Ironclad Albemarle Battle report for the Battle of Albemarle Sound

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Report of Lieutenant William Barker Cushing, U.S. Navy

Albemarle Sound, North Carolina, October, 30, 1864.

SIR:
          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 hit us.

          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.

          Completely exhausted, 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.

          Proceeding through 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.

          Acting Master's 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,

 

W. B. CUSHING,
Lieutenant, U.S. Navy.

Rear-Admiral D. D. PORTER,
Commanding North Atlantic Squadron.

          The name of the man who escaped is William Hoftman, seaman, on the Chicopee. He did his duty well, and deserves a medal of honor.

          Respectfully,

W. B. CUSHING,
U.S. Navy.

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 below...

The Confederate 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.

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Recommended 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"

 

Recommended 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.

 

Recommended 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.

 

Recommended 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…

Each ship's 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.

 

Recommended 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.

 

Recommended 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

 

Recommended 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, from Vicksburg 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.

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