The first battle of the Confederate ram “Albemarle.”
In the spring of 1864 it was decided at Confederate headquarters that an attempt should be made to recapture Plymouth
.1 General Hoke
was placed in command of the land forces, and Captain J. W. Cooke
received orders to cooperate with the Albemarle
, an iron-clad then nearly finished.
's division proceeded to the vicinity of Plymouth
and surrounded the town from the river above to the river below, and preparation was made to storm the forts and breastworks as soon as. the Albemarle
could clear the river front of the Federal
war vessels protecting the place with their guns.
On the morning of April 18th, 1864, the Albemarle
left the town of Hamilton
and proceeded down the river toward Plymouth
, going stern foremost, with chains dragging from the bow, the rapidity of the current making it impracticable to steer with her head down-stream.
She came to anchor about three miles above Plymouth
, and a mile or so above the battery on the bluff at Warren
's Neck, near Thoroughfare Gap, where torpedoes, sunken vessels, piles, and other obstructions had been placed.
An exploring expedition was sent out, under command of one of the lieutenants, which returned in about two hours, with the report that it was considered impossible to pass the obstructions.
Thereupon the fires were banked, and the officers and crew not on duty retired to rest.
Having accompanied Captain Cooke
as a volunteer aide, and feeling intensely dissatisfied with the apparent intention of lying at anchor all that night, and believing that it was “then or never” with the ram if she was to accomplish anything, and that it would be foolhardy to attempt the passage of the obstructions and batteries in the daytime, I requested permission to make a personal investigation.
cordially assenting, and Pilot John Luck
and two of the few experienced seamen on board volunteering their services, we set forth in a small lifeboat, taking with us a long pole, and arriving at the obstructions proceeded to take soundings.
To our great joy it was ascertained that there was ten feet of water over and above the obstructions.
This was due to the remarkable freshet then prevailing; the proverbial “oldest inhabitant” said, afterward, that such high water had never before been seen in Roanoke River
Pushing on down the stream to Plymouth
, and taking advantage of the shadow of the trees on the north side of the river, opposite the town, we watched the Federal
transports taking on board the women and children who were being sent away for safety, on account of the approaching bombardment.
With muffled oars, and almost afraid to
Plan of the “Albemarle.”
The Albemarle, built at Edwards's Ferry, on the Roanoke, thirty miles below Weldon, by Gilbert Elliott, according to the plans of Chief Constructor John L. Porter, C. S. N., was of solid pine frame timbers, each 8 x 10 inches thick, dovetailed together, and sheathed with 4-inch plank.
The Albemarle was 122 feet long, 45 feet beam, and drew 8 feet. The Albemarle's shield, octagonal in form, was 60 feet long, and was protected by two layers of 2-inch iron plating.
The prow, or “ram,” was of solid oak, plated with 2-inch iron, tapering to an edge.
She had two engines of 200 horse-power each. |
breathe, we made our way back up the river, hugging the northern bank, and reached the ram about 1 o'clock, reporting to Captain Cooke
that it was practicable to pass the obstructions provided the boat was kept in the middle of the stream.
instantly aroused his men, gave the order to get up steam, slipped the cables in his impatience to be off, and started down the river.
The obstructions were soon reached and safely passed, under a fire from the fort at Warren
's Neck which was not returned.
Protected by the iron-clad shield, to those on board the noise made by the shot and shell as they struck the boat sounded no louder than pebbles thrown against an empty barrel.
At Boyle's Mill, lower down, there was another fort upon which was mounted a very heavy gun. This was also safely passed, and we then discovered two steamers coming up the river.
They proved to be the Miami
and the Southfield
The two ships were lashed together with long spars, and with chains festooned between them.
The plan of Captain Flusser
, who commanded, was to run his vessels so as to get the Albemarle
between the two, which would have placed the ram at a great disadvantage, if not altogether at his mercy; but Captain Cooke
ran the ram close to the southern shore, and then suddenly turning toward the middle of the stream, and going with the current, the throttles, in obedience to his bell, being wide open, he dashed the prow of the Albemarle
into the side of the Southfield
, making an opening large enough to carry her to the bottom in much less time than it takes to tell the story.
Part of her crew went down with her.3
The chain-plates on the forward deck of the Albemarle
became entangled in the frame of the sinking vessel, and her bow was carried down to such a depth that water poured into her port-holes in great volume, and she would soon have shared the fate of the Southfield
, had not the latter vessel reached the bottom, and then, turning over on her side, released the ram, thus allowing her to come up on an even keel.
, right alongside, had opened fire with her heavy guns, and so close were the vessels that a shell with a ten-second fuse, fired by Captain Flusser
, after striking the Albemarle
rebounded and exploded, killing the gallant man who pulled the lanyard, tearing him almost to pieces.
Notwithstanding the death of Flusser
, an attempt was made to board the ram, which was heroically resisted by as many of the crew as could be crowded on the top deck, who were supplied with loaded muskets passed up by their comrades below.
, a very fast side-wheeler, succeeded in eluding the Albemarle
without receiving a blow from her ram, and retired below Plymouth
, into Albemarle Sound
having successfully carried out his part of the programme, General Hoke
attacked the fortifications the next morning and carried them not, however, without heavy loss, Ransom
's brigade alone leaving five hundred dead and wounded on the field, in their most heroic charge upon the breastworks protecting the eastern front of the town.
, commanding the Federal
forces, made a gallant resistance, and surrendered only when further effort would have been worse than useless.
During the attack the Albemarle
held the river front, and all day long poured shot and shell into the resisting forts with her two guns.