“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Portsmouth, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

Gosport Navy Yard

Birthplace of the CSS Virginia


—1862 Peninsula Campaign —

Gosport Navy Yard Marker image. Click for full size.
By Scott Rollins, June 23, 2009
1. Gosport Navy Yard Marker
Inscription. 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.
Erected by Virginia Civil War Trails.
Marker series. This marker is included in the Virginia Civil War Trails marker series.
Location. 36° 49.992′ N, 76° 17.762′ W. Marker is in Portsmouth, Virginia. Marker is on Columbia Street east of Water Street, on the right when traveling east. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Portsmouth VA 23704, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. In Commemoration of the Last Public Appearance of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); First Order Fresnel Lens from the Hog Island Light (about 600 feet away); The Elizabeth River (about 700 feet away); Seaboard Air Line Railroad (about 700 feet away); John Luke Porter (approx. 0.2 miles away); Home Site of William Crawford (d. 1762) Founder of Portsmouth (approx. 0.2 miles away); Naval Shipyard Museum (approx. 0.2 miles away); Cornwallis' Embarkation (approx. 0.2 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Portsmouth.
More about this marker. On the right is a drawing titled "Remodeling the Merrimack" by J.O. Davidson. An inset to the drawing is an illustration titled "View in the Harbor of Portsmouth" by Henry Howe.
Categories. War, US Civil
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Kristin Rollins of Portsmouth, Virginia. This page has been viewed 1,581 times since then and 64 times this year. Photo   1. submitted on , by Kristin Rollins of Portsmouth, Virginia. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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