Norfolk Captured, President Lincoln Departs for Washington

May 11, 1862

President Lincoln telegraphs Gen. Halleck: “Norfolk in our possession, Merrimac blown up, & Monitor & other boats going up James River to Richmond. Be very sure to sustain no reverse in your Department.”   Th president, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase return to Washington aboard the U.S. S. Baltimore.

General John Wool would report to Secretary of War Stanton the next day: “The taking of Norfolk caused the destruction of the Iron Clad Steamer Merrimac which was blown up by the Rebels about five oclock on the morning of the eleventh 11th of May which was soon after communicated to you and the President of the U. S. On the eleventh I visited the Navy yard & found all the work shops, storehouses and other buildings in ruins having been set on fire by the rebels who at the same time partially blew up the dry dock I also visited Crany Island where I found thirty nine guns of large calibre most of which were spiked also a large number of shot and shells with about five thousand pounds of powder all of which with the buildings were in good order. As far as I have been able to ascertain we have taken about two 2 hundred cannon including those at Sewells Point Batteries with a large number of shots and shells as well as many other articles of value stationed at the Navy Yard, Craney Island Sewells Point and other places.”

Secretary  Chase writes: “This morning, as the President had determined to leave for Washington at 7, I rose at 6 and just before 7 came into the parlor where Commander Goldsborough astonished and gratified us that the rebels had set fire to the Merrimac and had blown her up.  It was determined that before leaving, we would go up in the Baltimore, which was to convey us to Washington, to the point where the suicide had been performed and above the obstructions in the channel if possible, so as to be sure of the access to Norfolk by water which had been defended by the exploded ship.  This was done; but the voyage was longer than we anticipated, taking us up to the wharves of Norfolk by water which had been defended by the exploded ship.  This was done; but the voyage was longer than we anticipated, taking us up to the wharves of Norfolk, where, in the Elizabeth River, were already lying the Monitor, the Stevens, the Susquehanna and one or two other vessels.  General Wool and Commander Goldsborough had come up with us on the Baltimore and as soon as they were transferred to the Susquehanna, our prow was turned down stream and touching for a moment at the Fort we keep on our war towards Washington, where we hope to be at Breakfast tomorrow.”

Chase, not normally an effusive fan of Lincoln’s leadership, wrote: “So has ended a brilliant week’s campaign of the President, for I think it quite certain that if he had not come down, it would still have been in possession of the enemy and the Merrimac as grim and defiant and as much a terror as ever.  The whole coast is virtually ours.  There is no port which the Monitor and Stevens cannot enter and take.”  Chase wrote a few weeks later: “On Sunday morning, May 11, the President, becoming uneasy on account of his long absence from Washington, determined to return forthwith.  The explosion of the Merrimac, however, detained him long enough to go to the spot, ascertain the exact condition of things and return to Ft. Monroe, whence we proceeded immediately towards Washington.  On our way up, I remarked on the probability that a small force, say 5000 men, embarked on transports and convoyed by gunboats, might contribute largely to the taking of Richmond, if sent immediately up James River.  But nothing was determined on.  After our return to Washington I frequently spoke of this matter and urged the sending of General Wool up James River with all his disposable force.  It was thought General McClellan could be reinforced more effectually in another direction.”

Published in: on May 11, 2012 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

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