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Several of the men were
familiar with the river, and the boat kept close to shore, where the
gloom was still more profound. No one spoke except when necessary and
then in the lowest tones, while all listened and peered into the drizzly
night. The straining ears could hear only the soft rippling of the water
from the prow and the faint muffled clanking of the engine. The speed
was slackened as they approached the schooner, whose outlines soon
assumed form. No one whispered, but all held themselves ready for the
rush the moment the guard discovered them.

Sentinels, however, are not always alert, and on this dismal night the
guard detected nothing of the phantom craft which glided past like a
shadow with the cutter in tow. This was the first stroke of good
fortune, and each man felt a thrill of encouragement, for only a mile
remained to be passed to reach the _Albemarle_.

A little way further and the boats swept around a bend in the river,
where, had it been daylight, they could have seen the ram. Here was
where the fires had been kept blazing the night through, but the guards
were as drowsy as those below, for they had allowed them to sputter and
die down to a few embers, while the sentinels were doubtless trying to
keep comfortable in the wet, dismal night.

Still stealing noiselessly forward, the men in the boat soon saw the
gloom slowly take shape in front. The outlines revealed the massive
ironclad lying still and motionless against the wharf, with not a light
or sign of life visible. The nerves of each of the brave crew were
strung to the highest tension, when the stillness was broken by the
barking of a dog. The canine, more vigilant than his masters, gave the
alarm, and instantly it seemed as if a hundred dogs were making night
hideous with their signals. Springing to their feet, the sentinels on
shore discerned the strange boat and challenged it. No reply was given;
a second challenge was made, and then a gun was fired. The guards seemed
to spring to life everywhere, more dogs barked, alarm rattles were
sprung, wood was thrown on the fires which flamed up, soldiers seized
their weapons and rushed to their places under the sharp commands of
their officers.

Cushing now called to the engineer to go ahead under full speed. At the
same moment, he cut the towline and ordered the men on the cutter to
return and capture the guard near the _Southfield_. The launch was
tearing through the water straight for the ram, when, for the first
time, Cushing became aware of the boom of logs which inclosed it. His
hope now was that these logs had become so slimy from lying long in the
water that it was possible for the launch to slip over them. With
wonderful coolness, he veered off for a hundred yards, so as to gain
sufficient headway, and then circled around and headed for the ram.

Standing erect at the bow, Cushing held himself ready to use the torpedo
the moment he could do so. A volley was fired, which riddled his coat
and tore off the heel of one of his shoes, but he did not falter. Then
followed the crisp snapping of the primers of the cannon, which showed
the immense guns had missed fire. Had they been discharged, the boat and
every man on it would have been blown to fragments.

"Jump from the ram!" shouted Cushing, as he rushed forward, with the
speed of a racehorse; "we're going to blow you up!"

The howitzer at the front of the launch was fired at that moment, and
then the boat slid over the logs, like a sleigh over the snow, carrying
the men directly in front of the gaping mouth of the 100-pounder
Armstrong.

The critical moment had come, and, crouching forward, Cushing shoved the
torpedo spar under the overhang, and waited till he felt it rise and
bump against the ship's bottom, when he jerked the trigger line. A
muffled, cavernous explosion was heard, the ram tilted partly over, and
an immense geyser spouted upward, filling the launch and swamping it.
The enormous cannon was discharged, but, aimed directly at the boat, the
aim was deflected by the careening of the ram, and the frightful charge
passed harmlessly over the heads of the men.

Cushing called to each one to lookout for himself, and leaped as far as
he could into the water. There he kicked off his shoes, and dropped his
sword and revolver. The incensed Confederates shouted to the Unionists
to surrender, and a number did so; but others, including Cushing,
continued swimming until in the darkness they passed out of range.

It surpasses comprehension how Cushing escaped. Nearly half his crew had
been struck before the launch was submerged, and Paymaster Swan and
another man were shot at his side. Cushing, Woodman, and Houghton leaped
into the water at the same time and swam in different directions, no one
knowing where he would come out. Houghton was a powerful swimmer, and,
keeping cool and husbanding his strength, he made shore a short
distance below, passed through the enemy's line to the mouth of the
river, and escaped unharmed.

Cushing continued swimming for nearly a mile, when hearing a splashing
near him he approached and found Woodman in the last stage of
exhaustion. Cushing gave him all the help he could, but he himself was
worn out, and, despite his efforts, Woodman slipped from his grasp and
was drowned. When about to give up Cushing's feet touched bottom and he
struggled to shore, where he sank in a collapse, unable to stir until
morning. By that time his strength had sufficiently returned to enable
him to stagger to a swamp where he threw himself down near a path. A few
minutes later, two officers walked by talking earnestly about the
sinking of the _Albemarle_, but the listener could not overhear enough
of their conversation to learn whether or not the ram had been
destroyed.

Growing stronger, he pushed into the swamp, until he reached a negro's
hut. There he made himself known, and was received kindly. Cushing asked
the negro to go to Plymouth and find out whether the _Albemarle_ had
been harmed. The African departed, and, when he returned at the end of
several hours, his arms were filled with food and his eyes protruding.

"Suah as yo's born, marse!" he gasped, "de _Albemarle_ am at de bottom
ob de riber!"

Such was the fact, for the exploding torpedo had gouged more than twenty
square feet out of the ram abreast of the port quarter, through which
the torrent rushed and carried it down in a few minutes. Cushing
remained with his dusky friend until night, when he tramped a long way
through swamp and wood to where an old skiff rested against the bank of
a small stream. Paddling down this to the river, he kept on until he
reached the Union vessels, where he was taken on board and welcomed as
deserved the hero who had accomplished that which was beyond the ability
of the whole fleet.

Before proceeding with our account of the closing military operations of
the war, it is proper to record several minor, but important, events.


THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION OF 1864.

The year 1864 was a presidential one. Although Hannibal Hamlin had
served acceptably as Vice-President throughout Lincoln's first term,
political wisdom suggested replacing him with a man more closely
identified with the struggle for the Union. Hamlin belonged to the State
of Maine, where the voice of disloyalty was never heard. Andrew Johnson,
as we shall learn in the next chapter, was what was termed a war
Democrat, who had risked his life in the defense of his principles. He
was nominated for Vice-President, while Lincoln, as was inevitable, was
renominated for the presidency. The nominees of the Democrats were
General George B. McClellan, the unsuccessful Union commander, and
George H. Pendleton, of Ohio. McClellan acted very creditably when,
finding that many believed him opposed to the war, he stated in
unequivocal language that he favored its prosecution until the Union was
fully restored. His platform may be described as a criticism of the
methods of the administration. His position drove away many who would
have supported a candidate in favor of peace at any price, but he
preserved his self-respect, although it helped to bring his decisive
defeat.

In the November election the result was: Lincoln and Johnson each 212
electoral votes; McClellan and Pendleton each 21. On the popular vote,
the Republican ticket received 2,216,067 and the Democratic 407,342
votes. Of course, no vote was cast in the eleven seceding States. The
result was emphatic proof that the North was unalterably opposed to
peace upon any terms except the full restoration of the Union. The great
successes, such as Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Mobile, and the destruction of
the Confederate cruisers, as well as the rapid exhaustion of the South,
contributed very much to the success of the Republican party.


DISTRESS IN THE SOUTH.

The distress in the South was intense and grew daily more so. The
Confederate money had so depreciated in value that a paper dollar was
not worth more than a penny, and by-and-by it had absolutely no value at
all. The farce of such a currency caused many grim jests among the
Confederates themselves. Thus an officer gave his colored servant five
thousand dollars to curry his horse, and another officer exchanged six
months of his own pay for a paper dollar. In truth, the Southerners were
fighting without pay, while their clothing and food were of the poorest
character. All the men being in some branch of the service, the women
had to look after the homes that were running to waste. The conscription
act was made so rigid that the drag-net gathered in the large boys and
men past middle life.


PROSPERITY OF THE NORTH.

It was far different in the North. The enormous demands of the
government for war supplies gave the country an unnatural prosperity.
Although prices were high, there was an abundance of money, which, while
depreciating to some extent, never did so to a degree to cause distress.
The resources were almost limitless, and the conviction was so general
that the war was near its conclusion, that the greenback currency and
the national bonds began to rise in value.



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