The Sinking Of The Albemarle
LIEUTENANT CUSHING PERFORMS THE MOST GALLANT DEED OF THE CIVIL WAR
NOW I am going to tell you about one of the most gallant deeds done in
the navy during the whole Civil War. The man who did it was brave enough
to be made admiral of the fleet, yet he did not get even a gold medal
for his deed. But he is one of our heroes. It is all about an iron-clad
steamer, and how it was sent to rest in the mud of a r
The Confederate government had very bad luck with its iron-clads. It was
busy enough building them, but they did not pay for their cost. The
Merrimac did the most harm, but it soon went up in fire and smoke.
Then there were the Louisiana at New Orleans, and the Tennessee at
Mobile. Farragut made short work of them. Two were built at Charleston
which were of little use. The last of them all was the Albemarle,
whose story I am about to tell.
The Roanoke River, in North Carolina, was a fine stream for
blockade-runners. There was a long line of ships and gunboats outside,
but in spite of them these swift runaways kept dashing in, loaded with
goods for the people. Poor people! they needed them badly enough, for
they had little of anything except what they could raise in their
But the gunboats kept pushing farther into the river, and gave the
Confederates no end of trouble. So they began to build an iron-clad
which they thought could drive these wooden wasps away.
This iron-clad was a queer ship. Its keel was laid in a cornfield; its
bolts and bars were hammered out in a blacksmith shop. Iron for its
engines was picked up from the scrap heaps of the iron works at
Richmond. Some of the Confederates laughed at it themselves; but they
deserved great credit for building a ship under such difficulties as
It was finished in April, 1864, and nobody laughed at it when they saw
it afloat. It was like the Merrimac in shape, and was covered with
iron four inches thick. They named it the Albemarle.
Very soon the Albemarle showed that it was no laughing matter. It sunk
one gunboat and made another run away in great haste. Then it had a
fight with four of them at once and drove one of these lame and limping
away. The others did not come too near. After that it went back to the
town of Plymouth and was tied up at the wharf.
There was another iron-clad being built, and the Albemarle was kept
waiting, so that the two could work together. That was a bad thing for
the Albemarle, for she never went out again.
This brings us back to the gallant deed I spoke of, and the gallant
fellow who did the deed. His name was William B. Cushing. He was little
more than a boy, just twenty-one years old, but he did not know what it
meant to be afraid, and he had done so many daring things already that
he had been made a lieutenant.
He wanted to try to destroy the Albemarle, and his captain, who knew
how bold a fellow he was, told him to go ahead and do his best.
So on a dark night in October, 1864, brave young Cushing started up the
river in a steam launch, with men and guns. At the bow of this launch
was a long spar, and at the end of this spar was a torpedo holding a
hundred pounds of dynamite. There was a trigger and a cap to set this
off, a string to lower the spar and another to pull the trigger. But it
was a poor affair to send on such an expedition as that.
And this was not the worst. Some of the newspapers had found out what
Cushing was going to do, and printed the whole story. And some of these
newspapers got down South and let out the secret. That is what is called
"newspaper enterprise." It is very good in its right place, but it was a
sort of enterprise that nearly spoiled Cushing's plans.
For the Confederates put lines of sentries along the river, and
stationed a lookout down the stream, and placed a whole regiment of
soldiers near the wharf. And logs were chained fast around the vessel so
that no torpedo spar could reach her. And the men on board were sharply
on the watch. That is what the newspapers did for Lieutenant Cushing.
Of course, the young lieutenant did not know all this, and he felt full
of hope as his boat went up stream without being seen or heard. The
night was very dark and there were no lights on board, and the engines
were new and made no noise.
So he passed the lookout in the river and the sentries on the banks
without an eye seeing him or his boat.
But when he came up to the iron-clad his hopes went down. For there was
the boom of logs so far out that his spar could not reach her.
What was he to do? Should he land at the wharf and take his men on
board, and try to capture her where she lay?
Before he had time to think it was too late for that. A sentry on board
saw the launch and called out:
"Boat ahoy!" There was no answer.
"What boat is that?" Still no answer.
Then came a musket shot, and then a rattle of musketry from the river
bank. A minute after lights flashed out and men came running down the
wharf. The ship's crew tumbled up from below. All was haste and
Almost any man would have given it up for lost and run for safety. But
Cushing was not of that kind. It did not take him a second to decide. He
ran the launch out into the stream, turned her round, and dashed at full
speed straight for the boom.
A storm of bullets came from the deck of the Albemarle, but he heeded
them no more than if they had been snowflakes. In a minute the bow of
the launch struck the logs.
They were slippery with river slime and the light boat climbed up on
them, driving them down under the water. Over she went, and slid into
the water inside the boom.
Cushing stood in the bow, with the trigger-string in his hand. He
lowered the torpedo under the hull of the iron-clad, lifted it till he
felt it touch her bottom, and then pulled the string.
There came two loud reports. A hundred-pounder gun was being fired from
the ship's side right over his head. Along with it came a dull roar from
under the water. The dynamite torpedo had gone off, tearing a great
hole in the wooden bottom. In a minute the ill-fated Albemarle began
The launch was fast inside the boom, and the wave from her torpedo was
rushing over her, carrying her down.
"Surrender," came a voice from above.
"Never! Swim for your lives, men," cried Cushing, and he sprang into the
Two or three bullets had gone through his clothing, but he was unhurt,
and swam swiftly away, his men after him.
Only Cushing and one of the men got away. The others were captured,
except one who was drowned. Boats were quickly out, a fire of logs was
made on the wharf, which threw its light far out over the stream, but he
reached the shore unseen, chilled to the bone and completely worn out.
A sentry was pacing on the wall of a fort over his head, men passed
looking for him, but he managed to creep to the swamp nearby and hide in
the mud and reeds.
There he lay till the break of day. Then he crawled on till he got into
a cornfield nearby. Now for the first time he could stand up and walk.
But just as he got to the other side of the field he came face to face
with a man.
Cushing was not afraid. It was a black face. In those days no Union
soldier was afraid of a black face. The slaves would do anything for
"Massa Linkums' sojers." The young lieutenant was almost as black as the
slave after his long crawl through the mud.
Cushing told him who he was, and sent him into the town for news,
waiting in the cornfield for his return. After an hour the messenger
came back. His face was smiling with delight.
"Good news, Massa," he said. "De big iron ship's gone to de bottom suah.
Folks dar say she'll neber git up agin."
"Mighty good," said Cushing. "Now, old man, tell me how I can get back
to the ships."
The negro told him all he could, and with a warm "Good-bye" the fugitive
took to the swamp again. On he went, hour by hour, forcing his way
through the thick bushes and wading in the deep mud. Thus he went on,
mile after mile, until at length, at two o'clock in the afternoon, he
found himself on the banks of a narrow creek.
Here he heard voices and drew back. Looking through the bushes he saw a
party of seven soldiers just landing from a boat. They tied the boat to
the root of a tree and went up a path that led back from the river. Soon
they stopped, sat down, and began to eat their dinner. They could see
their boat from where they sat, but they were too busy eating to think
Here was Cushing's chance. It was a desperate one, but he was ready to
try anything. He lowered himself quietly into the stream, swam across,
and untied the boat. Then he noiselessly pushed it out and swam with it
down stream. As soon as he was out of sight of the soldiers he climbed
in and rowed away as fast as he could. What the soldiers thought and
said when they missed their boat nobody knows. He did not see them
It was a long journey. The creek was crooked and winding. Night came on
before he reached the river. Then he paddled on till midnight. Ten hours
of hard toil had passed when he saw the dark hull of a gunboat nearby.
"Ship ahoy!" he cried.
"Who goes there?" called the lookout.
"A friend. Take me up."
A boat was lowered and rowed towards him. The officer in it looked with
surprise when he saw a mud-covered man, with scratched and bleeding
"Who are you?" he asked.
"Lieutenant Cushing, or what is left of him."
"Cushing!--and how about the Albemarle?"
"She will never trouble Uncle Sam's ships again. She lies in her muddy
grave on the bottom of the Roanoke."
Cheers followed this welcome news, and when the gallant lieutenant was
safe on board the Valley City the cheers grew tenfold.
For Lieutenant Cushing had done a deed which was matched for daring only
once in the history of our navy, and that was when Decatur burned the
Philadelphia in the harbor of Tripoli.