Marcus W. Robbins, Historian & Archivist
Copyright. All rights reserved.

Index of Newspaper Articles:

NATIONAL ÆGIS, February 22, 1804.
Appropriations for the Navy.

THE UNITED STATES' GAZETTE, Philadelphia, January 9, 1812.
A duel.

GLEASON'S PICTORIAL, Boston, Saturday, July 9, 1853.
Ships at anchor at Gosport Navy Yard

Proposed Enlargement of the Norfolk Navy Yard

DAILY PRESS, April 14, 2011.
Dateline. Courtesy of Mark Erickson

YORKTOWN CRIER-POQUOSON POST, September 22-28, 2011.
"Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Musuem is a Must Visit" (extract). Courtesy of Steve Milner.


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Worcester: Published by Sewall Goodridge,
Vol. III.—No. 117.
Wednesday, February 22, 1804.

Published by Authority
Eighth Congress of the United States,
at the First Session.

Begun and held at the City of Washington, in the Territory of Columbia, on Monday, the 17th of October, one thousand eight hundred and three.

AN ACT making appropriations for the support of the Navy of the United States, during the year one thousand eight hundred and four.

BE it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That for defraying the expenses of the navy of the United States, during the year one thousand eight hundred and four, the following sums be, and the same hereby are respectively appropriated, that is to say:

For the pay and subsistance of the officers, and the pay of the seamen, two hundred and thirty-four thousand three hundred and twenty-eight dollars:

For provisions, one hundred and twenty-five thousand five hundred and eighteen dollars, and seventy- two cents:

For medicine, instruments, hospital stores and all expenses on account of the sick, four thousand eight hundred and seventy-five dollars:

For repairs of vessels, store rent, and other contingent expenses, one hundred and forty-four thousand dollars:

For the purchase of ordnance, and military stores, five thousand dollars:

For the expense of navy yards, docks, and other improvements, the pay of superintendants, store keepers, clerks and laborers, fifty-two thousand dollars:

For the pay and subsistence of the marine corps, including privisions for those on shore, and forage for the staff, fify-seven thousand five hundred and forty-one follars and eighty cents:

For clothing for the same, twelve thousand eight hundred and fifty-two dollars, and seventy-six cents:

For military stores for the same, four hundred and fifty-two dollars:

For medicine, medical services, hospital stores, and all expenses on account of the sick belonging to the marine corps, on thousand dollars:

For quarter masters and barrack masters stores, officers traveling expenses, armourers and carpenters bills, fuil, and other contingent expenses, eight thousand eight hundred and forty-seven dollars:

For completing the marine barracks at the City of Washington, three thousand six hundred and eighty-four dollars, and seventy-two cents:

SECT. 2. And be it further enacted, That the several sums herein specifically appropriated shall be paid, first out of any balance remaining unexpended of former appropriation for the support of the navy, and secondly out of any monies in the treasury not otherwise appropriated.

Speaker of the House of Representatives.
President of the Senate pro tempore.

Jan. 31, 1804.

The United States' Gazette For the Country
Philadelphia, January 9, 1812.

A letter from an officer in the Navy at Norfolk, received at Alexandria, dated Dec. 26, says:—"A most horrid circumstance took place here last evening—Young Mercer, whom you have often heard me mention*, had received an insult from the mate of some merchantman—a challenge followed, and last evening about sun down they met within a mile of town—their distance of fighting was only sufficient for them not to touch the body with each other's pistols—the word was given—both fired, and both fell Dead!—The whole town is an uproar on the occasion. The seconds have taken safety by flight, leaving their dead comrade with a soul near them—their bodies were brought to town last evening and will this day be interred.

*Mr. Mercer was an officer in the United States Navy, and nephew to General Mercer.

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Boston, Saturday, July 9, 1853

This, the largest and most important naval depot of the United States, depicted above, is an object of great interest to every American citizen, as well as the stranger, and we are proud to present our readers with such an excellent view of the exterior and interior of the yard, taken on the spot for us by our own artist, Mr. Chapin. The above view is taken from the east bank of the Elizabeth River, and represents the ship-of-the-line Pennsylvania, frigate Columbia, steamer Powhatan, hulk of the United States, and in the distance, the masts of the frigate Savannah, and hull of the Alleghany. The first-named is the largest and most costly vessel in the American navy. She was built at Philadelphia, in 1835, mounts 144 guns, and cost $800,000, which was just so much money thrown away. The only voyage she has ever made was from Philadelphia to Norfolk, where she now lies, and always will lie, until time shall consign her to that bourn where all other ships go. The narrow inlet, which is her present quarters, not allowing her to swing to her anchors with the tide, and exposing constantly the same side to the sun, her timbers have decayed, and would require an immense outlay to repair. The sand has formed bars around her bottom, and if she ever moves again, it will be done by carrying the country with her. The frigate Columbia is thought to be, by competent judges, the handsomest vessel in the navy. She is certainly a noble-looking craft, and justifies all the encomiums that have been passed upon her, and is, although by the side of the Pennsylvania she appears a pigmy, one of the largest class frigates. Between her and the latter vessel, in the picture is seen the village of Gosport, which is a small place, made up of the residences of the employees of the yard,— and the long building, through which is the principal entrance to the yard. The two ship-houses shown to the left of the frigate, and on a large scale in the view above, are the largest in the United States, and capable of accommodating vessels of the largest class. Between them, and beneath the immense shears, which tower toward the clouds, is the steamer Powhatan, the flag-ship of the Japanese squadron, taking in her boilers. The United States frigate, whose hull is now used as a store-ship, and is represented at her anchors on the left of the picture is the same in which Decatur and his brave tars captured the British fir gate Macedonian, during the last war. What interesting reunions cluster around that old hulk, which has braved for nearly a quarter of a century the "battle and the breeze," and was one of the first to teach Old England that her boast of being "mistress of the seas" was mere braggadocia, and that young America, battling for "free trade and sailors' rights," was invincible even against the bravest of Nelson's crews. Entering the yard, through the long brick building with a cupola, the visitor is at once struck with the immensity of the works, and the great number of persons employed. On the right, the first objects which strike his eye and fill him with surprise, are the ship-houses, some idea of which may be gathered by comparing them with the figures nearest them, in the engraving. On the right are shown one of the numerous work-shops, of which he will meet a great number in his peregrinations around the yard. Besides the boat-houses, mast-houses, timber-houses, block-houses—each of which is three or four hundred feet in length, by seventy or eighty wide, there are quarters for the marines, officers, and residences for those immediately connected with the yard, and many others which our space does not allow us to particularlize. Passing these he reaches, at the extreme end of the yard, the dry-docks, of which there are three, which are built in the most approved plan, and capable of accommodating the largest-sized vessels. Without desiring to advocate in any way an extravagant outlay for the purposes of naval construction, yet we are firmly convinced that government is in duty bound to render its navy yards as perfect and complete in every respect as can possibly be done. It is true that at the present moment there is perhaps no positive necessity for calling the resources of our naval constructors into active service, but no one can say how soon such a contingency may occur. It is by being fully prepared for war that it may oftentimes be avoided. The situation of Norfolk is peculiarly favorable for the purpose of a naval depot, and our readers will be pleased to know that the yard at this point is excellent in every respect. The Gosport and Charlestown navy yards are, undoubtedly, the most perfect and complete in all their belongings of any in the country, and reflect honor upon the nation.

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August 8, 1914.

Caption: View of the undeveloped Schmoele tract to which the Doyle board proposes to apply its plan of development for the extension of the Norfolk Navy Yard. This tract is two hundred and seventy-two acres in extent, is about a mile long and about three quarters of a mile wide. To the right of the picture is shown a part of the present Navy Yard.

Proposed Enlargement of the Norfolk Navy Yard.
Creating a Great Central Naval Station for Outfitting, Building, and Repairs.

The Naval Affairs Committee in Congress now has before it for consideration the plan of the Doyle board for the improvement of the Norfolk Navy Yard. This plan, which was conceived by Civil Engineer L. M. Cox, U. S. N., after three years of close application and study, provides the most ambitious system of dry docks, building ways, coaling equipment, and other handling machinery for naval vessels that has ever been suggested in this country.

The plan is purely suggestive. It gives in a graphic outline, with considerable attention to detail, an idea of what can be done at the Norfolk station if the Navy Department and Congress will agree upon a consistent plan of development to extend over a period of from five to ten years with an appropriation of about $15,000,000 scattered through this period.

Those who composed the Doyle board are enthusiastic over the plan, and have issued an extensive report to the Secretary of the Navy with drawings and blue-prints covering the project in detail, showing facts and figures pertaining to the construction from viewpoints of labor, cost of material, transportation, manufacture, and maintenance.

The central object of interest is the dry dock and the Doyle board has applied a scheme of dock building that fits in nicely with the course of the Elizabeth River, being parallel with the stream and open at both ends, equipped so that caissons may be placed at intervals in the dock to accommodate the size of the vessel to be docked, thus reducing to a minimum the amount of pimping or permitting the use of the dock for several vessels without hindering the work on those not ready to be floated.

The new type of dock has been tried abroad with success. If it be introduced here, it will be the only one of its kind on the Western continent. According to the estimate made, it is to cost $3,250,000; is to be 2,500 feet in length net; and will provide space for docking two ships of the Pennsylvania class at the same time. The board has also recommended another dry dock (this to cost $3,000,000), which will enable the docking of two more ships, giving a complete docking facility of four dreadnoughts at one time. It is pointed out, however, that the second dock is purely optional and may or may not be built; but the board indicates quite clearly that it will be comparatively easy to construct the additional dock if conditions arise to require it.

The board does not want to be understood as recommending the immediate undertaking of all this work. On the contrary it submits a plan as representing its opinion of the ultimate requirements. As to carrying out the work it makes the following suggestions:

"First year, begin the construction of one dry dock, and one building ways; the dry dock to be 1,250 feet inside length with a temporary inshore end. This would require about two or three years to complete.

"Second year, begin the construction of ship fitter shop, plate, and angle storage and bending slab.

"Third year, no new work.

"Fourth year, begin dredging and sea wall and carry it to completion on annual estimate of approximately $200,000.

"The other work hereinafter mentioned should be left entirely to future development."

One of the most important feature in the report is the recommendations for berthing space that will accommodate the entire Atlantic fleet. The Atlantic fleet at present consists of twenty-one modern battleships, and it is the opinion of the board that berthing space should be provided for the entire fleet as it exists today, or for 80 per cent of the fleet units if of the Pennsylvania type.

This will accomplish what no other navy yard now accomplishes. At present, Norfolk can take care of one division of the fleet with comparative comfort. As has been pointed out in the numerous reports of naval experts, the Norfolk Navy Yard and Hampton Roads is a logical assembling place of battleships and is geographically located so that ships could come in for repairs, and be out on the high sea again in a comparatively short time. The fact that the Norfolk Navy Yard is but 21 miles from the Atlantic Ocean has been the prime argument for making the Norfolk Navy Yard a complete naval base.

Another departure from the beaten path is the coaling plant suggested for the extreme southern end of the tract. This plant would have a storage capacity of 200,000 tons of coal, half of which would be stored below the water line. A few hundred feet from the coaling plant are piers for supplying provisions, meats and food-stuffs of all kinds, with railroad connections which feed from the richest territory in Virginia. Further than this it is possible to bring ammunition from the magazine farther up the river to these piers. Mr. Cox stated that with this plan carried out, the Norfolk Navy Yard could fit out the entire Atlantic fleet ready for "business" in ten days.

As far as building ships is concerned, the recommendation is made that the Norfolk Navy Yard should ultimately be equipped with provision for building one dreadnought and one small ship at the same time, but that for the immediate future the installation of one ways and building facilities for one ship only of the dreadnought type would be sufficient. The engineers have stated that ships can be built at  Norfolk Navy Yard at a much less cost than the Government is now paying; but in the view of the fact that the Norfolk yard is not equipped for building, the first cost would be considerably higher.

The tract, which is known as the Schmoele tract, is located conveniently to belt-line connections with eight railroads. It is in about the same condition as when it was acquired by the Government some years ago. It offers an admirable plan of development, being 272 acres in extent, about a mile long, and, at its widest point, about three quarters of a mile wide. About one third of its area is under water, which will reduce the amount of dredging and excavating considerably, greatly reducing the cost.

Caption: This is the proposed development of the Norfolk Navy Yard as outlined by the Doyle board. The plan comprises an immense coaling plant (on left), a double-end dry dock, building ways, berthing accommodations for twenty-one first class battleships, and a complete system of shops, foundaries, and storage buildings. The plan is suggested for the Schmoele tract which lies south of the present Navy Yard. Part of the present yard is shown on the right of the picture.

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DAILY PRESS, April 14, 2011

Fall of Gosport Navy Yard boosts Southern Cause
Courtesy of Mark Erickson

Long before Virginia left the Union on April 17, 1861, newly appointed Navy secretary Gideon Welles worried over the fate of his biggest and most important ship yard.

Nearly three weeks before, he'd tried to raise reinforcements for the Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth. And when that effort sputtered, Welles fired off a telegram to the commander — Capt. Charles S. McCauley — urging him to repair the dismantled engines of the USS Merrimack and make the powerful warship ready to sail.

Then he added a fatal contradiction, ordering "that no steps should be taken to raise needless alarm" in Virginia, which was still resisting the call to leave the Union.

Two days after the fall of Fort Sumter, however — and the day after President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers — Southern sympathizers sank several small boats in an attempt to block the Elizabeth River.

Gloucester lawyer and Virginia militia commander William B. Taliaferro received his own orders the day after his state withdrew, leaving to demand that the sprawling yard surrender to the "Sovereign State of the Commonwealth of Virginia."

With 14 warships, a giant granite dry dock and an arsenal of more than 2,000 cannon and 300,000 pounds of gunpowder, Gosport was a prize of unparalleled importance. Just as crucial to the industrially impoverished South were its foundries and machine shops.

"Gosport was a huge resource. You can't underestimate it," says J. Corey Thornton, curator of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Museum. "And everybody on both sides knew it."

What ensued over the next 48 hours was a battle of ruses and nerves in which the 68-year-old McCauley — a veteran of the War of 1812 — felt increasingly cut off from hope of saving his command.

Inside the yard, nearly all his staff officers resigned. The 1,400-man work force teemed with sympathizers and spies. So insecure were the telegraph lines to nearby Fort Monroe and Washington, D.C., that communications faltered.

Outside the brick walls, McCauley could hear the whistles, whoops and cheers as train after train rolled into Portsmouth and came to a stop with yet another contingent of Virginia volunteers. Then a lookout from the USS Cumberland reported the removal of the channel markers and the construction of an earthwork commanding the river.

Groups of armed men roamed the streets, fueling the tension. So when chief Navy engineer Benjamin F. Isherwood reported that he had not only reassembled and fired up the Merrimack's engines but also formed a ragtag crew, the old sailor — heeding Welles' instructions — hesitated.

"'McCauley's Folly,' I like to call it. If he hadn't lost his nerve — they might have held onto the yard," Thornton says.

"But the fact is he wasn't completely out of his mind. He had a lot to worry about."

Unbeknownst to McCauley, the head of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad — William Mahone, who later became a hero at the Battle of the Crater — had been bringing in his trains again and again with the same small group of wildly cheering men.

Instead of an estimated 5,000 troops, Taliaferro commanded fewer than 500 — and he was prepared to wait on reinforcements because of the overwhelming firepower trained on Norfolk by the guns of the Cumberland and USS Pennsylvania.

No militiaman raised a hand when — at McCauley's command — the Unionists began scuttling ships, spiking guns and preparing the dry dock and shops for destruction. They also failed to resist when the USS Pawnee steamed in later that night with nearly 100 Marines from the Washington Navy Yard and some 350 Massachusetts infantrymen from Fort Monroe.

At first the relief force led by the Navy's senior line officer — Commodore Hiram Paulding — hoped to stop the devastation and hold the yard. But the work was too far gone to be interrupted. So they redoubled the effort to destroy the ships, buildings, ordnance and supplies, torching the scuttled hulks and giant ship houses before mining the dry dock with 2,000 pounds of gun powder.

When they left with the Cumberland and steam tug Yankee early the next morning, the 3/4-mile long waterfront was enveloped in towering flames. Nearly a dozen ships burned just as brightly. But the dry dock survived after a Southern officer flooded the basin in the nick of time. So did all the powder and cannon.

Within weeks, the rebels used those same guns to fortify not just the James River, Hampton Roads and the North Carolina coast but also dozens of rebel strongholds as far away as Charleston, Savannah and Memphis. The powder helped the Army of Northern Virginia defeat Union forces at the first Battle of Manassas.

In less than a year, Gosport's dry dock, foundries and machine shops would transform the salvaged hull of the Merrimack into the CSS Virginia, leading to the historic first battle between ironclad ships and — just off Newport News Point — the worst U.S. naval defeat until Pearl Harbor.

"The South was able to take Gosport without a shot," shipyard historian and archivist Marcus W. Robbins says.

"If they'd failed, the outcome of the war — or at least its duration — would have been a lot different."

Union forces began scuttling the ships and setting fire to the giant ship…
(Courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)

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YORKTOWN CRIER-POQUOSON POST, September 22-28, 2011.

"Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Musuem is a Must Visit"
Courtesy of Steve Milner.

The museum "is only a short distance from the Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY), which is the centerpiece around which this museum builds many of its various thems."

"The museum's curator, Corey Thornton, works closely with the Navy's Hampton Roads Naval Museum, located at Nauticus, in Norfolk, with the Museum's Division of the Naval History and Heritage Command in Washington, DC, and with NNSY's historian, Mark Robbins. The shipyard and the Navy's Historical Command loan artifacts to the museum for display."

"And when you've been in the business for nearly 244 years, as NNSY has, you're bound to find noteworthy historical items when buildings dating back more than 150 years are renovated. One never knows what might turn up in the next shovel-load of dirt, and eagle-eyed Robbins has been known to rescue these treasures of bygone days."


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