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[207]

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.

Colonel Wood 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 Navy. 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.

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