- Historic Sites
The Fires Of Norfolk
At war’s outbreak a frightened commander was ready to give away the Union’s greatest navy yard
March 1990 | Volume 41, Issue 2
The Rebels in turn had done their best to destroy buildings, stores, ordnance, and machinery. Of buildings, only the officers’ quarters remained standing. Accompanying Gideon Welles on a tour of inspection, Secretary of State Seward looked upon “a mass of smoking ruins. Long rows of crumbling walls, and roofless, empty, charred brick buildings, piles of still smoking ashes, docks and wharves torn up by gunpowder, wrecks of vessels burned to the water’s edge, cover many acres.”
But not quite everything was destroyed. Once again the granite dry dock withstood demolition efforts and was back in service within a year. When Capt. John W. Livingston arrived as the new commandant, a considerable amount of property that had been taken and concealed was returned to him by Norfolk citizens. The shops most needed for fleet maintenance were rapidly put in order, and by war’s end the yard had been almost completely rebuilt from its ashes.