7. The Confederates seized a critical military installation without firing a shot
In April, 1861, the Federal installation at the Gosport Navy Yard, on the Elizabeth River near Norfolk, Virginia, was the largest and oldest shipyard operated by the US Navy. Though Virginia had not yet formally seceded from the Union, all indications were that such an action was imminent. The commander of the Gosport facility, Charles Stewart McCauley expressed the opinion that the yard was indefensible, especially after Virginia militia seized Fort Norfolk and its federal arsenal. Several of the officers of ships moored at the yard did not share his opinion. Nonetheless, McCauley ordered all ships capable of movement under their own power to abandon the yard. The hapless McCauley arrived at his gloomy conclusion based on the fiery anti-federal articles in the local newspapers, and an elaborate ruse conducted by the secessionists.
The president of the Norfolk and Petersburg Railroad, William Mahone, devised the ruse, which was little more than a bluff. Mahone routed a train into Norfolk, within hearing of the shipyard. The train arrived with much fanfare, bells clanging, whistle hooting, and cheers from crowds he arranged to attend. Then the train was quietly withdrawn, only to return in a few hours, again loudly announcing its arrival. McCauley concluded the trains were transferring troops to Norfolk, which were intended to seize the shipyard, and perhaps besiege nearby Fortress Monroe. McCauley, a veteran of the War of 1812, considered the lack of defenses in the yard, and the value of the several ships there and anchored in the Elizabeth River to the Confederacy as he pondered the possibility of a Confederate attack. Despite protests from several of his officers and the citizens of Norfolk, he decided to abandon the yard.