Thursday, November 14, 2013

November 14, 1863 (Thursday): The Ram "Albemarle"

CSS Albemarle (after being raised by Union forces)

New Berne, N. C., November 14, 1863.
Commanding Dept. of Virginia and North Carolina:
     GENERAL: During a recent visit at Plymouth, I found the senior naval officer somewhat nervous, in consequence of a report having reached General Wessells of an examination of the Roanoke, with a view of bringing down a ram at Edwards Ferry, some 12 or 15 miles below Halifax. All sorts of reports are put afloat, for the purpose of influencing our operations. My latest advices are that the is not yet complete. Since assuming the command in North Carolina, I have kept strict watch over this matter, and frequently advised General Forster respecting the progress of the work on the iron-clad. I suggested the propriety of burning it in August, but the general did not feel very apprehensive, and replied that the troops at our command would not warrant the enterprise.
    The fortifications at Plymouth have been pushed with great vigor, and I have added materially to the armaments. A water battery is in progress for a 200-pounder rifle with a center pintle carriage, which will complete the river works. While waiting for the 200-pounder, I have moved a 100-pounder from Hatteras, which is the only available gun of the kind in North Carolina. I do not feel very apprehensive, unless the ram moves in conjunction with a land force. The reported examination of the channel is explained by deserters from Fort Branch, at Rainbow Bluff, who state that week before last torpedoes were placed in position in the river below. The destruction of the ram now will be attended with great difficulty, as an earthen battery for four guns has been constructed, and a guard of from 200 to 500 infantry is maintained there. They Twenty-fourth North Carolina and a six-gun battery are at Hamilton, while detachments are usually on all the approaches. Its proximity to Weldon renders any raid very uncertain, in consequence of the activity of the rebels.
    Fort Branch is at Rainbow Bluff, and is and inclosed work of much strength. At present it is armed with twelve rifles, including one 64-pounder and three 24-pounders.
    Doubtless General Foster advised you that he had withdrawn all the best and available troops from North Carolina. There is no reserve force here or in any of the sub-districts. In case of an advance upon the lines, the force would be quite too small for a proper defense.
    I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Official Records, Series I., Vol. 29, Part 2, Page 456.

The ram "Albemarle" was built during 1863 and occupied a great deal of the attention of Union planners.  Ever since the CSS Virginia (Merrimack) the value of these vessels in controlling constricted waterways had been respected, owing to the difficult involved in damaging them with munitions available at the time.  After being put in service the ram would dominate the Roanoke River and threaten the Union position at Plymouth, before being sunk by a spar torpedo attached to a small boat in 1864.  It was later raised, put into Union service, and taken out of commission quickly after the war.

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