Report of Lieutenant William Barker
Cushing, U.S. Navy
Albemarle Sound, North Carolina, October, 30, 1864.
I have the honor to report that the rebel ironclad Albemarle is at the
bottom of the Roanoke River. On the night of the 27th, having prepared my
steam launch, I proceeded up toward Plymouth with 13 officers and men,
partly volunteers from the squadron.
The distance from the mouth of the river to the ram was about 8 miles, the
stream averaging in width some 200 yards, and lined with the enemy's
pickets. A mile below the town was the wreck of the Southfield, surrounded
by some schooners, and it was understood that a gun was mounted there to
command the bend. I therefore took one of the Shamrock's cutters in tow,
with orders to cast off and board at that point if we were hailed. Our
boat succeeded in passing the pickets, and even the Southfield, within 20
yards, without discovery, and we were not hailed until by the lookouts on
the ram. The cutter was then cast off and ordered below, while we made for
our enemy under a full head of steam.
The rebels sprung their rattle, rang the bell, and commenced firing, at
the same time repeating their hail and seeming much confused.
The light of fire ashore showed me the ironclad made fast to the wharf,
with a pen of logs around her about 30 feet from her side.
Passing her closely, we made a complete circle so as to strike her fairly,
and went into her bows on. By this time the enemy's fire was fairly
severe, but a dose of canister at short range served to moderate their
zeal and disturb their aim. Paymaster Swan, of the Otsego, was wounded
near me, but 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 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 crashing through my boat,
and a dense mass of water rushed in from the torpedo, filling the launch
and completely disabling her.
The enemy then continued his fire at 15 feet range, and demanded our
surrender, which I twice refused, ordering the men to save themselves, and
removing my own coat and shoes. Springing into the river, I swam, with
others, into the middle of the stream, the rebels failing to hit us.
The most of our party were captured, some were drowned, and only one
escaped besides myself, and he in another direction. Acting Master's Mate
Woodman, of the Commodore Hull, I met in the water half a mile below the
town, and assisted him as best I could, but failed to get him ashore.
Completely exhausted, I managed to reach the shore, but was too weak to
crawl out of the water until just at daylight, when I managed to creep
into the swamp, close to the fort. While hiding a few feet from the path,
two of the Albemarle's officers passed, and I judged from their
conversation that the ship was destroyed.
Some hours traveling in the swamp served to bring me out well below the
town, when I sent a negro in to gain information and found that the ram
was truly sunk.
Proceeding through another swamp, I came to a creek and captured a skiff,
belonging to a picket of the enemy, and with this, by 11 o'clock the next
night, had made my way out to the Valley City.
Acting Master's Mate William L. Howorth, of the Monticello, showed, as
usual, conspicuous bravery. He is the same officer who has been with me
twice in Wilmington harbor. I trust he may be promoted, when exchanged, as
well as Acting Third Assistant Engineer Stotesbury, who, being for the
first time under fire, handled his engine promptly and with coolness. All
the officers and men behaved in the most gallant manner. I will furnish
their names to the Department as soon as they can be procured.
The cutter of the Shamrock boarded the Southfield, but found no gun. Four
prisoners were taken there.
The ram is now completely submerged, and the enemy have sunk three
schooners in the river to obstruct the passage of our ships.
I desire to call the attention of the admiral and Department to the spirit
manifested by the sailors on the ships in these sounds. But few men were
wanted, but all hands were eager to go into the action, many offering
their chosen shipmates a month's pay to resign in their favor.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. B. CUSHING,
Lieutenant, U.S. Navy.
Rear-Admiral D. D. PORTER,
Commanding North Atlantic Squadron.
The name of the man who escaped is William Hoftman, seaman, on the
Chicopee. He did his duty well, and deserves a medal of honor.
W. B. CUSHING,
Source: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of
the Rebellion. Series 1, vol.10 (Washington: Government Printing Office,