I haven’t done a Military Monday since 2018. One-hundred, fifty-nine years ago, today…~Vic
In 1861, Virginia joined the Confederate States of America. Fearing that the Confederacy would take control of the [Navy yard] facility, the shipyard commander Charles Stewart McCauley ordered the burning of the shipyard.
[The USS Pawnee was] dispatched to Norfolk to secure the ships and stores of the Gosport Navy Yard. Arriving at Norfolk the night of [April 20], she found that all ships, save [the] USS Cumberland, had been scuttled […]. [So], an attempt was made to destroy the Naval stores and the dry dock. Their efforts were largely unsuccessful but, she took Cumberland in tow and saved the frigate.
On Saturday evening, at 9 o’clock, the Pawnee arrived from Washington with 200 volunteers, and 100 marines, besides her own crew […]. [At] once, the officers and crew of the Pawnee and Cumberland went to the Navy yard and, spiked and disabled the guns, [plus], threw the shot and small arms into the river. At 10 o’clock, the marines, who had been quartered in the barracks, fired them and came on board the Pawnee. A party of officers, [in the] meantime, were going through the different buildings and ships, distributing waste and turpentine, and laying a train, so as to blow up the dry dock. At this time, the scene was indescribably magnificent, all the buildings being in a blaze, and explosions, here and there, scattering the cinders in all directions.
The Confederate forces did, in fact, take over the shipyard and did so without armed conflict through an elaborate ruse orchestrated by civilian railroad builder William Mahone (then President of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad and soon to become a famous Confederate officer). He bluffed the Federal troops into abandoning the shipyard in Portsmouth by running a single passenger train into Norfolk with great noise and whistle-blowing […]. [T]hen, much more quietly, [he sent] it back west […]. [He returned] the same train, again, creating the illusion of large numbers of arriving troops [with] the Federals listening in Portsmouth across the Elizabeth River (and just barely out of sight).
Burning of Gosport Navy Yard (The New York Times)
The History of Norfolk Naval Shipyard (The Virginian-Pilot Online)
This Day in Naval History (US Navy Website)
How Fear, Deception and Indecision Nearly Destroyed Norfolk Naval Shipyard (USN History)
Norfolk Naval Shipyard (Wikipedia)
Clip from Hearts in Bondage (1936)