The Sinking Of The Albemarle


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

to sink.

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

flowing stream.

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

of that.

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.