In a time of war, age really doesn't matter. The genius of a 19-yr old can be brought to ruin by the valor of a 21-yr old.
On 16 April 1862, the Confederate Navy Department, enthusiastic about the offensive potential of armored rams following the victory of their first ironclad CSS Virginia (the rebuilt USS Merrimack) over the wooden-hulled Union blockaders in Hampton Roads, Virginia, signed a contract with nineteen year old detached Confederate Lieutenant Gilbert Elliott of Elizabeth City, North Carolina; he was to oversee the construction of a smaller but still powerful gunboat to destroy the Union warships in the North Carolina sounds.Yes, we are talking about the CSS ALBEMARLE.
Displacement: 376 tonsWar record? A very good war record, but that's not why we are here.
Length: 158 ft (48 m)
Beam: 35.4 ft (10.8 m)
Draught: 9 ft (2.7 m)
Speed: 4 knots
Complement: 150 officers and men
Armament: two 6.4 Brooke double-banded rifles
Today we honor and honorable adversary (can't call such a man an enemy); the Yankee Lieutenant (later CDR) William B. Cushing, USN.
Cushing discovered two 30-foot (9.1 m) picket boats under construction in New York and acquired them for his mission (some accounts have them as 45 feet (14 m) to 47-feet). On each he mounted a Dahlgren 12 pounder howitzer and a 14-foot (4.3 m) spar projecting into the water from its bow. One of the boats was lost at sea during the voyage from New York to Norfolk, Virginia, but the other arrived safely with its crew of seven officers and men at the mouth of the Roanoke. There, the steam launch's spar was fitted with a lanyard-detonated torpedo.We have those same 19 and 21-yr old men in our Navy today. Officer and enlisted. They are there - waiting for their chance. Would you know one if you saw one - and do you have the command climate and ability to give them the opportunity to succeed?
On the night of October 27 and 28, 1864, Cushing and his team began working their way upriver. A small cutter accompanied them, its crew having the task of preventing interference by the Confederate sentries stationed on a schooner anchored to the wreck of Southfield; both boats, under the cover of darkness, slipped past the schooner undetected. So Cushing decided to use all twenty-two of his men and the element of surprise to capture Albemarle.
As they approached the Confederate docks their luck turned, and they were spotted in the dark. They came under heavy rifle and pistol fire from both the shore and aboard Albemarle. As they closed with the ironclad, they quickly discovered she was defended against approach by floating log booms. The logs, however, had been in the water for many months and were covered with heavy slime. The steam launch rode up and then over them without difficulty; with her spar fully against the ironclad's hull, Cushing stood up in the bow, pulled the lanyard, detonating the torpedo's explosive charge.
The explosion threw Cushing and his men overboard into the water; Cushing then stripped off most of his uniform and swam to shore, where he hid undercover until daylight, avoiding the hastily organized Confederate search parties. The next afternoon, he was finally able to steal a small skiff and began slowly paddling, using his hands and arms as oars, down-river to rejoin Union forces at the river's mouth. Cushing's long journey was quite perilous and he was nearly captured and almost drowned before finally reaching safety, totally exhausted by his ordeal; he was hailed a national hero of the Union cause for his daring exploits. Of the other men in Cushing's launch, one also escaped, two were drowned following to the explosion, and the rest were captured.
Cushing's daring commando raid blew a hole in Albemarle's hull at the waterline "big enough to drive a wagon in." She sank immediately in the six feet of water below her keel, settling into the heavy river bottom mud, leaving the upper casemate mostly dry and the ship's large Stainless Banner ensign flying from the flagstaff at the rear of the casemate's upper deck. Confederate commander Alexander F. Warley, who had been appointed as her captain about a month earlier, later salvaged both of Albemarle's rifled cannon and shells and used them to defend Plymouth against subsequent Union attack—futilely, as it turned out.
As a final note; the last USS CUSHING (DD-985) was decommissioned in 1995. MURTHA, CHAVEZ, GIFFORD. Go figure.