Monday, July 9, 2012

Occupation and Reconstruction of Gosport

Although US Navy and Army cooperation during the Peninsula Campaign was a failure,  Union forces took the opportunity to capture Norfolk and Portsmouth in 1862.  The immediate benefit of this side project was the destruction of CSS Virginia at Craney Island as the ironclad was denied a suitable base of operations.  Over the long term, the U.S. Army's occupation of Norfolk and Portsmouth proved extremely beneficial, as the U.S. Navy regained control of a critical piece of maritime infrastructure to service ships serving on the blockade. 

1862 Torching of Gosport Navy Yard by Theodore Davis

The U.S. Navy formally retook Gosport Navy Yard on May 27, 1862 by landing U.S. Marines from the steamer USS King Phillip.   The first order of business was a name change.  After being known as Gosport since its founding in the mid-1700s, the U.S. Navy changed the facility's name to "Norfolk Navy Yard."  The second order of business was damage assessment. When Confederate forces withdrew from the two cities in wake of the threat to Richmond, they torched the Yard in similar fashion to the Union's 1861 torching. 
1863 Norfolk Navy Yard by Alfred Waud
The Confederate torching finished off the remaining wooden ships spared in 1861.  This included the frigate United States, one of the "Original Six" frigates of 1794.  Several small buildings also went up in flames.  However, just like the 1861 torching, the priceless dry dock was left intact.   Welles made it a priority to get the Navy Yard back up and running, but immediately put a clamp down on private salvage companies conducting unauthorized operations on Union and Confederate wrecks.  He organized a more formal contracting process and eventually awarded a $70,000 contract later in the year to clear out about a dozen wrecks from both the Elizabeth River and Hampton Roads.  
1865 Engraving of Norfolk Navy  Yard from an Alexander Garnder photo
By late 1862, the Navy Yard had been returned to partial operating status and was once again supporting U.S. Naval operations.  The region would remain in Union hands for the remainder of the war.  It would not be until well after the war that the damage would be completely fixed. 

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