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The first battle of the Confederate ram “Albemarle.”

by her Builder, Gilbert Elliott.
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. Accordingly Hoke'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. [626]

Building the “Albemarle” at Edwards's Ferry.

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. Captain Cooke 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.


Captain J. W. Cooke, C. S. N.

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. Captain Cooke 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.2

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. The Miami, 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. The Miami, a very fast side-wheeler, succeeded in eluding the Albemarle without receiving a blow from her ram, and retired below Plymouth, into Albemarle Sound.

Captain Cooke 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. General Wessells, 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.

Commander C. W. Flusser, U. S. N.


The sinking of the “Southfield” (April 18, 1864).

1 For an account of the capture of New Berne and Plymouth, North Carolina, by the Union forces, see Vol. I., pp. 647-659. The Confederates made three attempts to recapture New Berne. On March 14th, 1863, General D. H. Hill sent General J. J. Pettigrew with infantry and seventeen guns to attack Fort Anderson, an earthwork on the Neuse opposite the town, and garrisoned by 300 men of the 92d New York. After a bombardment of several hours Pettigrew withdrew and Hill abandoned the project. During the action the gun-boats Hetzel and Hunchback opened upon the Confederate batteries, drove the enemy from the field, and covered the landing of the 85th New York, in aid of the garrison. On January 30th, 1864, an expedition, under General George E. Pickett, set out from Kinston, North Carolina, to capture New Berne, the defenses of which were garrisoned by 3000 men under General I. N. Palmer. A flotilla, composed of the steamers Lockwood, Commodore Hull, and Underwriter, under Acting Volunteer Lieutenant G. W. Graves, was stationed in the Neuse and the Trent. General Pickett's force consisted of three brigades of infantry, 14 guns, and 600 cavalry, in all numbering about 4500 men, and a fleet of ten row-boats, manned by 300: men armed with rifles and cutlasses, under Colonel John Taylor Wood. On the night of February 1st Wood's force boarded the Underwriter as she lay at anchor in the Neuse under the guns of Fort Stevenson, killing her commander, Acting Master Jacob Westervelt, and three of the crew, and capturing a third of the remainder. Finding the boilers of the Underwriter cold, Colonel Wood set fire to the vessel. After some skirmishing General Pickett abandoned the enterprise on the 3d. On May 5th, 1864, a third demonstration was made against New Berne, but the Confederates retired without having accomplished any results of importance.--editors.

2 The Miami carried six 9-inch guns, one 100-pounder Parrott rifle, and one 24-pounder smooth-bore howitzer, and the ferry-boat Southfield five 9-inch, one 100-pounder Parrott, and one 12-pounder howitzer.--editors.

3 Of the officers and men of the Southfield, seven of the former, including Acting Volunteer Lieutenant C. A. French, her commander, and forty-two of her men were rescued by the Miami and the other vessels of the Union fleet; the remainder were either drowned or captured.--editors.

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