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The destruction of the “Albemarle.”

The rebel iron-clad ram, the “Albemarle,” whose contest with and discomfiture by the “Sassacus,” in May, 1864, has been previously described in this volume, and which had become a formidable obstruction to the occupation of the North Carolina sounds by the Union forces, finally met her fate in October of the same year. During the previous summer, Lieutenant W. B. Cushing, commanding the “Monticello,” one of the sixteen vessels engaged in watching the “ram,” conceived the plan of destroying their antagonist by means of a torpedo. Upon submitting the plan to Rear-Admiral Lee and the Navy Department, he was detached from his vessel, and sent to New York to provide the articles necessary for his purpose, and these preparations having been at last completed, he returned again to the scene of action. His plan was to affix his newly-contrived torpedo apparatus to one of the picket launches-little steamers not larger than a seventy-four's launch, but fitted with a compact engine, and designed to relieve the seamen of the fatigue of pulling about at night on the naval picket line-and of which half a dozen had been then recently built under the superintendence of Captain Boggs, of “Varuna” fame. Under Lieutenant Cushing's supervision, picket launch No. 1 was supplied with the torpedo — which was carried in a basket, fixed to a long arm, which could be propelled, at the important moment, from the vessel in such a manner as to reach the side of the vessel to be destroyed, there to b1, [470] fastened, and exploded at the will of those in the torpedo boat, without serious risk to themselves. Having prepared his boat, he selected thirteen men, six of whom were officers, to assist him in the undertaking. His first attempt to reach the “Albemarle” failed, as his boat got aground, and was only with difficulty released. On the following night, however, he again set out upon his perilous duty, determined and destined, this time, to succeed. Moving cautiously, with muffled oars, up the arrow Roanoke, he skilfully eluded the observation of the numerous forts and pickets with which that river was lined, and passing within twenty yards of a picket vessel, without detection, he soon found himself abreast of the town of Plymouth. The night was very dark and stormy, and having thus cleared the pickets, the launch crossed to the other side of the river opposite the town, and sweeping round, came down upon the “Albemarle” from up the stream. The “ram” was moored near a wharf, and by the light of a large camp fire on the shore, Cushing saw a large force of infantry, and also discerned that the “ram” was protected by a boom of pine logs, which extended about twenty feet from her. The watch on the “Albemarle” knew nothing of his approach till he was close upon them, when they hailed, “What boat is that?” and were answered, “the ‘Albemarle's’ boat;” and the same instant the launch struck, “bows on,” against the boom of logs, crushing them in about ten feet, and running its bows upon them. She was immediately greeted with a heavy and incessant infantry fire from the shore, while the ports of the “Albemarle” were opened, and a gun trained upon the daring party. Cushing promptly replied wit i a dose of canister, but [471] the gallant young fellow had enough for one man to manage. He had a line attached to his engineer's leg, to pull in lieu of bell signals; another line to detach the torpedo, and another to explode it, besides this, he managed the boom which was to place the torpedo under the vessel, and fired the howitzer with his own hand. But he coolly placed the torpedo in its place and exploded it. At the same moment he was struck on the right wrist with a musket ball, and a shell from the “Albemarle” went crashing through the launch. The whole affair was but the work of a few minutes. Each man had now to save himself as best he might. Cushing threw off his coat and shoes, and leaping into the water, struck out for the opposite shore, but the cries of one of his drowning men attracting the enemy's fire, he turned down the stream. The water was exceedingly cold, and his heavy clothing rendered it very difficult for him to keep afloat, and after about an hour's swimming he went ashore, and fell exhausted upon the bank. On coming to his senses, he found himself near a sentry and two officers, who were discussing the affair, and heard them say that Cushing was dead. Thinking that he had better increase the distance between the rebels and himself, he managed to shore himself along on his back, by working with his heels against the ground, until he reached a place of concealment.

After dark, he proceeded through the swamp for some distance, lacerating his feet and hands with the briars and oyster shells. He next day met an old negro whom he thought he could trust. The negro was frightened at Cushing's wild appearance, and tremblingly asked who he was. “I am a Yankee,” replied Gushing, “and I [472] am one of the men who blew up the ‘Albemarle.’ ”

“My golly, massa!” said the negro, “dey kill you if dey catch you. You dead gone sure.” Cushing asked him if he could trust him to go into the town and bring him back the news. The negro assented, and Cushing gave him all the money he had, and sent him off. He then climbed up a tree and opened his jack-knife, the only weapon he had, and prepared for any attack which might be made.

After a time the negro came back, and to Cushing's joy, reported the “Albemarle” sunk and the people leaving the town. Cushing then went further down the river, and found a boat on the opposite bank belonging to a picket guard. He once more plunged into the chilly river, and detached the boat, but, not daring to get into it, let it drift down the river, keeping himself concealed. At last, thinking he was far enough away to elude observation, he got into the boat, and paddled for eight hours, until he reached the squadron. After hailing them, he fell into the bottom of the boat, utterly exhausted by hunger, cold, fatigue, and excitement, to the surprise of the people in the squadron, who were somewhat distrustful of him when he first hailed, thinking him a rebel who was trying some trick.

Nothing, indeed, but an overruling Providence and an iron will ever saved Cushing from death. He saw two of his men drown, who were stronger than he, and said of himself, that when he paddled his little boat, his arms and his will were the only living parts of his organization.

One man of the party returned on the “Valley city,” [473] having been picked up after he had travelled across the country, and been in the swamps nearly two days.

But one or two were wounded, and the larger part were captured by the rebels, being unable to extricate themselves from their perilous position among the logs of the boom, under the guns of the “ram.” The “Albemarle” had one of her bows stove in by the explosion of the torpedo, and sank at her moorings within a few moments, without loss of life to her crew. Her fate opened the river to the Union forces, who quickly occupied Plymouth — the North Carolina sounds were again cleared from rebel craft, and the large fleet of vessels, which had been occupied in watching the iron-clad, were released from that arduous duty. Lieutenant Cushing, to whose intrepidity and skill the country is indebted for these results, was engaged in thirty-five fights during the war, and, exhausted as he was after this gallant exploit, made the journey to his home in Western New York, near Dunkirk, to vote, being one of those who belies es that ballots are as important as bullets, in the preservation of the National life and liberties.

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