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How far the fortifications of Hampton Roads may justify Ships dropping down there in a defenceless state will depend on experiments yet to be made, and on the extent of those experiments. It is now doubted whether one of our largest Ships, under the most favourable circumstances, could steer through the narrow and crooked drain, which forms the channel over the flats, without grounding. The means, however, of determining this point are fortunately at hand, and it would not be difficult to make the trial. York River opposes no obstacles to the passage of the largest Ships as high up as the Clay Banks, which appears to be the most suitable place on that stream for a Navy Yard. It offers advantages in streams of water for laborsaving purposes, and may be protected from maritime attack by Batteries placed at York and Gloucester Points, and near the Channel on the Oyster Shoals above, (which are bare at low water,) as well as on the shoalest part of York spit; and the passage of an Enemy may be retarded by means of booms, and other obstructions. The Clinate is said to be subject to the same diseases as those which prevail at Norfolk : and it is said to be liable to attack from Severn River. It has, however, this advantage over Norfolk, (in addition to its depth of water,) that Ships can go to Sea with most winds with which they leave the place named as most suitable for a Naval Depot. Captain Sinclair's Reports and Survey of York River will afford you further information on this subject. The Tangier Islands were surveyed by Captain R. T. Spence:-to that Survey and the Report which accompanies it, I beg leave to refer you for all the information I possess respecting them. Comniodore Rodgers and myself, on
our passage down the Potomac, in conformity with your Instructions, touched in at St. Mary's, which is situated near its mouth. In point of healthiness of situation, security from maritime attack, and (I am informed) from ice, excellence of harbor, and the easy ingress and egress to an inner harbor, at all times, to Ships drawing not more than 24 feet of water, the advantages it offers by means of streams of water for Jabor-saving purposes, and its convenience to forests of fine timber, St. Mary's is, in my opinion, superior to any other place of which I have a knowledge on the Chesapeake for a Naval Depot.
How far its distance from the sea, and the necessity for concentrating a Land Force for its protection from an Enemy (which may attack it from the Patuxent) may weigh against these advantages, or whether it may be considered a disadvantage to have so concentrated, in a healthy situation, a Force which may easily be transported for the prótection of other important points, or, in fine, (taking into consideration its central position, and the speed with which Vessels may get to sea with a favorable wind, through both channels of the Chesapeake) whether such objections should be considered disadvantages, I beg
jeave to submit to the decision of Government: they involve military questions of which I am not a competent judge. I shall merely observe, firstly, that whatever objections may be made to the distance of St. Mary's from the Oceau; when we measure the sinuosities of the Channel, we shall find the objection nearly as strong to Norfolk. And when we take into estimation the time required to sail this distance, ve shall find the comparison much in favor of St. Mary's: and se. condly, that whatever objection may be made to the assemblage of a Military Force for the protection of St. Mary's, still stronger objections might be made to their assemblage from the distant parts of Virginia, for the defence of Norfolk. And the same remark may apply to York. Norfolk has owed its protection to Troops drawn from Richmond, which was thereby left exposed to attack. St. Mary's would be guarded by those from Baltimore and Washington, and placed in the most favorable situation to enable them to aid in their defence, as well as that of Richmond. The establishment of a Naval Depot at St. Mary's is not incompatible with the plan suggested for protecting the Chesapeake, by means of a moveable Force that shall seek the protection of Batteries at Hampton Roads and York River. The protection of St. Mary's would depend greatly on that Force, and the destruction of the Naval Depot, established there, would require a Force (in addition to the one left to watch our Fleet) proportioned to the protecting Force stationed at St. Mary's; for it is not usual or prudent to leave an Enemy unguarded in the rear, when he may be in a situation to avail himself of the advantages which a defeat might ofter.
A superior Enemy's Fleet which could (by placing itself between the Naval Depot and St. Mary's, and our Naval Rendezvous at Hampton Roads) cut off all communication between them, could, by Blockade, render both Fleet and Depot equally useless, was the latter at Norfolk. The Command of our own waters (the object for defending the mouth of the Chesapeake) would secure to us an easy communication between our Fleet and Depot. And if this superiority is not to be obtained, our Naval Depot, placed wherever it may be, will not answer the end for which it was intended.
A Naval Depot at St. Mary's would afford a safe and commodious winter retreat for our Fleets, which experience has taught me cannot be found in Hampton Roads, and which I have reason to believe cannot be found in York River. It would, from its central and convenient situation, afford protection and convoy to the commerce of the whole Bay, even were its mouth blockaded by an Enemy's Fleet; an advantage which could not be afforded by York or Norfolk, It would serve as a Rendezvous for the light cruizers from Baltimore, where they could easily elude an Enemy's Blockading Fleet, by availing themselves of the choice of Channels; an advantage which York does not possess in so great a degree, and one, of which Norfolk has been found to be entirely destitute. The Blockade of the mouth of the Chesapeake would constitute the Blockade of Hampton Roads; consequently the supplies of the Naval Depot placed there, would be limited to those received by the Canals, and by the waters discharging themselves into Hampton Roads; while the whole resources of the Chesapeake, and its tributary streams, as well as those which may be afforded by the projected canals connecting its waters with the Delaware, will be open to St. Mary's.
A Military Force stationed at St. Mary's can aid in the defence of every part of the Bay exposed to attack, while such aid bas never been found in the Force stationed at Norfolk, nor is it believed it would in any stationed at York. And, finally, if the experiment of fortifying Hampton Roads should not succeed, a Naval Force that can issue from St. Mary's, would not be less formidable, nor afford less protection to the Chesapeake, than one stationed there or at York.
In closing these remarks, allow me to observe that I should regret extremely that any difference of opinion existed as to the most suitable Point for establishing a Naval Depot, were not persuaded that this difference will be the means of placing you in possession of the best information, as to the merits and defects of the Places under examination. And I am happy to have it my power to say, that there appears to be but one opinion among the Commissioners as to the necessity of such an establishment somewhere on the waters of the Chesapeake. Reasons of a political nature which may weigh for or against the particular spot to be selected for a Naval Depot, I leave to Politicians : unbiassed by local interests or local prejudices, I have given my opinion solely in regard to the utility of such an establishment. I give them with deference; but with a perfect conviction, in my own mind, of the correctness of the position, that the defence of the Chesapeake, and the utility of a Naval Depot on its waters, will depend more on the conveniences and resources it can furnish, than the position of the Depot A Naval Depot is the source whence all the members receive their supplies and vigor to defend, not any particular spot or place, but the whole body corporate ;—not for the advantage of any particular Section, but for that of the whole Union.
(B.& C.) No.1.- Captain Arthur Sinclair to Commodore John Rodgers,
President of the Navy Board. SIR,
York River, 22nd March, 1816. I sailed and arrived in York River the day my last Letter lest Norfolk for you, and agreeably to your Instructions of the 26th ult. I take the earliest opportunity to inform you of my proceedings here,
I have traced the River up and down several times, and find there
is not water enough for Ships of the largest class to ascend higher than 5 or 6 miles above what is called the Clay Banks, which lay in Gloucester County, and about 15 miles below West Point. The Report of the Officers I had sent over to ascertain what distance 4 fathoms could be carried up, and who reported that they carried that depth all the way to West Point, was extremely erroneous. The confluence of the Portopotank Creek with this River, has thrown an extensive mudflat entirely across the channel, on which there is not more than 20 feet water; between that and where it commences shoaling again, about 4 miles below West Point, there is I 4 fathoms, and from thence to West Point 3 fathoms is the extent of what can be carriell: so that the want of a sufficient depth of water places that highly eligible site, in every other respect, entirely out of the question for a Navy Yard. York Town labours under too many disadvantages to be thought of as a Dock Yard. In the 1st place, its exposed situation on both sides to the attack of an Enemy, who may have the ascendancy in our Waters : 2dly, its great exposure to easterly gales, and the great difficulty there will be in getting piers to stand, owing to the sandy foundation, strong current, and high sea which heaves in from the eastward: 3rdly, there is no stream by which labour saving machines may be worked, or the docking of Ships be aided : and lastly, it is one of the poorest Countries in the world, in every respect, being totally destitute of tirnber, even for fuel, except miserable pine.
I should not have mentioned any spot us not being calculated for the above purpose, but for the general opinion which prevails among the intelligent part of the community in this quarter of the Country, that York Town is eminently calculated for a Naval Establishment, and that such an opinion has gained belief abroad.
I have fixed on a site in Gloucester County, just 9 miles above York Town, which holds out many more advantages than any other on the river : indeed, there is not another above York, that the distance of the channel from the shore does not counterbalance all other advantages they may possess; and this is infinitely further from deep water than it ought to be, the nearest point being 400 yards. This, however, is the greatest disadvantage attending it. It ebbs dry 3-4ths of the distance, leaving a fine firm foundation, and from 2 feet water it is very abrupt into 4 fathoms, at low water. There is an abundance of timber at hand for piling, filling in, &c.; and the land, from high water, rises gralually in the distance of 150 yards to 30 feet in height, affording as much earth as may be required for filling to the channel.
This site is bordered on the east by Aberdeen Creek, and on the west by Jones's Creek, either of which affords an abundance of water for all our purposes; but the Country generally is so low, that I am fearful the water dare not be raised entirely high enough for docking: what it leaves, thonghi, after taking a Ship in, may be easily pumped (1816-17.]
out by pumps worked by water. There are several good mill-streams emptying into those creeks, which flow from a source sufficiently high to answer the purpose of docking, if the adjacent land would admit of its being dammed. The mouths of those 2 creeks are 2 miles apart, but before they flow ļ a mile, there are 2 branches approaching each other within a l of a mile, where, aster the creeks are dammed below, a Canal might be cut which would insulate the place, and add greatly to its security in the rear : indeed, it appears to be very capable of being defended by a moderately small force. The Channel does not exceed a 1 of a mile in width, and is overlooked by an eminence of 30 feet for a mile or two below, The Country is said to be healthy; indeed, judging from its Inhabitants, I should pronounce it so. The land is generally fine, and well timbered with white oak, yellow and pitch pine, and some cedar, though not in abundance. The County of Matthews can supply a nurnber of excellent ship carpenters, who would, no doubt, fock to such an establishment. The wind from N. to W.S.W. will take a Ship to sea; the channel is generally narrow, but very plain, and quite deep enough for the heaviest Ships, completely equipped for sea. I have made a very minute survey of all the land lying between those 2 creeks, as far back as where I proposed a Canal should be cut for security against an Enemy, and shall forward a Plat of it as soon as I can copy it upon a large scale. It can be purchased, (that is as much as the Government may require,) for whatever disinterested Persons may value it at, which will not exceed from 10 to 20 dollars the acre.
With the Plat, I shall send you a proper description of it, with the advantages, disadvantages, &c., attending it. I have made as much progress as the weather has admitted of, which has been extremely boisterous and inclement. To be as accurate as I wish to be, I ought to have another Vessel, as it is almost impossible to sight an object from a base live on shore, the distance being about 3 leagues to the end of the Spit. I regret, too, that I have not some intelligent young Officers, as I could not procure a good Draftsman at Norfolk, and have to perform all that work myself. The aid of Officers of some science, whom I could trust to take angles, &c., would relieve me very much.
The soil about the above site is well calculated for making bricks, which may be contracted for, for about 5 or 6 dollars the thousand. Shells for lime may be had at from 3 to 4 dollars the 100 bushels; wood at 3 dollars per cord. I shall be more minute in my description of this place, attending to the width of the river, width and depth of channel, strength of tide, with its perpendicular rise, exposure to ice, winds, Enemy, &c. Should you wish any particular information that I may not probably embrace, you will be good enough to let me know, that I may be prepared to answer it.
Very respectfully, &c. Commodore John Rodgers.