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Albemarle

 

A town and a sound in North Carolina and a county in Virginia. All three were named for General George Monck, the first Duke of Albemarle and one of the original Carolina proprietors

 

II

 

(IrcRam: 1. 158'; b. 35'; dph. 8'2"; dr. 9'; a. 2 8" r.)

 

On 16 April 1862, the Confederate Navy Department— enthusiastic about the offensive potential of armor-protected rams following the recent victory of the ironclad Virginia (the rebuilt Merrimack) over the wooden-hulled Union blockaders in Hampton Roads, Va.—signed a contract with Gilbert Elliot of Elizabeth City N.C., to build such a vessel to destroy the Union warships in the North Carolina sounds. These Northern men-of-war had enabled Lincoln's troops to hold the strategic positions which controlled eastern North Carolina.

 

Since the terms of the agreement gave Elliot freedom to select an appropriate place to assemble the ram, he established a primitive shipyard in a cornfield up the Roanoke River at a place called Edwards Ferry. There the water was too shallow to permit the approach of Union gunboats which otherwise would have destroyed the ram while it was still on the way.

 

Construction of the Southern ship began in January 1863, and word of the project soon alarmed Union naval officers in the region. They appealed to the War Department for an overland expedition to destroy the ram—which was named Albemarle after the body of water into which the Roanoke emptied—but the Army never felt it could spare the troops needed to carry out the task.

 

On 5 May, Albemarle, accompanied by Bombshell, attacked a Federal squadron below Plymouth. The Union ships captured Bombshell and pounded Albemarle with their guns. Yet, other than shooting away much of the ram's smokestack and thus reducing her steam pressure and speed, they were unable to harm the Southern ship. On 17 June, Comdr. John Newland Maffitt— who had won fame commanding Confederate blockade runners—relieved Cooke in command of the ram. However, his eagerness to use his ship aggressively was held in check by pressure from the Confederate Army to avoid risk of the ram's destruction and the probable ensuing loss of all Southern positions in the Carolina sounds. In September, Comdr. Alexander F. Worley relieved Maffitt in command of the ram.

 

Hence, because of the over-cautious policy of Southern military leaders, Albemarle remained moored at Plymouth until she was blown up and sunk during a daring attack led by Lt. William B. Gushing in an improvised torpedo boat on the night of 27 and 28 October 1864. In this way, Richmond's unwillingness to take risks brought the very disaster which its strategists were seeking to avoid. The sinking of the ram enabled Union ground forces to recapture Plymouth.

 

The Navy then raised the ram. Following the collapse of the Confederacy, the Union gunboat Ceres towed Albemarle to the Norfolk Navy Yard where she arrived on 27 April 1865. On 7 June, orders were issued to repair her hull, and she entered dry dock soon thereafter. The work was completed on 14 August 1865; and, a fortnight later, the ship was condemned by the Washington prize court. Purchased by the Navy, she saw little if any active service before being placed in ordinary at Norfolk where she remained until sold at public auction there on 15 October 1867 to J. N. Leonard & Co. No record of her subsequent career has been found.