Chapter 46: the adventures of the Florida (Oreto) and Alabama.
engagement between the Kearsarge and Alabama.
- Destruction of the nation's commerce.
-- Semmes' career in the old Navy.
-- Semmes in England.
-- takes passage for Nassau.
-- receives Captain's commission.
-- ordered to command the Alabama.
-- the Oreto seized by British authorities, afterwards released.
-- receives her armament at Grand Key.
-- the Oreto (Florida) sails for Mobile.
-- runs through blockading squadron.
-- runs blockade a second time.
-- Maffitt lights up the sea.
-- the Alabama.
-- Semmes joins the Alabama at Terceira.
-- in commission.
-- capture of starlight, ocean Rover, alert, weather-gauge and Altamaha.
-- exciting chase.
-- capture of the Benjamin Tucker, courser, Virginia and Elisha Dunbar.
-- rough sea and a picturesque conflagration.
-- capture of the brilliant, Emily Farnum, Dunkirk, Wave crest, Tonawanda, Manchester, Lamplighter, Crenshaw and Levi Starbuck.
-- exciting adventures.
-- Landing prisoners at Port de France.
-- the Alabama escapes U. S. S. San Jacinto.
-- capture of the Parker Cooke, Union and Ariel.
-- incidents on board the Ariel.
-- the Alabama in Gulf of Mexico.
-- Sinks U. S. S. Hatteras.
-- Landing prisoners and refitting at Jamaica.
-- capture of Golden rule, Chastelaine, Palmetto, Olive Jane and Golden Eagle.
-- the sea ablaze with burning vessels.
-- the toll-gate upon the sea.
-- capture of the Washington, John A. Parks, Bethiah Thayer, Punjaub, morning Star, Kingfisher, Charles Hill, Nora, Louisa Hatch, Lafayette and Kate Cory.
-- capture of the whalers Nye, Dorcas Prince and Union Jack.
-- the Alabama and Confederate steamer Georgia at Bahia.
-- capture of the Gilderslieve, Justiana, Jaben Snow, Amazonian, Talisman and Conrad.
-- the Conrad commissioned as a Confederate cruiser.
-- capture of the Anna F. Schmidt.
-- the Tuscaloosa.
-- capture of the sea-bride.
-- U. S. S. Vanderbilt and Wyoming.
-- the Winged Racer and the contest in flames.
-- the Alabama gives the Wyoming the slip.
-- capture of the Martaban, Sonora and Highlander,
-- burning of the Emma Jane.
-- release of the Tuscaloosa.
-- capture of the Rockingham and Tycoon.
-- the Alabama anchors in harbor of Cherbourg.
-- arrival of the Kearsarge.
-- a challenge.
-- preparations to fight.
-- engagement between the Alabama and Kearsarge.
-- incidents of battle.
-- the Alabama sunk!
-- Semmes escapes.
-- Captain Winslow's report.
-- officers and crew of the Kearsarge.
-- officers of the Alabama.
There is no more interesting chapter in the history of the war than the account of the performances of those who commanded the cruisers that were sent forth by the Confederate Government to destroy the commerce of the Northern States
This commerce had long been the pride of the nation, and its white sails covered nearly every sea; but that it was poorly protected by the Government
was well known to all the world, and it was predicted by those who thought seriously upon the subject that the day would come when
the rude hands of some foreign power would be laid upon it, in some future war, when it would be swept from the seas; but who, in his wildest conjectures, would ever suppose that the blow would come from those whose greatest pride once was that they were born under the Stars and Stripes
, and that they loved every stripe and star in the dear old flag that had borne itself so bravely in times past, on land and sea, in the defence of human rights, and in the vindication of its own honor?
Yet men change their creeds so rapidly with the circumstances of the times, that it would be impossible to predict their actions when revolution overwhelms a nation, and changes the most loyal hearts.
Men, who with patriotic pride had looked upon our flag with a veneration almost as great as they owed their God, forsook it at a moment's warning — at a time when it most needed their support.
And, strange to say, some of these not only placed themselves in opposition to the Government
— to which they had been bound by the most sacred ties — but they did all in their power to drive its flag from the ocean, by destroying the noble ships that carried it.
There was a large corps of these officers, and among them some of the most gallant and fiery spirits of the old Navy, without whose intelligent aid the Confederates
could have inflicted little or no injury upon American commerce.
It is well known that all the attempts made by the merchant captains of the South
to fit out privateers were failures.
Their vessels were always captured, simply because their commanders lacked the training and intelligence of the regular naval officers who went South when their States seceded.
There can be no doubt that Commander Semmes
was one of the most intelligent of these officers, and he not only willingly entered into Mr. Mallory
's plan for the destruction of American commerce, but embarked in the career with so much energy that it amounted to vindictiveness; so that, although he performed many daring exploits, he is hardly entitled to be called a hero.
We have seen what he accomplished with the Sumter
, a small vessel which had been condemned by a Board of naval officers at New Orleans.
, however, at once decided that she would suit his purpose, and, with an energy he had never been thought to possess, he got her to sea, eluded the blockaders, and after capturing fifteen merchantment, arrived at Cadiz
From this port he went to Gibraltar
, where the career of the Sumter
, as a commerce-destroyer, ended.
She was in an unseaworthy condition, and, being closely blockaded.
decided that she could be of no further use to the Confederacy
He sold her in such a way that his adopted country could benefit by the purchase-money, and then started in pursuit of some other field of action.
As we have said before.
had denounced the Mexican Government
for proposing to do what he was doing in the Alabama
, but no one can tell how a man may change his nature or his opinions when swayed by some passion that may have been dormant in him for years, and which only required to be called into action to make the inert, indifferent officer throw off the old man and take on the new; there are so many instances where such men have come to the surface in great revolutions, that it is not strange that Commander Semmes
, from being the mildest-mannered gentleman in the Navy, should have assumed a character bordering on that of an ancient viking.
This officer would not perhaps have merited these remarks had he not throughout his career shown the most vindictive feelings towards anything that claimed to belong to the United States
; he was so inhumane in his treatment of prisoners, and so indifferent to the rights of property, that he could scarcely have expected to be treated as mildly as his compatriots who inflicted great damage on American commerce, but were content after the war was over to remain quietly in their retirement without boasting of what they had done in a book that tended to keep alive the bad passions which it were better for both North and South to bury in oblivion.
We have seen Commander Semmes
in the Sumter
, we have yet to see him in the Alabama
, which he made ten times more famous as a destroyer than the little vessel which first carried his fortunes.
During his second command lie carried such terror into the hearts of peaceful merchantmen that many of them abandoned their flag and placed their ships under the protection of England
, where they knew they would be safe from molestation.
arrived in England
he found that a commission of Confederate naval officers had been sent abroad to purchase or build cruisers for the Southern Navy
, but that, owing to the difficulties thrown in their way by the protests of the American Minister
and Secretary of State
, little headway had been made in the desire direction; and, although he was offered the first command, he saw little prospect of immediate employment and determined to return to the Confederate States
An opportunity soon offered, and he took passage on the fast blockade-runner Melita
, which landed him at Nassau
, N. P., on the 13th of June, 1862.
On the same evening Semmes
was quartered at the Victoria Hotel
his staff, where he was surrounded by many Confederates.
who all consorted together after a manner, and at least with apparent harmony, for they were all. as a rule, engaged in the same errand (search for plunder); and the greedy look and hungry eyes of many of these parties, as they longingly gazed upon the thousands of bales of cotton which strewed the beach, showed that their hearts were wrapped up in that beautiful staple.
, originally an insignificant town, sought only as a place of resort for invalids, had now assumed the airs of a thriving city.
The harbor was filled with shipping, and its warehouses, wharves and quays were overflowing with merchandise of all kinds, ready to be sent into Confederate ports.
There was almost as much bustle and activity here as at the wharves of New York.
Ships were constantly arriving from England
with merchandise, great-guns, small-arms, ammunition, and everything else that could be wanted by the Confederates
to enable them to carry on the war, and light-draft steamers, Confederate
, were constantly reloading these articles and running them into Southern ports.
So successful were some of these traders in running the blockade that they made their voyages as regularly as mail-packets, returning again and again to Nassau
with heavy loads of cotton, which were there transferred to the vessels which had brought arms and munitions of war from England
What was there to prevent the Confederates
from maintaining and equipping their fast cruisers except the unwearying vigilance of the blockading fleet?
This trying duty was well performed, however, and, al-thougli some escaped them, the Federal
officers captured 1,156 blockade-runners during the war. This faithful work was attributed by Commander Semmes
to the greed of the Old Navy
He complained that “this duty became a bone of contention among the Federal
naval officers, which of them should be assigned to the lucrative command of the blockading squadron,” and that “the Admiral
of one of their squadrons would frequently awake in the morning and find himself richer by twenty thousand dollars by reason of a capture made by some one of his subordinates the night before.”
This, he said, was “the ‘mess of pottage’ for which so many unprincipled Southern men in the Federal Navy
sold their birthright.”
Is it any wonder that these loyal men refused to recognize Semmes
when he was left by the war in indigent circumstances and could not make a living by the law?
met several Confederate officers at Nassau
, among them Commander J. N. Maffitt
, who had arrived in the Oreto
, a vessel that had been purchased in England
by the Confederate
commission and fitted out as a cruiser.
At this moment she was detained at Nassau
by the Attorney-General
of the colony for a violation of the British
“Foreign Enlistment Act.”
passed his time in listening to the arguments in this case.
and in the meanwhile received a commission as Captain
in the Confederate Navy, with orders to return to England
and take command of the steamer Alabama
(then known as No. 29
0). She had been so far secured by the Confederate
commissioners that they felt quite certain of getting her to sea.
, of which Commander Maffitt
had charge, was quite swift, but not so formidable a vessel as the “290.”
She had left England
unarmed, but with all the arrangements made to mount guns, and with all the appliances below to stow powder
After a long trial she was released by the British
authorities, and Maffitt
again prepared to put her in fighting trim.
This vessel was afterwards known as the Florida
, and though she did not equal the Alabama
, she made herself sufficiently famous to give the Federal Government
a great deal of trouble, and cause it to put forth all its energies for her capture.
was a different kind of man from Semmes
A thorough master of his profession, and possessed of all the qualities that make a favorite naval commander, he became a successful raider of the sea; but he made no enemies among those officers who had once known him and who now missed his genial humor in their messes.
He was a. veritable rover, but was never inhumane to those whom the fortunes of war threw into his hands, and he made himself as pleasant,
while emptying a ship of her cargo and then scuttling her. as Claude Duval
when robbing a man of his purse or borrowing his watch from his pocket.
's vessel was released from the Court of Nassau
(the trial having been a farce), he made arrangements to mount her guns and man her from the motley crew of sailors that floated about the town ready for any kind of work that might offer, so long as they did not compromise themselves with some power having plenty of ships-of-war, that could catch them and hang them to the yard-arm if they happened to burn or sink anything belonging to it. This they knew was piracy; but for English sailors to ship in an English port on board a Confederate cruiser, to assist in burning or sinking American vessels, they considered to be merely the exercise of belligerent rights.
The vessel loaded with the Oreto
's guns and stores had arrived while her case was before the court at Nassau
It was shown by the defendants in this trial that the Oreto
had not sailed with any warlike stores on board, and there the investigation ended; while it was well-known to all on the island that the arms were actually in port, only waiting to be put on board the Confederate
as soon as she was released.
was too clever to actually violate English neutrality laws by any overt act. He made arrangements with J. B. Lafitte
, the Confederate
agent at Nassau
, to meet him at Grand Key, where the guns were to be delivered by a schooner chartered for that purpose.
The meeting took place, and Maffitt
succeeded in arming his ship, but was obliged to trust to recruiting his crew from such disaffected Americans
as might elect to join him from captured vessels.
He had at this time but five firemen, and fourteen deck-hands.
So short-handed was he, that when he met the schooner with his battery on board he had to take off his coat and work as a common sailor.
Every hour was precious to him, for the Federal
cruisers hovering in the neighborhood might pounce upon him at any moment.
The work was especially laborious under the scorching rays of an August sun, and it almost exhausted the energies of all hands; but at the end of five days the Oreto
had all her stores and guns on board, and Captain Maffitt
steamed out upon the ocean and put his ship in commission.
The British flag, which she had worn since her departure from England
, was hauled down, and the Confederate
ensign hoisted amid the cheers of her motley crew.
The ship was christened the Florida
All this looked very much like the ways of the buccaneers, who, in years gone by, used to meet at these rendezvous, and prepare for raids on harmless merchantmen and their helpless passengers; but these people were pirates in every sense of the word — ignorant, cold-blooded, brutal men, who had no nationality, and not education enough to teach them right from wrong.
, however, was not a pirate.
It had been declared by the most civilized and Christian nation on the face of the earth, followed by France
, that these vessels were belligerents, and entitled to all belligerent rights.
The only trouble was that England
in her anxiety to follow a strictly neutral course (!), was not careful enough to see her own laws maintained, and her “Foreign Enlistment Act” strictly enforced.
Had she done so, the Confederate cruisers would never have sailed from an English port; or, if they did, the British Navy
would have been instructed to arrest them on the high seas, or in any English port, for a violation of the “Foreign Enlistinent Act.”
But this was not attempted, and the English Navy
, in their scrupulous care to be neutral, almost deserted the West Indies
, leaving the Confederate
agents to carry on their operations for the future destruction of American commerce at their discretion.
The work of getting the guns on board the Oreto
had been so severe in that burning climate that it produced sickness among her crew.
The captain's steward was buried on the day the cruiser went into commission, and, on investigation, it appeared that he had died of yellow fever.
The constantly increasing sick-list confirmed this opinion.
There was no surgeon on board, and the captain was compelled to assume all the duties of medical officer as well as his own.
On the fifth day out, the Florida
found herself off the little island of Anguila, and by report of the hospital steward the epidemic had reduced the working force to one fireman and four deck-hands.
Being no longer able to keep the sea, Maffitt
ran into the Port of Cardenas
, in the Island of Cuba
Here all the officers and men were attacked in succession, and the disease being epidemic on shore, no medical aid could be obtained.
himself was at last taken down, and never perhaps in the history of yellow fever was there a ship in a worse condition than this.
But “it is an ill-wind that blows nobody good,” and thle peaceful merchantmen could now follow their way unmolested by the Florida
; and thus many of them escaped burning or scuttling by this misadventure of the Confederate cruiser — which some, no doubt, attributed to an act of Providence
, but which was simply owing to the fact that the sailors had been indulging too freely at
, and there laid in the germs of fever, which were afterwards developed by their work in the hot sun.
There was a dreadful condition of affairs on board the Florida
, but amidst it all Maffitt
never lost his self-possession until he became unconscious and was given up for dead.
While in this apparently hopeless condition his young son died, followed shortly afterwards by the chief engineer
, and the Florida
bade fair to lay at anchor in the Bay of Cardenas
until the war was over.
recovered; his indomitable will carried him through the dreadful ordeal, and the doom of the Florida
was not yet sealed.
When he and most of his crew were convalescent, the Captain-General
sent a message to request the commander of the Florida
to proceed to Havana
, on the ground (it is asserted) that his vessel would be safe from an attack of Federal gun-boats, when it is well known that there was but one instance during the war where a Confederate cruiser was molested in neutral waters.
In fact, there was such an absence of Federal gun-boats all along the Bahama
banks and coast of Cuba
, from the time the Florida
first appeared in Nassau
up to the time of her leaving Havana
, that it was the cause of severe and well deserved strictures upon the neglect of the Navy Department, which seemed to be oblivious to the fact that the Confederates
were fitting out these vessels as fast as their means would permit.
Though the Captain-General
had invited the commander of the Florida
to go to Havana
for the above reason, it was actually for the purpose of preventing him from violating Spanish neutrality laws; and when Maffitt
arrived in Havana
he found himself so tied up with restrictions imposed by the Spanish
authorities, that he determined to go to Mobile
and fit his ship out there.
He therefore got underway for that port on the 1st of September, and arrived in sight of Fort Morgan
on the 4th, having started on his perilous adventure with his crew just convalescing, and he himself scarcely able to stand from the prostrating effects of the fever.
It may appear to the reader that we have exhibited more sympathy for Commander Maffitt
and given him more credit than he deserved: it must be remembered that we are endeavoring to write a naval history of the war, and not a partisan work.
This officer, it is true, had gone from under the flag we venerate to fight against it; but we know that it was a sore trial for him to leave the service to which he was attached, and that hie believed he was doing his duty in following the fortunes of his State, and had the courage to follow his convictions, He did not leave the United States Navy with any bitterness, and when the troubles were all over he accepted the situation gracefully.
What we are going to state of him shows that he was capable of the greatest heroism, and that, though he was on the side of the enemy, his courage and skill were worthy of praise.
On the 4th of September, at 2 P. M., the Florida
made Fort Morgan
, and at the same time it was discovered that three of the enemy's cruisers lay between her and the bar. Maffitt
was assisted on deck, being too sick to move without help.
He determined to run the risk of passing the blockaders; and, if he failed in that, he made his preparations to destroy his vessel so that she might not fall into Federal hands.
He hoisted the English
ensign, and assumed the character of an English ship-of-war.
The moment the Florida
was seen by the blockaders, as she stood boldly in, two of these vessels got underway and stood towards her. The blockading force was at this time under the command of Commander George H. Preble
, in the Oneida
, a prudent, careful officer, who tried hard not to commit any mistakes; but on this occasion he was too careful not to compromise his Government by attacking an English man-of-war, as he supposed the Florida
was, from the bold manner in which she stood towards him.
Several gun-boats had been employed blockading outside the bar, the Kanawha
, and the steam-frigate Susquehanna
had also been there, but all of these vessels had been temporarily withdrawn for other duty.
had been making repairs on her boilers, and the Winona
was the only other vessel actually on the blockade at that moment.
was one of the fine ships built at the beginning of the war, and was supposed to be a 12-knot vessel.
Her armament consisted of two 11-inch Dahlgrens (one forward and the other aft), four 32-pounders and three Dahlgren
carried one 11-inch Dahlgren
pivot-gun (forward), and two 32-pounders; and the schooner Rachel Seaman
(bomb vessel), which happened to be beating up to the bar at the time, carried two 32-pounders.
, owing to repairs that were going on, could not carry a full press of steam, and may be said to have been caught napping.
could not have chosen a more auspicious time to attempt his daring feat, though, be it said to his credit, he had made up his mind to run through the whole blockading fleet if necessary.
It was his last chance; he had only to do that or run his vessel on shore and burn her, for she
was of no use to the Confederates
in her then condition.
As soon as Maffitt
discovered the Federal
vessels, he stood directly for them, knowing that, as the Florida
resembled an English gun-boat, she would probably be mistaken for one, and trusting to his speed to save him at the last moment.
Intelligence had been received at Pensacola
the headquarters of the squadron, of the Florida
's having left Nassau
; but no news of her having reached Cardenas
had followed, and for some reason no intimation had been sent to the fleet off Mobile
that she was on a cruise.
At that time English ships-of-war were in the habit of going along the coast to see if the blockade was effectual, and it was customary for them to enter blockaded ports after reporting to the commanding officer
of the blockading force and obtaining his permission.
, thinking this to be a case of that kind, ran out to meet the supposed Englishman
, and rounded-to, to go in with him on the same course.
approached rapidly, her smoke-pipes vomiting forth volumes of black smoke and a high press of steam escaping from her steam-pipe.
As she came within hailing distance, the Federal
commander ordered her to heave-to, but Maffitt
still sped on, having sent all his men below, except the man at the wheel, and returned no reply to the hail.
then fired a shot ahead of the Florida
, still supposing her to be some saucy Englishman disposed to try what liberties he could take, though the absence of men on deck should have excited suspicion.
He hesitated, however, and his hesitation lost him a prize and the honor of capturing one of the Confederate
scourges of the ocean.
had his crew at quarters, however, and as soon as he saw that the stranger was passing him he opened his broadside upon her, and the other two blockaders did the same.
But the first shots were aimed too high and the Florida
sped on toward the bar, her feeble crew forgetting their sickness and heaping coal upon the furnace fires with all possible rapidity.
Every man was working for his life, while the captain stood amid the storm of shot and shell perfectly unmoved, keenly watching the marks for entering the port, and wondering to himself what his chances were for getting safely in.
The first broadside of the Oneida
, which was fired from a distance of a few yards only, cut away the Florida
's hammocks, smashed her boats, and shattered some of her spars.
The shock seemed to give a new impetus to her speed, the English
colors were hauled down, and an attempt was made to hoist the Confederate
flag in their place, but the man who was bending it to the halyards had his fingers shot away, and it was not run up while under fire.
now opened on the chase with her heavy guns, as did also the Rachel Seaman
with her 32-pounders, but the latter vessel was at a distance and her fire was of little effect.
fired rapidly from all the guns she could bring to bear; but as she could not make more than seven knots an hour, the Florida
was rapidly leaving her. One 11-inch shell entered the side of the blockade-runner just above the water-line, passed through both sides, and exploded.
Had it exploded one second sooner the career of the Florida
would have ended and she would have gone to the bottom; but an inch or two saved her. On she sped, faster and faster, until even those who longed for his discomfiture could not but admire the steady bearing of the brave man who stood alone upon the deck.
Another shell passed through the cabin, and her after-spars began to tremble as their supports were cut away.
The firing of the Union vessels was bad, however, and the Confederate
finally escaped with but one man killed and seven wounded--a small loss compared to their great gain.
During the whole war there was not a more exciting adventure than this escape of the Florida
into Mobile Bay
The gallant manner in which it was conducted excited great admiration, even among the men who were responsible for permitting it. We do not suppose there was ever a case where a man, under all the attending circumstances, displayed more energy or more bravery.
remained four months in Mobile
preparing for sea, and watching a chance to get out. The blockading squadron had been enlarged to seven vessels, among them the R. R. Cuyler
, a very fast steamer, that had been sent to this station with the certainty that she would be able to intercept the Florida
if she attempted to run out.
came down from Mobile
one afternoon in the Florida
, and noted the number and positions of the blockaders.
while he was plainly visible to them.
The Federal commanders had been in a continual state of vigilance for three months, and it was a great relief to them to see the coveted prize at last.
One would have supposed that on such an occasion every man would have been at his post, and the vessels with steam up and the chains ready to slip; but this was not the case.
only was ordered to change her position after dark, and be ready to start after the Florida
the moment she appeared.
Not a vessel was sent off eight or ten miles to head the Confederate
off if she should get the lead, and no extraordinary precautions were taken.
At about 2 A. M. the Florida
was reported as coming out. She passed directly between the Cuyler
and the Susquehanna
, at a distance of 300 yards from the former.
It is stated that half an hour was lost in the Cuyler
's getting underway, owing to a regulation of the ship that the officer of the watch should report to the captain and wait for him to come on deck before slipping the cable (in this instance it would have been well if the Captain
had slept on deck).
's officers saw the signal, beat to quarters, but remained at anchor, though she was assigned as one of the chasing vessels!
and at 3:50, “having seen no vessel run out, beat the retreat!”
Such is the extract from her log. The Cuyler
's officers, however, saw the Florida
distinctly, and chased her during the whole of the next day, making as her greatest speed during the chase only 12 1/2 knots.
although she had previously made 14.
At night the Florida
changed her course, and ran for the coast of Cuba
, where she was engaged in burning prizes the next day, while the Cuyler
was hunting for her in the Yucatan Channel
On the day after the Florida
ran out, the Oneida
was sent in pursuit of her; but she missed the Confederate cruiser, and Commodore Wilkes
, who at that time commanded a “flying squadron” of slow vessels, fell in with her, detained her and made her a part of his command, as he also did the Cuyler
when she fell into his hands.
And so the Florida
was allowed to go on her way without molestation, and Maffitt
was enabled to commence that career on the high seas which has made his name one of the notable ones of the war. He lighted the seas wherever he passed along, and committed such havoc among American merchantmen, that, if possible, he was even more dreaded than Semmes
We have only to say, that his being permitted to escape into Mobile Bay
, and then to get out again, was the greatest example of blundering committed throughout the war. Every officer who knew Maffitt
was certain that he would attempt to get out of Mobile
, and we are forced to say that those who permitted his escape are responsible for the terrible consequences of their want of vigilance and energy.
To return to Captain Semmes
: He had been kept several anxious weeks at Nassau
waiting for an opportunity to return to Europe
The “290,” then fitting out in England
, was nearly ready for sea — and it was deemed advisable to send her out as soon as possible, before the application of the British
“Foreign Enlistment Act” should become more stringent.
wrote to Captain Bulloch
who had charge of fitting out the “290,” to bring her to a rendezvous where he would join her. The former then made his way to Liverpool
in the steamer Bahama
, and found that the “290” had succeeded in eluding the vigilance (!) of the English
authorities and had proceeded to the island of Terceira
,where she was awaiting the arrival of her battery on another vessel, which had also eluded these vigilant Englishmen!
was built by John Laird
, an eminent ship-builder, and we believe that she was built especially for the Confederate Government.
This book does not pretend to enter into a lengthy legal discussion of the rights of the Confederates
to build and equip ships in English ports for tie destruction of American commerce, though the writer condemns the practice in toto
. The Queen
, at the out-break of the civil war in America
, issued a proclamation, in which it was stated that England
would preserve a strict neutrality between the contending parties.
This neutrality consisted not only in permitting the Confederates
actually to build and equip cruising steamships for the purpose of inflicting injury on the Federals
, but these ships managed to leave England
in violation of the “Foreign Enlistment Act.”
and did inflict serious injury to the shipping of the United States
A great many arguments were brought forward by Confederate writers to prove that no laws were violated by the above proceedings, but a folio of such arguments is not worth much in the face of the fact that in 1871 a commission was appointed by England
and the United States
to settle what were known as the “Alabama
claims,” but which included the vessels captured by all the Confederate cruisers fitted out in England
The result of that Commission was that Great Britain
paid to the United States
the sum of $15,000,000 as indemnification for the damage inflicted on United States
commerce by Confederate cruisers, owing to the neglect of the British
authorities in not preventing the said cruisers from getting to sea. There could be no better argument than this against all the specious writings which have appeared from time to time, and it especially refutes the attempt of Commander Semmes
to justify his course.
is a nation from whom nothing like payment could have been exacted, but the concurrence of the English Commissioners
was based on that high sense of justice and fair-play which is the ruling characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon
, after spending a
few days in Liverpool
, collecting his officers and making financial arrangements, departed on the 13th of August, 1862, in the steamer Bahama
, to join the “290.”
Commander James D. Bullock
, formerly of the U. S. Navy, accompanied him, to be present at the christening of the “290,” which he had contracted for and superintended while she was building.
The “290” was a vessel of 900 tons burden, 230 feet in length, 32 feet beam, and, when provisioned and coaled for a cruise, drew 15 feet of water.
Her model was of the most perfect symmetry, and she sat upon the water with the lightness and grace of a swan.
She was barkentine-rigged, with long lower masts, that enabled her to carry large fore-and-aft sails, which are of so much importance to a steamer in most weathers.
She was of the lightest build compatible with strength, and was, in fact, constructed with the one idea of making her an efficient commerce-destroyer.
She was a fast steamer, but her two modes of locomotion were independent of each other.
Her speed was about 10 knots, though she made 11 1/2 on her trial trip.
She was well armed with 8 guns, six 32-pounders in broadside and two pivot guns, one a 100-pounder Blakely rifle, and the other a long 8-inch smooth-bore.
The crew required for the “290” (not counting those in the engine-room) numbered 120 men, and she carried 24 officers.
This was the vessel that became so famous in burning and sinking that her reputation in this kind of warfare has eclipsed that of all the other Confederate vessels engaged in the same business.
A week after Semmes
he was in Porto Praya, where he found the “290” with some of her stores already on board.
Some objections being made to his getting guns on board in West Angra Bay, Semmes
got underway with his flotilla and proceeded far enough to sea to be outside of neutral jurisdiction, and there, in smooth water, got the vessels alongside and completed his outfit.
He then steamed back to Terceira
and filled his vessel with coal.
is a beautiful place, nearly every foot of the island is under cultivation, and from a distance the whole country looks like a rambling village, where Nature seems to smile as it does nowhere else.
There is everything here to allure the heart of man to harmony and peace.
The little town of Angra
, near which the Alabama
was anchored, was a perfect picture of a Portuguese-Moorish settlement, with its red-tiled roofs, sharp gables, and parti-colored verandas, while the quiet peacefulness that hung over this spot, so far removed from the highways of the world, gave it an unusual charm.
Yet from this beautiful spot, where it seemed as if nothing unlawful could exist, started forth one of the most devastating expeditions against a nation's commerce known in the history of war.
The “290” lay at her anchors in all her rakish beauty; but to one who could have known of her mission she would have been an offence instead of an object of admiration.
Who, to look at her in that beautiful harbor, would ever have supposed that she was bound on a mission of vengeance, and that she was destined to rove the high seas in search of plunder and leave behind her a track of flame!
had arrived in Terceira
on a Wednesday, and by Saturday night all his labors were completed.
The “290‘s” battery was on board, her provisions all stowed away, and her coal-bunkers full.
Sunday morning dawned bright and beautiful, and Semmes
and his co-workers took it as a harbinger of success.
The ship had not been yet put in commission, i. e
., had not been baptized, and the time having now come to perform this ceremony, every preparation was made to carry it through in man-of-war style.
The decks were cleaned, the rigging hauled taut, and the vessel made to look, as her captain expressed it, “like a bride, with the orange-wreath about her brow, ready to be led to the altar!”
But the crew had not yet been enlisted; there were some ninety stalwart fellows in the two steamers who had been brought thus far under articles of agreement that were now no longer binding.
Some had shipped for one voyage — some for another — but none of them, it is said, had been enlisted for service on board a Confederate cruiser.
This course had been pursued in order to avoid a breach of the British
“Foreign Enlistment Act,” but no one can doubt that these rough and devil-may-care-looking fellows were ready for any adventure that promised plunder or profit; they were the same kind of men that accompanied Morgan
all through the West Indies
, across the Isthmus, and even to the gates of Panama
But to perform these functions for the christening of the “290,” it was necessary to be careful that no neutral law should be violated.
Not for anything in the world would Semmes
and his confederates have done anything of this kind, and it was therefore essential that the “290” should get underway and steam off beyond the marine league, where, upon the broad ocean, it was neutral for all the world.
After steaming the required distance, the “290” was stopped and the programme carried out.
The officers were all in full uniform, and
the crew neatly dressed.
All hands were summoned aft on the quarter-deck, and, mounting a gun-carriage, Semmes
read his commission as a Captain in the Confederate
service, and the Secretary of the Navy
's order directing him to assume command of the Alabama
When this reading was finished, the Confederate
flag and pennant were run up, while the English
colors were hauled down; a gun was fired, the band played Dixie
, and thus was christened the Alabama
--a vessel whose career was destined to throw that of the Sumter
into the shade.
congratulated himself on having performed this ceremony in the most legal manner.
The fact that it had all been done upon the high seas, more than a marine league from the land, where Mr. Jefferson Davis
had as much jurisdiction as Mr. Abraham Lincoln
, made it entirely legal in his sight.
Up to this time nota single sailor had shipped for the coming cruise of the Alabama
; but the stalwart fellows who were now moving about her decks had well understood before they left Liverpool
that they were to enlist in the Confederate
service, and thus violate the “Foreign Enlistment Act” of the British
The new cruiser cannot be considered to have been a representative Confederate man-of-war, for, with the exception of a few officers, all on board of her were Englishmen, who possessed no sentiment of loyalty towards the Government
under which they were now to serve.
It was not a crew of enthusiastic Southerners who were going forth to fight for a cause they really loved, but a band of foreign mercenaries who had no feeling but of indifference towards either of the combatants; and when one thinks of the character of these sailors there is some excuse for comparing them to pirates who fight with no other motive than that of plunder.
In this case they had been quietly told that they would receive double the amount of wages paid elsewhere, and that the Confederate Congress would vote them prizemoney to the full value of every ship they destroyed.
had touched the hearts of these Englishmen in the right place, and he had the satisfaction of enlisting 80 out of the 90 sailors who had come out from the Mersey
in the two steamers, and they came forward willingly to sign their names and receive their advance wages.
This ended the democratic part of the proceedings.
There was no more talk about nationalities or liberties or double wages.
The strict discipline of an American man-of-war was at once enforced by Semmes
and his officers (most of whom had been educated in the old Navy), and the new vessel was quickly put into a state of efficiency.
If these officers were engaged in a bad cause, they were at least faithful to it in the extreme.
They had succeeded far beyond their most sanguine expectations, having got their vessel to sea in spite of the watchful care of the American
minister in London
and the apparent zeal of the British Government
to prevent it. How far Her Majesty's Government were sincere in their intentions can be seen from the following extract, which we give from the work of a clever naval writer, Professor J. Russell Soley
, U. S. N.:
The second cruiser built in England for the Confederates was the Alabama, whose career began in July, 1862.
The attention of the Foreign Office had been first called to this vessel by a note from Mr. Adams on the 23d of June.
The evidence then submitted as to her character was confined to a statement made by the Consul at Liverpool, of suspicious circumstances connected with the vessel.
The communication was referred to the law officers of the Crown, who gave the opinion that, if the allegations were true, the building and equipment of the vessel were a “Manifest violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act, and steps ought to be taken to put that act in force and to prevent the vessel from going to sea.”
It was added that the Customs authorities at Liverpool should endeavor to ascertain the truth of the statements, and that, if sufficient evidence could be obtained, proceedings should be taken as early as possible.
On the 4th of July, the report of the Customs officers was transmitted to Mr. Adams, tending to show that there was no sufficient evidence that a violation of the act was contemplated.
Other correspondence and opinions followed.
On the 21st, affidavits were delivered to the authorities at Liverpool, one of which, made by a seaman who had been shipped on board the vessel, declared that Butcher, the captain of the Alabama, who engaged him, had stated that she was going out to fight for the Confederate States.
Other depositions to the same effect were received on the 23d and 25th, all of which were referred, as they came in, to the law officers.
The latter rendered the opinion that the evidence of the deponents, coupled with the character of the vessel, make it reasonably clear that she was intended for warlike use against the United States, and recommended that she be seized without loss of time.
Notwithstanding that the urgency of the case was well known to the Government, and notwithstanding also that of the four depositions upon which the law officers chiefly based their opinion, one had been received on the 21st of July, two others on the 23d, and the fourth on the 25th, the report was not presented until the 29th.
On that day, however, the Alabama left Liverpool, without an armament, and ostensibly on a trial trip.
She ran down to Port Lynas, on the coast of Anglesea, about fifty miles from Liverpool.
Here she remained for two days completing her preparations.
On the morning of the 31st she got underway and stood to the northward up the Irish Sea; and, rounding the northern coast of Ireland, she passed out into the Atlantic.
Among the innumerable side-issues presented by the case of the Alabama, the facts given above contain the essential point.
That the attention of the British Government was called to the suspicious character of the vessel on the 23d of June; that her adaptation to warlike use was admitted; that
her readiness for sea was known; that evidence was submitted on the 21st, the 23d, and finally on the 25th of July, that put her character beyond a doubt; and that, in spite of all this, she was allowed to sail on the 29th, make the real foundation of the case against Great Britain.
* * * * * * *
The inference is unavoidable that the Government deliberately intended to pursue a policy as unfriendly as it could possibly be without passing the technical bounds of a legal neutrality.
The proof of the illegality of all these acts is the fact that the British Government
finally paid the award of the Alabama Commission, which was an acknowledgment on its part that the responsibility for the acts of the Confederate cruiser rested with the Power that by indifference and neglect of a plain duty had allowed its laws to be violated.
had not far to go before she could strike a blow at the commerce of the North
The theatre of her performances was close at hand.
The whaling season in the neighborhood of the Azores
generally ends about the 1st of October, when the winter gales begin to blow, and food for the whales becomes scarce.
The whales then migrate to other feeding grounds, and are followed up by their pursuers.
It was now in the early days of September, and Sernmes
had but a few weeks left in which to accomplish his purpose of striking a blow at the whale fishery of the United States
, which had for years been carried on in these peaceful latitudes.
The people pursuing this industry had no idea that there was such a vessel in existence as the Alabama
, of Edgartown
, was lying off Fayal
, made fast to a dead whale, when her captain was astonished by the appearance of a Confederate cruiser.
When the Alabama
first came in sight she carried the American
flag, and was naturally mistaken for one of the new cruisers that were reported to be fitting out for the protection of Federal commerce and the whaling industry.
The same old story is to be told of the Ocmulgee
, as with the Sumter
was too old a hunter to burn her by night, when the light of his bonfire would serve as a warning to other whalers that might happen to be in the neighborhood, although by so doing he risked disappointing the descendants of the old Norsemen
in his crew, who would greatly have enjoyed the spectacle.
He well knew that it was necessary to keep these men amused, for they mnight any time take the bit in their teeth.
bid defiance to him and his officers, and take the Alabama
into a Northern port, where their claim for prize-money would have been cheerfully acknowledged.
He had read about the mutinies at the Nore, and on board the Bounty
and was well aware what freaks men of this class were capable of committing, but on this occasion he was compelled to defer gratifying their taste for brilliant effects, and he waited until daylight next morning before applying the torch to his prize.
On the following day. Semmes
stood in for the beautiful island of Flores
, spread his awnings, cleaned his ship, and read to his crew the Articles of war
of the old Navy.
It must have been very amusing to the descendants of the Norsemen when they heard that “any officer of the Navy guilty of treason shall suffer death.”
It was intended that this occasion should be an impressive one, for the crew had not up to this time assumed the orderly bearing of men-of-war's men. Somehow or other they had got it into their heads that they were bound on a privateering expedition, and that the Alabama
was not a bona-fide
They looked earnestly at each other as the reading of death-penalties went on, and openly signified that they did not fear being brought up and shot for insubordination by a man who had set such a shining example!
seemed to think that this reading of the Articles
of War hlad so rivetted the chains of discipline upon his men that he could count on them to the end for any adventure he might choose to embark in.
On the next day, the schooner Starlight
Her crew consisted of seven persons, and there were several lady passengers.
appears in a new role.
Having heard of the treatment received by the paymaster of the Sumter
, he determined to practice a little retaliation on his own account, and the crew of the Starlight
were forth with put in irons.
This was taking upon himself the authority only possessed by his Government; for, when retaliatory measures are adopted by one Government against another, it is done formally, and by an edict, endorsed with all the forms of lawful authority.
If this were not tle case, and if every commander of a ship or of a regiment were allowed to retaliate for every supposed offence, war would run into a species of brutality worthy only of savages.
Hence. this power of retaliation is properly kept in the hands of heads of governments, and any subordinate who assumes this power and causes injustice to innocent people is held personally and morally responsible.
But Captain Semmes
was a law unto himself, and cared for no authority or precedents that interfered with his design in the present case.
Because some brute of a
merchant captain, to whose care the paymaster of the Sumter
had been intrusted, had not conscience or kindness of heart enough to treat his prisoner with respect, Semmes
determined that all Yankee crews captured by the Alabama
should suffer for it. It was not the Federal Government
that had treated the paymaster of the Sumter
It was an irresponsible merchant captain, and the Confederate Government had in consequence issued no order of retaliation.
merely followed his own notion, that the Yankees
should be chastised for the sins which one man had committed against a Southerner; but let it be remembered that these men whom he was putting in irons, and subjecting to every indignity, had not borne arms against the South
, nor committed any overt act. They were peaceful traders, following their avocations, and it is not likely that they would ever have interfered with either one side or the other.
He continued this practice, however, with the captains and crews of the next eight or ten prizes, and treated them with the greatest rigor.
The only effect of this action was to embitter the North
against an officer who thus took upon himself undue authority.
Two more fine prizes were soon afterwards taken by the Alabama
, the ships Ocean Rover
both of which were filled with such supplies as the Confederates
The crews of these vessels were allowed to take their boats with sufficient provisions, and start for the shore, which was then distant about five miles. Semmes
did not want them, for, as they would not enlist, they would simply eat up his provisions without being of any use to him, and he was glad to get rid of them on any terms.
The three last prizes were all burnt that afternoon, and the successors of the Norsemen were delighted as the smoke from three funeral pyres ascended to the skies at the same moment.
While this work was going on, an incautious American schooner (the Weather-gauge
) hove in sight and was speedily captured.
There were some Northern papers on board the prize that dealt out liberal invectives against the South
, and the reader may rest assured that they did the Weather-gauge
Her crew, however, were put in their boats to seek the shore, while a pillar of fire behind them revealed the fate of their floating home.
Three days after this the whaler Altamaha
, of New Bedford, was taken and burned; but, as she had not made a succesful “catch,” her bonfire was somewhat of a disappointment to Semmes
Still she counted in the game; her name and qualifications were all entered on the Alabama
's log-book, and the quartermaster, whose duty it was to attend to such matters, stowed away her clean new flag in his plethoric bag.
There was often a little excitement and some poetry in these chases, especially when the Alabama
happened to fall in with a clipper of a vessel that would give her as much as she could attend to. At such a time the best helmsman would be placed at the wheel, and every sail set and trimmed to a nicety, while officers and men watched the result with the keenness of sportsmen in pursuit of a hare.
was a long, lean racer, with three large fore-and-aft sails and square yards.
When in a heavy breeze and she wanted to go to windward, she could furl her square-sails and then become a three-masted schooner, and when under this sail few vessels could equal her in speed.
On a dark night, shortly after the last burning, while Semmes
was asleep in his cabin, an old quartermaster went below and shook him by the arm, informing him that there was a large ship just passing to windward of them on the opposite tack.
He sprang out of bed at once, and throwing on a few clothes was on deck as soon as the quartermaster, and gave orders to “wear ship” and give chase to the stranger.
was under topsails at the time, and it took some moments to get all sail upon her, and when this was done the chase was three or four miles ahead, yet quite visible to a good eye in the bright moonlight.
Both vessels were now close hauled on the starboard-tack, and it was evident that the merchant captain was doing his best to escape.
He set his light sails with alacrity, and trimmed his yards to the greatest advantage ; but this was the Alabama
's best point of sailing, and when the sheets of her great trysails were hauled flat aft, and the fore-tack boarded, she bounded over the water like something imbued with life.
What would not that merchant captain have given at that moment if the moon could have been blotted out?
But the darkness would not have covered her, for the Confederates
were provided with the best English night-glasses, made on purpose to spy out American prizes on dark nights.
gained on the chase from the very first, and in two hours was on her weather-quarter, having head-reached and gone to windward of her. The stranger was not more than a mile off, on the lee bow, when the stillness of the night was broken into by the boom of a heavy cannon.
The gun was unshotted and the merchantman paid no attention to it — not a tack or sheet was slacked in
obedience to the thundering summons; but the Confederates
saw that preparations were being made to keep off from the wind and set stun'sails.
Never did merchant sailors work with such a will.
They knew how little mercy they had to expect from the Southern
The burnings of the Sumter
were known in every sea where a newspaper could reach.
The merchant ship now began to move briskly through the water, by keeping off, and the delusive hope sprung up in the captain's breast that he might yet evade his pursuer.
For a moment the Alabama
began to drop astern, but it was only for a moment.
As soon as she followed the movements of the chase and stood on a parallel course, she made such good speed that before the stranger could get his foretopmast stun'sail set she was within good pointblank range of a long 32-pounder.
The moon was shining brightly and every rope and sail proved the stranger to be American.
The chase was very exciting, and the crew of the Alabama
were grouped about on her deck, wondering if the “old man” would not soon bring it to a close, and let them have a good night display of burning before changing watches, and they were soon gratified by the order to fire another gun shotted, as the Alabama
ranged up under the stern of her prey, not more than 300 yards distant. This was too much for the nerves of the old merchant captain.
He was not a fighting man, and, if he had been.
he had nothing to fight with, so he wisely hauled up his courses and lay to. It was a pretty picture — that large ship lying in the light of the moon, with the long, low clipper silently stealing up alongside of her — and, no doubt, reminded the spectators of the yarns oft told in the forecastle of the times when the bold buccaneers sailed along the Spanish
main, burning vessels and making their crews walk the plank.
Semmes at once gave the order to board the prize, and directed the officer to hoist a light at the peak in case she proved to be an American.
When the boat came alongside, the old captain was relieved of his worst apprehensions, instead of his pursuer being a pirate, she was only the Alabama
, and though he was told his vessel would be burned in the morning, and that all his worldly goods would go up in a cloud of smoke, he thanked God that it was no worse.
The light was hoisted at the peak as directed, and Semmes
went below to finish the nap so unceremoniously broken, and dream of the sport he would be able to give his men next morning when lie destroyed the prize.
Next morning when he came on deck he was monarch of all he surveyed.
He ruled the ocean for miles around, as far even as the Saragossa Sea
, for there was not such a thing as an American man-of-war in all those waters.
The fifty cruisers that should have been afloat six months before, and guarding every point where American merchantmen could be found, were yet upon the stocks — nay, many of them were only on paper.
An old commodore with a fleet of fourteen vessels at his heels, was steaming up and down the Gulf
and Caribbean Sea
, looking for “Alabamas” that were hundreds of miles away and upsetting all the plans of the Navy Department.
looked about him that morning, his eye rested on the fine large ship lying close by, awaiting his orders.
She proved to be the whaler, Benjamin Tucker
, of New Bedford, eight months out, with 340 barrels of oil. But the Confederate
captain had no need for oil, so he took from her only the tobacco and small stores, and after transferring her crew of thirty persons to his own vessel, applied the torch, and before ten o'clock she was a mass of flames fore-and-aft.
The next morning he overtook and burned the schooner Courser
of Provincetown, Massachusetts
For a moment the springs of pity opened in the breast of the Confederate
as he surveyed this pretty little craft, and looked upon her handsome young captain; but he had just finished reading a Northern paper, in which he was spoken of in terms that were anything but polite, and he had to steel his heart against his better feelings and let the laws of war be executed.
He had now the crews of his three last prizes on board, and as they somewhat crowded the Alabama
, he stood in for the Island of Flores
, put them in eight captured whale-boats, and sent them off to land as best they might, and compare notes with the poor fellows already on shore.
What fun it must have been to the Norsemen to see that regatta, in which eight boats were struggling to reach the shore and get as far as possible out of the neighborhood of the Alabama
was not otherwise inhumane to these men, but they were in his way and he wanted to get rid of them, and he seemed to think that they were so well pleased with him that, with a little coaxing, they would have given three cheers for the Alabama
We are now to see the new cruiser in rough and tempestuous weather.
We have seen her in smooth seas and moonlight nights; but it often happens that these smooth-water sailors do not maintain their reputation when they have to contend with heavy weather.
had been built as a type of a perfect cruiser, one that
could maintain her character under sail as well as under steam.
But up to this time Semmes
had had no opportunity to test her in all weathers, which would decide the character of the vessel, and prove whether she was the most dangerous machine to be used against American commerce ever yet planned, or simply one of those expensive failures of which the United States
had so many in its own Navy.
The opportunity soon occurred.
The wind was rapidly freshening into a gale, when in the morning, after the burning of the Courser
, a large American ship was discovered and soon overtaken.
This was the whaling-ship Virginia
, and she was burned like the rest, after being despoiled of such articles as the Alabama
The only difference was that, as the torch was not applied until late in the afternoon, the fire burned brightly for a part of the night, and could be seen when many miles away, as the flames and burning masses of timber were whirled into the air by the strong eddies of a freshening wind.
Next morning a bark hove in sight, and as soon as those on board made out the Alabama
they commenced making efforts to escape.
By this time it was blowing half a gale, and both vessels were under snug sail; but the reefs were now shaken out and topgallant sails set in both of them.
It seemed at first as if the topgallant masts of the Alabama
would go over the side, the sticks buckled so; but John Laird
had selected good timber for the craft, which he had pronounced to be the finest cruiser of her class in the world, and the broad, tough English cross-trees kept everything in its place.
Not a mast snapped, nor did a rope-yarn part, so perfect were all the appliances of the vessel.
The bark hung on to all the sail she could carry, though she was short-handed, and her commander evidently seemed determined to escape from his pursuer or let his masts and sails go overboard.
Though the Alabama
was much the smaller vessel of the two, it was quite evident that she was as much at home in this rough weather as the prey in view.
Both vessels were at times almost under water during this exciting chase, yet the Alabama
gained so rapidly and steadily that it was plainly seen that the bark's only chance of safety lay in the Confederate
losing some of his spars.
But it was the same old story.
carried sail, and in three hours had the stranger within reach of her 32-pounders, and there was nothing left for the merchant captain to do but surrender.
He had made a gallant run for it, and had carried his canvas in a manner worthy of a man-of-war's-man, but Semmes
made short shrift of his vessel (the Elisha Dunbar
, of New Bedford), and she was soon destroyed.
did not in this case wait even long enough to examine the papers of his prize, for the gale was increasing and he desired to get his boat on board as soon as possible.
What cared he whether her cargo included neutral property or not?
Was not there a prize-court sitting in the Alabama
's cabin night and day, and did not this court feel perfectly qualified to settle all questions of law and fact?
Had not the English Government
tacitly admitted that neutrals who shipped goods in vessels belonging to either belligerent must take the chances of war and apply for redress and compensation to a prize-court?
had under his command brave and daring officers, no one will deny, for that day put their zeal and seamanship to the severest test.
The boats of the Alabama
were well managed, and succeeded in transferring all the persons without accident.
Nothing was taken out of the prize but her chronometer and flag, and by the time the boats were alongside the Alabama
, the Dunbar
was all in flames, with her sails set just as when she hove-to.
The gale howled, as if giving out a solemn requiem over the destruction of this fine vessel, and the sea-birds that brave the gale and were hovering around with discordant cries, added their apparent grief to the noise and crashing of timbers and roaring eddies of wind that were rushing through the doomed vessel.
The burning ship was, without doubt, a beautiful spectacle, which the descendants of the Norsemen enjoyed amazingly.
What cared they who was injured by the destruction of the Elisha Dunbar
, since even Earl Russell was not averse to seeing a little English commerce consigned to the bottom of the ocean, as long as the whole American merchant marine could be detroyed or transferred to the flag of Great Britain
The black clouds were mustering their forces in fearful array, ready to burst in anger over this scene of destruction.
Night seemed suddenly to have wrapped the day in its mantle of darkness.
The thunder rolled in the high heavens, reverberating for miles away to leeward, the awful crash seeming to shake the sea and earth to their centres, and lightning leaped from cloud to cloud, adding greatly to the grandeur of a scene which no pen can describe.
All nature seemed to protest against such unnatural and wanton proceedings.
The sea was by this time raging fearfully, and spray that was blown from the tops of rising waves cut the faces of the sailors as if it had been small shot.
The winds howled, and rain descended in torrents, as if determined
to quench the fires raised by rebellious hands; but nothing could save the Dunbar
, and the flames burned yet more fiercely as she lay rolling and tossing upon the tumultuous sea. Now an ignited sail would fly away from a yard and scud off before the gale like some huge albatross with its wings on fire, while the yards, with braces burned and released from all control, would sway about violently, as if anxious to escape from this turmoil of fire and wind, and finally drop into the sea. The masts, one after another, went by the board, as the hull rocked and heaved like some great animal in its death throes, and finally the sea broke in and met the flames with a shriek resembling the howl of a thousand demons.
The ship gave one great roll, and then went to the bottom, “a victim to the passions of man and the prey of the elements.”
These were the scenes that followed in the track of the Alabama
looked on unmoved amidst the cowlings of the storm, and the descendants of the Norsemen added a new scene to their adventures, hereafter to be told under the forecastle to their admiring shipmates who had not had the glory of serving on a Confederate cruiser.
The storm was at its height, but the Alabama
rode it out under reefed sails like a duck; and Captain Semmes
was satisfied that he had under his command not only a formidable war-vessel, but a capital sea-boat.
had kept his word with the Confederate
agent when he designed and built the Alabama
, and it is reasonable to suppose, since he gave so much of his time and attention to this cruiser, that his heart was much interested in the Confederate
felt that he had a vessel on which he could depend for any emergency.
It was now the month of October, and the gales of the season were beginning to blow.
He had completely swept the seas in the whaling district, and there was nothing more of consequence to be done in that latitude.
He had not, so far, burned a pound of coal in his pursuit of United States
commerce; all his operations had been conducted under sail, and he had never found a vessel that could escape the Alabama
He now sighed for new scenes of adventure, and his officers, who also longed for a change, suggested going to the ground where the grain-ships of the North
might be picked up when on their way to Europe
to feed the great multitudes there who depended on American grain for a subsistence.
The descendants of the Norsemen had got tired of capturing whalers, and they longed to get into the track of traders, whose rich cargoes would afford better opportunities for obtaining plunder.
knew how to manage his men, and that it was necessary to amuse them.
Sailors are like children all the world over; and, although they must be governed with a firm hand, it is sometimes advisable to let them think that their wishes are consulted.
never forgot the lessons taught by mutineers in times past, and he attempted to keep his sailors in a contented frame of mind by occasional concessions.
Early on the morning of October 3d two sails were simultaneously reported from the Alabama
's mast-head; but, as both ships were standing in the direction of the cruiser, there was no need to chase.
They were running right into the spoiler's net, and suspected no danger until they were within gunshot, when the Alabama
fired a gun and hoisted the flag that had carried such terror to the whale-ships of the Azores
These vessels were the Brilliant
and Emily Farnum
, both of New York, and both loaded with grain.
The latter being what Semmes
considered “properly documented” was released on ransom-bond, and he took the opportunity of sending away in her all his prisoners, of whom he had 50 or 60, besides those just captured.
was burned with her valuable cargo.
On the afternoon of October 7th, the bark Wavecrest
was taken; and. after being relieved of everything that could be of use to the Confederates
, she was made a target for gun practice, and finally destroyed.
Next day the brig Dunkirk
, of New York.
fell into the hands of the Alabama
, and, as her captain could offer no evidence of neutral ownership, she also was committed to the flames.
Up to this time Semmes
had destroyed twelve valuable vessels, with their cargoes, and all this work hlad been done in little over a month, with his ship under sail alone, and here he was now right in the track of the grain trade between New York and Europe
with not a single Federal man — of war in the neighborhood to interfere with his proceedings.
He approached the coast with confidence, for he liad not as vet ever heard of any vessel having been sent in pursuit of him — much less seen one.
Crowds of vessels were daily leaving New York for Liverpool
, but they were mostly foreigners, with cargoes properly documented, who were taking advantage of the times to reap golden harvests.
These vessels Semmes
could not touch.
but he gave them as much trouble as possible.
Why the United States Government should have left this great highway unprotected no one to this day can conjecture.
The vessels that were sent to look for the Alabama
always went to the wrong
places, when it must have been known that she would seek the highways of trade as naturally as a bluefish would seek the feeding-grounds of the menhaden.
Whatever success the Federal Government
may have had in blockading the enemy's ports, its attempts to protect the merchant marine were nearly always failures; and it slows how necessary it is for a nation to keep on hand in time of peace vessels that will prove useful in time of war.
There seemed to be no limit to his success, and Semmes
had so much to do, and so many legal questions to decide, that he was sometimes brought to a standstill.
One ship that he captured (the Tonawanda
) carried a number of women and children, who filled the air with piteous lamentations at what appeared to them to be a dreadful fate.
This was more perplexing than a dozen ordinary cargoes, for lie could burn these if his prize-court so decided, but could not so easily dispose of the women and children; and he was obliged to sail about for some time with this living cargo following in his wake, hoping that he might fall in with some neutral vessel to which he could transfer his passengers, and then be at liberty to destroy the floating home of these poor people before their eyes.
If he had been a man of any generosity, he would have said to the captain of the Tonawanda
, “Go in peace; we are not warring against women and children, and these helpless ones shall not be molested”.
But not he: lie had no sentiment about him, and, although lie knew the agony felt by these people, lie kept them sailing in his wake until another victim should heave in sight.
But it seems that the Alabama
still h]ad to play out her role before she left the North Atlantic
The good intentions that were entertained towards the passengers of the Tonawanda
--to put them on board a neutral vessel — were frustrated by the arrival of another heavy ship of the “junk fleet” (as the grain ships were called by Semmes
' men). This vessel approached the Alabama
unsuspectingly until the boom of a gun and the Confederate
flag at the stranger's peak showed the merchant captain that his fate was sealed, and he immediately surrendered.
had by this time become pretty well known in the United States
, and Semmes
' methods were understood.
Ships were heavily insured before sailing, and a shipmaster surrendered his vessel with the satisfaction of knowing that some time in the future his losses would be reimbursed.
The ship Manchester
, that had now fallen into the Alabama
's toils, was a more valuable prize than the Tonawanda
, so the latter was allowed to proceed on her voyage, while the former was burned in her place.
On the 15th of October the next ship was taken; but Semmes
and his officers were very much disappointed when they sat down to breakfast that morning at not having their regular batch of newspapers.
This vessel was the Lamplighter
, loaded with tobacco, and after the Confederates
had taken what they wanted out of her they burned her, and thus approached the coast, leaving a track of flames behind them; while the Federal Government
, which had been immediately apprised of her escape from Liverpool
, took no effective measures to arrest the career of the cruiser that was attacking American commerce and driving its vessels to seek protection under the British
The English Ministry might well afford to ignore the occasional destruction of part of a British cargo, when they knew that the system pursued by Semmes
was driving all merchants to ship their cargoes in British bottoms, or to register their vessels under the English
The Chamber of Commerce, in Liverpool
, writing to Earl Russell, as late as November, 1862.
in regard to the destruction of neutral goods by the Alabama
, received the reply: “British owners of property on board of Federal
ships, alleged to have been unlawfully captured by Confederate cruisers, are in the same position as any other neutral owner shipping in enemy's bottoms during the war.”
Of course, this drove all British property to seek neutral bottoms; and when English owners of captured property were told to apply to the Confederate
prize-courts for redress, it convinced everybody that the British Government
was not going to protect the property of its subjects on the high seas as long as an American flag waved upon the ocean.
With all her great Navy, Her Britannic Majesty had not a vessel on the ocean looking after the proceedings of these Confederate cruisers, while quite a number of them were employed in watching the operations of the Federal Navy
on the coast, and officiously inspecting the blockade, to see that it was lawfully maintained.
made her sixteenth capture on the 21st of October: a fine large ship running down to her — the fly and the spider again — looking a perfect picture, with her sails all beautifully drawing, and her masts swaying and bending under the cloud of canvas, while the sea was rolling before her broad, flaring bows as if nothing could oppose her progress.
It was a beautiful sight, this almost living sign of a nation's greatness, that could boast at that time that the white sails of her ships
covered every sea. But a little puff of smoke from the Alabama
's guns soon changed the picture: her cloud of canvas seemed to shrivel and disappear as if it had been a scroll rolled up by an invisible hand, and all the symmetry of the great mass that had so lately been swaying gracefully above the water was gone.
Though the cargo of the prize was certified to all over as being the property of neutrals, and also covered with British consular seals that had heretofore been respected, Semmes
was not satisfied until he had held an Admiralty Court in his cabin, and the court came to the conclusion that the Lafayette
Earl Russell had decided that neutrals shipping in vessels belonging to the belligerents must suffer the consequences of war, and the British Minister
simply carried out the instructions of his superior, and referred all complainants to the Southern
found, that day, newspapers on board the Lafayette
in which were some very severe strictures in regard to his course in the cases of the Brilliant
and Emily Farnum
--in fact, some of the papers denounced his acts as piracy, a term always galling to him. This did not help the case of the Lafayette
, and she was ruthlessly destroyed as soon as the captain of the Alabama
was satisfied that he had taken everything out of her that could be of service to himself or his crew.
Three days after this capture the Crenshaw
was taken, plundered and burned.
She was only a schooner, and it did not take the prize-court in the Alabama
's cabin ten minutes to decide her fate.
now found that his supply of coal was running out, and decided to shape his course for the Island of Martinique
, where he had directed Captain Bullock
to send him a coal-ship.
On the 2d of November he captured the Levi Starbuck
, a New Bedford whaler, bound on a voyage to the Pacific Ocean
Like all her class just starting out, she was filled with all sorts of stores and Yankee nicknacks; and although the Alabama
had been filled up a dozen times since she started from the Azores
with stores taken from her prizes, yet she had the maw of a cormorant and always seemed to want to be fed. All this booty was easily acquired.
and it went just as easily.
The amount of food, tobacco and clothing used by the 90 men and 24 officers on board the Alabama
was among the most remarkable events of her cruise.
But, notwithstanding the comforts bestowed upon her captors by the Levi Starbuck
, she was burned at night-fall.
It will be observed how easily all these vessels were taken by the Alabama
Some would call this good luck on the part of the Confederate
commander; but, in fact, it was the result of good management and forethought.
did no more than follow the channels of trade which the American ships were known to travel, and it is reasonable to suppose that, if Federal ships-of-war had followed the same tracks, they would have picked up the bold adventurer before lie had been many days at sea.
About this time the Alabama
was approaching another track of commerce, across which it was intended to run on her way to Martinique
, viz., the track of homeward-bound East Indiamen, and the day after getting in the track she fell in with and captured the T. B. Wales
, of Boston
now liberally construed the Confederate
prize-law, that “No person in the Navy shall take out of a prize or vessel seized as a prize, any money, plate, goods, or any part of her rigging, unless it be for the better preservation thereof, or absolutely necessary for the use of any of the vessels of the Confederate States
He helped himself not only to anchors, chains, stores and provisions, but to the main-yard of the Wales
, which happened to be the right size and in better condition than that of the Alabama
No wonder the Confederates
were able to keep a number of cruisers at sea, when they found a victualling station in everything they captured and could supply themselves with all necessaries at these floating dockyards.
There were women and children on board the East Indianan
, but they were all transferred to the Alabama
, and that night they were treated to the sight of a burning vessel; but, as much of their personal property went up in the flames, it is not likely that they enjoyed the spectacle to any great extent.
It can be said to Semmes
' credit, however, that he showed these poor people all attention, and made them as comfortable as circumstances would permit.
About the 16th of November the Alabama
sighted the island of Dominica
, the first land she had made since leaving Terceira
in the Azores
now put his vessel under steam and ran for Martinique
— where he expected to meet his coalship — passed close by the harbor of St. Pierre
, to see that there were no United States
ships-of-war there, and then into the harbor of Port de France
, where he came to anchor.
Here the Alabama
landed her prisoners and took on board what stores she needed; but Semmes
did not attempt to coal his vessel in this port, as he feared the appearance of an American man-of-war.
This precaution was well taken, for the coal-ship had
hardly got clear of the Island
when the U. S. steamer San Jacinto
appeared off the entrance to the harbor and blockaded him. But Semmes
did not fear this slow and antiquated ship, as he knew that his superior speed would enable him to make his escape whenever he was ready.
The San Jacinto
was an old steam-frigate, under the command of Commander Ronckendorff
, carrying a heavy battery, but not able to make more than 7 knots under steam, and Semmes
cared no more for her than if she had been an old-fashioned sailing three-decker.
stationed himself just outside of the marine league, and kept a sharp watch on the Alabama
, but she escaped without difficulty under cover of the night, and joined her coal-ship at Blanquilla, a little island on the coast of Venezuela
From this point Semmes
shaped his course for the Gulf of Mexico
, in hopes of overtaking an expedition said to be fitting out under General Banks
for the purpose of invading Texas
, and, as this expedition was to rendezvous at Galveston
, he steered for that port.
At the same time, he hoped to make his cruise remunerative by waylaying one of the steamers from Panama
carrying gold to the North
He had several weeks to spare, and the idea of levying upon the mail-steamers gave him much pleasure, as a million or so of dollars deposited in Europe
would naturally aid him in his operations upon the sea.
On November 26th Semmes
stood for the Mona Passage
between St. Domingo
and Porto Rico
This was the general route of the mail-steamers on their way to the North
, and he naturally approached it with great caution, expecting to find a Federal ship-of-war stationed there, but there was none, and the Confederate
captain seemed still to be sailing under a lucky star.
It was Sunday when the cry of “Sail ho!”
came from aloft: everything was dropped for the new excitement, as it had been some time since a prize had been sighted.
's head was pointed towards the stranger, her topmen sprang aloft at the order, and in five minutes she was under a cloud of canvas from rail to truck.
The chase was a short one, a run of a few hours brought the Alabama
up with the vessel, which proved to be the Parker Cooke
, of and from Boston
This capture greatly pleased the descendants of the Norsemen, for they had learned from experience that the Boston
traders always contained the very best of everything, from a needle to a barrel of crackers or firkin of butter.
So it was in this case; the Parker Cooke
was plethoric with good things, and all that day the capacious maw of the Alabama
was open to receive the cargo of her prize.
The trader was completely emptied, and yet the maw was still unsatisfied, and the wonder will always remain what the 120 men on board this cruiser did with the cargoes, or parts of cargoes, of eighteen vessels which had been transferred to her from time to time.
It was sunset before the prisoners and cargo were transferred, the torch was then applied to the beautiful merchantman, and soon the flames were casting a broad light on the bold mountains of St. Domingo
, and were reflected on the soft, smooth sea. which already sparkled with the phosphorescence of those latitudes.
While waiting for the mail-steamers, the Alabama
captured the Baltimore
, to which the prisoners were transferred and the vessel allowed to depart on a ransom-bond.
knowing, from the Northern
papers, that the California
steamer was due next day, kept a bright look-out for her, and soon a large brig-rigged steamer appeared.
All was now excitement on board the Alabama
; the propeller was lowered, sails furled, steam raised, and in twenty minutes she was ready for the chase.
The reader is, no doubt, hoping that something will happen to warn the coming steamer in time to avoid her threatened fate.
But she came on rapidly, and when within three or four miles, the Alabama
hoisted the American
It was astonishing how often Semmes
resorted to using what he called “the flaunting lie” --which he derided on all occasions-forgetting that in the days of the Revolution it had been carried to victory by the bravest and most chivalrous men of the South
Yet he did not feel degraded at having that flag flying at his peak as long as he could draw his enemy into his net; and that foolish steamer, seeing the old flag, put her whole faith and trust in it, and came on with increased speed to greet the defenders of the Union
, whom an energetic and benign Government had sent to that spot to assure them a safe passage!!
When within a mile of the Alabama
the steamer was making great speed, and even at that moment could have turned and escaped, but the merchant captain never thought of examining carefully that clipper-built hull and English rig, so totally unlike anything American.
All eyes were bent on the American
ensign, and the one small gun the steamer carried for signalling purposes was loaded to fire a passing salute to the flag of their country.
placed his vessel directly across the path of the huge steamer, which came foaming through the water towards him, and if the captain of that vessel had been
a bold man he would have crashed through the Alabama
, as soon as lie discovered her character, and sent her to the bottom off the island of San Domingo
, where many a rich galleon, after being robbed by the Drakes and Morgans of old, had been sunk before her.
The mail-packet had all her awnings spread, and underneath them, on the upper deck, were congregated a number of passengers of both sexes, among whom could be seen the occasional uniform of an officer or soldier.
It was a happy picture as they crowded to the side to look upon the defenders of their country, and the officers of the Alabama
watched the expression of their faces as they appeared to criticise or admire their vessel.
They saw plainly that not even the captain and officers had yet suspected danger, when Semmes
surprised them by wheeling in pursuit, firing a blank cartridge, and hoisting the Confederate
The panic that now ensued was dreadful; the screams of women filled the air, and men turned pale as they realized the proximity of one of the dreaded Confederate cruisers — which were designated in the North
as pirates, and which were as much feared at that time as was the vessel of the famous Lafitte
by the Spaniards and Frenchmen in 1806-8.
The merchant captain, astonished at the turn of affairs, gave the order to open wide the throttle of his engines and make all possible speed.
For the moment he had no intention of slacking up, but the Alabama
was within three or four hundred yards of him, in hot pursuit, with a long gun ready to be fired if it should prove necessary to use force.
It was very plain from the beginning that the packet was going rapidly away from the Alabama
, and that if Semmes
wished to detain her he would have to use shot and shell.
She was a fine large target, and he knew that his gunners would not be likely to miss her — after their varied and extended practice.
Nor was he disappointed — a curl of white smoke, a flash, and a shower of large splinters from one of the steamer's masts, were all the result of a moment.
That was sufficient — the mast had not been cut away entirely, but the practice told those in charge of the steamer that they were entirely in the power of their pursuer, and that they had better stop before another shot was sent crashing through the stern among the women and children.
The walking-beam of the engine began to move more slowly, and the bell in the engine-room soon signalled to stop.
slowed down, ranged up alongside, and took possession of her prize.
But now Captain Semmes
experienced a keen disappointment.
Instead of a homeward-bound California
steamer, with a couple of millions of dollars in her safes, he discovered that his prize, the Ariel
, was outward-bound and lad as passengers some 500 women and children.
Here was an elephant on his hat hands that he had not bargained for, and he did not know what to do with his prize.
He could not take her into a neutral port, for that was forbidden by the Orders in Council; he could not land the passengers, and lie could not take them on board the Alabaman
The best he could hope to do was to capture some inferior prize in the next few (lays, place all the passengers on board of her, and letthem get in to port as best they could.
He would then be at liberty to burn the Ariel
, and proceed on his voyage.
One of the most humiliating things about this capture was that the Ariel
carried a battalion of marines and a number of naval officers, who were on their way to join ships in the Pacific
How these men must have blushed for their country and bitten tleir lips in anger, as they listened to the taunts and jeers of their captors!
There were 140 of them, rank and file, and, as they were all paroled, Semmes
congratulated himself on having disarmed so many of his country's enemies.
The boarding officer, on his return to the Alabama
, reported that a dreadful state of alarm existed on board the Ariel
, that the women were all in tears, and many of them in hysterics.
They had read in tlhe papers of the doings of the Alabama
, and took her officers and crew to be nothing better than pirates; and, indeed, the behavior of the Alabama
's men on many occasions justified people in coming to this conclusion, unless it were possible to consider as legal all the decisions of the Admiralty Court
which sat in the cabin of the commerce destroyer.
was not insensible to the distress of his fair captives, and at once took steps to quiet their fears.
He sent for his handsomest lieutenant (history does not give his name), and ordered him to array himself in his most gorgeous uniform, and gird on the finest sword to be found in the ward-room.
The young man soon returned, looking as bewitching as possible in a uniform that was somewhat tarnished by sea, air, and the Captain
ordered his own gig, a. handsome boat fitted with beautiful scarlet cushions, to be placed at his disposal.
“Go,” said the humane commander!
“and coax those ladies out of their hysterics.”
“Oh, I'll be sure to do tlat, sir,” replied tlhe young coxcomb, “I never knew a fair creature who could resist me more than fifteen minutes.”
This sounds very much like some of the scenes enacted on board the Red Rover
, in Cooper
's novel, but it is true to the letter, nevertheless.
In order to do justice to the scene which followed, we must take the description of it as given by the Captain
of the Alabama
A few strokes of the oars put him alongside of the steamer, and asking to be shown to the ladies' cabin, he entered the scene of dismay and confusion.
So many were the signs of distress, and so numerous the wailers, that he was abashed, for a moment, as he afterward told me, with all his assurance.
But summoning courage, he spoke to them about as follows: “Ladies!
The Captain of the ” Alabama has heard of your distress, and sent me on board to calm your fears, by assuring you that you have fallen into the hands of Southern gentlemen, under whose protection you are entirely safe.
We are by no means the ruffians and outlaws that we have been represented by your people, and you have nothing whatever to fear.
“ The sobs ceased as he proceeded, but they eyed him askance for the first few minutes.
As he advanced in their midst, however, they took a second and more favorable glance at him. A second glance begat a third, more favorable still, and when he entered into conversation with some of the ladies nearest him, picking out the youngest and prettiest, as the rogue admitted, he found no reluctance on their part to answer him. In short, he was fast becoming a favorite.
The ice being once broken, a perfect avalanche of loveliness soon surrounded him, the eyes of the fair creatures looking all the brighter for the tears that had recently dimmed them.”
Was ever woman in such humor wooed?
Was ever woman in such humor won?
This shows the fickleness of Northern women; had they been Southern-born they would not have looked at a Northern officer, even had he rescued them from fire or wreck.
But it cannot be disguised that the ladies on board the Ariel
allowed themselves to believe that a man could be a gentleman and a man of honor, even though differing from them in politics, and one of them even so far forgot herself as to request her handsome enemy to give her a button from his uniform coat, as a memento of the occasion.
It is needless to say that the request was granted, for the young officer was now so intoxicated with the beauty about him that he would have given away his coat, cap, sword and boots, had he been asked to do so. Others followed the example of the fair petitioner, and when the lieutenant reported to his commander he was in the condition of a picked chicken!
The male passengers were not so deeply impressed by the appearance of the envoy, and occupied the time of his visit in overhauling their baggage, and secreting their valuables.
“In fact,” said the lieutenant, as he reported to Captain Semmes, “I really believe that these fellows think we are no better than the Northern thieves who are burning dwelling-houses, and robbing our women and children in the South!”
This was a Southern view of the matter, which had not been modified by the plundering and burning of the Alabama
on the high seas.
himself was deeply impressed by the good conduct of his officers and men on this occasion.
He estimated that each of the five hundred passengers had from three to five hundred dollars, and thought that under the laws of war all this money would have been a fair prize.
“But not one dollar of it,” he says, “was touched, or indeed so much as a passenger's baggage examined,” and we are glad that history will vouch for it for the credit of Southern officers who once belonged to the United States Navy.
The fact remains, however, that to have taken one dollar or piece of property from any passenger on board the Ariel
would have been a base act of piracy.
carried out his intention of keeping the Ariel
in company, and it was not until he had given up all hope of falling in with another merchantman that he allowed her to go on her way rejoicing.
of the Ariel
was, of course, obliged to give a “ransom-bond” ; but it was a great disappointment to Captain Semmes
not to be able to burn this fine large packet, especially as he knew she belonged to Cornelius Vanderbilt
, who had given a fast steamer to the United States Government for the express purpose of pursuing Confederate cruisers.
looked upon this act of a private citizen as an outrage that should meet with condign punishment, forgetting that there are two sides to every question, and that Vanderbilt
was merely showing his devotion and loyalty to the Republic
in a most practical and sensible manner.
also complained that Vanderbilt
never redeemed the “ransom-bond” ; but this was not singular, for the general understanding was tlat these bonds were only to be paid in case the South
On the 23d of December the Alabama
joined her coal-ship at Arcas Islands
, in the Gulf of Mexico
, and prepared to waylay the Banks expedition, which was expected to reach Galveston
by the 10th of January.
' plan was to approach the harbor of Galveston
at a time when the army transports would probably have arrived, make careful observations of their positions by daylight, and then withdraw until nightfall.
He then proposed to run in and attack the fleet under cover of the darkness, and hoped to be able to sink or scatter the whole of them.
This was a bold and feasible plan, and no one call deny tlat Semmes
displayed great daring in thus bearding the lion in his den, and entering waters that he knew to be full of his enemy's gun-boats.
But lie knew the character of every vessel on the coast, and was well aware that but few of the “old tubs” in the Federal Navy
could catch him. The Florida
had distanced the Cuyler
, the fastest vessel off Mobile
bar, and the Alabama
was faster than the Florida
Under these conditions he felt quite safe, as he could either run or fight.
On the 5th of January Semmes
left the Areas and headed for Galveston
As he approached the harbor, he discovered that, instead of Banks
' transports, there were five men-of-war anchored off the town.
This was a damper, and for a short time he was undecided what to do. He had promised his men some fun in this vicinity, and did not like to go away without gratifying them.
He was soon relieved from his quandary, however, by the look-out aloft reporting that one of the Federal
gunboats was coming out in chase.
This was the unfortunate Hatteras
, the story of whose sinking by the Alabama
has already been told in another part of this history.
The course pursued by the Confederate
commander in this action cannot be justified by the rules of war. In answer to a hail from the Hatteras
, he declared his vessel to be Her Britannic Majesty's steamer Petrel
, and when Lieutenant-Commander Blake
proposed to send a boat along-side of him, expressed his willingness to receive the officers in a friendly manner.
This implied that the Alabama
was what Semmes
reported her to be, a neutral man-of-war.
If it had been simply a ruse to escape while the boat was being lowered, it might have passed.
But when, as in this case, it was to gain time in which to train the guns upon the vital parts of an enemy, and make preparations for taking human life, it was simply perfidy, such as a Zulu warrior would hardly resort to. There are certain laws of courtesy in war which the meanest nations observe.
When two men-of-war meet in the day-time their nationality is shown by their flag; but when, under cover of darkness, a false nationality is given, and willingness to receive a friendly visit expressed, it is the same as violating a flag of truce, for the visitor goes on board with the full expectation of meeting a kind reception and does not anticipate treachery.
The first broadside is often the turning-point in a battle, especially when there is, as in this case, a disparity of force.
As the boat approached the Alabama
gave the order to open fire upon the Hatteras
, and the little vessel actually staggered under the blow.
At the same time he ordered his first-lieutenant to hail the enemy; and reveal the true character of the Alabama
As has been already narrated, the Hatteras
was literally cut to pieces, and in fifteen minutes went to the bottom.
It is not necessary to give any other reason for the loss of the Hatteras
, than that her antagonist was more than a match for her in every respect.
The Confederate vessel carried heavier guns and was strongly built, while the Hatteras
was a mere shell — an iron side-wheel river-boat, that had been used to carry passengers on the Delaware
had much the greater speed, and her fire was more accurate, owing to the fact that the crew of the Hatteras
were somewhat demoralized by the first, unexpected, broadside.
did not seem disposed to make much capital out of this victory.
Nothing remained for him to do in this vicinity; so, after he had picked up the officers and crew of the Hatteras
, he put out all his lights and steamed away for the coast of Yucatan
, congratulating himself that he had been able to satisfy his men with this substitute for his contemplated attack on Banks
received little damage in the fight, and on January 20th arrived at Jamaica
, where the prisoners were landed, on parole, to find their way home as best they could.
It is but fair to state that the officers and men of the Hatteras
were kindly treated by their captors, and Lieutenant-Commander Blake
was received as a guest in the cabin.
sailed from Jamaica
on the 25th of January, 1863, bound for the coast of Brazil
had been treated with every possible attention by the British
officers at Jamaica
, and flattered himself that they implicitly believed in his right to burn, sink and destroy American merchantmen, even if they carried English goods, for the Confederacy
would be sure to make amends in her prize-courts as soon as the war was over!
In fact, the English Admiral
and his officers behaved with a great want of dignity in thus taking sides with the Alabama
, and treating the officers of the Hatteras
with such marked discourtesy.
The military bands played that lovely air Dixie
with all the pathos they could throw into the music; while, much to the delight of the Confederates
, they performed Yankee Doodle
with all their drums, cymbals and squeaking clarionets in the harshest manner, as if in mockery of the American
It was, no doubt, a great source of satisfaction to the British
to see the once great commerce of the United States
being turned over to the protection of the British
flag, and giving employment to all the vessels that had been lying idle for years at the English
But they forgot the pertinacity of these Yankees, whom they were trying to turn into ridicule, and they also forgot that the Northern
officers and men, who were now obliged to listen to their taunts, were prisoners-of-war who possessed nothing but the clothes they stood in, and that they were entitled to all the
courtesy a generous nation could give them.
They forgot, for a time, that the people whom they were attempting to ridicule were wont to remember injuries and wrongs received, and sooner or later to find a (lay of reckoning.
The day of reckoning for these insults came when the Americans
received an indemnity of $15,000,000 for the pranks of the Alabama
, which the Englishmen paid to the tune of Yankee Doodle
, at a time when the reunited States had adopted Dixie
as one of its national airs.
Soon after leaving port the Alabama
fell in with the American ship Golden Rule
, from New York, bound to Aspinwall
The island of San Domingo
was sufficiently near to allow its inhabitants to witness a splendid bonfire.
says in his journal:
A looker — on upon that conflagration would have seen a beautiful picture, for, besides the burning ship, there were the two islands mentioned, sleeping in the dreamy moonlight on a calm bosom of a tropical sea, and the rakish-looking “British pirate” steaming in for the land, with every spar and line of cordage brought out in bold relief by the bright flame — nay, with the very ‘pirates’ themselves visible, handling the boxes and bales of merchandise which they had “robbed” from this innocent Yankee, whose countrymen at home were engaged in the Christian occupation of burning our houses and desolating our fields.
There was more truth than poetry in the first part of this quotation.
No doubt, if the oldest inhabitants among these simple islanders could have refreshed their memories, they might have brought back the days when the buccaneers of old (many of whom were stout Anglo-Saxons in English-built ships) roved these seas and left behind them a trail of fire — even as the Alabama
was now doing.
Soon after the capture of the Golden Rule
, a beautiful hermaphrodite brig hove in sight.
It was blowing half a gale, and ill the bright moonlight she looked like a sea-gull skimming along over the top of the waves.
Her white sails and rakish rig proclaimed her to be an American, and she was at once brought — to by a shot from the Alabama
She proved to be the Chastelaine
, a Boston vessel, and the fiat went forth at once — burn her. Her crew were removed, the torch applied, and with sail set, the doomed vessel bounded away over the waves, like a courser with his nostrils breathing fire.
The light of her burning hull illumined the sea-girt walls of Alta Vela (a tall island about ten miles from San Domingo
), and disturbed the slumber of sea-gulls and cormorants for the rest of the night; while the Alabama
sailed away in the darkness, and this adventure soon ceased to be a matter of comment among her crew.
next appeared in the Mona Passage
, and found this important channel of commerce still unguarded by American men-of-war.
In fact, it had remained so ever since his last visit, while an old commodore, with a large squadron, had been sailing about the Caribbean Sea
, interfering with neutral commerce and watching the English
mail-steamers that were pursuing their legitimate business.
had hardly got through the passage before she fell in with and captured the schooner Palmetto
, from New York, bound to St. John
's. Porto Rico
This vessel carried neutral goods, but they were not under consular seals, and Captain Semmes
decided that they came under the rule, “that when partners reside, some in a belligerent and some in a neutral country, the property of all of them, which has any connection with the house in the belligerent country, is liable to confiscation.”
It was wonderful how many rules of international law this officer could interpret to suit his own convenience; for only one or two instances exist in which any vessel was released by the Alabama
, unless it was desired to get rid of a lot of prisoners.
had short shrift, and was forgotten in an hour.
The Confederate cruiser was now obliged to work her way into “the variables,” and proceed to the eastward, near the thirtieth parallel of latitude, a sufficient distance to clear Cape St. Roque on the coast of South America
She soon sighted a sail from aloft, and quickly afterwards three more appeared and caused the Confederates
to think they had fallen upon a perfect bonanza of prizes.
was given to the first sail, but finally abandoned, as it was leading the Alabama
away from the other three vessels, which were fine tall ships, and apparently American.
Coming up with the eastward-bound ship, a prize-crew was thrown on board of her and the prize-master ordered to follow the Alabama
, which vessel started in pursuit of one of the others, that was at least fifteen miles distant by this time, and running off before the wind with steering sails set “alow and aloft.”
This vessel was overtaken after quite a chase, and proved to be the Olive Jane
, of New York, loaded with French wines and brandies.
decided that, although much of this cargo evidently belonged to Frenchmen, it was not properly documented, so he applied the torch without waiting to make any searching investigation, not allowing so much as a bottle of brandy or a case of champagne to be taken out of her. This last was a wise precaution on his part, for he had had great trouble in controlling a number of his drunken sailors at Jamaica
, and knew that it would not be safe to subject them
Although the Confederate Captain
regretted not being able to indulge himself and his men, he chuckled with delight when he thought of the disappointment of New York “shoddyites” and “nouveau-riche
plebeians,” at the loss of the rich wines, olives and “pate-de-foisgras
,” which had been intended to tickle their palates.
Amid the crackling of the fire, the bursting of brandy casks, the shrivelling of sails and the falling of the lighter spars from aloft, the Alabama
turned her head to the eastward again and rejoined her first prize.
This ship was the Golden Eagle
, and the great bird itself was sitting on the cutwater, spreading his wings, as if he owned all the ocean, and seemingly unconscious of his approaching fate.
An inquiry into the papers of this vessel showed that her cargo was wholly owned by Americans
She had sailed full of guano from Howland's Island in the Pacific
, “for Cork and a market, and after having buffeted gales off Cape Horn
, threaded her way through icebergs, been parched by the heat of the tropics and drenched with the rains of the equator, it was her misfortune to be captured when within a few hundred miles of port.”
himself felt sorry for a moment for these people (!), and regretted that he was obliged to destroy this fine ship with so large a cargo of fertilizing matter that would have made fields stagger under a load of grain and carried joy to many a farmer's heart.
But this feeling quickly passed away when he remembered that these fields would be the fields of his enemies, or, if the guano was not used by them, its sale would pour a stream of gold into their coffers.
So he applied the torch without compunction, and the career of the Golden Eagle
was speedily terminated.
now crossed the equator and stationed herself in the great tollgate of commerce, through which traders from India
, the Pacific Ocean
and South America
were continually passing, rejoicing as they reached these latitudes that the long, weary road was behind them, and that but a short and easy passage lay between them and their homes.
It had never occurred to the American Government
to send half-a-dozen gunboats or “double enders” to these latitudes.
They could easily have been spared, and a depot for coaling vessels could have been established under the smooth waters of the equator, at which all the vessels-of-war in the Navy could have been supplied.
If the Alabama
knew where to go to catch American merchantmen, why did not the Federal Government
know where to seek the Alabama
The policeman looks for rogues in the most frequented part of the city, or at points where the wealth of the city is least guarded; and even if he does not catch the rascals, he prevents their doing harm.
This was a parallel case.
It was not the particular smartness of Semmes
that enabled him to escape capture.
It was the omission or indifference of the Navy Department in not sending proper vessels to the right localities.
Many foreign ships passed along this.
route; but Americans
had, in a measure, taken the alarm, and were pursuing longer and safer lines of travel.
was amply repaid for watching at the tollgate, even though many passed through without paying toll.
He captured the ship Washington
from the Chincha Islands
with a cargo of guano, bound to Antwerp
Finding difficulties in the way of destroying her neutral cargo.
he put his prisoners on board, and let her go on a ransom-bond.
The fact was, he was anxious to get rid of his prisoners who were eating him “out of house and home.”
On the morning of the 1st of March the Alabama
captured the fine ship John A. Parks
, of Hallowell, Maine
Her cargo, consisting of lumber for Montevideo
, was. covered by the seals of the British
consul, and was as neutral as any cargo could be. But the ship was burned, nevertheless.
A large quantity of newspapers were taken from the Parks
which, as they contained many unflattering notices of the Alabama
, gave her officers and crew something to sharpen their appetites upon until they overhauled another prize.
The next vessel taken was the Bethiah Thayer
, last from the Chinchas with a cargo of guano for the Peruvian Government
, and, as her cargo was properly documented, she was released on bond.
On the 15th of March,the ship Punjaub
, of Boston
, was captured; but as her cargo was English property, and was properly certified to, she was released on a ransom-bond, after the prisoners were all transferred to her. Semmes
was getting merciful; the mild climate of the tropics was acting favorably upon his temperament, while his crew, for want of excitement, began to look gloomy and disconsolate.
All this time Semmes
made but little change in his position, lying under easy sail near the toll-gate, and allowing his prey to come to him.
On the 23d of March, the Morning Star
, of Boston
, from Calcutta
, and the whaling schooner, Kingfisher
, of Fairhaven, Massachusetts
, were captured.
The fact that the cargo of the Morning Star
was English saved that vessel, hut the Kingfisher
Although this little vessel did not make as large a bonfire as some of her predecessors, it served tot beguile the time; and, in order to make the
spectacle more interesting to his men, Semmes
applied the torch at night-fall, when the effect of the burning oil, amid the rain and wind of a tropical squall, was quite brilliant.
Next day two large ships hove in sight, evidently Americans
They were sailing close together, their captains, no doubt, having a chat about matters at home and congratulating each other at having so far escaped the Alabama
was suddenly interrupted by seeing a piratical-looking craft lying directly in their course, and they separated, as if to seek safety in flight.
But it was too late; they had run directly under the guns of their bitterest foe, and were soon obliged to shorten sail and submit to their fate.
They were the Charles Hill
and the Nora
, both of Boston
, and although their cargoes were owned in part by neutrals, Semmes
took a new view of the law, and burned them, after helping himself to about forty tons of coal.
A day or two after this, in the morning-watch, the look-out on the Alabama
sighted a tall, fine ship standing to the southward.
All sail was made in chase, and as the southwest wind, then blowing fresh, was favorable to the Alabama
, she overhauled the stranger before nightfall.
The prize was the Louisa Hatch
of Rockland, Maine
, from Cardiff
, with a cargo of Welsh
coal for Port de Galle, Island of Ceylon.
The bill of lading required this cargo to be delivered to the “Messageries Imperiales
” Steamship Company, and a certificate was on the back of this document to the effect that the coal belonged to that company.
But, in Captain Semmes
' opinion, this certificate was not properly sworn to, so he decided that the Louisa Hatch
was a good prize-of-war; and this idea was strengthened by the fact that she was loaded with the best Cardiff
coal, exactly what the Alabama
Was there ever such a lucky man as the Captain
of the Alabama
If he wanted a cargo of provisions it fell into his hands.
If he required to visit a dock-yard to fit out his ship, a vessel came along filled with cordage, canvas and anchors.
If he wanted lumber, a lumber vessel from Maine
came right into his path; and if he needed to reinforce his crew, renegades from captured vessels would put their names to the shipping articles, after listening to the thrilling tales of the Norsemen, of burning ships and abundant prize-money.
The prize at first seemed an elephant, as Semmes
would lose too much time if he attempted to transfer her cargo at sea, so he determined to send her to Fernando de Noronha
, and depend on future contingencies.
If the Agrippina
, his coal-tender, should arrive in time he could burn the Louisa Hatch
; if not, the latter would supply him with coal.
The Scotch collier did not, however, appear at Fernando de Noronha
, for the Captain
of the vessel, becoming frightened at the illicit business in which lie had embarked, sold his coal to the best advantage and left the Alabama
to look out for herself.
The Island of Fernando de Noronha
is a penal settlement of Brazil
Few vessels stopped there, though many sighted it, to take a fresh departure.
Although prohibited from taking his prizes into a neutral port, Semmes
did not hesitate to take the Louisa Hatch
into the harbor and coal from her, and for two weeks the officers and crew of the Confederate vessel fraternized with the interesting swindlers and homicides who colonized the island.
At the end of five days, when the Alabama
had finished coaling, signal was made from the high peaks of the island that two large American whalers had hove — to and were sending boats on shore.
immediately got up steam and proceeded in search of his prey.
The Confederate cruiser was soon alongside, and no time was lost in determining their fate.
, of New Bedford, in the course of an hour, was burning brightly, much to the amusement of the robbers and murderers on shore.
The other prize, the Kate Cory
, of Westport
, was retained to act as a cartel and convey the one hundred and ten prisoners on board the Alabama
to the United States
By 7 P. M. the Alabama
again anchored in the harbor with her prize, without any objection from the Governor
, yet the Government
subsequently pretended to be very indignant at the violation of neutrality whereby the Confederate cruiser Florida
was taken from one of her ports.
There was no end to the indignities heaped upon the United States
and its commerce while the Alabama
remained at this colony of criminals.
changed his mind about sending his prisoners to the United States
, and engaged the master of a Brazilian schooner to convey them to Pernambuco
No feeling of humanity at the sufferings so many persons crowded into a small and filthy vessel must undergo troubled Semmes
The apologist for Wirtz
, the Andersonville jailer, did not stick at trifles.
suffered the same fate as the Hatch
being careful to burn both beyond the marine league, so as not to offend the delicate susceptibilities of the Governor
of Fernando de Noronha
, and to pay due respect to the Empire
, the great ally of the Confederacy
On the 22d of April, the Alabama
was again on the wing under plain sail for a cruise along the Brazilian
coast, and in less than twenty-four hours another unfortunate whaler, the Nye
, of New Bedford, was in her hands, making the sixteenth whaler that had been captured.
had sent home one or two cargoes of oil, and had now 425 barrels on board.
For a moment Semmes
thought “what a pity to break in upon these old salts, who had encountered so many gales and chased the whale through so many latitudes!”
But such thoughts never remained long with this sea-rover.
He had a special hatred for New Englanders, and the Nye
, well saturated with oil, soon blazed up in a way to satisfy the most vindictive partisan of the Southern
The old whalers, who for nearly three years had risked their lives in a dangerous calling, stood silent and in tears as they beheld their hard-earned property disappear in a cloud of smoke.
The people of the South
necessarily suffered much at the hands of Union soldiers, and it is hard to tell what men will not do in the heat of war, but it may be fairly said there was nothing during the civil conflict to equal the atrocity of the Alabama
The day after the destruction of the Nye
the Dorcas Prince
, of New York, loaded with coal, was encountered; but, as the Alabama
's bunkers were already filled, the vessel was set on fire and destroyed.
On the third of May the Clipper
ship, Union Jack
, fell into the Alabama
's power and a prize crew was sent on board, as just afterwards,the Sea Lark
, bound from New York to San Francisco
, was sighted--two fine prizes in two hours. Three women and some children were taken from the last prize and conveyed on board the Alabama
Both ships were burned after their crews were removed.
On the 11th of May the Alabama
landed her prisoners at Bahia
, and was ordered by the Brazilian
authorities to leave the port in twenty-four hours for violation of the neutrality laws; but Semmes
was so much cleverer than the Governor
that he was finally permitted to remain and give his men liberty on shore, where they turned the town upside down generally.
These Brazilian officials were easily influenced by the threats of Semmes
to call down on them the vengeance of the Southern Confederacy after it had disposed of its “Yankee war,” and they had never been taught, by the display of a proper Federal naval force, to respect the United States
The British residents of Bahia
did all in their power to make Semmes
' stay pleasant, congratulating themselves that the commerce of the United States
was being rapidly driven from the ocean, and this although Bahia
derived its chief importance from its trade with that country.
While the Alabama
was in Bahia
, the Confederate steamer Georgia
, Commander William L. Maury
commanding, anchored in the port, much increasing the respect of the Governor
for the Southern Confederacy; although the latter was somewhat afraid of trouble with the Emperor
, who was believed to favor the Federal Government
He accordingly requested Semmes
to leave as soon as possible.
This request Semmes
politely ignored; amusing himself with traveling about the country, and perfecting plans with the commanding officer
of the Georgia
for the destruction of United States
commerce on the coast of Brazil
After the Alabama
bade farewell to the Georgia
, she was put under press of sail, and quickly overhauled the Gilderslieve
, of New York, and the Justina
, of Baltimore
The latter, being a Maryland ship, was converted into a cartel, and after taking all Semmes
' prisoners on board and giving a ransom-bond, was allowed to depart.
The other vessel was loaded with coal; but as the captain had no sworn certificate of ownership by British subjects, and as the Alabama
did not need it, Semmes
' Admiralty Court decreed that the Gilderslieve
should be converted into a bonfire.
The next day, the Jabez Snow
, of Bucksport, Maine
, laden with Cardiff
coal, was captured.
As the cargo was evidently British property, Semmes
might perhaps have released the vessel under a ransonm-bond but for a letter found on board to the following effect:
We hope you will arrive safely and in good season, but we think you will find business rather flat at Liverpool, as American ships especially are under a cloud, owing to dangers from pirates, more politely styled privateers, which our kind friends in England are so willing should slip out of their ports to prey upon our commerce
Such letters as the above were always considered by the Admiralty Court
' cabin as not only stupid and malicious, but positive evidence against the neutral ownership of anything on board a prize; so the crew of the Jabez Snow
were promptly removed, and the vessel set on fire.
On the 2d of June, the Alabama
fell in with the clipper bark Amazonian
, from New York for Montevideo
, with an assorted cargo.
remarks: “There was an attempt to cover two of the consiginments in this ship,” but the Court of Admiralty decided that “the bark being evidently
Yankee, the certificates were not worth a cent!”
So the ship was plundered and burned.
The next day Semmes
fell in with an English brig, the master of which agreed to receive his forty-one captives and land them in Rio de Janeiro
, the consideration being twice as much provisions as the prisoners could eat, and a chronometer.
Of the latter articles Semmes
had an abundant supply, the property of the merchant captains he had taken prisoners, although he professed to respect private property.
All the other “Confederate cruisers” exhibited the same weakness for chronometers, which may be accounted for by the fact that they would all be needed for the great Navy it was proposed to build in England
The virtuous Briton
at first demurred to the proposition to receive the prisoners from Semmes
, on the ground that “it might offend Earl Russell,” but the offer of a chronometer silenced his objections.
As the Earl
had a keen sense of humor, he would doubtless have remarked had he ever heard of this incident, that as chronometers are made to go they might as well go that way as any other.
The clipper-ship Talisman
, of New York, was the Alabama
's next capture, and, as usual, was given but short shrift.
After taking from the vessel her crew and such of the cargo as he wanted, Semmes
applied the torch, and she went off before the wind in flames with all sail set. The Talisman
had a number of 12-pounder field-pieces on board, and boilers and machinery for a gun-boat to be built in China
to take part in the Chinese war. Semmes
took two of the guns on board his vessel for the purpose of fitting out a consort when the proper vessel should fall into his hands.
continued his course along the Brazilian
coast, and now began to fall in with American vessels under the British
flag; for what Earl Russell had foreseen had now come to pass, and the United States
carrying-trade was being transferred to English hands.
The papers of these vessels were so carefully made out that Semmes
' Court of Admiralty did not dare meddle with them, as a rule; however, he was enraged at seeing such prizes slip through his judicial fingers; but on the 20th of June the fates were propitious in bringing another fly to the Alabama
This was the bark Conrad
, of Philadelphia
, and although her cargo was English
, she was taken possession of and quickly converted into a “vessel-of-war.”
Three or four officers, a dozen men, and the two captured field-pieces were put on board the little clipper with a celerity that would have astonished Mr. Gideon Welles
, and the new Confederate cruiser was christened the Tuscaloosa
The baptismal ceremony was not elaborate.
When all was ready, signal was given, the Tuscaloosa
ran up the Confederate
flag, and the crew of the Alabama
gave three cheers, which were duly acknowledged by those on board the new man-of-war.
' prisoners, now thirty-nine in number, were on the same day put on board an English vessel, to be landed in Rio de Janeiro
It was now time for the Alabama
to change her cruising-ground, not only because the United States Navy Department might be supposed to have heard of her operations and taken measures to bring them to a close, but also for the reason that there was little more damage to be inflicted in that quarter.
was astonished that no Federal ships-of-war were on the Brazilian
coast when he arrived there.
For months he had been working his way in that direction, his track marked by burning vessels; but, in any event, one might have been reasonably sure that Semmes
would ultimately seek that great thoroughfare of vessels, along the coast of Brazil
At Cape St. Roque the ocean highway becomes so narrow by the influence of the northeast trade-winds, and the vessels are so close together, that they are at the mercy of any enemy's cruiser stretching backward and forward across the road.
If heavier and faster vessels than the Alabama
had been stationed in latitude 30° North.
and others at the equator to the eastward of Fernando de Noronha
, Confederate cruisers could have done little harm; their principal object on hearing of the proximity of Federal vessels being to get out of their way. As it was, Semmes
could make his calculations pretty accurately, and when he thought it time for a Federal cruiser to appear on the scene of action, he would slip off to “fresh fields and pastures new.”
and her consort now shaped their course for the Cape of Good Hope
; but, finding his bread spoiled by wevil, Semmes
was obliged to put back to Rio for a supply of provisions.
On the 1st of July the ship Anna F. Schmidt
, from Boston
, with an assorted cargo, was overhauled, and, to use Semmes
' own language, “it took us nearly the entire day to do the necessary amount of ‘robbing.’
” The vessel was abundantly supplied with provisions, including bread; and after the “robbing” was concluded the burning was commenced, and the Schmidt
shared the fate of her predecessors.
' usual good fortune had served him well in this instance, saving him a journey of nearly a thousand miles in search of a bake-shop.
While the Schmidt
was in flames and drifting before the wind, a large ship, under
a cloud of canvas, went rushing by, taking no notice of the burning vessel.
The light of the fire was reflected on her white sails, which seemed to mark her as an American, and the Alabama
followed in pursuit, firing a gun to induce the stranger to heave-to, but the only notice taken was a gun in return from the latter.
now ordered all steam and sail to be crowded on the Alabama
, while his crew became greatly excited, thinking from the strangers' firing a gun that a fight was about to ensue.
It was midnight before the Alabama
overhauled the chase, which loomed up very large in the darkness.
The ship had a white streak like a man-of-war, and with a night glass five guns could be seen protruding through her side.
A voice from the Alabama
cried out: “What ship is that?”
“Her Britannic Majesty's ship ‘Diomede
” was the reply.
When the British
officer was informed that the pursuing vessel was the Confederate States
, he remarked: “I suspected as much when I saw you making sail by the light of the burning ship.”
It may be remarked that Semmes
did not ask to see the stranger's commission, to ascertain whether he was really one of her Majesty's cruisers, and his sailors were somewhat uneasy at their proximity to a British ship-of-war, as a search might have taken place for deserters; but they need not have troubled themselves, for the English
were in full sympathy with the Alabama
, as was evidenced by their not stopping to inquire into the fate of those on board the burning vessel.
now continued on her way towards the Cape of Good Hope
, capturing and destroying on the passage the ship Express
, of Boston
On the 28th of July Semmes
anchored in Saldanha Bay.
not venturing to Cape Town
until he had ascertained that the coast was clear of American vessels-of-war.
Every ship that had touched at the Cape had brought intelligence of the wonderful doings of the Alabama
, and Semmes
in his journal remarks: “Mr. Seward
and Mr. Adams
, Earl Russell and the London Times
, have made the ‘British pirate’ famous.”
At Saldanha Bay Semmes
received every civility from the people, who appeared to be nearly as barbarous as the aboriginal owners of the soil whom they had dispossessed of their country.
flocked on board the “British pirate,” and were mightily interested in all they saw. They knew that the ship and crew were British
, and to this circumstance attributed all the success which had followed the career of the Alabama
A simon-pure Confederate vessel, officered and manned by Southerners, would have elicited far less enthusiasm in any British port that Semmes
On the 5th of August, the Alabama
sailed for Table Bay
, encountering on the way her consort the Tuscaloosa
, which was sent into Simon's Bay to refit.
The same day the bark Sea-Bride
, of Boston
, was captured.
This vessel was on a trading voyage to the east coast of Africa
with an assorted cargo.
Her capture was witnessed from Cape Town
and caused intense excitement among the inhabitants, a majority of whom could not conceal their joy at the seizure of a well-known trading vessel that had often stopped at their port to supply their necessities.
The local newspapers raved over the gallant deeds of the Alabama
, and all the people followed suit.
In the little English-built vessel they saw the representative of a rising power that was to destroy the commercial supremacy of the great republic, and they naturally wanted to make friends with the winning side.
The power of the United States
had been estimated in the remote parts of the earth by its commercial marine; but this moral influence ceases to prevail in time of war, when that commercial marine is not protected by a suitable force of war vessels, but, on the contrary, is everywhere being driven from the sea.
The U. S. Steamer Vanderbilt
arrived at Cape Town
after the Alabama
left, but the officers and crew received no such welcome as was given the Confederates
The people rejoiced that the Alabama
had escaped, and none gave a hint whither the bird had flown.
Several complications arose while the Alabama
was in Table Bay
, yet, notwithstanding some of her acts were in plain violation of local and international law, the authorities sustained Semmes
, even in fitting out prize-vessels for belligerent purposes.
next visited Simon's Bay, the naval station of the colony, whither the Tuscaloosa
had preceded her. The United States Consul raised the question that the Tuscaloosa
was not a vessel of war, but the Confederate
commander replied, that although the Tuscaloosa
had not been condemned by a prize-court of the Confederate States
, yet the sovereign power of the Confederacy
, acting through its authorized agent, had commissioned her as a ship-of-war, which was the most solemn condemnation of the prize.
He claimed that no nation had the right to inquire into the antecedents of the ships of another nation.
Everybody except the commander-in-chief
of the British
naval forces was silenced, if not convinced, by this logic,
and recognized the Tuscaloosa
as a bonafide
ship-of-war; but Admiral Sir Baldwin Walker
wrote to the Governor
: “Viewing all the circumstances of the case, they afford room for the supposition that the vessel (Tuscaloosa
) is styled a tender, with the object of avoiding the prohibition against her entrance as a prize into our ports, where, if the captors wished, arrangements could be made for the disposal of her valuable cargo.”
This opinion was overruled, but the British Government
instructed the Colonial Governor
that he should have detained the Tuscaloosa
, Accordingly, when the Tuscaloosa
again came into port after a cruise, the Governor
seized her, but the Home Government
veering round ordered him to restore her to Lieutenant Low
, her commanding officer, on the ground that “having been once allowed to enter and leave the port, he was fairly entitled to assume that he might do so a second time!”
remained five days at Simon's Bay.
The flag-ship and two other British men-of-war were there, and every attention in the way of dinner parties, etc., was shown to the Confederates
by the English
officers and the civil authorities.
then sailed from Simon's Town and joined her consorts at Angra Pequeña, in the Hottentot country.
While at Cape Town
, an English merchant proposed to purchase the Sea Bride
and her cargo.
The transfer was made at Angra Pequeña for about one-third the real value of the property, the merchant, of course, having to take a considerable risk.
This questionable transaction took place right under the eyes of the British
authorities, who were doing all in their power to promote the extinction of American commerce.
Again, the Alabama
is off the Cape of Good Hope
, where she cruised for several days without success, and finally proceeded to Simon's Bay, where Semmes
learned that the U. S. S. Vanderbilt
, Lieutenant-Commander Baldwin
, had just left the port in search of him. On the day that the Vanderbilt
left Simon's Bay, the Alabama
was cruising further off the land than usual, a lucky circumstance for Semmes
, whose romantic career would otherwise have been brought to a sudden and ignominious termination.
The coal-dealers were the only people who welcomed the Vanderbilt
, for, as we have before mentioned, all the hospitality of the officials and citizens was given to the Alabama
The latter, after coaling, shaped her course for the Straits of Sunda
a channel of commerce much frequented by American merchant vessels.
On this voyage Semmes
' only prize was an immense albatross, caught with hook and line.
On nearing the straits Semmes
boarded an English brig, and was informed that the U. S. S. Wyoming
was cruising in the straits in company with a three-masted schooner fitted as a tender.
Two days after, he obtained similar information from a Dutch vessel, and it seems to have been the design of the commanding officer
of the United States
vessel to make his whereabouts generally known.
had scarcely entered the straits when she captured and burned the bark Amanda
, of Boston
, and the next (lay overhauled the clipper-ship Winged Racer
anchored with his last prize under North Island
, and after the latter had been despoiled of her valuable cargo, her captain, with his family, officers and crew were granted permission to take their own boats and proceed to Batavia
While these operations were in progress the two ships were surrounded by Malay boats bringing provisions of every kind for sale, when all at once a great blaze sprung from the hold of the Winged Racer
, and the Malays for the first time realized that she had been captured by the Alabama
, when the crew of the latter vessel gave three lusty cheers.
were great pirates themselves, and many European
and American ships have been plundered and destroyed and their crews murdered by these picturesque vagabonds.
Mistaking the Alabama
for a corsair, and fearing to be carried off and sold for slaves, they made all haste to get away from the “English pirate”.
But where was the Wyoming
all this time that her watchful commander could not see the blazing ship?
Had he visited the spot where the Winged Racer
was burning, he would not, however, have encountered Semmes
, for the Alabama
had departed as soon as the captured vessel was fairly ablaze.
Next day the Alabama
sighted another American clipper-ship on a wind under a press of sail.
Not until the Alabama
got up steam did she gain on the chase, and it was only after many hours that the Confederate vessel overhauled and captured her. On this occasion the Alabama
, for the first time, hoisted the new flag of the Southern Confederacy, a white ensign with cross and stars, rather a handsome flag and a great improvement on the original banner of secession, although it could have little effect in sustaining a declining cause.
The prize was the Contest
, with a light cargo of Japanese goods
consigned to merchants in New York.
The two vessels were anchored in fourteen fathoms in the open sea with no land visible, and it was after night-fall before the crew and plunder of the prize were removed to
Then the torch was applied to the captured vessel, and the little plunderer sailed away in search of other victims.
now turned the Alabama
's head to the eastward, and passed through Carimata Strait in five days, although vessels are sometimes thirty (lays in making the passage.
was now in the China seas
, having left the Wyoming
somewhere in the Straits of Sunda
looking for Confederate cruisers!
Instead of one vessel there should have been a dozen in the vicinity of the straits.
No wonder Semmes
asked himself: “Where is the Yankee
, that he is permitting all this rich harvest of commerce in the East
to pass away from him?”
Had English commerce been threatened with destruction by an enemy's cruisers, how her men-of-war would have swarmed in the Chinese seas
English naval officers could smile calmly at the proceedings of the Confederate
plunderer, even where she might occasionally destroy a cargo belonging to British subjects, for this would induce the latter to ship goods in British bottoms.
cruised in the China seas
in search of American merchant vessels, but without success.
He played the Rajah at Pulo Condore, where he got springs upon his cable in order to bring his broadside to bear upon the Wyoming
, and rake her fore and aft before she could get alongside of the Alabama
in case she should enter that narrow harbor.
In this harbor Semmes
spent two weeks refitting his ship and studying natural history, and became so absorbed in watching the habits of locusts and monkeys, that he appears to have quite forgotten the Wyoming
, which vessel ought to have heard of his whereabouts.
Probably the commanding officer
of the Wyoming
was deceived by Semmes
' eccentric movements, while the latter calculated that the Wyoming
had gone to Canton
in pursuit of him.
next proceeded to Singapore
for coal and stores.
' stay was short, but the officers and crew were sumptuously entertained.
The day lie left Singapore Semmes
captured a beautiful ship, which, though flying the British
flag, was evidently an American vessel, officered and manned by “the hated Yankees
The ship's papers appeared to be in due form, and she had been transferred by a bill of sale to her British owner.
After a thoroughly examination, Semmes
satisfied himself that the transfer was not a real one, so he hauled down the British
ensign and burned the Martaban
(late the Texan Star
), virtuously indignant at the unprincipled conduct of the shipmaster in attempting to deceive the representative of the Southern Confederacy.
After this little matter was settled, Semmes
apparently had some misgivings, lest the British
authorities might call him to an account for burning a vessel under the British
flag, so he called the unlucky shipmaster into his cabin and extorted from him a confession that he had resorted to a stratagemn to save his ship in case lie should fall in with the Alabama
Notwithstanding the uncomplimentary manner in which Captain Semmes
had treated the flag which has “braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze,” when tile Alabama
arrived at her next port and anchored off the little town of Malacca
, the English
officers and inhabitants went wild over her. After leaving this place, Semmes
fell in with an English vessel, the master of which gave him such information as enabled him to capture two large American ships in that vicinity.
, of Newburyport
, and the Highlander
When the Master
came on board the Alabama
, he said pleasantly to Captain Semmes
: “I have been expecting you for the last three years.”
answered that lie was glad the Captain
had found him after so long a search.
“It is some such search,” replied the other, “as the devil may be supposed to make after holy water!”
This good humor saved the captives from imprisonment, and they were allowed to take their boats with provisions and start for Singapore
After the usual cremation services, the Alabama
steamed out past the light-ship, and was once more in the Indian Ocean
Query, were the two ships above-named burned in neutral waters?
now proceeded to the Bay of Bengal
, and on the 11th of January captured and burned the Emma Jane
. This was the last vessel burned by Captain Semmes
in that quarter.
Further continuance in the East Indies
not promise much profit and the Alabama
finally proceeded towards the Cape of Good Hope
But even in that quarter there were no prizes to be found.
American vessels that were not laid up in port or transferred to the British
flag avoided the beaten track.
On the 20th of March Semmes
went into Cape Town
for coal and provisions, and there found the Tuscaloosa
, which vessel lie had sent to cruise on the coast of Brazil
and which had been seized by the British
authorities and afterwards released.
The news received at Cape Town
from the Confederate States
was far from encouraging; everything seemed to be gradually falling into Federal hands.
, for his part, was quite satisfied with the mischief he had wrought, estimating that he had destroyed or driven for protection under the British
flag, one-half of the United States
vessels engaged in trade with English ports.
Still greater damage was done to American trade with other nations.
Commerce with the South American States
was practically broken up, and that on the Pacific
, including the important whale fishery, greatly crippled.
left Cape Town
March 25th, the Alabama
keeping in the “fair way” leading from the Cape of Good Hope
to the equatorial region where the Confederate cruisers had been so successful, shortening sail from day to day and tacking to and fro in the “high-way,” but for some time the American
flag was nowhere to be seen among the numerous vessels passing on their way. At last an unlucky Yankee
was reported, and although he made all sail and handled his ship with great skill, the Alabama
overtook the fugitive.
She proved to be the ship Rockingham
, from the Chincha Islands
, with a cargo of guano, bound to Cork.
, after removing the crew and such provisions and stores as he wanted, made a target of the Rockingham
, exercising his crew in firing shot and shell at her, which they did with “great precision,” owing doubtless to the circumstance that the Rockingham
could not return the fire; for we find on a subsequent occasion, when the Kearsarge
was the target, this same crew fired with very little effect.
On the 27th of April the Tycoon
, of New York, with an assorted cargo, was brought-to; the hold of the Alabama
was filled up with stores, and the night illuminated by another burning ship.
About this time Semmes
crossed the equator, and ran up to the old toll-gate, where so many American vessels had been made to haul down their flags.
He now felt that he was getting towards the end of his career.
The latest captured newspapers had given him an insight into the desperate condition of the Southern Confederacy, and he saw that his commerce-destroying was about ended.
To quote his own words: “The poor old Alabama
was not now what she had been.
She was like the weary foxhound, limping back after a long chase, footsore and longing for quiet and repose.
Her commander, like herself, was well-nigh worn down.
Vigils by day and night, the storms and the drenching rain, the frequent and rapid change of climate — now freezing, now melting or broiling, and the constant excitement of the chase and capture — had laid, in the three years of war he had been afloat, a load of a dozen years upon his shoulders.
The shadows of a sorrowful future, too, began to dawn upon his spirit.”
From this melancholy moralizing we might almost imagine that Semmes
anticipated some such fate as befell Conrad
‘Tis idle all, moons roll on moons away,
And Conrad comes not, came not since that day:
Nor trace, nor tidings of his doom declare
Where lives his grief, or perished his despair!
On his way to Europe Semmes
met with no prizes.
American merchant vessels had scattered in all directions like chickens threatened by the hawk, many of them seeking, under the British
and other flags, the protection which their own Government failed to afford.
On the 11th day of June, 1804, the Alabama
anchored in the port of Cherbourg, France
; and three days afterwards the U. S. steamer Kearsarge
, Captain John A. Winslow
, steamed into port, communicated with the authorities, steamed out again without coming to an anchor, and took a station off the breakwater, in order to prevent the Alabama
It was evidently not Semmes
' intention to fight anybody, for he was about to go into dock and give his men two months leave, when they would have scattered to parts unknown; but as Cherbourg
was exclusively a naval port, the French Admiral
would not admit the Alabama
into drydock until he obtained permission from the Emperor
, then absent at Biarritz
Had the latter been in Paris
, the fight with the Kearsarge
would never have taken place.
Under the circumstances, it would not have done to decline the combat which the Kearsarge
offered; and Captain Semmes
after so long warring on peaceful merchant vessels, directed the Confederate
agent in Cherbourg
to request Captain Winslow
to wait for him and he would give him battle as soon as he could get some coal on board.
of the Alabama
occupied four days in preparations for battle, filling the bunkers so that the machinery would be protected, sending down all useless spars and top hamper, and doing everything possible
to achieve success in the coming contest.
' principal anxiety seemed to have been lest his English crew had grown rusty for want of gunnery practice, which he had been obliged to neglect in the more congenial business of plundering and burning; still, as the force of the Kearsarge
was as nearly as possible the same as his own ship, he was exceedingly hopeful of success.
tried after the battle to make it
appear that the Kearsarge
had the advantage in size, weight of ordnance and number of guns and crew ; but this, like many other of his assertions, is disputed by official records, which state as follows:
|Kearsarge. ||lbs. |
|4 ||short 32-pounders, weight of projectile, ||128 |
|2 ||11-inch pivot-guns, weight of projectile, ||272 |
|1 ||30-pounder rifle, weight of projectile, ||30 |
| || || |
|7 ||guns, ||430 |
|6 ||long 32-pounders, ||192 |
|1 ||rifled 100-pounder, (Blakeley） ||100 |
|1 ||8-inch shell-gun, ||68 |
| || || |
|8 ||guns, ||360 |
In speed the Kearsarge
had somewhat the advantage.
In tonnage the vessels were almost the same.
had 163 officers and men, the Alabama
It was a matter of little consequence what battery the Alabama
carried, as so few of her shots struck the Kearsarge
and if, as has been asserted, many of Semmes
' crew were old English man-of-war's men, their shooting did little credit to their training.
With wise precaution, Semmes
sent all his valuables on shore before steaming out to meet his antagonist, who was eagerly watching for his appearance.
was fine, and a large number of people were assembled on the heights to witness the engagement.
The English yacht Deerhound
, owned by one of Semmes
' sympathizers, followed in the Alabama
's wake, and the French iron-clad Couronne
steamed out of port to see that the neutrality of French waters was not violated.
Before going into battle, Captain Semmes
made the following address to his officers and men, who were all attired in their best clothes:
Officers and seamen of the Alabama: you have at length another opportunity of meeting the enemy — the first that has been presented to you since you sank the Hatteras! In the meantime you have been all over the world, and it is not too much to say that you have destroyed and driven for protection under neutral flags one-half of the enemy's commerce, which at the beginning of the war covered every sea. This is an achievement of which you may well be proud; and a grateful country will not be unmindful of it. The name of your ship has become a household word wherever civilization extends.
Shall that name be tarnished by defeat?
The thing is impossible!
Remember that you are in the English Channel, the theatre of so much of the naval glory of our race, and that the eyes of all Europe are at this moment upon you. The flag that floats over you is that of a young Republic, who bids defiance to her enemies, whenever and wherever found.
Show the world that you know how to uphold it!
Go to your quarters.
ran off shore a few miles so as to draw the Confederate vessel as far as possible from the land and be able to intercept her in case she should attempt to retreat in shore.
As soon as the Kearsarge
turned to approach the Alabama
the latter opened fire from the distance of a mile; the Federal
vessel not replying, but steaming at full speed for the enemy, receiving a second and third broadside.
When within nine hundred yards, the Kearsarge
slowed and returned the fire with her starboard battery, and then attempted to gain a position where she could rake the Alabama
The latter avoided this by sheering, still keeping her starboard broadside bearing on the Kearsarge
These tactics brought the combatants circling around each other, each working their starboard batteries.
As Captain Semmes
appeared to avoid close action, Captain Winslow
was apprehensive that he might make for the shore, and therefore determined, with full speed and a port helm, to run under the Alabama
and if possible rake her. It was Semmes
' anticipation of this manoeuvre that forced the Alabama
under full steam into a circular track during the action as in the diagram, with the result that at the close of the fight the Alabama
was then nearly five miles off shore,
and it was impossible for her to escape within French jurisdiction, as her commanding officer intended in case the battle should go against him.
The firing of the Confederates
was rapid and wild until near the close of the engagement, when it became better, while that of the Federal
gunners, owing to the careful training of Lieutenant-Commander James S. Thornton
the executive officer of the Kearsarge
was very effective.
The superior training of the Kearsarge
's crew was evident from the beginning of the action, their guns telling fearfully on the hull and spars of the Confederate
On the seventh rotation on the circular track the Alabama
set her foresail and two jibs, with head in shore.
Her speed was now retarded, and, by winding her, the port broadside was presented to the Kearsarge
, with only two guns bearing, being able to shift but one gun from the starboard side.
At this time the Alabama
The U. S. S. Kearsarge.|
at the mercy of the Kearsarge
, and a few more well-directed shots brought down the Confederate
Fifteen minutes after the action commenced, the spanker-gaff of the Alabama
was shot away, and her flag came down, but was immediately hoisted at the mizzen.
's shot told fearfully on the Alabama
's hull, killing and wounding numbers of men in different parts of the ship.
So that,in sixty-five minutes after the commencement of the fight, the Alabama
was discovered to be sinking, an 11-inch shell having entered her side near the water line, making a huge aperture, through which the water poured in torrents.
For a moment Semmes
had an idea of escaping, and crowded on steam and sail, leading the Alabama
for the French
coast; but the fires in the engineroom were soon extinguished and he was obliged to surrender.
asserts that his ship was fired upon five times after he had hauled down his colors; but this assertion is not supported by other evidence, for when the Confederate
flag came down, Captain Winslow
Chart of the action between the Alabama and Kearsarge.|
unable to ascertain whether it had been hauled down, or shot away, gave the order to reserve the Kearsarge
A white flag was displayed over the Confederate
's stern, and a moment after the Alabama
opened on her antagonist with the two guns on the port side, drawing the fire of the Kearsarge
It was at this moment the Federal
vessel steamed ahead, placing herself across the Alabama
's bow in a position for raking; but, seeing the white flag still flying, the Kearsarge
again reserved her fire.
Immediately afterwards, the Alabama
's boats were lowered, one of them pulled alongside the Kearsarge
with some of the wounded, and in twenty minutes afterwards the Alabama
went down stern foremost, leaving a large number of her officers and crew struggling in the water.
Most of the Kearsarge
's boats were rendered useless by fragments of shell, as the Confederates
fired high; but as soon as possible the launch and second cutter were hoisted out to pick up the drowning men, while the Alabama
's boat was sent back for the same purpose.
Meanwhile the English yacht Deerhound
, which had been viewing the combat from a distance of about a mile, ran under the stern of the Kearsarge
and volunteered to pick up the men in the water, to which proposition Captain Winslow
assented; for this was no time to think of anything but the claims of humanity, to which American officers and seamen have ever shown due appreciation.
In spite of the officers and crew of the Kearsarge
having done everything possible to rescue their opponent, Captain Semmes
, in his chagrin at being so thoroughly beaten, reflects upon Captain Winslow
for not sooner getting his boats to the rescue of the Alabama
The prisoners picked up by the boats of the Kearsarge
were taken on board that vessel, while the Deerhound
, after rescuing Captain Semmes
and many of his officers and crew, steamed away for the English
coast, leaving others struggling for their lives in the water.
Six officers and sixty-four men, including twenty wounded, were received on board the Kearsarge
; so that, notwithstanding Semmes
' accusation, it appears that most of the people of the Alabama
were saved by the Kearsarge
's boats, while the Confederate Captain
, as soon as he was safe on board the Deerhound
, fearing that Winslow
would demand his surrender, urged his friend, the owner of the yacht, to save him
. The latter accordingly made off without further efforts at rescue; so that, if any one was drowned, it was due more to the selfishness of Captain Semmes
than to any other cause.
Although the actions of the owner of the Deerhound
may be open to criticism, as an Englishman he could hardly be expected to deliver up as prisoners men whom he found struggling for their lives in the water.
It is honorable to the English
flag that it is a protection to everything it waves over, and that the whole power of the British
nation will sustain the rights of even the meanest of its citizens.
' escape made little difference one way or the other, for, with the Alabama
at the bottom of the channel, his power of mischief had departed.
As the Confederacy
was in its. last agonies, there was no chance of fitting out any more “cruisers.”
The action between the Kearsarge
and the Alabama
, although comparatively a small battle, much impaired the prestige of the Confederate Navy.
The British public might rejoice over the destruction of helpless merchantmen, but when it came to fighting, the Kearsarge
did her work so quickly and effectively that the blindest could but detect the difference between the true and the false coin.
Mr. Secretary Welles
attached more importance to the escape of Semmes
and his companions in the Deerhound
than the matter deserved, and even blamed Captain Winslow
for his course in paroling the prisoners.
characterized all those connected with the Alabama
as “pirates,” but they were not so in the eyes of European Governments, which had recognized the Confederates
' armed vessels as belligerents, and although many of the acts of the Alabama
bordered on the piratical, yet such irregularities are always found existing in revolutionary struggles, where the worst passions are engendered in the breasts of those who have staked their all on the hazard of a die, and are not always scrupulous as to the means of accomplishing their ends.
The fault of encouraging the Confederate cruisers lay chiefly with the English
, and to them is due the latitude the former were allowed on the ocean.
Possibly the English
may have thought that a country capable of putting a million of men in the field must have been able to muster a sufficient force of cruisers to put an end to the “piracy” of which Mr. Welles
As to the implied censure on Captain Winslow
for not pursuing the Deerhound
and recovering his prisoners, the question arises: Were they Winslow
's prisoners at all, any more than if they had succeeded in landing on fragments of the wreck at some point on the coast of England
, for an English ship represents English soil?
A similar sentiment animates the Amrerican people, and it would be very inconsistent
for them to wish to apply another standard to foreigners, and maintain that it was Captain Winslow
's duty to commit violence upon the Deerhound
, and thereby involve the Federal Government
in a serious complication with that of Great Britain
While the Alabama
was sent to the bottom in sixty-five minutes, with her hull cut to pieces, thirty of her crew killed and wounded, and ten drowned, the Kearsarge
incurred little damage in hull or spars and had but three men wounded.
Out of three hundred and seventy shot and shell fired by the Confederate vessel, thirteen or fourteen only struck the Kearsarge
in or about the hull, and some sixteen about the masts or rigging.
The latter vessel was in perfect readiness to engage another immediately after sinking the Alabama
If the Alabama
's guns were, as it has been asserted, manned by trained gunners from the practice-ship Excellent
, of the Royal
Navy, their firing did little credit to the school in which they had been educated.
On the other hand, the fire of the Kearsarge
showed the great superiority of the American
crew — as great as was manifested on so many occasions during the war of 1812.
fired one hundred and seventy-three projectiles, less than half the number fired by her antagonist; but what damage they did and whom they killed will never be known.
states that one shot alone killed and wounded eighteen men. Another exploded in the coal-bunkers, completely blocking up the engine-room; others exploded against the sides, making, as Semmes
expresses it, “great gaping wounds” which let in the water and sent the ship to the bottom, with the precious bag of captured flags, and probably the old quartermaster who had charge of the trophies.
No account can be given of the casualties on board the Alabama
beyond that furnished by Captain Semmes
that we have already quoted.
Out of one hundred and forty-nine officers and men, forty seem to have been killed or drowned, although it was stated by the prisoners that a number of men joined the ship at Cherbourg
, in addition to the regular complement of the Alabama
It is remarkable that there was no one killed on board the Kearsarge
in the action — although three men were wounded, one mortally — as shells were continually bursting over the heads of the crew.
tried to make it appear that the Kearsarge
was an iron-clad in disguise, because Captain Winslow
had hung his spare chains up and down the sides of his ship abreast of the machinery.
This had been done some time before meeting the Alabama
with the design to protect the boilers and engines, in case the coal in the bunker should get so reduced as to leave them exposed to shot.
It was not done witl any especial reference to meeting Semmes
, who might have adopted a similar plan had he chosen to do so — and this had been done extensively during the civil war, a fact well known to the commander of the Alabama
remarks that the shells fired from the Alabama
burst against the sides of the Kearsarge
without effect, owing to this chain armor; but the fact is, only two projectiles struck the chain — a 32-pound shot and a Blakeley shell.
The latter did not burst, but broke some of the links of chain.
It was of very little use for Captain Semmes
to try and excuse himself, after being so thoroughly beaten by the superior discipline of the Kearsarge
, and the skill of her crew in gunnery.
It was the intention to make short work with the Alabama
in case the Kearsarge
fell in with her, and the action would have terminated sooner but for the difficulty of coming to close quarters with the Confederate vessel.
No wonder the people of the North
were overjoyed when they read Captain Winslow
's modest dispatch announcing the destruction of the despoiler that had sent so many of their merchant ships to the bottom.
The writer evidently states what in his mind was a foregone conclusion, and it is pleasing in its simplicity and brevity:
To this dispatch the Secretary of the Navy
responded as follows:
There was no occurrence during the war more grateful to the Northern
people than this victory of the Kearsarge
over the Alabama
became the hero of the hour, for he had not only disposed of a most troublesome enemy, but he had demonstrated the superiority of a United States
ship, crew and guns over an English-built, English-armed and English-manned vessel of equal, if not superior, force.
The triumph was the greater because the British Government
and a large section of the British
people had given every assistance to the Alabama
, in the way of moral and material support, in her business of destroying the commerce of a friendly nation.
That it was a moral victory over the English
can hardly be disputed, and they felt it to be such, as was proven by the desperate efforts of a large portion of the newspapers to show that Winslow
's success was unimportant, while the courage and ability of Semmes
were extolled to the skies.
The fiction on which these newspapers most relied to belittle the victory of the Kearsarge
was the assertion that the United States
vessel was an iron-clad in disguise — an idea which Captain Semmes
took every opportunity to disseminate, and which was generally received by the British
While Captain Winslow
received great credit and promotion for his victory, his executive officer, Lieutenant-Commander Thornton
, was complimented by an advance of only ten numbers on the list of officers of his grade, although it was well known that to his close attention to the drilling of the crew, and his management of the Kearsarge
, was due the speedy result of the action.
He deserved and should have received promotion to the rank of commander; but, as he died soon after the close of the war, he never obtained any substantial advancement, although he lives in the memory of those who can properly estimate his services.
List of officers of Confederate steamer Alabama, June 25, 1864.
; J. M. Kell
and Arthur Sinclair
; R. K. Howell
, Lieutenant-of-Marines; J. S. Bulloch
, Sailing Master; E. A. Maffitt
and E. M. Anderson
; R. F. Armstrong
and Jos. D. Wilson
; M. J. Freeman
, Chief Engineer
; John W. Pundt
and M. O'Brien
, Third-Assistant Engineers
; J. O. Cuddy
, W. Crawford
and C. Seymour
, Gunners; Captain
's-Clerk, W. B. Smith
; Boatswain, B. L. McClaskey
; Francis L. Gait
; W. P. Brooks
, Second-Assistant Engineer
; Henry Alcott
, Sailmaker D. H. Llewellyn
; G. T. Fullam
, James Evans
, Max Mulliner
and J. Schroeder
's-Mates; Win. Robinson
There has been doubt expressed whether Captain Semmes
challenged Captain Winslow
to do battle: but the latter could not well have accepted, since the Alabama
was not recognized by the United States Government as a Confederate slip-of-war.
On the contrary, her acts had been denounced as “piratical.”
pursued the only course proper for him: he went off Cherbourg
and waited as near as possible to the entrance of the port, to see that the Alabama
did not escape.
' notification to Winslow
, that lie would give him battle in a day or two if the latter would wait, was hardly necessary, as Winslow
had not the slightest idea of avoiding a contest.
to have challenged Semmes
would have been to put the Alabama
in the status
denied her by the Federal
Navy Department, namely, that of a recognized vessel-of-war of a de facto
The propriety of sending challenges from one commanding officer
to another in time of war has been questioned.
In this instance Winslow
did exactly the right thing — waited till his enemy came out of port and defeated him without bluster.
A few words in regard to Semmes
' character and abilities, as an agent in carrying out the views of the Confederate Government, may not be out of place.
As an individual, he had great defects of character, but as a bold and capable commander, on whom the Confederacy
could depend to inflict the greatest damage on United States
had probably no equal.
Although he had served many years in the United States Navy, none of his associates ever supposed that in time of war lie would exhibit so much efficiency; for, although his courage was undoubted, his tastes were rather those of the scholar than of the dashing naval officer and destroyer of commerce.
It became common in the North
to speak of the Alabama
as the English pirate
, and Semmes
in his memoirs frequently applies the term in a sarcastic manner to his own vessel; yet, although he was guilty of many irregularities, if not outrages, he could not, in justice, be so stigmatized.
The writer has on several occasions compared Semmes
' acts with those of the buccaneers, who were sometimes regularly commissioned by royal authority to plunder the
Spaniards; but such actions do not constitute piracy, and the Law
of Nations is so elastic on the subject that a commander may do a great many outrageous things and still keep within the legal limits.
In the case of the Alabama
, her Captain
seems to have been a law unto himself, and his vessel a Court of Admiralty of the Confederate States
, with power to commission vessels on the high seas.
With his pen this clever navigator could baffle the shrewdness of colonial authorities and create discord in the councils of the Home Governments
He set the proclamation of Queen Victoria at defiance, took his prizes into British ports, and fitted them out as cruisers whenever it suited him to do so. To call this enterprising individual a “pirate” would give rise to the suspicion that want of success in stopping his career of destruction, and a fear of being held responsible for negligence in the premises, had influenced persons in authority to throw all the odium possible on Semmes
certainly fulfilled most, if not all, the requirements of a vessel-of-war.
She was the sole property of the Confederate Government; and therefore, for all acts committed under the general orders to “burn, sink, and destroy,” the said Government was answerable.
As a general rule, a vessel purchased in a neutral port, to war upon another nation, in order to be armed and commissioned, should proceed to a port of the nation purchasing her, and there be fitted for service; but there is so much latitude allowed in practice that it would perhaps be difficult to settle this matter authoritatively before the courts.
The high seas are certainly neutral, in one sense of the word, for all nations; and although the Confederates
undoubtedly violated British law, yet Semmes
had a right to take command of an armed vessel placed in his possession at sea.
It would be well if there could be a careful reconsideration of all the laws and precedents bearing on this subject by the maritime governments of the world, in order that in future no “Alabamas” could get to sea, and commercial nations be free from depredations such as were committed upon the commerce of the United States
The question has been often debated whether the Alabama
and her consorts were entitled to be considered vessels-of-war on a par with those of other nations.
The powers of Europe
accorded belligerent rights to the Confederates
, and proclaimed.
their intention of observing strict neutrality between the contending parties.
Such a recognition was in many respects inconsistent, for although the Confederate cruisers were acting in behalf of a Power that had been accorded belligerent rights, yet no recognition further than this had been extended to the State
itself by any. European Government.
The Confederates could have no representatives abroad, and it might well be considered an anomalous state of things when a State was accorded belligerent rights by foreign powers which held no official relations with it, and could not therefore depend upon the ordinary methods for redress if Confederate vessels should commit offences against their sovereignty.
This condition of affairs would seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of the commissions of the Confederate cruisers; and for this reason, if for no other, the character of ships-of-war was never accorded to the Alabama
and the other Confederate cruisers by the Government
of the United States
' method had a good deal to do, perhaps, with the action of the United States Government, for according to his own account he plundered his prizes of whatever he pleased, and even took the chronometers, which were the private property of the shipmasters.
Whether Confederate naval officers could take delight in the destruction of the Federal
commerce, which they once felt such pride in protecting, is very doubtful in the case of all except Captain Semmes
He appears to have gloried in the burning of ships, as if it was the greatest pleasure, instead of a disagreeable duty, imposed upon him by the stern necessities of war; and it is not known that he ever experienced much regret for the burning of a beautiful ship, or sympathy for her master or crew — a sentiment one would naturally expect to exist in the bosom of an officer brought up in a chivalrous service such as that of the United States Navy.
As a fighting-man, Semmes
was not a success when he met an enemy of equal force, as was proved by the Kearsarge
sinking the Alabama
in about an hour, killing and wounding a great number of men, while the Kearsarge
was uninjured in hull or spars, and only had three men wounded.
The fact is, the Alabama
's crew, not being well drilled, were doomed to defeat from the outset; for, although the Kearsarge
stood for her for some moments and received three broadsides, no damage was inflicted, and out of three hundred and seventy shot and shell fired by the Confederate vessel, only thirteen struck the hull, and fifteen the rigging and spars.
The difference between the efficiency and discipline of the vessels was too marked to admit of argument, although Semmes
insisted that the victory would have been his if one of the shells which struck the Kearsarge
's stern-post had exploded!
' want of generosity is
shown by his attempting to deprive Winslow
and his officers and men of the credit of their victory, on the ground that the Kearsarge
was an “iron-clad,” and that Winslow
had taken a dishonorable advantage of him. A brave man should accept his defeat in dignified silence, in the hope that at some future time he may have an opportunity of retrieving his fortunes.
With regard to Semmes
making his escape after the sinking of his ship, that was a matter between him and his conscience.
No man is a prisoner until he is actually in the custody of the victor, and if, when struggling in the water, he is rescued by a neutral, the latter should protect him from capture if he has the power to do so. There is even less censure to be given Semmes
and his officers for making off in the Deerhound
, because they were under the impression that they would be harshly treated if they fell into the power of the United States Government.
We have endeavored to do Captain Semmes
no injustice, but simply to state our impressions of his character, for we knew him well.
His career is certainly one of the most remarkable of the civil war; and if he had served the United States
while he remained in its Navy as faithfully as he did the Confederacy
, his resignation would have been accepted with great regret.