Without Fear: The Loss of CSS Albemarle

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The “Albemarle” Ready for Action, 19th-century engraving. Courtesy Naval History and Heritage Command # NH 57266.

CSS Albemarle remained a thorn in the side of the Union at its dock in Plymouth, North Carolina. Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter had replaced Rear Admiral Samuel Lee as the commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. And Porter was determined to destroy the Confederate ram.

How to Attack a Defiant Ironclad Ram

Admiral Porter wrote his commanders:   Read more

Battle of Albemarle Sound: CSS Albemarle Remains Defiant

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CSS Albemarle, R. G. Skerrett, artist, 1899. Courtesy Naval History and Heritage Command # NH 57815

The ironclad CSS Albemarle’s stunning victory at Plymouth gave the Confederacy tremendous hope to expand their control of eastern North Carolina. Major General Robert Hoke was given permission to march against New Bern. However, the Confederate plans became disrupted when the Kinston-based ironclad, CSS Neuse, ran hard aground in its attempt to steam down the Neuse River to attack New Bern.

General P.G.T. Beauregard, head of the Confederate district of North Carolina, believed that Albemarle could be used to support the New Bern assault. “With its assistance,” he wrote, “I consider capture of New Bern easy.”   Read more

Cornfield Ironclad: CSS Albemarle Emerges 

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Building the “Albemarle” at Edwards’s Ferry, from sketch by Miss. M. H. Hoke, 1887.

CSS Albemarle was one of three ironclads laid down in early 1863 to combat control of the North Carolina sounds. Only the ram Albemarle would become operational and able to contest Union control of eastern North Carolina until its dramatic sinking in October 1864.

Cornfield Ironclad 

A 19-year-old boatbuilder, Gilbert Elliot of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, sent a proposal to Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Russell Mallory. His idea: to construct ironclads up the various rivers that were out of reach of Union forces. Mallory agreed. So, Elliot submitted sketches to Confederate Naval Constructor John L. Porter, who established working drawings.    Read more

Gosport Navy Yard is Recaptured

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Ruins of Norfolk Navy Yard, Virginia. Alexander Gardner, photographer, ca. 1865. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Confederate Retreat from the Peninsula 

Time was running out for the Confederate navy in Hampton Roads. On the evening of May 3, 1862, General Joseph Eggleston Johnston ordered the evacuation of the Confederate Warwick-Yorktown Line. Johnston believed that the “fight for Yorktown must be one of artillery, in which we cannot win. The result is certain, time only doubtful.”

Johnston’s retreat up the Peninsula toward Richmond forced the Southerners to make plans to abandon the port city and navy yard. When he learned of Johnston’s withdrawal, Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Russell Mallory telegraphed Flag Officer Josiah Tattnall that Virginia alone would have to prevent the enemy from ascending the James River.   Read more

Fort Fisher: Defender of the Cape Fear

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Union Attack on Fort Fisher, NC, January 1865. Robert Knox Sneden, cartographer. Courtesy National Archives.

On April 19, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln declared a blockade of the Confederate coastline from the Chesapeake Bay to the Rio Grande. Wilmington, North Carolina, eventually became the leading haven for blockade runners on the east coast. Located 18 miles up the Cape Fear River from the Atlantic Ocean, Wilmington was only 570 miles from Nassau in the Bahamas, and 674 miles from Bermuda. 

Several factors facilitated the port’s blockade-running success. Wilmington was situated as an Atlantic railhead for major railroads leading up to Virginia and inland to Charlotte, North Carolina. Most importantly, the Cape Fear River had two entrances: the Old Inlet and the New Inlet; and there were major shoals off these entrances, including Frying Pan Shoals. This caused the US Navy to position their blockaders in a 50-mile arch. Even with almost 50 ships on station at any given time in 1864, the Union ships could not deter blockade runners from making dashes in and out of the Cape Fear.     Read more