(15) CSS Albemarle

In 1862, Confederate authorities initiated a plan to challenge Union naval superiority on the sounds and rivers of eastern North Carolina. They commissioned construction on three large ironclads on each of the state’s major East-West rivers. Due to funding and supply problems, only the projects on the Roanoke and Neuse Rivers actually reached the construction phase. For the Roanoke River ironclad, the Confederate Navy selected nineteen-year old Gilbert Elliott as principal contractor. An officer in the 17th North Carolina Infantry and a native of Elizabeth City, Elliott came from a shipbuilding family. He selected a cornfield near Edwards Ferry in Halifax County as the shipyard. Elliott fought shortages of skilled labor, timber and iron bars. Despite the difficulties, by early 1864 the ironclad, commissioned as the Albemarle, was ready to be launched. With workmen still onboard, the ram embarked on April 18, 1864, for her rendezvous with the Union fleet at Plymouth. Early the next morning, the Albemarle sank one Union gunboat, severely damaged another, and forced the Union navy to retreat down the Roanoke River. With support from her guns, Confederate General Robert F. Hoke forced the Union garrison in Plymouth to surrender. Fresh with success, the Confederate commanders decided to use the Albemarle against the main Union defenses at New Bern. Although they suffered major damage, the Union gunboats Sassacus, Wyalusing, Mattabesett, Commodore Hull, and Ceres, at the Battle of Batchlor’s Bay on May 5, 1864, managed to keep the ram from breaking out into the Albemarle Sound. Confederate forces failed to retake New Bern, but the Union navy worried about the potential threat of the Albemarle. On the night of October 27, 1864, naval lieutenant William B. Cushing mounted a daring raid on the Albemarle. Using a steam-powered launch armed with an explosive torpedo, Cushing managed to sink the ironclad at her moorings in Plymouth. With the ram now neutralized, Union forces retook the town. Refloated by the Union navy, the Ceres towed the Albemarle to Norfolk Navy Yard in April 1865. They sold her for scrap in October 1867.