The CSS Albemarle had proven to be a menace to federal interests
along the Roanoke River since its arrival in April 1864.
Floating down the river from the Halifax Navy Yard, the
Albemarle had assisted General Robert F. Hoke’s Confederate
forces in recapturing the town of Plymouth on April 19, 1864.
She rammed two ships, the USS Southfield and the USS Miami,
sending the remaining vessels steaming downriver in retreat. Two
weeks later, the Albemarle fought seven Federal vessels to a
draw at the mouth of the Roanoke River during the Battle of
Cushing, with a group of volunteers, began steaming up the river
on the night of October 26, 1864 in a thirty-foot steam launch.
His primary goal was to capture the ram and avenge the death of
his friend and former commander, Charles Flusser, a victim of
the Albemarle’s engagement with the USS Miami. Unfortunately, as
Cushing and his men approached Plymouth, a barking dog alerted
Confederate forces to the arrival of the launch. Cushing was
then forced to rely on his backup plan – to ram the Albemarle,
using a spar-mounted torpedo. Cushing forced his launch to the
north side of the river in order to turn around and gain enough
steam to pass over the log boom encircling the Albemarle.
Despite opposing gunfire taking out the back of his jacket and
another the sole of his shoe, Cushing was able to fire a
bow-mounted howitzer just before hitting the log boom; however,
the launch became stranded on the boom. Fortunately, it was
close enough to lower the torpedo spar under the hull of the
Albemarle. Just as the Albemarle fired its 6.4 inch Brooke
rifled cannon at the launch, Cushing pulled the last line
removing the pin and detonating the torpedo.
Immediately, the Confederate ram began to sink with a “hole in
her bottom big enough to drive a wagon.” The blast threw up so
much water upon the launch that it appeared to “flatten out like
a pasteboard box on the logs.” With his mission complete and his
own vessel destroyed, Cushing and his men dived into the river.
Two of his men drowned, but Cushing was able to swim downstream
a long distance. He was eventually able to steal a Confederate
skiff that he rowed toward the mouth of the river, eventually
making his way to the Federal picket vessel, Valley City.
With the Albemarle destroyed, Federal forces were able to
recapture Plymouth on October 31, once again claiming naval
superiority in the region. Six months later, the war would come
to an end.
To learn more about this daring raid, check out the documentary
on the History Channel, tentatively scheduled to air in April
2005. The story of the Albemarle will also play a prominent role
in the new