Report of Lieutenant William Barker Cushing, U.S. Navy
Albemarle Sound, North Carolina, October, 30, 1864.
I have the honor to report
that the rebel ironclad Albemarle is at the bottom of the Roanoke River. On the night of the 27th, having prepared
my steam launch, I proceeded up toward Plymouth with 13 officers and men, partly volunteers from the squadron.
The distance from the mouth of the
river to the ram was about 8 miles, the stream averaging in width some 200 yards, and lined with the enemy's pickets. A mile
below the town was the wreck of the Southfield, surrounded by some schooners, and it was understood that a gun was mounted
there to command the bend. I therefore took one of the Shamrock's cutters in tow, with orders to cast off and board
at that point if we were hailed. Our boat succeeded in passing the pickets, and even the Southfield, within 20 yards,
without discovery, and we were not hailed until by the lookouts on the ram. The cutter was then cast off and ordered below,
while we made for our enemy under a full head of steam.
The rebels sprung their rattle, rang
the bell, and commenced firing, at the same time repeating their hail and seeming much confused.
The light of fire ashore showed me
the ironclad made fast to the wharf, with a pen of logs around her about 30 feet from her side.
Passing her closely, we made a complete
circle so as to strike her fairly, and went into her bows on. By this time the enemy's fire was fairly severe, but a dose
of canister at short range served to moderate their zeal and disturb their aim. Paymaster Swan, of the Otsego, was
wounded near me, but how many more I know not. Three bullets struck my clothing, and the air seemed full of them.
In a moment we had struck the logs,
just abreast of the quarter port, breasting them in some feet, and our bows resting on them. The torpedo boom was then lowered
and by a vigorous pull I succeeded in diving the torpedo under the overhang and exploding it at the same time that the Albemarle's
gun was fired. A shot seemed to go crashing through my boat, and a dense mass of water rushed in from the torpedo, filling
the launch and completely disabling her.
The enemy then continued
his fire at 15 feet range, and demanded our surrender, which I twice refused, ordering the men to save themselves, and removing
my own coat and shoes. Springing into the river, I swam, with others, into the middle of the stream, the rebels failing to
The most of our
party were captured, some were drowned, and only one escaped besides myself, and he in another direction. Acting Master's
Mate Woodman, of the Commodore Hull, I met in the water half a mile below the town, and assisted him as best I could,
but failed to get him ashore.
I managed to reach the shore, but was too weak to crawl out of the water until just at daylight, when I managed to creep into
the swamp, close to the fort. While hiding a few feet from the path, two of the Albemarle's officers passed, and I
judged from their conversation that the ship was destroyed.
Some hours traveling
in the swamp served to bring me out well below the town, when I sent a negro in to gain information and found that the ram
was truly sunk.
another swamp, I came to a creek and captured a skiff, belonging to a picket of the enemy, and with this, by 11 o'clock the
next night, had made my way out to the Valley City.
Mate William L. Howorth, of the Monticello, showed, as usual, conspicuous bravery. He is the same officer who has been
with me twice in Wilmington harbor. I trust he may be promoted, when exchanged, as well as Acting Third Assistant Engineer
Stotesbury, who, being for the first time under fire, handled his engine promptly and with coolness. All the officers and
men behaved in the most gallant manner. I will furnish their names to the Department as soon as they can be procured.
The cutter of
the Shamrock boarded the Southfield, but found no gun. Four prisoners were taken there.
The ram is now
completely submerged, and the enemy have sunk three schooners in the river to obstruct the passage of our ships.
I desire to call
the attention of the admiral and Department to the spirit manifested by the sailors on the ships in these sounds. But few
men were wanted, but all hands were eager to go into the action, many offering their chosen shipmates a month's pay to resign
in their favor.
I am, sir, very
respectfully, your obedient servant,
Rear-Admiral D. D. PORTER,
W. B. CUSHING,
Lieutenant, U.S. Navy.
Commanding North Atlantic Squadron.
name of the man who escaped is William Hoftman, seaman, on the Chicopee. He did his duty well, and deserves a medal
W. B. CUSHING,
Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion.
Series 1, Vol. 10
Recommended Reading: The Hunt for the Albemarle:
Anatomy of a Gunboat War (Hardcover). Description: On a muddy waterway, once called the River of Death, James Cooke and Charles Flusser met again after parting
when the Civil War started. Once both navy lieutenants, they now were the opponents in naval warfare. Confederate Navy Lieutenant
James Cooke had as many years of active naval service as Charles Flusser had years of living. Cooke was a devoted family man
while Flusser was a bachelor with a mind for young Southern women, whiskey, cigars, fast horses, and early promotion. Continued
ironclad Albemarle was the key to the river wars in North Carolina. Flusser's
search for this ship would determine the success or failure of the Union navy in securing the North Carolina coast and
rivers. James Cooke and the Confederates knew their only chance to break the blockade was with the new ironclad. The Hunt
for the Albemarle
is the dramatic story of these two men and their destiny. Both of these men shared one common characteristic. Each was willing
to die for the cause he believed was right.
Reading: Civil War Ironclads: The U.S. Navy and Industrial Mobilization (Johns Hopkins
Studies in the History of Technology). Description: "In this impressively researched and broadly conceived study, William
Roberts offers the first comprehensive study of one of the most ambitious programs in the history of naval shipbuilding, the
Union's ironclad program during the Civil War. Perhaps more importantly, Roberts also provides
an invaluable framework for understanding and analyzing military-industrial relations, an insightful commentary on the military
acquisition process, and a cautionary tale on the perils of the pursuit of perfection and personal recognition." - Robert
Angevine, Journal of Military History "Roberts's study, illuminating on many fronts, is a welcome addition to our understanding
of the Union's industrial mobilization during the Civil War and its inadvertent effects on the postwar U.S. Navy." - William
M. McBride, Technology and Culture"
Reading: A History of Ironclads: The Power of Iron over Wood. Description: This
landmark book documents the dramatic history of Civil War ironclads and reveals how ironclad warships revolutionized naval
warfare. Author John V. Quarstein explores in depth the impact of ironclads during the Civil War and their colossal effect
on naval history. The Battle of Hampton Roads was one of history's greatest naval engagements. Over the course of two days
in March 1862, this Civil War conflict decided the fate of all the world's navies. It was the first battle between ironclad
warships, and the 25,000 sailors, soldiers and civilians who witnessed the battle vividly understood what history would soon
confirm: wars waged on the seas would never be the same. Continued below…
About the Author: John V. Quarstein is an award-winning author and historian. He is director
of the Virginia
War Museum in Newport News and chief historical advisor for The Mariners' Museum's new USS Monitor Center
(opened March 2007). Quarstein has authored eleven books and dozens of articles on American, military and Civil War history,
and has appeared in documentaries for PBS, BBC, The History Channel and Discovery Channel.
Reading: Iron Afloat:
The Story of the Confederate Armorclads.
Description: William N. Still's book is rightfully referred to as the standard of Confederate Naval history. Accurate and
objective accounts of the major and even minor engagements with Union forces are combined with extensive background information.
This edition has an enlarged section of historical drawings and sketches. Mr. Still explains the political background that
gave rise to the Confederate Ironclad program and his research is impeccable. An exhaustive literature listing rounds out
this excellent book. While strictly scientific, the inclusion of historical eyewitness accounts and the always fluent style
make this book a joy to read. This book is a great starting point.
Reading: Civil War Navies, 1855-1883 (The
U.S. Navy Warship Series) (Hardcover).
Description: Civil War Warships, 1855-1883 is the second in the five-volume US Navy Warships encyclopedia set. This valuable
reference lists the ships of the U.S. Navy and Confederate Navy during the Civil War and the years immediately following -
a significant period in the evolution of warships, the use of steam propulsion, and the development of ordnance. Civil War
Warships provides a wealth and variety of material not found in other books on the subject and will save the reader the effort
needed to track down information in multiple sources. Continued below…
size and time and place of construction are listed along with particulars of naval service. The author provides historical
details that include actions fought, damage sustained, prizes taken, ships sunk, and dates in and out of commission as well
as information about when the ship left the Navy, names used in other services, and its ultimate fate. 140 photographs, including
one of the Confederate cruiser Alabama recently uncovered by the author further contribute to this
indispensable volume. This definitive record of Civil War ships updates the author's previous work and will find a lasting
place among naval reference works.
Reading: Lincoln's Navy: The Ships, Men and Organization, 1861-65 (Hardcover). Review: Naval historian Donald L. Canney provides
a good overview of the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, describing life at sea, weapons, combat, tactics, leaders, and of course,
the ships themselves. He reveals the war as a critical turning point in naval technology, with ironclads (such as the Monitor)
demonstrating their superiority to wooden craft and seaborne guns (such as those developed by John Dahlgren) making important
advances. The real reason to own this oversize book, however, is for the images: more than 200 of them, including dozens of
contemporary photographs of the vessels that fought to preserve the Union. There are maps
and portraits, too; this fine collection of pictures brings vividness to its subject that can't be found elsewhere.
Reading: Naval Strategies of the Civil War: Confederate Innovations and Federal Opportunism. Description: One of the most overlooked aspects of the American Civil War is the
naval strategy played out by the U.S. Navy and the fledgling Confederate Navy, which may make this the first book to compare
and contrast the strategic concepts of the Southern Secretary of the Navy Stephen R. Mallory against his Northern counterpart,
Gideon Welles. Both men had to accomplish much and were given great latitude in achieving their goals. Mallory's vision of
seapower emphasized technological innovation and individual competence as he sought to match quality against the Union Navy's
(quantity) numerical superiority. Welles had to deal with more bureaucratic structure and to some degree a national strategy
dictated by the White House. Continued below...
The naval blockade
of the South was one of his first tasks - for which he had but few ships available - and although he followed the national
strategy, he did not limit himself to it when opportunities arose. Mallory's dedication to ironclads is well known, but he
also defined the roles of commerce raiders, submarines, and naval mines. Welles's contributions to the Union effort were rooted
in his organizational skills and his willingness to cooperate with the other military departments of his government. This
led to successes through combined army and naval units in several campaigns on and around the Mississippi River.
Reading: A History of
the Confederate Navy (Hardcover). From
Publishers Weekly: One of the most prominent European scholars of the Civil War weighs in with a provocative revisionist study
of the Confederacy's naval policies. For 27 years, University of Genoa history professor Luraghi (The Rise and Fall of the
Plantation South) explored archival and monographic sources on both sides of the Atlantic to develop a convincing argument
that the deadliest maritime threat to the South was not, as commonly thought, the Union's blockade but the North's amphibious
and river operations. Confederate Navy Secretary Stephen Mallory, the author shows, thus focused on protecting the Confederacy's
inland waterways and controlling the harbors vital for military imports. Continued below…
As a result,
to Savannah to Richmond, major
Confederate ports ultimately were captured from the land and not from the sea, despite the North's overwhelming naval strength.
Luraghi highlights the South's ingenuity in inventing and employing new technologies: the ironclad, the submarine, the torpedo.
He establishes, however, that these innovations were the brainchildren of only a few men, whose work, although brilliant,
couldn't match the resources and might of a major industrial power like the Union. Nor did
the Confederate Navy, weakened through Mallory's administrative inefficiency, compensate with an effective command system.
Enhanced by a translation that retains the verve of the original, Luraghi's study is a notable addition to Civil War maritime
history. Includes numerous photos.