8. The bloodless victory at Norfolk was a major boon for the Confederacy
McCauley ordered the ships at Gosport and in the Elizabeth River scuttled and burned. USS Cumberland escaped the destruction, towed to safety by the steam tug Pawnee. Other ships, including USS United States, one of the original six frigates of the US Navy, and USS Merrimack, were burned and sunk. The Confederates salvaged Merrimack, and used its hull to construct CSS Virginia, the first ironclad ship to see combat action. Ironically, less than a year later, Virginia sank Cumberland by ramming during the Battle of Hampton Roads. Most of the Union vessels were denied to the Virginians by McCauley’s actions, but they still recovered a treasure trove of military equipment which survived the hastily executed destruction of the shipyard. Nearly 1,200 heavy guns and naval rifles fell into the hands of the Confederacy. They were distributed throughout the South in harbor and inland fortifications.
The Confederacy also gained the drydock, mooring facilities, forges, ropewalks, hundreds of square feet of canvas, timber, cannon balls and shells, mortar shells, and other material used in the making of war. The Confederates did not hold Norfolk long, Union forces regained the area in 1862. They found the departing Confederates had again burned the yard and had left behind little of value for the Union forces. The yard was rebuilt, renamed as Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Throughout the rest of the war, material seized by the Confederacy played a role in the fighting, making it one of the biggest windfalls of the American Civil War. The Confederates gained the materiel and one of the best shipyards in the world, a victory achieved without firing a shot. McCauley retired in December 1861 with the honorary rank of Commodore.