1861 April 20th

April 20 1861 Saturday

Norfolk Navy Yard, VA

USA. Renowned anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass proposed the use of black Americans in African Zouave Regiments by the Union. His proposal was rejected but was soon to be fulfilled as freed slaves flocked in increasing numbers to Union army camps.

Louisiana. The Star of the West, which had been seized by Confederate authorities at Indianola, Texas, sailed into New Orleans.  Governor Thomas Overton Moore changed its name to CSS St Philip. The old name persisted, however, and Star of the West served as a naval station and hospital ship until the fall of New Orleans. Still under Confederate control, Star of the West escaped recapture and transported a cargo of gold, silver, and paper currency worth millions of dollars to Vicksburg, and then continued to Yazoo City, Mississippi.

Maryland. USS Constitution, moored in the Severn River off Annapolis, was towed by the steamer Maryland with troops of the 8th Massachusetts regiment aboard into the Chesapeake Bay. This action prevented the Confederates from seizing the historic warship, which was usually known as “Old Ironsides”.

Maryland. A pro-Confederate mob burned bridges of the Pennsylvania Northern & Philadelphia Railroad near Baltimore.

Missouri. An armed secessionist mob seized the US Arsenal in Liberty, increasing Union concerns about the security of the state.

New York. Six hundred kegs of gunpowder bound for New Orleans, Louisiana, were seized by the US Marshal before they could be shipped.

Texas. US coast survey schooner Twilight was seized by Confederates at Aransas.

Virginia. USS Anacostia (Lieutenant Thomas S Fillebrown), with its crew augmented by 20 US Marines from the Washington Navy Yard, was ordered to patrol off Kettle Bottom Shoals, to prevent the obstruction of the channel by Confederate forces.

Virginia. Despite the occupation of Norfolk by Virginia State troops, the Union retained possession of Fort Monroe. The strategically vital fortification was at Old Point Comfort on the southern end of the Virginia Peninsula and the Chesapeake Bay and the north side of Hampton Roads. Fort Monroe was under the command of Colonel Justin Dimick. The Union garrison also held a small man-made island known as the Rip Raps, on the far side of the channel opposite Fort Monroe, and on this island they went on to construct another fort, named Fort Wool. Fort Monroe controlled the lower York-James Peninsula as far as Newport News. Fort Monroe and Fort Wool also gave the Union forces control of the entrance to Hampton Roads and into the Chesapeake Bay. To further the blockade, the Union Navy stationed a powerful fleet of warships in the roadstead. They were sheltered by the shore-based guns of Fort Monroe and the land-batteries at Hampton and Newport News. The Union blockade had almost completely cut off Norfolk and Richmond by sea. Fort Monroe could be reinforced and resupplied by water without intervention by shore batteries or harassment by naval forces. The fort was nearly immune from attack from the land side since it could be approached only over a narrow causeway and a narrow isthmus and had massive walls protected by hundreds of guns. An inlet called Mill Creek was the body of water that almost cut the fort off from the mainland of the Peninsula. Dimick refused to surrender the fort when it was demanded by the small and poorly equipped Virginia militia in the area. The Confederates gave up any effort to capture the fort when the Union garrison of 415 Regular Army soldiers was reinforced by two of the “three months” volunteer militia regiments raised for immediate service (3rd Massachusetts under Colonel David W Wardrop and 4th Massachusetts under Colonel Abner B Packard).

Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia. Virginia State forces threatened to occupy the Gosport Navy Yard at Norfolk. The US commandant Captain Charles S McCauley was confused by conflicting advice he received from his subordinate officers, most of whom were in favor of secession. Although he had orders from Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles to move his ships to Northern ports, he finally gave orders to scuttle the ships in the yard and destroy its facilities. USS Pennsylvania, USS Germantown, USS Columbia, and USS Dolphin were burned to the water’s edge. USS Delaware, USS Columbus, USS Plymouth, and USS Merrimack were burned and sunk. The old frigate USS United States was abandoned. USS Pawnee and the tug Yankee, towing USS Cumberland, escaped. While the USS Merrimack was burned, the destruction reached only to the waterline, leaving its hull and engines more or less intact. The destruction of the navy yard was mostly ineffective; in particular, the large dry dock there was relatively undamaged and was soon restored. This operation secured for the Confederacy the keel of the USS Merrimack, ten other vessels and a great quantity of naval stores and armaments, including 3,000 pieces of ordnance of which 52 were modern 9-inch guns. The Confederacy had limited industrial capacity and the acquisition of guns and ordnance material and the dry dock and industrial plant were of crucial importance. Many of the large artillery pieces for the batteries and fortifications erected by the Confederates along the Atlantic coast and rivers during 1861 were acquired from the Norfolk Yard. By holding Norfolk and its Navy Yard, the Confederates controlled the southern side of Hampton Roads. To prevent Union warships from attacking the Navy Yard, they set up batteries at Sewell’s Point and at Craney Island, at the juncture of the Elizabeth River with the James. The Union batteries were safely out of range of the Confederate batteries at Sewell’s Point and Craney Island but they threatened the movement of ships.

Union Organisation

Commander in Chief: President Abraham Lincoln

Vice-President: Hannibal Hamlin

Secretary of War: Simon Cameron

Secretary of the Navy: Gideon Welles

  • Pacific Squadron USN: Captain John B Montgomery USN

General–in-Chief: Winfield Scott

  • Department of the East adjusted: John Ellis Wool
  • Department of Florida: Harvey Brown
  • Department of New Mexico: William Wing Loring
  • Department of the Pacific: Albert Sidney Johnston interim Edwin Vose Sumner awaited
    • District of Oregon: George Wright
  • Department of Texas: Carlos Adolphus Waite
  • Department of Utah: Philip St George Cooke
  • Department of Washington: Charles Ferguson Smith
  • Department of the West: William Selby Harney

Confederate Organisation

Commander in Chief: President Jefferson Finis Davis

Vice-President: Alexander Hamilton Stephens

Secretary of War: Leroy Pope Walker

Secretary of the Navy: Stephen Russell Mallory

  • Department of South Carolina: Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
    • “Forces in Charleston”: Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
  • Department of Texas: Earl Van Dorn awaited
  • Department of West Florida: Braxton Bragg
    • “Forces in Pensacola”: Braxton Bragg
  • District of Louisiana: David Emanuel Twiggs
    • “Forces in New Orleans” “Army of Louisiana”: Braxton Bragg
  • Defences of Savannah: Alexander Robert Lawton
  • Forces in Harper’s Ferry”: Kenton Harper
  • “Forces in Norfolk”: William Booth Taliaferro

Union Generals

  • Major-General USA Winfield Scott 5 July 1841 to rank from 25 June 1841 General-in-Chief
  • Brigadier-General USA John Ellis Wool 25 June 1841 Department of the East
  • Brigadier-General USA William Selby Harney 14 June 1858 Department of the West
  • Brigadier-General USA Joseph Eggleston Johnston 28 June 1860 Quartermaster-General
  • Brigadier-General USA Edwin Vose Sumner 16 March 1861 Department of the Pacific awaited
  • Colonel George Wright 3 March 1855 District of Oregon
  • Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston 3 March 1855 Department of the Pacific interim
  • Colonel William Wing Loring 30 December 1856 Department of New Mexico
  • Colonel Philip St George Cooke 14 June 1858 Department of Utah
  • Colonel Carlos Adolphus Waite 5 June 1860 Department of Texas temporary
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Ferguson Smith 3 March 1855 Department of Washington
  • Major Harvey Brown 9 January 1851 Department of Florida

Confederate Seniority

  • Major-General PACS David Emanuel Twiggs March 22 1861 District of Louisiana
  • Brigadier-General ACSA Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard March 1 1861 Department of South Carolina & Forces in Charleston
  • Brigadier-General ACSA Braxton Bragg March 7 1861 Forces in Louisiana & Department of West Florida & Forces in Pensacola & Forces in New Orleans
  • Brigadier-General PACS Alexander Robert Lawton 13 April 1861 Defences of Savannah
  • Colonel Earl Van Dorn 16 March 1861 Department of Texas awaited
  • State Major-General William Booth Taliaferro 17 April 1861 Forces in Norfolk
  • Colonel Kenton Harper Forces in Harper’s Ferry
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