The C.S.S. Albemarle and William Cushing: The Remarkable Confederate Ironclad and the Union Officer Who Sank It, Jim Stempel

The C.S.S. Albemarle and William Cushing: The Remarkable Confederate Ironclad and the Union Officer Who Sank It, Jim Stempel

This book follows two intertwined stories - the life and wartime career of William Cushing, an impressive young Union naval officer, and the construction, career and destruction of the Confederate Ironclad Ram CSS Albemarle. Both stories are interesting in their own right - Cushing carried out a series of daring raids and expeditions into Confederate waters as well as sinking the Albemarle, while the slow construction of the Confederate warship illustrates many of the problems that plagued the Southern war effort, and her brief combat career demonstrated the revolutionary change in naval technology that she represented.

The two stories are rather different in tone. Cushing's is a story of dash and daring, small scale raids into Confederate held inland waters, and an impressively rapid rise in rank. We even get his brief glimpse of the Gettysburg Address, semi-heard from the back of the crowd. Most of his exploits were in difficult coast waters or on the tidal stretches of rivers, so he was competing with Confederate coastal defences in waters that were often protected by shallow entrances. He even carried out a series of inland raids, similar to the commando raids of later wars. The peak of his wartime career was the daring raid that resulted in the destruction of the Albemarle, but as this book makes clear there was more to him that just that single raid.

In contrast the story of the Albemarle starts with her slow construction, which illustrates the problems caused by the South's limited industrial base. A key problem was the shortage of iron for her armour, which could only come from unneeded railways, but that same metal was needed to maintain and repair those railways that were crucial to the Southern war effort. The effort to acquire the iron involved a similar amount of determination to that displayed by Cushing, but of a different type. Once the ship was completed her career fell into two halves - an early period of impressive combat success, where she was able to overpower the suddenly outdated Union inland flotillas, and even allowed the Confederacy to regain control of some territory, followed by a period where she served as a one-ship 'fleet in being', first while repairs were carried out and later when she was seen as too valuable to risk in battle. 

This is an entertaining read, following events and people that might not have been central to the outcome of the Civil War, but that did have an impact on wider events, and involving a series of interesting people, including the naval constructors who built the Albemarle, her various commanders, Cushing, his naval colleagues and his family. The story is also placed in context, both with wider events, and with the impact it had on public opinion.

1 - The Mosquito Fleet
2 - A Close One, Sir
3 - We Are About to Build a Large Number of Gun Boats
4 - When Fought as Gallantly at That
5 - For Want of This Iron Our Work Has Been Going Backward
6 - Wrong Wharf, Wrong Boat
7 - In High Favor
8 - In a Cornfield at Edward's Ferry
9 - A Presidential Compliment
10 - Magnificent, Grim, Irresistible
11 - The Good Ship Albemarle
12 - Shokokon to Monticello
13 - Winter Offensive
14 - The Essence of Impudence
15 - All Ahead, Full
16 - Plymouth is Ours
17 - Heaven Has Crowned Our Efforts with Success
18 - A Terrific Grand Waltz
19 - Four Miles from Wilmington
20 - Captain Cushing's Exploits in the Cape Fear River
21 - Captain Cooke
22 - David against Goliath
23 - To Prevent an Impending Calamity
24 - Send the Boats On
25 - I Have Undertaken a Great Project
26 - You Must Not Hope to Return
27 - Pick Your Men
28 - An Example of Coolness and Skill
29 - The Fixed Determination to Escape
30 - No More Gallant Thing
31 - Dead Gone Sunk
32 - It Is Done
33 - Cheer Ship
34 - Thanks of Congress
35 - The Cost of the Nation's Unity
36 - Blind to the Facts

Author: Jim Stempel
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 246
Publisher: McFarland
Year: 2011

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