Back in April a new Confederate ironclad, the CSS Albemarle had made a daring attack on the Union ships off Plymouth, North Carolina, forcing them back and helping the infantry capture the town. In early May the Confederates attempted to push forward and capture New Bern. The first obstacle in the way of this plan was the eight Union ships in Albermarle Sound under the command of Melancton Smith.
James W. Cooke sailed the Albemarle out to attack the Federal gunboats on May 5, 150 years ago today. He was accompanied by two unarmored gunboats, the Bombshell and Cotton Plant. They engaged four Union ships, the USS Miami, Mattabesett, Sassacus and Wyalusing, mounting altogether
more than 60 cannon. The Albemarle began the fight, her first fire hitting six men on the Mattabesett. The Confederate then moved into ram, as she had done in the previous fight. However the Mattabesett was able to deftly avoid this charge, and the Sassacus unleashed a volley directly into the Albemarle's side, but the balls just bounced off the Ironclad. When she turned her fire to the Bombshell she found a much easier target, and soon forced the unarmored gunboat to surrender.
|The Sassacus rams the Alabama|
Seeing that his guns were useless against the Albermarle, Lieutenant Commander Francis Roe of the Sassacus decided to ram. She struck the Confederate vessel squarely, but instead of punching a whole in her and sending her to the bottem, the ships became twisted and entangled. Cooke ordered the Albermarle to fire her guns, and at such a close range it was impossible to miss. Two shells smashed through the USS Sassacus, and one of them smashed her boiler which send scalding steam through the ship. The Sassacus broke away and drifted out of the fight, unable to sail without her boiler. The USS Miami continued the fight, but was unable to catch the Albermarle in a net or hit her with a spar torpedo. The CSS Albemarle had sustained some damage in the fighting, and eventually went back up the river to Plymouth. Although she had not gained a conclusive victory, she was successful in disabling one ship, and engaging the squadron without incurring serious damage. For months she controlled a large section of the river, as the Federals were unwilling to risk attacking her.