The Confederate ram Albemarle.
[from the New Orleans, La., Picayune, December 28, 1902, January 4, 1903.]
Built to clear the Roanoke, Neuse and Pamlico rivers, she accomplished her mission Brilliantly.
Early in 1863 the Federals
had complete possession of all the bays and sounds and rivers along the Virginia
and North Carolina
afforded a fine rendezvous for vessels of all kinds, while the towns along the Roanoke
and Pamlico rivers
were garrisoned by Federal troops.
From these garrisoned towns foraging parties scoured the country and destroyed or carried away every movable thing, including beast and fowl.
The people in that section, being robbed of everything they possessed, appealed to the authorities at Richmond
for aid and relief.
On March 14, 1863, General D. H. Hill
sent a brigade of infantry and a battery of smoothbore guns, under General J. J. Pettigrew
, in response to the call of the people, with instructions to destroy Fort Anderson
, on the Neuse river
, opposite Newbern, N. C.
bombarded the place for two hours, but, satisfied he could not capture it by assault, withdrew.
Subsequently, General George E. Pickett
was ordered from Kinston
, with instructions to capture Newbern
and destroy the enemy's fleet.
At this juncture the Confederates
did not have a vessel of any kind in either of the three rivers named.
, feeling the need of some diversion on the river, managed to get a lot of skiffs, or new boats, about thirty in all, which he filled with men armed with rifles and cutlasses, under command of Colonel John Taylor Wood
, who proceeded down the Neuse
, to co-operate with the infantry.
The enemy's fleet at Newbern
consisted of five gunboats-the Lockwood, Underwriter, Hetzel, Commodore Hull
, and the Hunchback
, while the forts were garrisoned by 4,000 men and fifty cannon.
The audacity of the Confederates
, therefore, in descending the river with thirty skiffs to attack the Federal fleet of five gunboats and two heavily-armed forts, scarcely has a parallel.
set out on his desperate mission with as brave a
little band as ever went in search of an enemy.
There was not a faint heart or a nervous hand in the party.
The noble fellows, in fisherman's boats, moved along, hugging the banks as closely as possible, hoping to avoid detection, until they had reached sight of the gunboats.
What those men talked about and what hopes they had of surviving an attack against an armored fleet as they glided down the Neuse
, would be a pretty story, if it could be told, but we can only surmise what passed between them in their whispered conversations, or what their thoughts reverted to.
About the middle of the night they sighted the Underwriter
, lying at anchor, and immediately under the big guns of the fort.
Nothing daunted, Colonel Wood
formed his skiffs in columns of fours, and gave orders to pull for the gunboats.
He imparted to the commander of each the part he was expected to perform.
He directed the movement with as much deference and ceremony as if he was communicating with captains of modern men-of-war.
On they pulled in the stillness of the night, each crew striving their utmost to be the first to reach the scene.
The signal lights hung from the Underwriter
, but all was darkness without.
A sentinel paced the deck to and fro, but otherwise there was no evidence of life on the vessel.
It was well known to the Federals
that the Confederates
had no vessel of any nature or kind in the river, therefore they felt no anxiety for their safety.
Fortunately the tide was in favor of the Confederates
, as it ebbed to the sea, and the noise of the waves, as they splashed against the gunboat, drowned the sound of their oars.
Noiselessly the assailants glided into the shadow of the ship, and the four skiffs in front passed by and turned into shore.
Instantly, almost, those following were in touch of the gunboat, and when Colonel Wood
gave the signal the boys clambered on the sides as nimbly as squirrels.
They all knew what was expected of them and went to work.
The sentinel was captured before he could arouse his comrades, therefore little difficulty was experienced in making the crew prisoners.
The officers of the vessel tried to rally the crew, and the Commander
, Lieutenant Westervelt
, and four or five marines, who refused to surrender were killed.
The little band of Confederates behaved as if each was a captain, and covered every part of the boat without a moment's delay.
The guns of the fort were not exceeding 100 yards distant, but Colonel Wood
's plans were carried out so perfectly and noiselessly the garrison was not aware of what transpired below them.
thought to make the Underwriter
his flagship, but finding the boilers cold set fire to her, and escaped without the loss of a man or an oar.
The following day General Pickett
opened fire on the forts and created the wildest dismay among the enemy, but decided not to assault the works, and on February 3d withdrew his command.
The boldness of Colonel Wood
and his little crew excited the wonder of the enemy, and won the warmest commendations from our people, especially those who had felt the ravening hands of the foraging parties.
Soon after the events described above had taken place an ardent and devoted Southerner by the name of Gilbert Elliott
, who had had some experience in boat building, proposed to the authorities at Richmond
that with such aid as the Government
could give he would undertake to construct a ram, which he believed would clear the Roanoke river
of the meddlesome things which infested its waters.
He received all the encouragement the Government
could offer, and began the work, under conditions which very few men would have been willing to undertake.
The river was not navigable for the enemy's vessels more than a few miles above Plymouth
, therefore Mr. Elliott
decided to construct the ram at what was known as Edwards Ferry.
To all others it seemed an impossibility.
No material or competent workmen at hand, yet he went to work and put so much energy in it, and expressed such confidence in his ability to float a machine worthy a trial, it gave vigor and strength to the undertaking.
It is impossible to say how he obtained the necessary bolts and nuts, besides the iron, to plate her. He prosecuted the work with great caution and secrecy.
If the enemy ascertained his purpose an effort would be made to thwart it.
Howbeit, he was master of every situation, and by April 10, 1864, the ram was ready for service, and was christened Albemarle
She was built according to the plans of Constructor John L. Porter
, Confederate States
She was made of pine timber, 8x10 inches thick, dovetailed together and sheathed with four layers of plank.
She was 122 feet long, 45 feet beam, and drew 8 feet. Her shield, octagonal in form, was 60 feet long, and was protected by two layers of 2-inch iron plating.
The ram, or the prow, was of solid oak, also plated with 2-inch iron, and tapered like a wedge.
She had two engines of 200 horsepower, and when one considers the circumstances and difficulties under which she was constructed, we must confess she was a wonder.
reported her ready for service, the Government
selected the best men available to man her, under command of Captain J. W. Cooke
, and decided to make another effort to capture Plymouth
On April 18, 1864, the Albemarle
cut loose from the little town of Hamilton, N. C.
, and started down the river to co-operate with an infantry force under command of General Hoke
The latter reached the vicinity of Plymouth
and surrounded the town, from the river above to the river below, and awaited the advent of the ram.
About a mile and a half above the Federal
forts, at Warren
's Neck, and near Thoroughfare Gap, the enemy had planted torpedoes and obstructed the channel with wrecks of old boats and other things.
came to anchor some three miles above Plymouth
, and sent out a boat under command of a lieutenant to explore the river.
The lieutenant, after a time, returned and reported that it was impossible to pass the obstructions.
thereupon gave orders to bank the fires, and the men were allowed to go to sleep.
, who accompanied Captain Cooke
as a volunteer, feeling great dissatisfaction at the conclusion reached, and believing that it was ‘then or never’ with the ram, if she was to accomplish anything, urged Captain Cooke
to make the trial.
He argued that it would be foolhardy to attempt the passage of the obstructions and the forts in day time, and requested permission to make an investigation also.
assented, and with the pilot, whose name was John Lusk
, and two sailors, who volunteered to accompany them, set out in a small lifeboat.
They carried a long pole with them, and, arriving at the obstructed point, began to take soundings.
soon discovered that there was ten feet of water over and above the obstruction (which fact was due to a freshet in the river). The little party, however, pushed along down the stream until they reached Plymouth
, and, taking advantage of the darkness, which was increased by the shadow of the trees, pulled to the opposite
shore and watched the transport taking on board women and children, whom they were sending away on account of General Hoke
With the greatest caution, almost afraid to take a long breath, for fear of detection, Elliott
and his companions made their way back and reached the Albemarle
after midnight. Elliott
stated to Captain Cooke
his firm conviction that the ram could pass the obstructions, and urged him to make the attempt.
His earnestness was so great that Captain Cooke
at once determined to do so, and had the men aroused, and gave orders to get up steam as quickly as possible.
was soon under way, but the enemy was entirely ignorant of her approach.
In fact, they had no knowledge that the Confederates
owned a boat in the river.
She passed over the obstructions safely, but very soon a gun belched forth from the fort at Warren
's Neck, and Captain Cooke
realized that he was on a perilous journey.
The Federal battery opened fire vigorously, and the shells rattled against the ram in rapid succession.
had protected her sides with hanging chains, and they proved a very fine shield.
The ram was soon beyond the range of the guns, but a little lower down she passed a fort on which was mounted a very heavy gun. The big shells went whizzing over her bow and beyond, crashing through the timber for two miles.
The firing aroused the Federal fleet at Plymouth
, and two vessels, the Miami
and the Southfield
, started to look for the trouble.
The vessels carried each six 9-inch guns, one 100-pounder Parrott rifle, and a 24-pounder howitzer.
The two vessels were lashed together and ascended the river with entire confidence among the officers that nothing in the Roanoke river
could check them one minute.
, the senior Federal officer, stated that his purpose in lashing the vessels together was to get the Confederate
craft, whatever it might be, between his vessels, and capture it with little trouble.
, however, as soon as he sighted the Federal
boats, ran the Albemarle
close to shore, and when in proper position, he suddenly turned her toward the middle of the stream, and, giving her all the steam he could, he dashed the prow into the side of the Southfield
before a gun was fired.
Cutting her almost in twain, she
went to the bottom in less than two minutes, taking most of her crew with her.
The chains on the forward deck of the ram became entangled with the Southfield
, which carried her bow to such a depth that the water began to pour into her portholes.
The situation was critical.
It looked as if nothing could save the ram, but as the Southfield
struck bottom she turned over, and the Albemarle
, in the meantime, had broken apart from the sunken vessel, and opened fire from her big guns at such close range that the flash passed over and beyond the Albemarle
Here a most remarkable circumstance occurred.
A 9-inch shell struck the ram, rebounded, and exploded almost at the lanyard of the gun which it came from, killing Captain Flusher
and six men. Notwithstanding the confusion, the Federal
crew made an effort to board the ram, but were fought off by the Confederates
, who used both bayonets and the butts of their rifles, killing a majority of the crew before they could escape.
Seeing how determined the Confederates
were, the Miami
, a very swift vessel, turned tail, and, although pursued by the ram, succeeded in making her escape.
She never reversed her engines until she had ploughed into Albemarle Sound
successfully carried out his part of the plan by driving every vessel into the ocean.
The following day General Hoke
attacked the fortifications and carried them, although he lost a good part of his men.
's Brigade alone left nearly six hundred dead and wounded on the field.
distinguished himself by leading his men over the enemy's works, where occurred a hand-to-hand fight.
The Federal Commander
, General Wessells
, made a gallant defense, but Ransom
forced him to surrender.
The enemy's loss was very heavy.
His dead lay in heaps, and his wounded were lying on all sides.
During the assault the Albemarle
played upon the forts also, but the Federal
boats were too cautious to return.
After the capture of Plymouth, N. C.
, April 19, 1864—by Generals Hoke
—in which action the Confederate ram, Albemarle
, destroyed one gunboat of the Federal fleet and drove the others into Pamlico Sound
; the Confederates
were greatly encouraged and the Federals
correspondingly discouraged and alarmed.
spoke of the ram as the ‘Second Merrimac
,’ and they looked upon her as an unknown quantity, with unlimited capacity for destruction.
In fact the Federal Government
was laboring under much anxiety because of the changed condition of affairs in the sounds and rivers of North Carolina
A single boat, the Albemarle
, had met the entire fleet, destroyed one vessel and defeated the others.
Subsequently, she steamed into the open sound, fought seven gunboats and captured one (the Bombshell
), severely damaged five others and compelled the entire squadron to seek a place of safety.
During this engagement the little ram suffered no serious damage.
On May 5, 1864, the Albemarle
, followed by the Bombshell
, to meet the Federal fleet, which was reported advancing from the sound, for the purpose of clearing the river of all Confederate boats.
The Federal fleet had been overhauled, re-inforced and equipped with all sorts of guns and torpedoes, numerous enough to have alarmed several such crafts as the Albemarle
, had she been manned by ordinary men and officers.
The Yankee fleet consisted of (what they termed) four double-enders—the Mattabesett
, Commander John C. Febiger
; the Sassacus
, Lieutenant Commander F. A. Roe
; the Wyalusing
, Lieutenant Commander W. W. Queen
; the Miami
, Lieutenant Charles A. French
—and two gunboats, the Whitehead
, Ensign G. W. Barrett
, and the Ceres
, Commander H. H. Foster
Also, two transports, carrying seven guns each.
The double-enders were equipped with four nine-inch Dahlgren
guns, two 100-pounder Parrott rifles and one 24-pounder howitzer each.
Total, 36 nine-inch Dahlgrens, 8 100-pounder Parrott rifles and 4 24-pounder howitzers.
The gunboats carried eight smoothbore and two rifle guns each, making a grand total of 82 cannon, while the Albemarle
mounted four 6-inch rifle and two 8-inch smoothbore guns.
The enemy left the sound with full determination to capture or sink the ram.
After leaving the mouth of the Roanoke
, the average width of which is about 150 yards, and the depth sufficient to float a vessel drawing sixteen feet of water as high up as Plymouth
Along the shores of Pamlico Sound
that beautiful May morning the marsh was
gay with little blue flags that nodded to the wind and bowed to the tide as it began to flow.
The birds skimmed lightly over its surface, and looked through the grasses at that splendid array of death-dealing monsters, as they gracefully moved about for positions in line before starting on the hunt for the Albemarle
The sun rose beautifully, and the air was glorious; there was nothing to disturb the sway of the grasses or the chirp of the little marsh birds.
Over all that wide expanse of water there was nothing to suggest the desperate encounter and inglorious defeat that awaited the great fleet which floated so grandly over Pamlico Sound
The scene resembled preparations for review.
Everything in readiness, the column headed for the mouth of the river, the Mattabesett
leading, but the movement was so deliberate, and the order so perfect, no one could have believed that one single vessel would drive them back.
It was not reasonable.
It could not be possible.
The double-enders were ordered to pass as close to the Albemarle
as they could, deliver fire, then get out of line as quickly as possible and round to for a second discharge if necessary, while the gunboats and transports were to open from below.
Torpedoes were provided to each boat and instructions given to use them liberally, and, if possible, destroy the propeller of the Confederate ram.
The vessels of the squadron sent to attack the Albemarle
exceeded in numbers the entire Confederate Navy at that time.
However, the ram had twice before demonstrated its ability to take care of itself even against great odds.
As the Federal fleet rounded into the river, they sighted the Second Merrimac
, as she steamed toward them.
opened with a shot from one of his rifles, which was quickly followed by another and another.
The aim was skillful.
The first shot cut the rail and spars away from the Mattabesett
and wounded six or seven men.
put on all the steam at his command and made for the Yankee boats.
By this time the Sassacus
came into position and fired a broadside from her 9-inch guns, but such shot as struck the ram skimmed off into the air, and even the 100-pound rifle shells glanced off as they struck her sloping sides.
By this time five of the Yankee boats were firing on the ram as
fast as the guns could be worked, but the smoke settled over all, and became so dense the Federal
boats pulled away for fear of being rammed and took new positions.
continued to advance, keeping her guns busy.
The Yankee boats, favorably posted in the sound, concentrated their big guns on the ram, hoping to disable it by reaching her port holes.
It looked as if the little ram could not survive the combined attack, but she was out for a fight, and floated into the sound as proudly and defiantly as if she was supreme.
Quickly she changed her coure for the ‘double-enders,’ but they set out again and took up new positions, and the ram passed in between them, using her guns with marked effect.
The situation was desperate, and the Sassacus
was signalled ‘to ram the Albemarle
It was the only hope of success, though it was deemed certain that the Sassacus
would go under.
She moved on the Albemarle
with a full head of steam, risking everything to save the other vessels.
It was a moment of intense anxiety for all as the big ship neared the little Albemarle
. The latter sent two shots through the Yankee boat just before she struck.
A mighty crash, and the boom of cannon.
The smoke became intense, and both vessels quivering, rebounded for the second attack.
The bow of the Sassacus
was shattered and she attempted to escape.
The ram was still afloat, though, and went in pursuit, sending a shell crashing through the boat and through her boilers.
Soon a cloud of steam and boiling water filled every part of the vessel.
The shrill screams of the escaping steam almost drowned the sound of the guns, which the ram continued to fire into the unfortunate vessel.
The shouts of the Confederates
and the cries of the scalded, blinded and wounded men made a scene which would appall the stoutest heart.
surged to one side, then to the other, and began to sink.
Those of the Yankee
crew who survived climbed into the rigging to escape the boiling steam.
The tumult always characteristic of battle was doubly intensified by the cries of agony from the scalded and dying men.
No effort was made by the other Federal vessels to give them aid. During all this time the surviving vessels floated at a respectful distance and took no part whatever.
When the steam had cleared away the Federal fleet had gone, and the proud little Albemarle
was master of the field.
One of the Commanders
, in reporting the battle, said:
‘There was no lack of courage on our ships, but the previous loss of the Southfield
, and the signal from the Wyalusing
that she was sinking, and the loss of the Sassacus
, dictated the prudent course they adopted.’
The prudent course referred to was to get away as quickly as possible.
picked up the survivors of the Sassacus
and returned to Plymouth
From this action may be deducted the following argument:
There is nothing in naval affairs which surpasses in brilliancy this battle of the Albemarle
. The conduct of her crew was glorious; their deeds excited wonder at the time, and should stimulate those unborn when they hear the story.
This single boat successfully met and defeated the entire Federal fleet on the North Carolina
This story of the Albemarle
is not complete.
I cannot do her justice, but hope my feeble effort to tell of her matchless deeds will induce some one, better able, to do so.
Let us give a yell for Captain Cooke
, his officers and crew.
It may be said, with truth, that the Southern
people put more energy into naval affairs than had been done for fifty years before.
Had the Confederacy
been able to construct one-third as many boats as the Federals
had, there would not have been a blockade of Southern ports.
This is self-evident when we read the story of the Merrimac
, the Albemarle
and the greatest of all, the Alabama
. When we recall her operations and consider the obstacles in her way, we stand in amazement and congratulate ourselves that Semmes
was one of us.
‘Natura lo fece, epoi ruppe la stampa