Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation During World War I

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The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Systems, Newport News, VA, ca. 1913. The Mariners’ Museum P0001.008/01-424#PH804

The Virginia Peninsula was already engaged in wartime work when President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany on April 6, 1917. Local military bases, shipyards, air fields, ports, and people turned their faces toward the nation’s crusade to make the world safe for democracy.

Headquarters, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation

The US Army, in anticipation of America’s entry into the war, surveyed the Hampton Roads area in early 1917 to ascertain where to establish a port of embarkation. Newport News was selected over Norfolk as headquarters for the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation. Several geographical reasons influenced that decision. Norfolk was a congested port and already the center for many naval activities. Newport News offered good port facilities, a large harbor, excellent railroad connections, ship repair opportunities, and an abundance of available land.   Read more

IRONCLADS STRIKE: CSS PALMETTO STATE AND CSS CHICORA

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Map, “The Rebel defences of Charleston Harbor, SC, August 1863.”
Robert Knox Sneden, artist, 1832-1918. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Something unusual occurred in the early morning darkness of January 31, 1863, when the Confederate ironclad rams, CSS Chicora and CSS Palmetto State, crossed the Charleston Bar and struck the Union ships guarding that blockade runners’ haven. It was the first time that Confederate ironclads had entered the open sea and, in the opinion of Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard, had broken the blockade. While the Federal gunboats were quickly back on station, it was a great boost to the defenders of Charleston who were expecting a Union ironclad attack on their harbor.

When General P.G.T. Beauregard assumed command of the Department of South Carolina and Georgia on September 24, 1862, he immediately realized the need for active support of the Confederate navy in order to defend harbors like Charleston and Savannah. Beauregard, the hero of Fort Sumter and the Battle of First Manassas, knew that ironclad rams armed with rifled cannon offered the best opportunities not only to protect harbors; but also, to perhaps break the Union stranglehold on Confederate commerce — the cotton for cannon trade so important for the Southern war effort.   Read more

Worden and USS Montauk: The Bombardment of Fort McAllister

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Lt. John L. Worden, USN. The Mariners’ Museum MS 16-14

Commander John Worden would expand his leadership skills during the early days of his command of the Passaic-class ironclad USS Montauk. Shortly after the Montauk arrived in Port Royal Sound, South Carolina, Rear Admiral Samuel Francis Du Pont then sent Worden and his ironclad to bombard Fort McAllister on the Ogeechee River near Savannah, Georgia. Du Pont’s plan was to test both the destructive and resistance capabilities of Passaic-class ironclads in preparation for an ironclad attack on Charleston, South Carolina.

During the February 28, 1863 attack, Montauk’s XV- and 11-inch Dahlgrens were able to destroy the former commerce raider CSS Nashville. Worden was pleased with his destruction of “this troublesome pest”; however, Montauk suffered a huge jolt when it struck a Confederate torpedo en route down the Ogeechee River. Worden’s quick thinking saved his ironclad and he, the hero of USS Monitor, received even greater laurels for his newest decisive actions.   Read more