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As regards positive
results, however, it may be affirmed with considerable assurance that
the military value of gunboats in their day, as a measure of coast
defence, was not what they effected, but the caution imposed upon the
enemy by the apprehension of what they might effect, did this or that
combination of circumstances occur. That the circumstances actually
almost never arose detracted little from this moral influence. The
making to one's self a picture of possible consequences is a powerful
factor in most military operations; and the gunboat is not without its
representative to-day in the sphere of imaginative warfare.

The "Junon" business was a casual episode. Warren was already
preparing for his attack on Craney Island. This little strip of
ground, a half-mile long by two hundred yards across, lies within easy
gunshot to the west of the Elizabeth River, a narrow channel-way,
three hundred yards from edge to edge, which from Hampton Roads leads
due south, through extensive flats, to Norfolk and Portsmouth. The
navy yard is four miles above the island, on the west side of the
river, the banks of which there have risen above the water. Up to and
beyond Craney Island the river-bed proper, though fairly clear, is
submerged and hidden amid the surrounding expanse of shoal water. Good
pilotage, therefore, is necessary, and incidental thereto the
reduction beforehand of an enemy's positions commanding the approach.
Of these Craney Island was the first. From it the flats which
constitute the under-water banks of the Elizabeth extend north towards
Hampton Roads, for a distance of two miles, and are not traversable by
vessels powerful enough to act against batteries. For nearly half a
mile the depth is less than four feet, while the sand immediately
round the island was bare when the tide was out.[163] Attack here was
possible only by boats armed with light cannon and carrying troops. On
the west the island was separated from the mainland by a narrow strip
of water, fordable by infantry at low tide. It was therefore
determined to make a double assault,--one on the north, by fifteen
boats, carrying, besides their crews, five hundred soldiers; the other
on the west, by a division eight hundred strong,[164] to be landed
four miles away, at the mouth of the Nansemond River. The garrison of
the island numbered five hundred and eighty, and one hundred and fifty
seamen were landed from the "Constellation" to man one of the
principal batteries.

The British plan labored under the difficulty that opposite conditions
of tide were desirable for the two parties which were to act in
concert. The front attack demanded high water, in order that under the
impulse of the oars the boats might get as near as possible before
they took the ground, whence the advance to the assault must be by
wading. The flanking movement required low water, to facilitate
passing the ford. Between the two, the hour was fixed for an ebbing
tide, probably to allow for delays, and to assure the arrival of the
infantry so as to profit by the least depth. At 11 A.M. of June 22 the
boat division arrived off the northwest point of the island, opposite
the battery manned by the seamen, in that day notoriously among the
best of artillerists. A difference of opinion as to the propriety of
advancing at all here showed itself among the senior naval officers;
for there will always be among seamen a dislike to operating over
unknown ground with a falling tide. The captain in command, however,
overruled hesitations; doubtless feeling that in a combined movement
the particular interest of one division must yield to the
requirements of mutual support. A spirited forward dash was therefore
made; but the guiding boat, sixty yards ahead of the others, grounded
a hundred yards from the battery. One or two others, disregarding her
signal, shared her mishap; and two were sunk by the American fire.
Under these circumstances a seaman, sounding with a boat hook,
declared that he found along side three or four feet of slimy mud.
This was considered decisive, and the attack was abandoned.

The shore division had already retreated, having encountered
obstacles, the precise character of which is not stated. Warren's
report simply said, "In consequence of the representation of the
officer commanding the troops, of the difficulty of their passing over
from the land, I considered that the persevering in the attempt would
cost more men than the number with us would permit, as the other forts
must have been stormed before the frigate and dockyard could be
destroyed." The enterprise was therefore abandoned at the threshold,
because of probable ulterior difficulties, the degree of which it
would require to-day unprofitable labor even to conjecture; but
reduced as the affair in its upshot was to an abortive demonstration,
followed by no serious effort, it probably was not reckoned at home to
have fulfilled the Admiralty's injunctions, that the character as well
as the interest of the country required certain results. The loss was
trifling,--three killed, sixteen wounded, sixty-two missing.[165]

Having relinquished his purpose against Craney Island, and with it,
apparently, all serious thought of the navy yard and the
"Constellation", Warren next turned his attention to Hampton. On the
early morning of June 26 two thousand troops were landed to take
possession of the place, which they did with slight resistance. Three
stand of colors were captured and seven field guns, with their
equipment and ammunition. The defences of the town were destroyed; but
as no further use was made of the advantage gained, the affair
amounted to nothing more than an illustration on a larger scale of the
guerilla depredation carried on on all sides of the Chesapeake. With
it ended Warren's attempts against Norfolk. His force may have been
really inadequate to more; certainly it was far smaller than was
despatched to the same quarter the following year; but the Admiralty
probably was satisfied by this time that he had not the enterprise
necessary for his position, and a successor was appointed during the
following winter.

For two months longer the British fleet as a whole remained in the
bay, engaged in desultory operations, which had at least the effect of
greatly increasing their local knowledge, and in so far facilitating
the more serious undertakings of the next season. The Chesapeake was
not so much blockaded as occupied. On June 29 Captain Cassin of the
navy yard reported that six sail of the line, with four frigates, were
at the mouth of the Elizabeth, and that the day before a squadron of
thirteen--frigates, brigs, and schooners--had gone ten miles up the
James, causing the inhabitants of Smithfield and the surroundings to
fly from their homes, terrified by the transactions at Hampton. The
lighter vessels continued some distance farther towards Richmond. A
renewal of the attack was naturally expected; but on July 11 the fleet
quitted Hampton Roads, and again ascended the Chesapeake, leaving a
division of ten sail in Lynnhaven Bay, under Cape Henry. Two days
later the main body entered the Potomac, in which, as has before been
mentioned, was the frigate "Adams"; but she lay above the Narrows, out
of reach of such efforts as Warren was willing to risk. He went as
high as Blakiston Island, twenty-five to thirty miles from the river's
mouth, and from there Cockburn, with a couple of frigates and two
smaller vessels, tried to get beyond the Kettle Bottom Shoals, an
intricate bit of navigation ten miles higher up, but still below the
Narrows.[166] Two of his detachment, however, took the ground; and the
enterprise of approaching Washington by this route was for that time
abandoned. A year afterwards it was accomplished by Captain Gordon, of
the British Navy, who carried two frigates and a division of bomb
vessels as far as Alexandria.

Two United States gunboats, "The Scorpion" and "Asp", lying in
Yeocomico River, a shallow tributary of the Potomac ten miles from the
Chesapeake, were surprised there July 14 by the entrance of the enemy.
Getting under way hastily, the "Scorpion" succeeded in reaching the
main stream and retreating up it; but the "Asp", being a bad sailer,
and the wind contrary, had to go back. She was pursued by boats; and
although an attack by three was beaten off, she was subsequently
carried when they were re-enforced to five. Her commander, Midshipman
Sigourney, was killed, and of the twenty-one in her crew nine were
either killed or wounded. The assailants were considerably superior in
numbers, as they need to be in such undertakings. They lost eight.
This was the second United States vessel thus captured in the
Chesapeake this year; the revenue cutter "Surveyor" having been taken
in York River, by the boats of the frigate "Narcissus", on the night
of June 12. In the latter instance, the sword of the commander, who
survived, was returned to him the next day by the captor, with a
letter testifying "an admiration on the part of your opponents, such
as I have seldom witnessed, for your gallant and desperate attempt to
defend your vessel against more than double your numbers."[167]
Trivial in themselves as these affairs were, it is satisfactory to
notice that in both the honor of the flag was upheld with a spirit
which is worth even more than victory. Sigourney had before received
the commendation of Captain Morris, no mean judge of an officer's
merits.

The British fleet left the Potomac July 21, and went on up the bay,
spreading alarm on every side. Morris, with a body of seamen and
marines, was ordered from the "Adams" to Annapolis, the capital of
Maryland, on the River Severn, to command the defences. These he
reported, on August 13, to be in the "miserable condition"
characteristic of all the national preparations to meet hostilities.
With a view to entering, the enemy was sounding the bar, an operation
which frequently must be carried on beyond protection by ships' guns;
"but we have no floating force to molest them." The bulk of the fleet
was above the Severn, as were both admirals, and Morris found their
movements "contradictory, as usual."[168] As many as twenty sail had
at one time been visible from the state-house dome in the city.



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