THE NAVY IN THE CIVIL WAR
Published 1883, 1885
THE ATLANTIC COAST.
REAR-ADMIRAL, U.S. NAVY
Reduction of Newbern ― The Albemarle
Rowan left Hatteras Inlet with
the flotilla under his command, at 7.30 A.M. of the 12th of March, 1862, accompanied by the army transports carrying twelve thousand troops intended
to be employed against the works of the enemy. At
sunset of the same day the flotilla
anchored off Slocum's Neck, fifteen
miles distant and within sight of the city of Newbern.
The following vessels composed
the attacking force; Delaware, Lieutenant-Commanding L. P. Quackenbush, and flag-ship of Commander S. C.
Rowan; Stars and Stripes, Lieutenant-Commanding Reed Werden; Louisiana,
Murray; Hetzel, Lieutenant-Commanding H. K. Davenport; Commodore Perry, Lieutenant-Commanding C. W. Flusser; Valley
J. C. Chaplin; Underwriter,
Lieutenant-Commanding A. Hopkins; Commodore Barney,
Lieutenant-Commanding R. T. Renshaw; Hunchback,
Lieutenant-Commanding E. R. Colhoun; Southfield,
Lieutenant-Commanding C. F. Behm;
Acting-Master Peter Hayes; Brincker,
Acting-Master J. E. Giddings; and Lockwood, Acting-Master G. W. Graves.
At 8.30 A.M. on the 13th
the vessels shelled the woods near the proposed place of landing, under cover of which part of the troops were
disembarked and moved up the beach at 11.30 A.M., and in the
meantime the remainder were landed as rapidly as possible. Six navy
howitzers with crews, under command of
Lieutenant R. S. McCook, were also landed. As the troops marched the gunboats moved parallel, throwing
shells into the woods in advance of them. No Confederate force opposed the troops during the day. At
4.15 p.m. the first of the enemy's batteries opened fire at long range on the
leading vessels of the flotilla, which was returned. At sundown the
firing was discontinued and the vessels anchored in position to protect the
flanks of the land force.
At daylight of the 14th the
report of a field piece was heard. The fog was too dense to make signal; the
Hunchback, and Lockwood were got under
way, the latter ordered to follow the land down and order up the vessels
that had been stationed along the shore. The Delaware,
Hunchback, and Southfield moved up to open fire on Fort Dixie. They were soon joined
by the heavier vessels from below. Receiving
no response from the fort, a boat was .sent
on shore and the American flag hoisted over it. The force then passed up and
opened on Fort Ellis, which was -returned until the magazine was blown up. At
this time -the troops were pressing on the rear entrenchments of Fort Thompson.
Signal was made to the vessels to advance in line abreast; the force closed up
to the barriers, and opened fire on that work. General Burnside informed
Commander Rowan that his shells were falling to the left and near our own
Fort Thompson having ceased
to return the fire, signal was made to follow the motions of the flag-ship, and
that vessel passed through the obstructions, followed by the others in
"line ahead." As the vessels were passing through, the co-operating
troops appeared on the ramparts of Fort Thompson, waving the Union flag. Shells
were then thrown into Fort Lane, next above, without response. The Valley
City was directed to hoist the flag over the remaining forts and the
flotilla passed rapidly up the river. On opening the Trent River two deserted
batteries, mounting two guns each, were seen on the wharves in front of the
The vessels passed up the
Neuse River, the Delaware opening fire on steamboats that were
attempting to escape up the river,
one of them having a schooner in tow. One of the steamers was run on shore
and burned, and two others were captured,
together with a schooner laden with commissary stores.
At noon the Delaware
went alongside the wharf and the inhabitants were informed that it
was not intended to injure the town. At
this time fires broke out in several parts of the city, probably caused by a similar action to that of Lieutenant Scroggs of the "Wise Legion"
at Elizabeth City. A
floating raft in the Trent River that
had been prepared to send down on the
fleet was also set on fire, and drifting against the railroad bridge,
The Louisiana and the Barney were sent to the Trent side of the town to
secure such public property as might be found there. Several hundred stand of arms, other munitions of war, a large amount of naval stores, and a
three-masted schooner fell into their hands. At 2 P.m., our victorious troops appearing on the
opposite side of the Trent,
the work of transportation commenced, and at sundown the army
was in full occupancy of the city.
Commander Rowan describes the
obstructions passed through as "formidable, and had
evidently been prepared with great care."
The lower barrier was composed of a series
of piling driven securely into the bottom and cut off
below the water; added to this was
another row of pointed and
iron-capped piles, inclined to an angle of about forty-five
degrees down stream. Near these was a
row of thirty torpedoes, containing about two hundred pounds of powder each,
and fitted with metal fuses connected with spring percussion
locks, with trigger-lines attached to the pointed piles. The second barrier was quite as formidable, about
one mile above the first, and abreast
of Fort Thompson. It consisted of a
line of sunken vessels closely massed and of chevaux de frise, leaving a
very narrow passage close to the battery. The Perry
in passing through carried away a head of
iron on the piling; the Barney
had a hole cut in her, and the Stars
and Stripes was also injured; but fortunately the torpedoes failed to
serve the enemy's purpose.
'The forts, six in number,
exclusive of those on
Trent River, were well constructed
earthworks, varying in distance apart from half a mile to a mile and a half, and
mounting in all! thirty-two guns,
ranging from 32-pounders to 80-pounders, rifled, all en barbette, with
the exception of one casemated fort,
mounting two guns.
It may well excite surprise
that not a single casualty occurred on
board of the flotilla. Of the navy
force on shore with six
howitzers, under Lieutenant McCook, 2 men were killed, 11 wounded, and one
The force of the enemy 'was
about equal in number to the Union troops. Only
200 were captured, but a very large amount
of army equipage and supplies were found at Newbern.
Our casualties were 88 killed and 352
wounded. Those of the Confederates are not known.
On the 25th of April the Union troops then in Beaufort,
N. C., with breaching batteries, which they had established, opened fire on Fort
Macon; before sunset the fort surrendered.
Lockwood in command of the Daylight, Armstrong in the Georgia,
Bryson in the Chippewa, and Cavendy in
the Gemsbok, took part in the bombardment for several hours, when
the sea grew too rough to manage their guns.
In order to secure the forces
on the sounds from an attack from Norfolk,
Flusser was directed to block additionally the Chesapeake and Albemarle Canal. For this purpose he left Elizabeth City, on the 23d of April, with the Whitehead, Lockwood, and Putnam, and at the
mouth of the river met the Shawsheen with a schooner in tow filled with sand. The vessel was sunk near the entrance of the canal, and some fifty yards in length was filled in with trunks of
trees, stumps, and brushwood. On his return he assisted Colonel Hawkins in destroying Confederate commissary stores on
the Chowan, which was effected on the
7th of May.
Lieutenant William B. Cushing
had been given command of the steamer Ellis and was employed in
blockading New River Inlet, which he entered on the 23d of November, 1862, with
the object of going to Jacksonville, destroying any salt works
found, and capturing such vessels as he might find. Five miles up he
sighted a vessel with a cargo of cotton and turpentine, which was on fire and
abandoned by the enemy. At 1 P.M. he reached the town, thirty-five miles from
the mouth of the river, where twenty-five
stand of arms, a large mail, and two
schooners were captured. At 2.30 P.M.
started down the river; at
five an encampment was seen near the banks and thoroughly shelled. At the
point where the vessel was burned as he
ascended the enemy opened fire with
rifles, but was soon silenced. The two
pilots on board agreed that high water and daylight were essential to
take the Ellis
out of the inlet. She was anchored, the prizes brought
alongside, and preparation made to repel attack. At daylight the Ellis was got
under way, and at the worst part of
the channel was opened upon by two field pieces. In an hour the enemy was driven
from his guns and from the bluff, and the vessel passed within one hundred yards
of it without molestation. Five
hundred yards farther down the pilots mistook the channel and the Ellis got hard and fast aground;
it was found, moreover, that she was
in a pocket with shoaler water all
A party was sent on shore to
carry off the abandoned artillery, but in
the meantime the enemy had removed it. At dark one of the prize
schooners was taken alongside and everything taken out of the Ellis except the pivot gun, some ammunition, two
tons of coal, and a few small arms. But steam and anchor planted to
haul her off were ineffective. It was quite
certain that the Confederates would come in overwhelming numbers and capture the
vessel; therefore Cushing called all hands to muster, and told the crew
that they could go aboard the schooner. Six volunteers were asked to remain on
board and fight the remaining gun.
The officer in charge of the schooner was directed to drop down
the channel out of range from the bluffs and await results.
At daylight the enemy opened on the
Ellis from four points with rifled guns. It
was a destructive cross-fire; the
engine was soon disabled and the vessel much
cut up; in the meantime the pivot gun
was used with as much effect as possible.
The contest was hopeless; the
Ellis was set on fire in five places, and Cushing and his six comrades took to
their small boat and pulled for the schooner, at anchor a mile and
a half below. On reaching the schooner sail was made and the vessel forced over
the bar, although she struck several times.
The magazine of the Ellis blew up soon after the schooner
had crossed the bar.
At daylight on February 23d, at the western entrance to Cape
Fear River, a blockade-runner was seen from
the Dacotah, one of
the blockading vessels. It was
supposed that the blockader was aground, but when the Monticello
and Dacotah went in and opened
on her she moved up the river. The
vessels were opened on from Fort Caswell, mortally
wounding Master's Mate Henry Baker on board of the Monticello.
At daylight on the morning of March 14th a large Confederate
force attacked Fort Anderson (opposite Newbern, N.
C.), on the river Neuse. It was an
unfinished work, garrisoned by 300
men. Its defence was aided by the gunboats Hetzel and Hunchback, and some guns
on a schooner. The enemy
evidently was informed as to the contents of a telegram,
and counted upon a literal compliance with the request
of General Foster, made four days previously, "to send
light gunboats to aid the expedition to Hyde County."
The enemy supposed all had gone and made his first attack here. He opened on the fort from a two-gun battery
on the south bank, and on the Hunchback
and the schooner. Those
vessels commanded the point and its approach,
and the Hetzel enfiladed from below. The latter vessel, as well as the Shawsheen,
were undergoing repairs and had to be towed into position.
At six o'clock the firing
ceased, "when signals
from the fort said that the enemy gave
them thirty minutes in which to
surrender." This demand was made, it was supposed, to get fourteen
pieces of artillery into position. At 6.30
this battery, within two hundred and
fifty yards of the fort, opened upon
it again, and the two-gun battery on the opposite shore fired on the Hunchback
and the schooner. The action was
very fierce for thirty minutes, when the Hetzel in tow of a tug got into
position "and threw IX-inch shells among the enemy, causing him to withdraw immediately, leaving
one disabled 30-pounder Parrott gun on the field."
At 10.08 the Hunchback,
which had previously grounded, was again afloat. An hour later, the revenue cutter
Agassiz, the Shawsheen towed by a tug, and the Ceres were in position, but the enemy had withdrawn beyond
the reach of the guns. Two
light-draught gunboats followed the enemy ten miles
up the river, pinking up stragglers who wished to desert.
Colonel Belknap, Eighty-fifth
New York, wrote to the senior naval
officer present as follows: "When,
on the 14th of March, General Pettigrew, with eighteen pieces of artillery
and more than 3, 000 men, made his
furious assault -upon Fort Anderson,
an unfinished earthwork, garrisoned by 300 men
of my command, the capture or
destruction of the brave little band
seemed inevitable. But the gunboats under your command-the
pride of loyal men and the terror of traitors -came
promptly to the rescue. Your well-directed fire drove the enemy from the field, covered the landing of the Eighty-fifth
New York, sent to the relief of the garrison, and the
repulse of the rebel army was complete."
The Confederate forces
invested Washington, N. C., on the 30th of March, and maintained the siege eighteen days, reoccupying their old works seven miles below. On March 31st they opened fire
from Rodman's Point, a mile and three-quarters
below, on the Commodore Hull, which
had been stationed there to prevent
the occupation of the point. After a
spirited action of an hour and a half, the
vessel grounded in an endeavor to change position, and remained so
until 8 P.M., exposed to a continuous and accurate fire, cutting
up but not vitally injuring her.
On the morning of the 15th Major-General Foster passed Hill's Point battery in the Escort, returning from
The next night the
enemy withdrew. Few casualties resulted
from this lengthy siege.
who lost the steamer Ellis in November, was soon after assigned to the command
of the steamer Shokokon,
and, ever active, made a reconnoissance of New Topsail Inlet in a
boat on the 12th of August, but was driven out by four pieces of artillery. He had seen within the inlet a schooner which he determined to destroy. With this view, on the evening of the 22d, the Shokokon was anchored close to
the beach, five miles south of the inlet, and two boats were sent on shore. The men shouldered the dingy
(smallest boat carried by a vessel of war) and carried it through the thickets
across the neck of land, half a mile .in
width, which divides the sea from the sound.
The boat being launched in
the inland waters, Ensign Cony “started with orders to capture or destroy anything that
might be of use to the enemy."
A Confederate 12-pound howitzer was stationed near that locality,
and Captain Adams, in charge, had come down to
the schooner with it, having seen the smoke-stack of the Shokokon
over the thicket. A lookout at the masthead
of the schooner was peering toward
the sea entrance, while the Shokokon's boat came in the
opposite direction. The men landed
within fifty yards of the vessel without being discovered;
one of the dinghy’s crew crawled
into the camp, counted the men, and returning, made his report. "A charge was ordered and our
seven men bore down on the enemy with a shout." Ten prisoners
were secured, among whom were Captains Adams and Latham, one 12-pounder army howitzer,
eighteen horses, one schooner, and the salt works. Two men were thrown out as pickets, two
detailed to guard the prisoners,
and with the aid of the other two men Ensign Cony burned
the vessel and salt works.
The object of the expedition accomplished,
the ensign was unable to
distinguish the officers from the privates, and as his boat would only carry three additional persons,
he took those who seemed most intelligent and good-looking, who
turned out to be privates. Cushing
manner in which my orders were carried
out is highly creditable to Mr. Cony,
who is, I beg leave to state, a good officer, seaman, artillerist, and navigator." The
schooner destroyed had cleared from New York for Port Royal, and was once
towed outside the line of blockade by a gunboat.
Owing to extraordinary army
operations on or near James River, and a
co-operation where practicable of naval forces which were withdrawn from North Carolina, an unwonted quiet prevailed for months within the sounds and on the coasts of that State, broken only by very frequent
captures of blockade-runners.
An account of a "Confederate victory"
was published in the
newspapers, the report of Colonel Griffin, commanding. It was as follows:
"January 30, 1864, engaged the
enemy with a force of 200 men and a mounted rifle piece. After
a fight of two hours, in which we engaged 1,200 of the enemy and
three pieces of artillery, the Yankees were driven from
Windsor, N. C., to their boats. We
lost six men; the loss of the enemy is not
In relation to this, Flusser says: "The report is false
from beginning to conclusion. I
planned the affair, and we would have
captured the entire party had we been ten minutes
"I had 40 sailors and one 12-pounder howitzer, and there were
about 350 infantry. We marched about
sixteen miles. There was no fight and
nothing worth reporting; the
rebels ran. I
fired three or four times at them at long range. We
held the town of Windsor several hours, and marched back
eight miles to our boats without a single shot from the enemy."
This will remind the older
reader of the very many "victories " of like import
that came daily, and. filled the columns of
the Newspapers, taxing credulity to the utmost. It is only
fair to say that the Narrators were quite as frequently of the National as of the Confederate forces.
Cushing, commanding the Monticello,
blockading the western entrance to Cape Fear River, on the Night of the 29th of February
visited Smithville with two boats manned by twenty men.
His object was to capture the commanding officer, and
to carry out
any vessel that might be at anchor Near by.
He landed directly in front of the hotel, captured some Negroes
to gain information, after which, accompanied by Ensign Jones, Mate Howarth, and
one seaman, proceeded to General Herbert's headquarters, across the street from
the barracks, supposed to contain a
thousand men. Cushing says: "The party captured the
chief-engineer of these defenses, but found the general had gone to Wilmington the same day. The
adjutant-general escaped from the door after severely wounding his hand; but
thinking that a mutiny was in progress,
took to the woods with a great scarcity of clothing
and Neglected to turnout the garrison." The boats were within fifty yards of the fort, and within the same distance of
a sentinel. Cushing brought off his prisoner and was abreast
of Fort Caswell before signal was made that boats were
in the harbor.
On April 18, 1864, in command of the Miami,
at Plymouth, N. C., Flusser reported as follows: "We have been fighting here all day. About sunset the enemy made a general advance along our whole line. They have been repulsed. . .
. The ram [Albemarle] will be down to-night or tomorrow. I fear for the protection of the town.. I shall have to abandon my plan of fighting the ram, lashed to
the Southfield. The army ought to be
reinforced at once. I think I have force enough to whip the ram, but not sufficient
to assist in holding the town as I should like. . . . If we whip the ram the
[Confederate] land force may retire."
Flusser died bravely in action, fighting his formidable
antagonist, at 4 A.M. the day
On the morning of the 18th, between three and five, the
enemy tried to carry Fort Gary by storm, but were repulsed. In the afternoon
heavy artillery opened fire upon the town and breastworks. Then the fight became
general. Up to this time the gunboats Southfield and Miami were
chained together in preparation to encounter the ram. They were then separated.
The Southfield, moving up the river,
opened fire over the town. The Miami,
moving down the river, opened a cross-fire upon the enemy, who were charging
upon Fort Williams. The firing being very exact caused the enemy to fall back.
After three attempts to storm the fort, at nine o'clock the firing ceased from
the enemy, they having withdrawn from range.
General Wessels, who commanded the troops, said of this naval
co-operation: "The fire from the naval vessels was very satisfactory and
effective-so much so that the advancing columns of the enemy broke and
retreated." He desired that the Miami
might be kept below the town to prevent a flank movement by the enemy. At 10.30 P.M.
the Southfield came down and anchored near. At 12.20 A.M.
April 19th the Southfield came alongside to rechain the two steamers, as speedily
as possible, the ram having been seen by Captain Barrett, of the Whitehead,
and reported by him as coming down the river. At
3.45 the gunboat Ceres came down, passing
near, stating that the ram was close upon her.
Commander Flusser was informed
of this fact, immediately came on deck, and ordered both vessels (which were lashed together) to steam as fast as possible to run the ram
down. The order was instantly
obeyed; the chain was slipped, and "bells rung to go ahead fast." The vessels were moving up the river to meet the ram, and it was making for the vessels.
Within two minutes the ram
struck the Miami on the port. bow without serious injury. At the same time the Southfield was pierced nearly to her boilers and sank rapidly. As
soon as the batteries of the two vessels could be brought to bear
on the ram, they opened on her with 100-pounder rifles and IX-inch guns. The
guns had been loaded with shells. "Flusser fired the first shots
personally from the Miami,
the third being a 10-second Dahlgren
shell. It was directly after that fire
that he was killed by pieces of shell." 1
Several of the guns' crews were wounded at the same time; the
bow-hawser had parted, and the Miami
swung around to starboard. The after-hawser was then either cut or parted, and the Southfield
sank directly, while the engines of the Miami
had to be reversed to keep her off the bank. The ram again made for the Miami,
and the officer then in command, says in his
report: "From the fatal effects of her prow upon the Southfield,
and of our sustaining injury, I deemed it useless to sacrifice the Miami
in the same way." Certainly he was not
wrong in keeping out of the way of the ram, at least until he determined
how to attack her effectively. When
running into the two vessels the ram had made use of
small arms, but not her heavy guns. It
was only after the Miami moved
off that two shells were fired at her.
The writer is at a loss to understand the rationale
two vessels together, and then running bows on to a vessel
of such construction as the Albemarle, by which name she will be
called hereafter. Had Flusser reserved his attack until daylight the result might have been different.
In reporting the death of
Commander Flusser, Admiral Lee says: "This brave officer was a
native of Maryland and a citizen
of Kentucky. His patriotic and
distinguished services had won for
him the respect and esteem of the navy and
the country. He was generous, good, and gallant, and his
untimely death is a real and great loss to the public service."
In appearance, so fine a specimen of physical, intelligent
manhood is rarely seen; he
had too all the requisite qualities to
have made him distinguished as an officer.
'The Ceres, on picket duty above the town, on the 17th had been fired on by the field batteries of the enemy, by which 2
men were killed and 4 officers wounded.
The army force under General
Wessels had no longer the support of the
vessels, and overwhelmed by numbers surrendered on the 20th,
the Albemarle thereafter occupying the river
until her destruction the October following.
On the 21st of April,
Rear-Admiral Lee sent instructions to Commander
Davenport as to a plan of attack on the ram. He
expresses the opinion that the Albemarle
must be weak, and quite slow. "The
great point is to get and hold position on
each side of the ram. Have stout lines with small heaving
lines thereto, to throw across the ends of the ram, and so secure
her between two of our vessels. Her
plating will loosen and bolts fly like
canister, and the concussion will knock down and demoralize her crew if they keep their ports down, as in
the late attack."
After the Albemarle had come down an inquiry was made as to why she had not been destroyed when under construction at Edwards Ferry, forty miles above Rainbow Bluffs
on the Roanoke River.
On the 8th of the preceding June Lieutenant-Commander Flusser
had sent a sketch of her cross-section. He
stated further that "she was built
on the plan of the Merrimac." On
the 8th of the following August Admiral Lee reported to the Department
that the ironclad building at Edwards Ferry
was considered by Flusser "as a
formidable affair, though of light draught." The information
elicited was to the effect that the depth of water would not permit the gunboats
to ascend to Edwards Ferry in shoal and narrow channels, in the face of several formidable batteries, and the army
did not attach enough importance to her construction to send a sufficient force to destroy her.
The Navy Department ordered Captain Melancton Smith, an
officer of ability and experience, to the sounds of North Carolina
to destroy the "ram" at all hazards, if possible.
Admiral Lee, in an official
letter to Captain Smith, alludes to his former instructions and adds: "Entrusted
by the Department with the performance of this signal service, I leave
(with the expression of my views) to you the manner of executing
it" (the destruction of the ram).
Some of the vessels assigned
were still without the sounds, but the full
moon gave promise of high tides, and we soon find them
ready for operating.
Captain Melancton Smith hoisted his' flag on board of the “double-ender"
Mattabesett, Commander Febiger, and on the
2d of May had arranged his order of battle: "The steamers
will advance in the third order of steaming, the Miami
leading the second line of steamers. The
and Whitehead formed the right
column, and the Miami, Ceres, Commodore
Hull, and Seymour the left.
“The proposed plan of attack will be for the large
vessels to pass as close as possible to the
ram, without endangering their wheels, delivering their fire and rounding
to immediately for a second discharge.
"The steamer Miami
will attack the ram and endeavor to explode
her torpedo at any moment she may have the advantage,
or a favorable opportunity. Ramming may be resorted to, but the peculiar construction of the sterns of the double-enders
will render this a matter of serious consideration with their commanders, who
may be at liberty to use their
judgment as to the propriety of this course when a chance shall present
On May 5th at 1 P.M.
the Miami, Commodore Hull, Ceres,
and army transport Trumpeter
left their picket station off Edenton
Bay for the mouth of Roanoke River to lay several torpedoes
When near the buoy at the
mouth of the river, the Albemarle was seen
coming out with the Cotton Plant, having troops on board, and towing a number of launches or scows, and the Bombshell, as afterward known, laden with provisions and coal, and having on board thirty-three persons including the
crew; the Bombshell had received injuries
from shells above Plymouth on the
18th, and reaching that place had
sunk. After the enemy took the town on the 20th she was raised and put into
service by the Confederates.
The report of the senior officer on picket
duty, who commanded the Miami, states
that he dispatched the Trumpeter in haste to inform the squadron of the approach of the
Albemarle. No mention is made of that vessel by Captain Smith,
or in the several reports of the different commanding officers. The Miami, Hull, and
followed the Trumpeter and kept out of
the range of the guns of the Albemarle.
It appears that as soon as
the commanding officer of the Albemarle became aware
of the force with which he had to contend, he dispatched the Cotton Plant to a place of refuge, with her scows in tow, and made a face of advance for a time with the Bombshell. At 3.10 the squadron was fairly under way,
and in position in two columns, line ahead, or the
column of small vessels was soon after completed, as the
squadron advanced to meet the Albemarle.
At 4.20 the
Miami, then heading the line of the port (left) column,
advancing, made signal "Enemy is retreating." No
other report mentions the fact
that the Albemarle was in retreat when the
vessels were advancing to make the attack.
The attacking vessels by
their superior speed were coming up with the Albemarle. At 4.40 that vessel opened
fire on the Mattabesett, leading the right column. The shell wounded several of a gun's crew and destroyed the launch. This was soon followed by another, doing less damage. The
Albemarle had the general construction
described in the ram Atlanta, and was armed with two 100-pounder rifles,
one a Brooke, the other a Whitworth. These
guns could pivot on either side, or
ahead and astern.
The Mattabesett and vessels in line continued their advance; the Albemarle then put her helm aport, "with an evident intention to ram the Mattabesett;” that
vessel put her helm astarboard to avoid being run into, and that threw the
antagonists farther apart than intended by the last named. At 4.45, when a little abaft the port beam of the Albemarle, the Mattabesett delivered her
broadside of two rifled guns and four IX-inch
guns at a distance of one hundred and fifty yards from the Albemarle.
At about the same time the Sassacus had sheered to starboard, and when nearly abeam delivered her
port broadside into the Albemarle, and keeping
her helm hard aport to avoid being rammed, described a circle,
and passing the stern of the Albemarle, was again in line following the Mattabesett.
That vessel passing ahead, had
fired her forward rifle and howitzers into the Bombshell, when she surrendered, and was ordered to follow in the
Sassacus coming up, fired a broadside into the
Bombshell also, in the belief that she had not surrendered,
and when informed of the fact, directed her to pass astern and anchor;
then coming up, was on the point of
running her down, not knowing that she had surrendered
(as was afterward seen), and backed barely in time
to prevent injury. The Mattabesett,
followed by the Sassacus
and the Wyalusing, passed ahead of the
delivering their fire as they could,
and found themselves in the line of
fire of the left column and of the Whitehead; that vessel, owing to
inferior speed, had reached the Albemarle when the Bombshell had fallen back to anchor as ordered.
Here the three forward
vessels of the right line reversed their engines to keep out of the fire of the other vessels, and as the Albemarle drew ahead the Mattabesett was on
her starboard quarter, the Sassacus
on her beam, and the Wyalusing on her bow. The Sassacus
pointed fair, and at a distance of from two to three hundred yards, with open throttles, thirty pounds steam pressure, and making twenty-two revolutions when striking, ran head on to the Albemarle, striking her nearly at right angles, just abaft the
casemate on the starboard side, at a
speed estimated by her commanding officer of ten knots, and by Captain Smith on
board of the Mattabesett at half that velocity. On
being struck, the Albemarle
heeled considerably, the water washing over
the deck on
the starboard side
abaft the casemate. The Sassacus
steamed heavily, in the hope of forcing the vessel under.
As the Sassacus
came in contact, the Albemarle fired a rifle shell, which passed through both sides near the bow
of the Sassacus. While
in that position three solid shot from
a 100-pounder rifle were fired into the Albemarle and were shattered, coming
back in fragments on the deck of the Sassacus.
At the moment of the third discharge the vessel
had swung so as to permit the after gun of the Albemarle to bear from a broadside port, and a shell was sent into the Sassacus
which passed longitudinally through her starboard
boiler. The vessel was then filled
with steam and dropped astern. The report of her commanding officer says: "In
the meantime the engine was going, as no one could
do anything below; some
sixteen men being scalded. I then put the helm hard aport, headed up the sound,
and around to the land, in order to clear the field for the other boats."
After the explosion of the boiler the signal-books were
thrown overboard, but no reason is given therefore.
While dropping out of action the guns
continued to play
on the Albemarle.
The flag of the Albemarle was shot away about the time the Sassacus
was disabled, and it was not hoisted again during the
action. As her firing was interrupted from
some cause it was thought she had surrendered, and until she resumed
the use of her guns she was spared the fire from her adversaries.
The attacking force at that time (5.15 P.m.) was in great confusion; the vessels so surrounded the Albemarle as in a great degree to prevent any effective fire against her. "Our
attention was turned to getting them [the vessels] into line. At
5.20 signal was made to the Miami to
pass within hail, and when she did so
she was ordered to "go ahead and try her torpedo." At 5.30 signal was made to "keep in line," and fifteen minutes later it was repeated. At 5.55 signal
was made to the Wyalusing
to "cease firing," that vessel being
still on the starboard bow of the Albemarle. At that time
" the remainder of the vessels
(with the exception of the Sassacus) were taking position on the port quarter of the enemy."
At 6.05 signal for "close order"
was made, and again
at 6.45 "signal to the Wyalusing
to cease firing, she at the time coming
round to take position. Soon after, hailing her
with an order to go ahead of the line and pass close to the
Albemarle, in reply she reported herself sinking, and at 6.55
made signal ‘sinking,' but still going ahead, finally took position."
Finding that the line was
gradually edging off, the Mattabesett steamed ahead
inside, delivering her fire as rapidly as possible when on the quarter and abeam of the enemy, and after
passing ahead attempted to lay a seine in the course of the Albemarle for the
purpose of fouling her propeller, but it was
torn and lost before getting into the desired position. The
Mattabesett was then rounded to port, and the port battery
used; when nearly abeam of the Albemarle a VI-inch rifle-shot from that
vessel fatally wounded two men and did considerable
damage to the vessel. At 7.30, growing quite dark, signal was made to cease firing, and to anchor, with the exception
of the Commodore Hull and the Ceres,
those vessels being directed to follow
and watch the movements of the enemy.
The commanding officer of the Whitehead
states: "The rebel steamer Cotton Plant,
with a number of launches in tow,
having succeeded in making her escape, my attention was
directed to the ram, upon which I opened fire with the 100-pounder rifle,
using solid shot, first at a distance of one thousand,
but soon lessened it to four hundred yards." No other
mention is made of the Cotton Plant having launches in tow, or of that vessel, except by the Miami, when on picket
duty, that the Cotton Plant came out.
Josselyn, commanding the
Hull, reported his part in the engagement, and
states that the Hull crossed the bows of the Albemarle and "paid out a large seine for the purpose of fouling her propeller, but though encompassing the ram,
it did not have the desired effect."
The batteries, expenditures
of ammunition, and casualties of the different vessels engaged
will be found in the Appendix.
No accounts whatever are found
among the Confederate archives in
Washington of this engagement, of injuries sustained, or of the purposes for which the Albemarle and her two consorts went out. Captain Smith
reports the appearance of the vessel again on the 24th of May, near the
mouth of the Roanoke River, with a row-boat dragging for torpedoes. The Whitehead
fired a shell which fell near, and the Albemarle steamed up the river. Refugees
and others from Plymouth stated that the
plating of the Albemarle had been much
injured, four of the shot had penetrated the armor, and during the engagement
the concussion was so great as to put
out lights burning in the casemate. One of the two guns
with which the vessel was armed was rendered useless by
the muzzle being broken off.
On the night of May 7, 1864, an armor-plated vessel, known
as the ram North Carolina, came out of New Inlet at the mouth of
Wilmington River, and exchanged shots with the steamers Mount Vernon, Kansas,
Howqua, Nansemond, and Britannia. She did no serious damage to any of the vessels,
but put a rifled shell of
large size through the smokestack of
the Howqua at an estimated distance of a mile and a
half. She never made her appearance
again; her consort, the
Raleigh, was found, later on, "wrecked " below
Wilmington, from what cause is unknown.
In June Lieutenant William B.
Cushing had received permission to attempt the destruction
of the Raleigh in Wilmington River.
He was then in command of the Monticello,
aiding in the blockade. He thought it prudent to make a thorough reconnoissance to determine the position of the Raleigh.
On the night of the 23d he
left his command in a ship's boat, taking
with him Ensign Jones, Master's Mate Howarth, and 15 men, crossed the west bar,
passed the forts, then the town and
batteries of Smithville, and pulled swiftly up the river undiscovered. He was within the river some two days, visited the wreck
of the Raleigh, and coming out effected his
escape with his usual gallantry and cleverness.
As auxiliary again to proposed
army operations, Commander Macomb,
on July 28th, accompanied the army transports Collyer and Massasoit up the Chowan.
The objects of the
expedition were attained, and at Gatesville the Confederate
steamer Arrow was captured.
On October 30th, Lieutenant
Cushing wrote as follows "I have the
honor to report that the rebel ironclad Albemarle is at the bottom of Roanoke River." The means by which this was accomplished were a steam launch and a torpedo on the end of a pole, fastened
to the bow. On the night of the 27th, he proceeded up the Roanoke River toward Plymouth, where the ram was made fast to a wharf, and for her protection against
torpedoes " booms" were
secured twenty or thirty feet from her
broadside. The newspapers had
gratuitously furnished the enemy with information
for weeks before of the daily progress of Cushing with his launch, from New York
to the sounds, as well as
the avowed object of destroying the Albemarle. The reader may well imagine the
increased difficulty of effecting the object.
The party consisted of 15
officers and men in the launch, and 2 officers and 11 men in the cutter which was in tow. The distance from the mouth of the river to the object of
attack was eight miles, the average
width of river two hundred yards, and
shores picketed. In case of
being hailed in passing the Southfield,
a mile below the Albemarle, on which a gun was supposed to be mounted, to command the bend, the cutter was to cast off and attack the men on the sunken steamer.
The launch and cutter passed
along within twenty yards of the Southfield without discovery, indeed, until hailed by the
lookouts on the ram. "The cutter
was then cast off and ordered below,
while the launch made for the enemy under a
full head of steam. The enemy sprung rattles, rang the bell,
and commenced firing, and at the same time repeating their hail; the
light of a fire ashore showed me the ironclad, made
fast to the wharf, with a pen of logs around her about thirty
feet from her side." Passing close to the Albemarle in
order to ensure coming squarely on the logs to press them in,
the launch performed nearly a circle, running at first directly
from her intended prey. " By this
time the enemy's fire was very
severe, but a dose of canister, at short range, served to moderate their zeal and disturb their aim." At this
time coming head on to the Albemarle, Paymaster Swan, by
Cushing's side, was wounded, "but," he says, "how many more I know not. Three bullets struck my clothing, and
the air seemed full of them. In a
moment we had struck the logs just
abreast of the quarter port, breasting them in some
feet, and our bows resting on them. The
torpedo boom was then
lowered, and by a vigorous pull I
succeeded in driving the torpedo under the overhang, and exploded it at
the same time that the Albemarle's gun was fired. A shot
seemed to go crashing through my boat, and a dense mass
of water rushed in from the torpedo, filling the launch and
completely disabling her."
The enemy within a few yards
continued their fire at the men and
demanded their surrender. Cushing ordered them to "save themselves," divested himself of shoes and
coat and swam with others into the middle
of the stream. "Master's Mate Woodman I met
in the water half a mile below the town, and assisted him as best I
could, but failed to get him ashore."
Cushing reached the shore " completely exhausted, too weak
to crawl out of the water until just at daylight," when he
went into the swamp near the fort for the night and a part of the following day.
Exhausted as he was, he walked miles
through swamps, and at length found a boat in which, by eleven o'clock
the next night, he found his way to the Valley
City. He says: "Master's
Mate Howarth showed as usual
conspicuous gallantry," and he expresses the hope that
Howarth and Engineer Stolesbury will be promoted when
A more heroic picture can hardly be conceived
than Cushing, standing in the bows of his launch, running head
on to the Albemarle, the glare of the fire on shore throwing its lights
and shadows on the doomed ram, and illuminating the man,
who pushed on, placed the torpedo by his own hand where
he desired, exploded it, and received at the same time,
at the cannon's mouth, the blast of a 100-pounder rifle.
He was at that time twenty-one years of age.
The reader may be interested in the personal appearance of Cushing. He was perhaps six feet in height, and slender, resembling greatly an
engraving of the poet Schiller when he was young. The attentive
reader will not fail to see in his dispatches a
poetic vein, at times of great humor. He will
see, too, that within his sphere of action he was a man of consummate
plan and courage.
The cutter that was in tow
and cast off when the launch was hailed,
proceeded to the wreck of the Southfield
and secured four prisoners. No gun was
mounted as supposed.
On the 8th of December, 1864,
the army asked a co-operative movement on the part of the
navy for the purpose of reducing Confederate
batteries at Rainbow Bluffs, on the Roanoke River, some sixty miles above Plymouth. As
agreed upon, Commander Macomb left Plymouth in the Wyalusing, followed by the Otsego,
and picket boat No. 5.
At 10 P.M. the
force had arrived at a sharp bend just below Jameston, at which point they were
to meet an army force. The vessels were about anchoring when the Otsego
exploded a submerged torpedo under her
port side forward, and almost immediately another under
the forward pivot gun, which was thrown over. The
vessel settled on the bottom at once,
making a depth of three feet of water
over the spar-deck. In a torpedo net which the vessel carried as a protection
were found two others. The following
morning the tug Bazley, in making preliminary preparations
to execute orders, was also blown up in the same
manner, and sank at once, two men having been killed by
The 10th and 11th were spent in dragging for
torpedoes, and six were found. No army force appeared. Commander Macomb asked instructions of the admiral as to further
action, and as then the preparations for an attack on Fort Fisher was the
engrossing object, nothing further is to be found
in the published official papers of this “co-operative movement."
For a long period the only ports or inlets that remained
to the Confederates admitting a vessel 'of
twelve feet draught were Charleston and Wilmington; the latter, however,
had two entrances far apart, which made
practically a double blockading force
necessary. It was of the greatest importance to prevent the arrival of supplies, and however many
blockade-runners were destroyed, it was not to be denied that
many vessels a rived at and departed from those ports, and
would continue to do so until the National forces actually
held the entrances.
The usual blockade force off Charleston numbered twenty
vessels. Preceding the bombardments of Fort Fisher, thirty to
forty vessels blockaded the two entrances to Wilmington, yet, with the
utmost vigilance on their part, a great number of
vessels got in and out. Hence the great anxiety of the Navy
Department to gain possession of the
entrances to those harbors. An
official letter to Rear-Admiral Farragut, dated September 5, 1864, appointing him to the
command of a naval force designed to
attack the defenses of Cape Fear River, states that since the winter of
1862 the Navy Department had endeavored "
to get the consent of the War Department
to a joint attack upon the defenses of Cape Fear River,
but they had decided that no troops could be spared for the operation. Lieutenant-General
Grant had, however, recently given the subject his attention, and thought an army force would be ready to co-operate on the 1st of October."
For strategic purposes the force was to assemble at Port Royal,
and in addition to the force to assemble through the direct
order of the Department, the admiral was authorized to
bring with him all such vessels and officers as could be spared from the West Gulf Squadron without impairing its necessary
The condition of the health of Admiral Farragut did not permit
his acceptance of the command, and on the 22d of the same month
Rear-Admiral D. D. Porter was detached from
the command of the Mississippi Squadron, and directed to
proceed to Beaufort, N. C., and relieve Acting Rear-Admiral
S. P. Lee in command of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron.
On the 28th of October the
Secretary of the Navy sent to President Lincoln a memorandum of the following
import The President was aware that
because of the shoal water at the mouth of
Cape Fear River, a purely naval attack could not be made against Wilmington. Two months prior, an attack had been arranged to be made on October 1st, postponed to the 15th; the naval force was ready, and at the time
of writing, "one hundred and
fifty vessels of war now form the
North Atlantic Squadron. . . . The
detention of so many vessels from blockade and cruising duty is a most
serious injury to the public service; and if the expedition cannot go
forward for want of troops, I desire to be notified,
so that the ships may be relieved and dispersed for other
The tone of the above indicates potential influences, either to
further delay the expedition or cause its abandonment. The
vessels, for the most part of the largest size and heaviest batteries,
were yet north of Cape Hatteras; those that could
enter Beaufort Harbor were there, and the smaller ones
actually in face of the entrances, blockading. They
all, however, found their way to the
outer anchorage off Beaufort, and there
remained awaiting a detachment of troops
to co-operate in the taking of Fort Fisher.
In composition the force was as
extraordinary as was ever assembled. The
Ironsides, a fair specimen of an early
ironclad ship, a double-turreted monitor,
and three monitors of single turrets,
old steam frigates, "double-enders," merchantships
converted into vessels of war, and vessels of war proper, but
the force was not
embarrassed by a sailing vessel.
On the 10th of December Rear-Admiral Porter issued a General
Order "with chart plan of the
proposed attack on the batteries at
New Inlet." He says: "It is
first proposed to endeavor to paralyze
the garrison by an explosion, all the vessels
remaining twelve miles out from the bar, and the troops in transports twelve
miles down the coast, ready to steam
up and be prepared to take the works by assault in case the latter are disabled. At a given signal all the bar vessels
will run off shore twelve miles, when the vessel with powder will go in under the forts. When the. explosion takes place
all the vessels will stand in shore in the order marked on the plan."
The New Ironsides
was to bring the flag-staff on Fort Fisher
southwest by west half west, and anchor in three and
a half fathoms of water, and open fire without delay; the
monitors to anchor astern one length apart, directly in line
along the shore.
"The large ships
to anchor in five fathoms of water, in line of battle to the eastward of the
ironclads, and heading parallel with the land (south half west). The
this line, on signal to take position will go ahead slowly
and anchor about one mile from Fort Fisher, opening fire when she
passes the Ironsides, and anchoring
when her after guns firing on Fisher will clear the range of the Ironsides; the Mohican,
next in line, will then anchor ahead of the Minnesota,
Colorado next ahead of her, and all of the line
thus when anchored in reverse
of order of sailing."
Shenandoah, and six other
vessels will take their
positions between and outside the different vessels as marked
on the plan.
“After the vessels above designated have got into position,
the Nyack, Unadilla,
Huron, and Pequot will
take up position outside and between
the monitors, keeping up a rapid fire
when the monitors are loading.
“The following vessels will
then take their positions as marked on
the plan: Fort
Sassacus, Maratanza, Rhode
City, and Tosco,
anchoring in reverse as before.
"It is not desirable that the vessels should be seen
by the enemy prior to the time of attack. A
rendezvous, twenty-five miles east
of New Inlet, is given. Commanders of
divisions will get their divisions in line and keep them so. When
signal is made to form line of battle, every vessel will take her
position, the first division forming first.
“As low steam will suffice in
going into action, those vessels that can
move and work handily with half-boiler power will do so,
having full boilers without steam next the enemy. Slow deliberate firing will be made."
In accordance with this programme, the Louisiana, an old vessel designed for “a torpedo on a large
scale," was towed from Norfolk by the Sassacus
to a remote part of Beaufort Harbor,
there anchored and filled with powder, with carefully
studied arrangements for firing many centers at the same
moment. The vessel was disguised as a blockade-runner,
and her preparation for service was assigned to Commander Rhind, aided by
Lieutenant Preston, Second Assistant-Engineer
Mullan, and Master's Mate Boyden, with seven men.
 The reader will find the armaments of these vessels in the Appendix, and has doubtless already perceived that they are generally the same vessels that five weeks earlier had acted so effectively in the capture of Roanoke Island.
 Rowan’s Report.
 Rowans Report.
 Murray's Report.
 Report of Wells, commanding the Miami.
 Febiger’s report.
 Report of commander of the Mattabesett.
 The quotation marks are in Cushing’s words.
|Return to the main USNLP page|
|Return to the "Our Navy" table of contents -or- to the next chapter|
|Return to the NMLHA web site|
|Return to "On Deck!" table of contents|