In the spring of 1864, Plymouth, North Carolina was an important Union Army supply depot for Federal forces operating in eastern North Carolina. In April, with the assistance of a brand new 152 foot ram C.C.S. Albermarie, the Confederate navy captured the town. If the Federal forces were going to recapture Plymouth, something had to be done about the Albermarie.
Lieutenant William B. Cushing proposed a plan using two small steam powered boards against the ironclad. Each was armed with a 12 pounder howitzer and a torpedo mounted on a 14 foot spar. One boat would place the torpedo while the other provide cover fire and act as a backup. The crew of Picket Boat No. 1 consisted of 14 men, all volunteers.
On a cold, rainy night of late October, one boat sunk on the way to North Carolina, but Cushing and his men pressed on. They found her tied up at a wharf in the harbour, but as they steamed forward they noticed a barrier of logs had been chained together and placed in the water. Cushing turned, circled around and headed back at top speed hoping to blast over the logs to place his torpedo. When the crew got past the log boom, they steamed to within 10 feet of the ram. When they pulled the lanyard to the firing pin and put the engine in reverse, the Albermarie fired - sending 100 pounds of grapeshot into their boat. The Confederates then ordered the crew to surrender. Cushing told the men to not surrender and to save themselves. They jumped into the water. Two men drowned and 11 were captured. The Albermarie later sank.
Cushing and one other crew member escaped. They became separated, but Cushing hid out in the swamps and captured a small boat that some Confederate pickets had used to reach their post. He paddled the boat as hard and fast as he could down the Roanoke to Albermarie Sound, where he finally found the Union Fleet.
Later, in his action report, Cushing wrote:
“I have the honor to report that the rebel ironclad Albermarie is at the bottom of the Roanoke River.”
This adventure made Lt. William Cushing a hero in the media of the time. His picture and story were on the cover of the November 19, 1864 issue of Harper’s Weekly.
He also was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in the navy, and with the C.C.S. Albermarie out of the way, Plymouth fell back into Union hands on October 31st.