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Gosport Navy Yard

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Civil War Trails
Gosport Navy Yard

Location: At the east end of Columbia St, Portsmouth, VA 23704

Visited: June 23, 2009, 3:15pm

Gosport Navy YardTranscription of marker:

Gosport Navy Yard
Birthplace of the CSS Virginia

Before you is the Gosport Navy Yard (Norfolk Naval Shipyard). Gosport is the old­est Navy ship­yard in the nation. Here is where the USS Merrimack was burned and then trans­formed by the Confederates into the pow­er­ful iron­clad ram, the CSS Virginia.

Gosport Navy Yard was first estab­lished in 1767 by British naval agent Andrew Sprowle. It was occu­pied by patriot forces in 1775 and oper­ated as a ship­yard by the Virginia State Navy. Gosport, the largest ship­yard in America, was burned by the British in 1779 when they occu­pied Portsmouth.

In 1794 the yard was loaned to the U.S. Government and pur­chased by the U.S. Navy Department in 1801. The USS Chesapeake was one of a group of six frigates autho­rized by Congress to “Provide a Naval Armament,” and was the first ship built at Gosport Navy Yard in 1798 – 1799. On June 17, 1833, the 74-gun ship-of-the-line USS Delaware entered the newly com­pleted Dry Dock No. 1. The Delaware was the first ship to enter a dry dock in America.

When Virginia left the Union, the U.S. Navy evac­u­ated and burned the yard. Gosport was imme­di­ately occu­pied by local Confederates. Salvaged stores and equip­ment, includ­ing 1,085 can­nons, were used to equip and for­tify the many land bat­ter­ies erected in the Tidewater region and at other loca­tions through­out the South.

The steam frigate Merrimack, with 40 guns, had been under repair at Gosport and dur­ing the Federal evac­u­a­tion was burned and sunk. The Confederates raised it, placed it in Dry Dock No. 1 and from designs drawn by Naval Constructor John L. Porter, a Portsmouth native, con­verted it into the iron­clad CSS Virginia. While on its trial in Hampton Roads, Virginia sank the USS Cumberland and USS Congress on March 8, 1862. On the next day it fought the iron­clad USS Monitor, prov­ing that wooden war­ships were obsolete.

Gosport Navy Yard pro­duced sev­eral other gun­boats and part of another iron­clad, the CSS Richmond. On May 10, 1862, the yard was burned again, this time by the evac­u­at­ing Confederates and imme­di­ately reoc­cu­pied by the U.S. Navy. The Union con­trolled Gosport dur­ing the rest of the war.

My impres­sions: Again, I’m impressed by how much his­tory, the Civil War Trails mark­ers man­age to include on one marker. They are full of con­text and details and color. They also appear to me to be well-written. I real­ize that this helped clear up some of my con­fu­sion around the Fort Nelson marker which speaks of how many times the fort was burned. But it seemed too pas­sive to me. This marker, while dis­cussing another site, explains the rea­sons why the instal­la­tion was lost to fire. It doesn’t talk about how it “was burned,” it tells us who burned it and why, and makes a lot more sense to me than the guesses I was mak­ing as to the fire’s causes.

Markeroni sta­tus: Direct-logged and await­ing its proper code in the database.