Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ironclad CSS Albemarle: One Ship vs. a Union Blockading Squadron

This day 150 years ago in Rebel Raiders’ History

-Dedicated to Civil War episodes, battles, people and ships that also appear in my game, GMT’s Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.

May 5, 1864 –  Ironclad CSS Albemarle:  One Ship vs. a Union Blockading Squadron

Historical Event:   The Battle of Albemarle Sound was a rare event in the Civil War, as it was one of the few times a Rebel fleet initiated combat, let alone sortied to break the Union blockade in an amphibious operation, no less.  On May 5, 1864, however,  the Confederate Navy did just that, sending its newest and most feared ironclad ram, CSS Albemarle, into the body of water for which it was named.

 The Albemarle came down the Roanoke River with the gunboat CSS Bombshell and the troopship CSS Cotton Planter.  The goal of the operation was to recapture the key port of New Bern and thus break the Union blockade on North Carolina.  As Commander J.W. Cooke brought the ironclad out into the Sound, he found Captain Melancton Smith and his fleet of eight Union warships waiting for him.   Although heavily outnumbered as well as out-gunned, Cooke plowed ahead, confidant that Union shells would bounce off the thickly-armored, sloping casemate of the CSS Albemarle

Cooke’s faith in his warship was well placed, for the Yankee guns (even those firing 100-pound shot ) did little harm.  CSS Albemarle carried only two guns, 6.4-inch Brooke Rifles, but Cooke used them to good effect, gingerly moving them on their pivots to fire out of the six gun-port positions.  The captain of the USS Sassacus, frustrated and declaring that he might as well have been “firing blanks,” poured on the coal, built up to a speed of nearly a dozen knots and rammed the Confederate ram, knocking her so hard as she nearly foundered.  Cooke, however, righted his ship and poured fire at point-blank range into the Union vessel, causing many casualties and inflicting heavy damage.

Three other Union double-ender side-wheel gunboats circled about, adding their fire but each taking more damage than they gave.  USS Wyalusing and USS Mattabesett gave covering fire as USS Miami, armed with a spar torpedo, moved in for the attack, but Cooke evaded successfully.  Unfortunately, his consort, CSS Bombshell, being a mere gunboat, was so badly pounded that she was forced to strike her colors.  At that the troopship turned about and Cooke retired, his reason for fighting the Union fleet now moot.  

 Game ConnectionCSS Albemarle is one of the many named ships in Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.  Represented by a counter and card (CSN Card 75) she is one of the most powerful warships in the small but plucky Confederate Navy.  While the gunboat that accompanied her and the types of Union warships they fought on May 5, 1864 are represented by generic counters of their type, many another individual Yankee man-o-war is present with its own card and counter, as are the big Dahlgrens and other “Yankee Guns” they carried (USN Card 3).  New Bern is a key port in the game, as it was in the war, and holding on to or recapturing it is of great importance in Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.

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