Sunday, January 15, 2017

From the National Archives: "Plan of Attack on the Albemarle"

Macomb, W.H., "Plan of Attack on the Albemarle" (first page), (NARA, RG 45)
During a recent visit to the National Archives, I came across a document (above) detailing one of the Union plans to attack the ironclad Albemarle. Drafted sometime in the latter half of 1864 by Commander William H. Macomb, the plan was not included in the Official Records and, to my knowledge, has not been published elsewhere. I've transcribed it below. The C.S.S. Albemarle (or the "Ram" as Macomb also calls it) was the key to the Confederate victory at Plymouth, North Carolina in April 1864. 
C.S.S. Albemarle (U.S. Naval Historical Center NH 57815)
During that operation, the armored gunboat descended the Roanoke River and wreaked havoc on the Union vessels guarding the town, allowing Robert Hoke's infantry to overrun the fortifications there. Several days after the Confederate triumph, the boat ventured out of Plymouth and down the river on its way to support an assault against New Bern. However, during a dramatic fight in Albemarle Sound on May 5, a swarm of wooden Union gunboats pushed her back to Plymouth.

Following this encounter, a long period of inactivity began. Commander Macomb arrived in June to head up Union naval forces in the area. Over the ensuing months, he prepared for another possible sortie by the ironclad and, at some point, drafted the plan reproduced here. The scheme involves five Union gunboats - the Oswego, Mattabesset, Tacony, Shamrock, and Wyalusing - and is similar to one drawn up for the May 5th fight. See O.R.N. Ser. I, 9:735-736 (Captain Melancton Smith's plan). In both cases, the architects (Smith and Macomb) sought to overwhelm the Albemarle with a large number of wood-clad vessels. At the time, no Union ironclad could operate in Carolina's shallow sounds. Ultimately, Macomb did not get the chance to implement his plan because the Albemarle never emerged for battle again. Eventually, Union forces attacked Plymouth directly in October. In one of the war's storied raids, the intrepid Lieutenant William B. Cushing destroyed the ironclad at Plymouth. Days after Cushing's exploit, Macomb's force captured the town. 


 "Plan of Attack on the Albemarle" 
(in case she comes out of the River) 
Macomb Papers

Plan of attack
The vessels are formed in the following order in line of battle – the Ram supposed to be going to the right. No. 1.
No. 1 (Detail), (NARA, RG 45) 1- "Oswego" 2- "Mattabesset" 3- "Tacony" 4- "Shamrock" 5- "Wyalusing"
 The “Wyalusing,” having the torpedo boats in tow with sufficient scope of line, will sheer as closely as possible, across the bows of the Ram, exploding her torpedoes and taking the lead in the line, as shown by diagrams No’s 2 & 3. If the attack is at night, she will hoist a red light when so doing. No. 2.
No. 2 (Detail)  (NARA, RG 45)
In case the “Wyalusing” does not destroy the Ram with her torpedoes, the vessels will pass round her (the Ram), again in the same line. When the Shamrock [intends?] the Ram, she will keep outside the line followed by the other vessels, so as not to make too short a curve, and run into the Rebel, or hoisting the “Jack” at the fore before so doing. If at night, she will hoist a white light. The position of the fleet at the time will be seen in No. 3.
No. 3 (Detail) (NARA, RG 45)

[Note to No. 3:] No. 3 “S” represents the position of the “Shamrock” when intending to ram. At other times her position is at 4.
The picket boats to keep out of action, but near enough to render any necessary assistance. When signaled, they are to come forward with a hawser and endeavor to foul the smokestack or propeller of the Ram.

Signals from the ship regulating the speed of the fleet will be made by means of the steam whistle as follows:
1= “go ahead slow” - if going slow “go slower”
2= “Stop”
3=  Back
4= “go ahead fast” – if fast, "go faster"