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 Infantry regiment aboard into the Chesapeake Bay. This action prevented the Confederates from seizing the historic warship, which was usually known as “Old Ironsides”. Brigadier-General of Massachusetts Militia brought the 4th Massachusetts Infantry into Annapolis, ready for transportation to Fort Monroe.
Maryland. A pro-Confederate mob began a week of burning bridges of the Pennsylvania Northern & Philadelphia Railroad near Baltimore at the instigation of the Mayor, to impede the movement of Union forces across the state.
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.
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 many powerful 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 after 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.
The Confederacy acquired 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 the Gosport 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.
Commander in Chief: President Abraham Lincoln
Vice-President: Hannibal Hamlin
Secretary of War: Simon Cameron
Secretary of the Navy: Gideon Welles
Pacific Squadron: John Berrien Montgomery
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
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
John Ellis Wool
William Selby Harney
Edwin Vose Sumner
Brigadier-General USA (Staff)
Joseph Eggleston Johnston
Note: Italics, awaiting confirmation of the commission
David Emanuel Twiggs
Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
Alexander Robert Lawton