Interesting History of the Opening of the Alabama's career.
papers all publish the following statement from the late boatswain
of the rebel steamer Alabama
, now second officer of the British steamer Thistle
* * * On leaving England
, the 290 had a crew of 93 men, for the most part belonging to the English Naval Reserve
, all being trained gunners, and the majority old men-of-war's men. She was temporarily commanded by Captain Bullock
, who had under him the proper complement of commissioned and petty officers.
having learned that a Federal man-of-war (the Tuscarora
) lay in wait for him in St. George's Channel, took his departure by what is known as the North Channel
, thus eluding the Federal
enemy; though even had he been intercepted, the Northerner
would have found himself in a dilemma, as the 290 had a set of English papers and other presumptive proofs of her neutrality, in the face of which it might have been difficult for her captor to have acted.--The 290 at the time carried no guns or other warlike stores, but consisted merely of the hall, spars and engines, excepting, of course, coal and other requisites to enable her to reach her destination, which was Tarissa, one of the Azores
or Western Islands, belonging to Portugal
This destination the 290 duly reached, after a fine run of eight days, and came to an anchor in Tarissa Roads, nothing of any moment having occurred to break the usual monotony of a sea voyage.
Sometime before the departure of the 290 from the Mersey
, a large bark left the Thames
(cleared for Demerara
, West Indies
,) to meet the 290 at Tarissa, and there transfer to the latter vessel the guns and stores destined for her, and which formed the cargo of the bark.
Some reason required to be assigned to the Portuguese authorities for the 290 having anchored in the bay, and accordingly the excuse furnished to them was that her engines had broken down.
This plea was accepted as a valid one, and during the week that intervened between the arrival at Tarissa of the 290 and the bark, the crew of the former vessel were engaged ostensibly in repairing her engines, but ready in preparing her to receive her guns, &c. During this interval, large parties of the inhabitants of Tarissa made daily visits to the 290, their curiosity evidently excited by the warlike appearance of what laid claim to be an English merchant vessel.
Many pertinent questions were asked by the Portuguese, and were as ingeniously evaded or met by the officers of the 290.--Among other things, the Portuguese wanted to know why the vessel had so many ports, and were told that, as she was bound to a warm climate, they were necessary for ventilation; and when they asked why there was such a numerous crew, the reply was, that as she was going on a surveying expedition she required to be well manned.
Many similar questions were put, and in like manner answered; but it was all in vain to attempt to undeceive the Portuguese, and they would persist in calling her a "frigate Inglesi
About the lapse of a week from the arrival of the 290 the bark above mentioned sailed in and anchored, her Captain
alleging as a reason to the Portuguese officials that his vessel had sprung a leak, which would require to be repaired ere she could resume her voyage; and on this understanding the Portuguese at once placed her in quarantine, (which in the Azores
lasts three days) On the day after the bark's arrival Captain Bullock
, of the 290, being anxious to get his guns on board, hauled alongside the bark, and erected a pair of large shears to effect the transfer of her cargo from the bark's hold to the 290's deck.
This brought off the Portuguese in a fury that their rules should have been broken by the 290 having dared to communicate with a vessel that had still two days quarantine to run, and they angrily demanded to know the reason why their regulations had been infringed.
They were told that the bark was in a sinking condition, and the erection of the shea was accounted for by urging the necessity of an immediate temporary transfer of her cargo, that the leak might be reached and stopped, and Captain Bullock
finally succeeded in bearing down all opposition by feigning to get in a passion, saying he was doing no more for the bark than any Englishman would do for a countryman in distress.
left the vessel, and the transshipment proceeded without further hindrance from those on shore.
About the afternoon of the second day, and when the transfer was nearly complete, the British
screw steamer Bahama
came in, having on board Captain Semmes
and the other late officers
of the Sumter
, besides the remainder of the 290's armament and an addition of twenty odd men to her crew.
On the Bahama
's arrival and anchorage on a somewhat similar pretext to those given to her two predecessors, the Portuguese fairly lost all patience, and peremptorily insisted on the instant departure of all three vessels.
at once communicated with the 290, and having hauled over to the latter vessel everything destined for her, got up steam and left, followed by the 290, towing the now empty bark.
All three went, not to sea, as they had been ordered to do, but to Angra Bay, (a bay in the same island, and only a few leagues distant from Tarissa Roads) Here they remained unmolested until noon the following day, (a Sunday,) when, for the second time, all three vessels were ordered out of the Portuguese waters.
All the 290's guns being now mounted, and the vessel otherwise ready for a cruise, the order was obeyed, and all took their departure, the bark, as before, in tow of the 290, which having conveyed her well out to sea, cast her off, and, with a favoring breeze, she steered for Cardiff
to bring out a further supply of coal for the 290's use.
The 290 and the Bahama
now steamed round the island, and Capt Semmes
, coming out of his cabin, ordered the First Lieutenant
to muster the crew aft. This having been done, and all the officers assembled on the poop in their full uniform — i. e., Confederate gray frock coat
and trousers--Capt Semmes
enjoined silence, and read his commission as Post Captain
in the Confederate navy.
It was a document duly attested at Richmond
, and bore the signature of "Jefferson Davis
, President Confederate States of America
." He then opened and read his sealed orders from the President
, directing him to assume command of the Confederate sloop-of-war Alabama
, hitherto known as the 290, in which, having been duly commissioned, he was to hoist the Confederate
ensign and pendant, and "sink, burn, and destroy everything which flew the ensign of the so-called United States of America
." Captain Semmes
then ordered the First Lieutenant
to fire a gun and run up the Confederate
flag and pendant.
The gun was fired by the second Lieutenant
, a relation of the famous inventor,) and ere its smoke had cleared away the Stars and Bars of the young Confederacy were floating on the breeze, and the ceremony was complete, Captain Semmes
declaring the vessel henceforth to be known as the Alabama
to have been duly commissioned.
The next step was formally to engage the crew to serve and fight under the Confederate
flag, which having been done, the men were addressed by their Captain
in an eloquent and stirring speech, in the course of which he said there were only four vessels in the United States Navy that were more than a match for the Alabama
; but he said that in an English built heart of oak, as she was, and surrounded, as he then saw himself, by British hearts of oak, he wouldn't strike his newly-hoisted flag for any one of the four.
Of course this elicited a hearty burst of cheering for President
, State, and Captain
, and when it had subsided Captain Semmes
said the Bahama
was on the point of leaving for England
, and intimated that if any of his crew repented of the step they had taken they were free to return in her. This alternative none would accept, and Captain Bullock
and a few of the other officers who had taken the 290 from England
to the Azores
, finding their occupation gone through the arrival of those who had held similar appointments in the Sumter
, having gone on board the Bahama
, that vessel and the Alabama
, amidst hearty cheering from the crews of both, parted company, the former pursuing her course back to England
, the latter in chase of a Yankee whaler, which she captured and burned.
This was her first prize, and her subsequent career is now so famous as to render a single remark thereon superfluous.
's crew receive from the Confederate Government half the value of every Federal ship and cargo they destroy, and each of her crew is now worth several hundred pounds. All obligations have hitherto been faithfully discharged in gold.
The Ala- bama is supplied with coal from Wales
, by three sailing vessels thus constantly employed.
The boatswain of the 298, to whom I referred above, having been superseded by the late boatswain
of the Sumter
, returned to England
in the Bahama