Fort Fisher

Fort Fisher
Fort Fisher, NE Bastion. Frank Vizetelly (National Geographic)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sinking of the CSS Albemarle-- Part 7

The Albemarle, a gaping hole in her port quarter, began to sink rapidly.  Lt. Warley, commanding the Albemarle, reported: "The water gained on us so fast that all exertions were fruitless, and the vessel went down in a few moments, merely leaving her shield and smokestack out."

Cushing found his own boat sinking but, refusing to surrender in the midst of the enemy, ordered his men to save themselves and started to swim for shore.  Although he had exploded the torpedo virtually staring down the muzzle of Albemarle's gun, he was miraculously unharmed.  (And considering all of his exploits, this was one very lucky man.

Making for shore, he tried to save the gallant John Woodman, who was unable to swim any longer, but Woodman sank.  Cushing finally pulled himself  half onto the bank and lay exhausted until morning.  Finding himself near a Confederate picket station, he managed to seize a skiff and rowed the eight miles downstream to Albemarle Sound.  There, he was picked up by the USS Valley City.

One Brave Expedition.  --Old B-Runner

Thursday, October 30, 2014

CSS Chickamauga and CSS Olustee Put Out to Sea from Wilmington

I have more to write about concerning Lt. Cushing and his sinking of the CSS Albemarle, but to catch up on other things going on as far as navies were concerned.

OCTOBER 28TH, 1864:  The CSS Chickamauga, Lt. John Wilkinson, CSN, sortied from Wilmington, N.C., eluded blockaders off the bar, and put to sea as a commerce raider

The USS Calypso and Eolus captured the blockade-running British steamer Lady Sterling off Wilmington with cargo of cotton and tobacco.

OCTOBER 29TH, 1864: The CSS Olustee, formerly the CSS Tallahassee, Lt. William H. Ward, eluded blockaders off Wilmington.  Ward returned to Wilmington November 7th after a brief but successful cruise, having destroyed bark Empress Theresa, schooners A.J. Bird, E.F. Lewis and Vapor, ship Arcole and brig T.D. Wagner during the first three days of November.

The War Goes On.  --Old B-Runner

The Sinking of the CSS Albemarle-- Part 6: The End of the Ironclad

It would have been interesting to know what Cushing's men's "comical answer" was.

According to the recollections of Acting Ensign Thomas Gay, later captured, Cushing shouted: "Leave the ram, or I'll blow you to pieces!"  No response was heard and Cushing ran through the hail of fire at full speed, his boat lurching over the log barrier.

"The torpedo boom was lowered and by a vigorous pull I succeeded in in diving the torpedo under the overhang and exploding it at the same time that the Albemarle's gun was fired.  A shot seemed to go chasing through my boat, and a dense mass of water rushed in from the torpedo, filling the launch and completely disabling her."

The overhang mentioned was where the iron sides of the Albemarle hung over the wooden hull.  Exactly where you would want to set off a torpedo.

--Old B-R'er

The Sinking of the CSS Albemarle-- Part 5

Lt. Cushing still hoped to board the Albemarle and "take her alive", but as he steamed up to the ram, an alert picket saw the dim form of his launch and challenged.  Cushing instantly changed his plan:  "...just as I was steering in close to the wharf a hail came sharp and quick from the ironclad, in an instant repeated.

"I at once directed the cutter to cast off and go down and capture the guard left in our rear [on the Southfield], and ordering all steam, went at the dark mountain of iron in front of us.  A heavy fire at once opened upon us, not only from the ship, but from men stationed on the shore, but this did not disable us and we neared them rapidly."

A large fire now blazed up on the shore, and Cushing discovered a large boom of protective logs surrounding the Confederate ship.  Amid the mounting fire, he cooly turned the boat around in order to run at the obstructions at full speed.

"As I turned the whole back of my coat was torn out by buck shot and the sole of my shoe was carried away.  The fire was very severe.  In the lull of the firing the Captain hailed us, again demanding what boat it was.  All my men gave a comical answer and mine was a dose of cannister which I sent amongst them from the howitzer, buzzing and singing against the iron ribs and into the mass of men standing fire-lit upon the shore."

--Old B-Runner

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Sinking of the CSS Albemarle-- Part 4

Towed behind the torpedo boat was a cutter from the USS Shamrock whose duty, as Cushing described it, "...was to dash aboard the Southfield at the first hail and prevent any rocket from being ignited."  The Southfield had been captured by the Confederates in an earlier attack by the Albemarle (19 April 1864) and had been sunk in the Roanoke River a mile below where the Ram was docked.  The Confederates were using it as a lookout post.

With the steam launch's engine noise muffled by a heavy tarpaulin, the expedition moved out to cover the eight miles between Albemarle Sound and Plymouth, keeping close to the bank and anticipating discovery at any moment.

Cushing's renowned good luck, however, held, and he succeeded in passing within twenty feet of the Southfield without being challenged.

--Old B-R'er

The Sinking of the CSS Albemarle-- Part 3

Cushing's imaginative attack seemed at first doomed to failure.  He departed the night of 26 October, but grounded at the mouth of the Roanoke River, and spend most of the hours of darkness freeing his craft.  The attempt to sink the Albemarle was put off until 27 October.

That night was dark and foul.  Cushing was accompanied by fourteen men, an additional seven having been recruited from the other ships.  Among them was his old companion, Acting Master's Mate William L. Howorth, and that veteran of several reconnaissance expeditions up the Roanoke River, Acting Master's Mate John Woodman.

--Old B-Runner

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

CSS Albemarle Sunk 150 Years Ago-- Part 2

Lt. William Cushing finally decided on two thirty-foot steam picket launches, each fitted with a fourteen-foot spar and a torpedo, and mounting a twelve-pounder howitzer in the bow.  Moving south from New York by the inland water route, one of the picket boats was lost to the Confederates on Oct. 8, 1864, in Virginia, but te other one arrived in the sounds of North Carolina on 24 October.

As Cushing later reported: "Here,I, for the first time, disclosed to my officers and men our object and told them that they were at liberty to go or not as they pleased. These, seven in number, all volunteered."

--Old B-Runner

Monday, October 27, 2014

CSS Albemarle Sunk Today, 150 Years Ago-- Part 1

OCTOBER 27TH, 1864:  A boat expedition commanded by Lt. William Barker Cushing sank the CSS Albemarle at Plymouth, on the Roanoke River, North Carolina.  Cushing reported to Rear Admiral Porter on 30 October: "I have the honor to report that the rebel ironclad Albemarle is at the bottom of the Roanoke River."

In July the redoubtable Cushing, only 21 years old, had been sent to Washington by Rear Admiral Lee to discuss with the Navy Department his plans for sinking the Confederate ram.  he proposed at the time two plans, one involving a boarding party to travel overland and attack with india rubber boats, and the other calling for two steam launches to approach the ram at its moorings on the Roanoke River.

Both plans envisaged the capture of the ram, since Cushing wanted to destroy her only if necessary.  Secretary Welles assented to the plan, and gave the daring Cushing permission to proceed to New York to procure the necessary boats.

A Major Blow to the Confederacy.  --Old B-R'er

Continuing Contraband Actions on the Potomac River

OCTOBER 26, 1864:  The USS Adolph Hugel, Acting Master Sylvanus Nickerson, captured schooner Coquette with cargo including tobacco and wheat at Wade's Bay on the eastern shore of the Potomac River.  Two days later sloop James Landry was also seized by the Hugel for violation of the blockade regulations.

Nickerson took sloop Zion as prize on November 2, as the Potomac Flotilla alertly continued its ceaseless efforts to stifle even the smallest trickle of goods flowing from Southern sympathizers in Union dominated areas to the beleaguered Confederate forces in Virginia.

--Old B-Runner

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Virginia Expedition and New Pacific Squadron Commander

OCTOBER 25TH, 1864:  Expedition from the USS Don landed at Fleet's Point in the Great Wicomico River, Virginia, and burned houses, barns and outbuildings that had been used as shelter by the home guards of Northumberland County while firing on vessels of the Potomac Flotilla.

Four boats were also burned and five captured.

Rear Admiral George F. Pearson assumed command of the Pacific Squadron relieving Rear Admiral C,H. Bell.

--Old B-Runner

Lee Assesses the Situation on the James River

OCTOBER 24TH, 1864:  In light of the increased difficulty in manning his ships and mounting danger from Union torpedoes in the James River, Flag Officer Mitchell considered withdrawal of his squadron upriver closer to Richmond..

In response to the Flag Officer's request for his views on the subject, General Lee wrote: "If the enemy succeeds in throwing a force to the south bank [of the James River] in rear of general Pickett's lines, it will necessitate not only the withdrawal of General P.'s forces, but also the abandonment of Petersburg and its railroad connections, throwing the whole army back to the defenses of Richmond....

"I fully appreciate the importance of preserving our fleet, and deprecate any unnecessary exposure of it.  But you will perceive the magnitude of the service which is thought you can render, and determine whether it is sufficient to justify the risk....

"As I said before, I can forsee no no state of circumstances in which the fleet can render more important aid in the defense of Richmond at present than by guarding the river below Chaffin's Bluff."

--Old B-R'er

Blockade Runners Destroyed and Captured

OCTOBER 23RD, 1864:  Blockade runner Flamingo, aground off Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, was destroyed by shell fire from Forts Strong and Putnam, Battery Chatfield and ships of Rear Admiral Dahlgren's South Atlantic Blockading Fleet.

OCTOBER 24TH, 1864:  The USS Nita captured schooner Unknown off Clearwater Harbor, Florida, after her crew had escaped.

The USS Rosalie captured an unidentified blockade-running sloop off Little Marco, Florida, with a cargo of salt and shoes.

Things getting Rougher for Blockade-Runners.  --Old B-Runner

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mallory Defends Use of Tallahassee and Chickamauga As Commerce Raiders at Wilmington

In answer to the objections of Major General Whiting and Governor Vance of North Carolina in September 1864, Secretary Mallory wrote to President Davis defending the use of the CSS Tallahassee and Chickamauga as commerce raiders rather than holding them for the defense of Wilmington:

"Though the Tallahassee captured thirty-one vessels her service is not limited to the value of these ships and cargoes and the number of prisoners; but it must be estimated in connection with other results-- the consequent insecurity of the United States coastwise commerce, the detention and delay of vessels in port, and the augmentation of the rates of marine insurance, by which millions were added to the expenses of commerce and navigation, the compulsory withdrawal of a portion of the blockading force from Wilmington in pursuit of her.

"A cruise by the Chickamauga and Tallahassee against northern coasts and commerce would at once withdraw a fleet of fast steamers from the blockading force of Wilmington in pursuit of them, and this result alone would render such a cruise expedient."

--Old B-Runner

Another Union Recon Up the Roanoke River in N.C.

OCTOBER 22-24:  Acting Ensign Sommers of the USS Tacony, led a reconnaissance party up the Roanoke River, North Carolina.  While returning, the party was fired at by Confederates and forced to seek cover in a swamp.

After constructing make-shift rafts to support the wounded, Sommers succeeded in reaching the mouth of the river, where he was picked up by Union forces.  Four other members of his party, missing in the swamp for four days, were rescued by Union scouts on 29 October.

Wonder What They Were Doing Up the River?  --Old B-R'er

150 Years Ago: Action on the James River and Capture of Blockade-Runners

OCTOBER 22ND, 1864:  Union shore batteries on the north bank of the James River at Signal Hill opened fire suddenly on the ships of the Confederate James River Squadron, anchored in the river at that point.  Wooden gunboat CSS Drewry sustained moderate damage, and after engaging the batteries for about an hour, the Southern vessels retired under the guns of Fort Darling on Chaffin's Bluff.

British blockade-runner steamer Flora, after being chased by the USS Wamsutta, Geranium and Mingoe off Charleston, S.C., was run aground and destroyed the next day by fire from the monitors and the batteries on Morris Island.

The USS Eolus capture Confederate blockade running steamer Hope near Wilmington with a cargo of machinery.

--Old B-Runner