shell fell in
and around the battery no material loss was suffered.
Capt. P. H. Colquitt, of the Columbus (Ga.) Light
Guards, was in command at Sewell's point, with three
companies from Norfolk. In the absence of a Confeder-
ate flag that of the State of Georgia was hoisted over the
battery. He reported that the troops acted with great
bravery and he had to restrain them in their enthusiasm.
On the night of the 19th additional guns and ammunition
were sent to Sewell's point. On the 21st the Monticello
steamed up and fired twice at the Sewell's point battery,
but when answered drew off.



CONFEDERATE MILITARY HISTORY. 131

Brig. -Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, of the Massachusetts
militia, was assigned, on the 2 2d of May, to the command
of the "department of Virginia," with headquarters at
Old Point Comfort, and nine additional infantry regi-
ments were sent to that place. On the 23d, between
4 and 5 p. m., a Federal regiment made a demonstra-
tion against Hampton, greatly alarming the citizens of
that place. Maj. J. B. Gary, of the Virginia artillery,
in command at Hampton, had made arrangements for
the destruction of the bridges leading from Fort Monroe,
but the enemy were in sight before the fires could be
well started. He then sent Lieutenant Gutshaw to de-
mand of the Federal colonel his object in approaching
Hampton with so large a body of men. He replied that
he had simply come, under the order of General Butler,
to reconnoiter; he then gave assurance that he would
make no attack upon personal property, unless molested,
when both sides joined in extinguishing the fires at the
bridges. This amicable understanding reached, the
Federal troops marched into the town, remained for
awhile and then returned. Major Gary reported to Golo-
nel Ewell at Williamsburg, that this demonstration indi-
cated the propriety of removing his camp farther from
Hampton, where the people had responded indifferently
to his call for aid in erecting intrenchments. As the site
selected for his camp was probably visible from the ram-
parts of Fort Monroe, he thought the erection of the first
tent there would be the signal for another demonstra-
tion.

On the 2ist of May, Gol. John B. Magruder, of the
provisional army of Virginia, a Virginian officer of the
old Federal army, later a major-general of the Gonfeder-
ate States army, was assigned to the command of the
"department of the Peninsula," including the York and
the James rivers, and he began organizing forces for de-
fense. Maj. H. B. Tomlin, commanding at West Point,
reported that he had placed guards near the York river
railroad bridge over the Pamunkey.

A letter of General Lee to ex-Governor Wise, of May
24th, describes the situation at that date :

Since my arrival in Richmond I have used every exertion to organ-
ize troops and prepare resistance against immediate invasion, which
has appeared immment, and as almost everything had to be created,
except the guns found at the Gosport navy yard, the preparations
have absorbed all the means I can command. We are still engaged



132 CONFEDERATE MILITARY HISTORY.

in making gun carriages for the river defenses and field service,
preparing ammunition for all arms, constructing machines for the
manufacture of caps, etc., ammunition wagons, etc., which must be
continued. It seems to me, therefore, impossible at this time to pre-
pare a marine battery, such as you describe, which would be effect-
ive in carrying out your design, as desirable as it would be. All the
force and means at Norfolk are now employed in preparing defenses
against a water and land approach. Could proper redoubts be erected
at Willoughby's and Sewell's points, capable of standing a siege,
and with an armament to command the adjacent waters, they would
be of great advantage. Ineffectual batteries would provoke useless
conflict and expose to the risk of capture the heavy guns therein
placed. This has, in a measure, been recently exemplified. . . .
Gen. B. Huger, formerly of the United States ;army, an officer of
great merit, has been assigned to the command at Norfolk, and I
hope will be able to secure it against successful invasion.

On May 2Sth, Governor Ellis notified President Davis
that 37,000 stand of arms in the Fayetteville arsenal
were at his disposal ; that troops were constantly coming
in, and he asked what he should do with a regiment that
was ready for service, concluding: "The people are a
nnit, waiting for an advance on Washington. ' '

Brig. -Gen. Benjamin Huger reported, from Norfolk, on
the 26th, that with time and means he hoped to soon
get the defenses of Norfolk in order ; that Williams' North
Carolina regiment had arrived from Richmond, and the
Federals were landing troops at Newport News.

Major-General Butler moved a body of troops, by trans-
ports, from Fort Monroe to Newport News, about 7 a. m. ,
May 27th, and began intrenching a camp, of which he
reported, "when completed, it will be able to hold itself
against any force that may be brought against it, and
afford even a better depot from which to advance than
Fortress Monroe. ' ' His next movement would be to take
the battery at Big Point, exactly opposite Newport News,
and commanding Nansemond river, and once in com-
mand of that battery, he could advance along the Nanse-
mond and take Suffolk, and there either hold or destroy
the railroads between Richmond and Norfolk and be-
tween Norfolk and the South; then, with a perfect
blockade of Elizabeth river, "Norfolk will be so per-
fectly hemmed in that starvation will cause the surren-
der, without risking an attack on the strongly fortified
intrenchments around Norfolk, with great loss and per-
haps defeat."

In a letter of May 27th, Butler informed Scott that the
people of Virginia were using negroes in the batteries



CONFEDERATE MILITARY HISTORY. 133

and preparing to send the negro women and children
South; that squads of negro families were constantly
coming into his lines and he was "in doubt what to do
with this species of property," but had determined to



Online LibraryClement Anselm EvansConfederate military history; a library of Confederate States history → online text (page 13 of 153)