April 20, 1861, Federals Abandon Norfolk and Gosport Navy Yard
At the start of the Civil War, Confederates fooled Federal forces into evacuating Gosport on April 20, 1861 without a fight. Thousands of Confederate troops assembled at Portsmouth, arriving on rail cars that could be seen by lookouts on the USS Delaware. What the lookouts did not see was that many of those arriving troops had also left on the same trains headed back towards Petersburg, hidden from sight; the total number of Confederate troops was far smaller than estimated.
After successfully intimidating the Union forces at Gosport, local Confederate leaders agreed to leave the Elizabeth River unblocked for evacuation. In exchange, the Union commander at Gosport agreed not to bombard Portsmouth or Norfolk. Other Union officials thought it was necessary to destroy the yard and warships docked there.
The USS Pawnee sailed up the Elizabeth River and opened fire on the Gosport Navy Yard, while US Marines from the ship helped destroy facilities and scuttle ships, including the USS Merrimack. In 1799 the British had captured and burned the Gosport Shipyard, but in 1861 the US Navy chose to destroy facilities, equipment, and ships before abandoning the site.
The Virginia militia controlled the site only briefly before transferring it to the Confederate national government. The Confederates were able to raise the USS Merrimack, and use Dry Dock #1 to convert it into the ironclad CSS Virginia