WASHINGTON, D. C, April 25, 1861.
Sir: I beg leave to detail to the Department the events which preceded the evacuation and destruction of the government property at the Gosport Navy Yard on the night of Saturday, the [20th] of April. On Thursday night Flag-Officer Pendergrast learned that obstructions had been sent down to be placed in the river; he promptly had two boats manned and armed to prevent it, but owing to the thickness of the weather his intentions were foiled. On Friday the 19th inst., I understood that Virginia State troops were arriving at Portsmouth and Norfolk in numbers from Richmond and Petersburg, and the neighborhood; and not having the means at my disposal to get the “Merrimac,” “Germantown” and “Plymouth” to a place of safety, I determined on destroying them, being satisfied that with the small force under my command the yard was no longer tenable. I did not, however, carry that act into execution until the next day, before which I discovered that the insurgents were throwing up batteries immediately in front of the yard, when I sent Lieutenant Selfridge, of the “Cumberland,” to General Taliaferro, commanding Virginia troops, with a message that if they continued to menace me by placing batteries opposite the yard I should consider it an act of war, and fire upon them. Colonel Heath, the aide-de-camp of the General, returned with Lieutenant Selfridge, and assured me that the General disclaimed all knowledge of such batteries. I then commenced, scuttling the “Germantown,” “Plymouth,” “Dolphin” and “Merrimac,” destroying the engine and machinery of the latter, cutting away the large sheers, spiking the guns in the yard and on board the ships in ordinary, including the Pennsylvania, and destroying such arms of the old and obsolete pattern as could not be placed on board the Cumberland, and throwing them overboard; making the destruction of other things, with the exception of the public buildings, as complete as possible. By this time it was quite dark; my officers, with few exceptions, had all deserted me; even the watchmen had thrown off their allegiance, and had taken part with the secessionists; so I determined on retiring to the “Cumberland,” and in the morning act as circumstances might require.
With the Cumberland I could have destroyed Norfolk and Portsmouth, and had batteries opened upon the ship these cities would have been at my mercy. Before I had carried out my intentions of embarking aboard the Cumberland, Flag-Officer Paulding arrived in the Pawnee. As he had special instructions from the Department, which he substantially communicated to me, and to which I gave entire assent, I took no further active part in the matter, and embarked on board the Cumberland; but I can bear testimony to the gallant manner in which Flag-Officer Paulding and his brave associates executed his orders. Toward morning Flag-Officer Paulding embarked with his force, and the Cumberland and Pawnee, the former assisted by the steamer Yankee from New York, stood down the river unmolested.
The Cumberland was detained some hours by the obstructions placed in the narrows near Sewell’s Point, but finally overcame them, and anchored in Hampton Roads by 8 o’clock P. M., Sunday.
In making this, my report to the Department, it gives me great pleasure to report the gallant and meritorious conduct of those officers true to their allegiance. I cannot speak in sufficiently high terms of Flag-Officer Pendergrast for the many valuable suggestions I received from him. To Captain Marston and officers of the Cumberland I feel very much indebted.
Lieutenant Selfridge bore a message to the commanding general under great personal risk.
I have to thank Commander Livingston, Lieutenants Semmes, Donaldson and Irwin for gallant and efficient services, and to Lieutenant-Colonel Edelin, of the Marines, my thanks are particularly due.
I am, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
C. S. McCAULEY,
Late Commandant of the Navy Yard at Gosport.
Hon. GIDEON WELLES,
Secretary of the Navy.
The Reports of the Committees of the Senate of the United States for the Second Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress, 1861-62. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1862.