Memories of Virginia/Exposition Events

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EXPOSITION EVENTS AND
EPISODES, 1907.

Jamestown, May 13.

The Exposition as an historical event should appeal to every American as an object lesson to create admiration, nor should we forget what the tercentennial celebration stands for. It is of little moment whether all detail to please the eye and secure comfort is perfected or not, but to keep in view the historical fact that Jamestown is the birthplace of our country is important. This truth is sufficient to invite a pilgrimage to the James River, and from a comparative point of view between now and then, inspire patriotism and create satisfaction.

I stood under the Powhatan Oak, on the Exposition Grounds, an oak known to have been in existence at the time the colonists landed in 1607, and it is declared by experts in forestry to be three hundred and fifty-five years old and still a vigorous sentinel of the coast, once known as Powhatan Oak of Weyanoke and later the Oak of Denbigh, the grand old tree known from generation to generation and enjoyed by those who have long since rested under the shade of the eternal trees. Its age is marked with a tablet, perhaps it is the only tree extant to tell the wind and wave story of the pioneers, when the birth of our nation was recorded three centuries ago.

The International Naval Review is so impressed upon my vision I must add a supplement to Virginia memories. The great naval fleet gave me an opportunity to moralize upon changed conditions since the arrival May 13, of the God speed of 40 tons, under command of Captain Gosnord; the Sarah Constant, 100 tons burden, under command of Captain Newport, and the Discovery, of 20 tons, under command of Captain Ratcliffe. May 13, 1907—only three hundred years ago—yet what progress: To-day in line of battle a wonderful sea view of the great battleships lying at anchor in Hampton Roads, the haven of the pioneers, where scores of mighty warships stand a monument to the centuries. The illumination, I believe, was the grandest naval display ever seen on sea or land; perhaps another of such brilliancy and renown may never be seen, certainly not under the same conditions. While looking at the wonderful display from a point of land thrust out like an arm to save men of the sea, I reflected upon the history of Hampton Roads, and it gave me pleasure that the Jamestown celebration is on the Estate of Denbigh; that the salute of "Welcome" is sounding over the Roads from Fortress Monroe, the original headquarters of your ancestor, overlooking the wonderful harbor known to every mariner of old ocean, that is reached through a gateway of waters admitting the voyager to a sheltered inland sea known to all the world since the May Day discovery, 1607, a haven of safety. How many noble ships, under flags of every nation, have entered the gateway of the James? How many anchors have been cast, how many sails furled, how many tempest-tossed mariners with "Thanks to God for deliverance," have found the spit of land a point of comfort?

To the students of naval history the harbor of Hampton Roads must ever possess interesting associations, for in its waters has been made history since 1607. Since Discovery Day Point Comfort has held prominent place in the annals of two worlds. As a government reservation on which Fortress Monroe stands, and two famous hotels have made record to attract the pilgrims of the James. The "dear old Hygeia" is now a memory, it was in the range of the guns of the fort and was removed by order of the U. S. Government, but it lives in many hearts to echo the voice of the past. The Chamberlin is a living pleasure and with pride can claim to be the most popular resort of our "Home and Country."

An historical halo lingers over Old Point that is seen and felt, and no one returns to the mainland of "the continent" without having heard of the famous naval fight between the Merrimac and Monitor, that has given "The Beautiful Waters" a place in the world's records that will, live "while there is snow on the mountain or foam on the river."

Perhaps a Viking God may have inspired a Son of Norway and a Son of America, then commissioned the Merrimac and Monitor, to demonstrate the deadly power and destruction of armored warships, and the object lesson be given in the famous harbor of many memories. Perhaps to show the nations of the world the progress and expansion since the ships of Columbus touched the new world shore, with what was regarded "a wonder fleet."

A century later Hampton Roads was the shelter harbor for a fleet of destiny, the results we are celebrating to-day, nor do we forget only a century ago the United States Frigate,





The ironclad Merrimac, renamed CSS Virginia (Confederate navy) changes history when she easily destroys the two U.S. blockading men-of-war ships, Congress and Cumberland
 
 
 

The Last of the Wooden Navy

The "Merrimac" in its engagement with the Federal Fleet
in Hampton Roads March 9, 1862
First day's fight: The destruction of the Cumberland
and Congress

Constitution, was regarded "a wonder ship." To-day she is a "relic." But it was the mission of the Merrimac and Monitor to stand for the birth, and to be known as the progenitors of the new navy of destruction, 1862, but the scientific succession of expansion in art of naval armament and war, to stand a miracle of progress, is demonstrated, 1907, and one of the largest ship building yards in the world is located at Newport News, on Hampton Roads, where the first encounter between iron armored vessels of war took place. A sea fight between ironclads that revolutionized the navies of the world.

The Merrimac, built at Norfolk Navy Yard, commanded by Admiral Buchanan, of the Confederate States Navy, left Norfolk on its mission of experimental destruction March, 8, 1862, when the Federal Fleet was lying at anchorage at Newport News, six miles from Fortress Monroe; when, to the astonishment of the Federal officers, they saw issuing from the Elizabeth river a strange looking craft, a vessel of a new and unknown order, a black monster propelled by steam headed toward the fleet with hostile intentions, and before the character of the monster was realized, she hurled herself upon the Federal ships, crashing in the sides of the Congress and Cumberland like glass walls, the noble ships and gallant seamen fell prey to the monster and found watery graves in Hampton Roads on the very shore of safety.

The world was shocked over the sea tragedy, and the cause for effect was hard to explain and more hard to understand, and a sensation experienced unknown to our generation. Great sorrow was felt for sailors and ships that so unexpectedly met the king of terror in the gateway of Home under the sheltering arms of Fortress Monroe.

The Merrimac returned uninjured to Norfolk, but all were sure the black monster would make a second return and anxious, earnest eyes watched for the reappearance of the apparently invincible craft.

At dawn the following morning, upon the return of the Merrimac, another monster awaited her in Hampton Roads ready for encounter, a strange looking vessel that seemed a raft with a turret rising from the center. It was the famous Monitor, just completed in Brooklyn Navy Yard, that, during the night had unexpectedly arrived from New York. If there was surprise neither made sign, and without a moment's hesitation the two monsters met in a duel of death, neither expected or desired quarter, both fought with equal valor and deadly effect, both suffered but neither was destroyed, and both stood the shock of battle without much injury. The Monitor was as deadly execution as the Merrimac, but neither was victor or vanquished, both, however, fulfilled a mission to demonstrate in Hampton Roads "The Last of the Wooden Navy." The Merrimac returned to Norfolk, the Monitor remained at Newport News, but the career of each was brief, and not long after both found eternal anchorage under the waves, the Merrimac, near the scene of her greatness, was sunk by her commander. Commodore Tatnall, who gave her to the waves rather than surrender her to the enemy. The Monitor was lost in a storm, but both live in memory, and the naval duel of the first ironclads has been described by pens of admiration in every language to pass over the cable of time. The birthplace of the ironclad navy and the story of a sea fight that will not only live in history and song but stand a record on canvas to hang on walls of fame as it lives in memory to give touch and color to the battle in the Harbor of Discovery, the Point of Comfort, the cradle kingdom of the white man of the new world.

It is left to us to honor the sons of the sea, brave men who go into the depths, with the old Viking's cry sounding over the waves of death and destruction, "Don't Give Up the Ship."

The sea tragedy in Hampton Roads, 1907, when eleven sons of the sea went down in sight of ships, in sight of land, near Fort Wool, known to all mariners "The Rip Raps," an anchorage of safety, is only second to the tragedy in Hampton Roads, 1862.

The death of eleven sons of the sea that June night, after a day of pleasure and pride amid environments to arouse patriotism and inspire emulation is one of pathetic sorrow, there are tears in eyes and regret in hearts for the young officers and seamen that met tragic death, but they died "on duty," the last of many bright days of their young lives was one to pay honor to the President of the United States, the Roosevelt of America. It is left to our people to honor the sea, and to patriotic memorial societies to deck the waves with flowers of remembrance to "Our Vikings" who sleep well under the waves of old ocean, and "In Memoriam" we waft the grand old anthem, "Out of the Depths," for the dead seamen who have crossed the eternal bar, who have reached the shore beyond.