CSS Albemarle

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CSS Albemarle : Anatomy of an Ironclad Gunboat

CSS Albemarle (1864-1864)
 
General characteristics
Displacement: 376 tons
Length: 158 feet
Beam: 35 feet
Draught: 9 feet
Speed: 4 knots
Complement: 150 officers and men
Armament: two eight-inch rifles

CSS Albemarle.jpg

(Photo) CSS Albemarle (1864-1864). It is a halftone reproduction of a photograph taken after the ship was salvaged, 1865. Donation of Rear Admiral Ammen C. Farenholt, 1938. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

CSS Albemarle Ironclad Gunboat
CSS Albemarle Ironclad Gunboat Civil War.jpg
CSS Albemarle Ironclad Gunboat

CSS Albemarle, a relatively small ironclad ram, was built at Edwards Ferry, North Carolina. Commissioned in April 1864 under the command of Commander J.W. Cooke, CSN, she almost immediately went into action. On 19 April 1864, Albemarle attacked U.S. ships off Plymouth, N.C., sinking USS Southfield and driving away USS Miami and two other gunboats. With their waterborne communications severed, the Union forces were forced to surrender Plymouth to the Confederates.

Just over two weeks later, on 5 May, Albemarle, accompanied by the steamers Cotton Plant and Bombshell, steamed out into the North Carolina Sounds and attacked another U.S. Navy force, consisting of the "Double-ender" gunboats Sassacus, Wyalusing and Mattabesett, converted ferryboat Commodore Hull and small gunboat Ceres. Though Sassacus made a valiant attempt to sink the Albemarle by ramming, she was badly damaged in return. The Confederate ironclad was but lightly damaged in the engagement, which threatened the entire Union position on North Carolina's internal waters.

Desperate circumstances yield desperate responses, and on the night of 27-28 October 1864, Lieutenant William B. Cushing, USN, took the torpedo boat Picket Boat Number One upriver to Plymouth and bravely attacked Albemarle at her berth, sinking her with a spar torpedo. Following the Union recapture of the town, Albemarle was refloated. Taken to the Norfolk Navy Yard in April 1865, she remained there until sold in October 1867.

Sources: United States Navy; United States Coast Guard

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: 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: 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: 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: The Rebel Raiders: The Astonishing History of the Confederacy's Secret Navy (American Civil War). From Booklist: DeKay's modest monograph pulls together four separate stories from the naval aspects of the American Civil War. All have been told before but never integrated as they are here. The first story is that of James Bulloch, the Confederate agent who carefully and capably set out to have Confederate commerce raiders built in neutral England. The second is that of the anti-American attitudes of British politicians, far more extreme than conventional histories let on, and U.S. Ambassador Charles Francis Adams' heroic fight against them. The third is a thoroughly readable narrative of the raider Alabama and her capable, quirky captain, Raphael Semmes. The final story is about the Alabama claims--suits for damages done to the U.S. merchant marine by Confederate raiders, which became the first successful case of international arbitration. Sound and remarkably free of fury, DeKay's commendable effort nicely expands coverage of the naval aspects of the Civil War.

 

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.

 

Recommended Reading: The Confederate Navy in Europe. Description: The Confederate Navy in Europe is an account of the Confederate officers and officials who went on missions to Britain and France to buy ships for the CS Navy, and to support CSN operations on the high seas, such as commerce raiding. Spencer tells the story of how some officers rose to the occasion (some did not) and did a lot with limited resources. The majority of the ships ordered never reached America. Shipbuilding takes time, and as the war dragged on the European powers were persuaded by Confederate battlefield misfortunes and US diplomatic pressure that it was most expedient to deny the sales of such innovative designs as ocean-going ironclads. Like other out-manned and out-gunned powers, the CSA did have to resort to ingenuity and innovation.

 

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"

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