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The Confederate cruisers.

by Professor James Russell Soley, U. S. N.
The first of the ocean cruisers of the Confederate navy, as distinguished from the privateers, was the Sumter. This steamer, formerly the Habana, of the New Orleans and Havana line, was altered into a ship-of-war in April and May, 1861, and, under the command of Captain Raphael Semmes, escaped from the Mississippi early in July, after an unsuccessful chase by the Brooklyn, which was at the time blockading the mouth of the river. Her cruise lasted six months, during which she made fifteen prizes. Of these seven were destroyed, one was ransomed, one recaptured, and the remaining six were sent into Cienfuegos, where they were released by the Cuban authorities. In January the Sumter arrived at Gibraltar, where she was laid up and finally sold.

The Confederate Government early recognized that in order to attack the commerce of the United States with any hope of success it must procure cruisers abroad. For this purpose it sent several agents to Europe. The foremost of these was Captain James D. Bulloch, of the Confederate navy, who arrived in England and established himself at Liverpool in June, 1861. Having satisfied himself as to the scope and bearing of the neutrality laws, he lost no time in closing a contract with the firm of Fawcett & Preston, engine builders, of Liverpool, for a screw gun-vessel. The steamer was named the Oreto, and it was announced that she was being built for a firm at Palermo; presumably for the Italian Government. She was a duplicate of the gun-vessels of the English navy. The construction of the vessel proceeded without interruption during the fall and winter of 1861-62. The American Minister, Mr. Charles Francis Adams, twice called the attention of the Foreign Office to her suspected character, and pro forma inquiries were set on foot, but they failed to show evidence of her real destination. The Oreto therefore cleared without difficulty for Palermo and Jamaica, a Liverpool merchant, representing the Palermo firm, having sworn that he was the owner, and an English captain having been appointed to the command. On the 22d of March the vessel sailed from Liverpool. At the same time the steamer Bahama left Hartlepool for Nassau, carrying the Oreto's battery.

The new cruiser arrived at Nassau April 28th, consigned to Adderly & Co., the Confederate agents at that port, and a few days later she was joined by the Bahama. The consignees immediately set about transferring the arms and ammunition, but on the representations of the United States consul at Nassau the Oreto was inspected by Captain Hickley, of H. M. ship Greyhound, who reported that she was in every respect fitted as a man-of-war. She was thereupon libelled in the vice-admiralty court, and after a trial, in which the sympathies of the court were plainly apparent, she was released on the 7th of August. The Oreto, or Florida, as she was henceforth called, now sailed for Green Cay, took on board her battery, consisting of two 7-inch rifles and six 6-inch guns, and became a veritable Confederate cruiser, under the command of Commander J. N. Maffitt, of the Confederate navy. Her course was first shaped for Cuba. Here Maffitt hoped to obtain certain essential parts of his ordnance which had not been supplied at Nassau, and also to ship a crew. The authorities in Cuba, however, prohibited any shipment of men or supply of equipments, and presently the crew, which numbered only twenty-two, was attacked by yellow fever, until nearly every one on board, including the captain, was prostrated by the disease. After delaying a week at Cardenas and Havana, Maffitt determined to attempt to run the blockade at Mobile.

The squadron, at this time off Mobile, was composed of the sloop-of-war Oneida and the gun-boat Winona, under Commander George H. Preble. The Oneida was just completing repairs to her boilers, and was working at a reduced speed. At 5 o'clock on the afternoon of the 4th of September the Florida was sighted in the distance. At this moment the Winona was just returning from a chase in company with the schooner Rachel Seaman. From the appearance of the stranger, and from her English ensign and pennant, Preble was satisfied that she was an English gun-vessel inspecting the blockade. When she came abreast of the Oneida, as she showed no signs of stopping, Preble fired across her bow three times. The Florida continued at full speed, but made no reply. Upon this Preble fired into her, the Winona and Rachel Seaman joining in from a distance. The Florida received some damage from shot and shell, but she was not disabled, and in a few moments she had passed out of range, and was making her way up the main ship-channel to Fort Morgan.

The Florida remained four months at Mobile completing her repairs and equipment and filling up her crew. On the night of January 15th, 1863, she ran the blockade outward. It was a dark, stormy night. Seven vessels now composed the blockading squadron, several of which had been selected for their size and speed, with the view of preventing the escape of the Florida. Although her coming was expected, she succeeded in passing directly between the flag-ship Susquehanna and the Cuyler, the fastest of the blockaders. The Cuyler started in pursuit and chased the Florida during the whole of the next day, but at night lost sight of her.

Within ten days after leaving Mobile the Florida captured and burnt three vessels. Maffitt then put into Nassau, where he was warmly received and, in violation of the neutrality regulations, permitted to remain thirty-six hours and to take on board a three-months' supply of coal. During the next five months, comprising the spring and early summer of 1863, fourteen prizes were captured, one of which, the brig Clarence, was fitted out as a tender and placed under the command of Lieutenant Charles W. Read. Proceeding northward on a roving cruise in the Clarence, Read captured, [596] during the month of June, five vessels off the coast of the United States, between the Chesapeake and Portland. The fifth was the schooner Tacony, and finding her better suited to his purpose, Read burned the Clarence, after transferring his guns and men to the new cruiser. His four other prizes were also destroyed. During the next fortnight the Tacony made ten prizes. The last of these, the Archer, then became a ship-of-war, and the Tacony and the other prizes were burned. Read now made a raid into Portland harbor and cut out

Captain James D. Bulloch, C. S. N. From a photograph.

the revenue-cutter Cushing, but the inhabitants of Portland fitted out all the available steamers in port, and Read was overtaken and captured.

Soon after these events the Florida proceeded to Brest, where she remained for six months undergoing repairs. She sailed in February, 1864, under the command of Captain C. M. Morris. After cruising for four months in the North Atlantic, she visited Bermuda, where she obtained supplies of coal. During the summer she continued her cruise in the Atlantic, destroying merchantmen in the neighborhood of the United States coast.

On the 5th of October the Florida arrived at Bahia, in Brazil, where she found the United States sloop-of-war Wachusett, Commander N. Collins. She took a position near the shore about half a mile from the Wachusett. A Brazilian corvette, as a precaution, took a berth between the two vessels.

The temptation to violate the neutrality of the port of Bahia was too great for Captain Collins, and he resolved to run down the Florida and sink her at her anchorage. It was his design to give the act the appearance of an accident, but the plan was so badly carried out that the capture of the vessel assumed the character of a perfectly unjustifiable outrage. Before daylight, on the morning of October 7th, the Wachusett got under way, passed the Brazilian corvette, and ran into the Florida, striking her on the starboard quarter, cutting down her bulwarks and carrying away her mizzenmast. As the Wachusett backed off, and the Florida was clearly not in a sinking condition, Collins fired one or two volleys of small-arms, and also two discharges from his heavy guns, upon which the Florida surrendered. At the time of the capture, the captain and a large part of the crew of the Florida were on shore; the remainder were taken prisoners. The Florida was taken to Hampton Roads, where she was afterward sunk by collision with a transport. The United States made the amende honorable to Brazil, and Captain Collins was tried by court-martial.

The second cruiser built in England, through the agency of Captain Bulloch, was the Alabama, whose career is described in another place. [See p. 600.] Notwithstanding the very urgent representations of Mr. Adams, accompanied by depositions which left no doubt as to the character and objects of the vessel, she was permitted to escape through the extreme dilatoriness of the English officials who had the matter in hand at the critical moment. On the 29th of July, 1862, the law officers of the Crown rendered the opinion that the vessel was clearly intended for warlike use against the United States, and recommended that she be seized without loss of time; but on that very day she left Liverpool, ostensibly on a trial trip, and, after completing her preparations at Point Lynas, made her way to the North Atlantic.

The third of the Confederate vessels obtained abroad was the Georgia. In the latter part of 1862, Commander Matthew F. Maury, who had acquired great distinction as a scientific man while in the old navy, was sent to England partly to influence public opinion in favor of the Confederacy, and also with a general authority to fit out ships of war. In March, 1863, he purchased on the Clyde the Japan, a new iron screw steamer. She was an excellent vessel, although built for the merchant service, but she was seriously defective as a commerce-destroyer, from the lack of auxiliary sail-power, a defect which Bulloch, in his contracts and purchases, had uniformly avoided.

The Japan cleared from Greenock on the 1st of April, 1863, in ballast, as a merchant vessel, bound for the East Indies. A shipping firm of Liverpool was employed as the intermediary to cover all the transactions. One member of the firm was the ostensible owner, and the Japan was registered in his name as a British vessel, and remained so for three months, though engaged during this time in active hostilities against the United States. Another member of the firm shipped the crew, and took charge of a small steamer which cleared about the same time from Newhaven, with a cargo of guns and ammunition. The two vessels met off the coast of France, the cargo was transferred, the officers proceeded on board, and the Confederate cruiser Georgia, though still registered as the British steamer Japan, started on her cruise. Her career extended over a year, during which she cruised in the Atlantic under Lieutenant William L. Maury. During her cruise she captured only [597] eight vessels, her movements being restricted by her want of sail-power and her limited coal capacity.

The operations of the Confederate cruisers having their base in Europe were now under the principal direction of Commodore Samuel Barron, senior officer at Paris. Barron, having no further use for the Georgia, sent her to Liverpool in May, 1864, to be disposed of by Bulloch. She was sold on June 1st to Mr. Edwin Bates, a Liverpool merchant, who took her under a bill of sale signed by Bulloch. After the transfer was completed, the ship was chartered by the Portuguese Government, and she set out on her voyage to Lisbon. At the instance of Mr. Adams, the Niagara, under Commodore Thomas T. Craven, proceeded to Liverpool, and, learning the proposed destination of the Georgia, took measures to intercept her. Meeting her outside of Lisbon, Craven seized her and sent her into Boston, where she was condemned. The claim for damages subsequently entered on behalf of Mr. Bates before the Mixed Commission at Washington was unanimously disallowed.

The members of the Liverpool firm which had been engaged in fitting out the Georgia and securing her crew were afterward indicted under the Foreign Enlistment Act, and, being found guilty, were sentenced to pay a fine of £ 50 each. The Confederate operations in England did not suffer motions so much from the penalty inflicted upon the guilty parties as from the scandal and notoriety caused by the prosecution and the light which it threw upon the methods of the purchasing agents. Notwithstanding all this, Commander Maury was not deterred from making a second attempt, which was even less profitable.

During the latter part of 1863, several condemned dispatch boats belonging to the royal navy were offered for sale at Sheerness; one of these, the Victor, was bought by an agent of Maury's. In such cases it was usual to allow the purchaser to put in the equipment of the vessel and overhaul her machinery at the dock-yard; but, whatever the practice may be, it is of course necessary that a neutral government should take care that it is not thereby instrumental in turning over a ship-of-war to a belligerent. The real ownership of the Victor was carefully concealed, and, wittingly or unwittingly, the dock-yard officials were superintending her equipment. It was intended that the Rappahannock, as the new cruiser was named, should receive her battery from the Georgia after she got to sea, but suspicion was aroused at the United States Legation, inquiries were set on foot, Maury took alarm, and one night in the winter the ship was hurried off with the workmen still on board, and with only a fragment of a crew. In the Channel she was joined by a party of Confederate officers and put in commission, and the next morning she entered Calais in the guise of a Confederate ship-of-war in distress, which had been driven by the need of repairs to seek the hospitality of the port. She was allowed to enter, but placed under close observation. After much discussion, the French Government decided that it would place no obstacle in the way of her departure, but would allow no increase of the crew or the supply of warlike equipment, and a French gun-boat was anchored close by to enforce the prohibition. No further attempt was made to remove the vessel, and she remained at Calais as a depot ship. In March, 1865, Barron turned her over to Bulloch, and an attempt was made to sell her; but as the Confederacy had now come to an end, Bulloch could give no legal title, and the ship was eventually delivered to the United States.

In the latter part of 1862 a new cruiser, of the same type as the Florida, was projected by the Confederate agents in Liverpool. She was launched on the 7th of March, 1863, and was called the Alexandra. The suspicions of Mr. Dudley, United States consul at Liverpool, were aroused, and near the end of March Mr. Adams brought the subject to the notice of the Foreign Office, at the same time forwarding affidavits that left no doubt of the vessel's character. As a result she was seized by the customs officers, and the case was tried in the following June before the Court of Exchequer. The court, in interpreting the Foreign Enlistment Act, held that there was no offense under the statute unless the vessel was armed for hostile purposes, and unless the arming was done within British jurisdiction. The jury, in consequence, brought in a verdict of not guilty. Appeals and for a new trial followed, but were defeated upon various technical grounds, and the vessel was eventually released. The protracted series of trials, however, kept the vessel in custody until it was too late to make use of her as a cruiser, and she became a blockade-runner.

Another vessel, the Pampero, built by Lieutenant George T. Sinclair, on the Clyde, was seized by the Scottish officials in November, 1863. To avoid the litigation and delay which had attended the Alexandra case a compromise was arranged between the owners — that is, the builders — and the Government, by which a verdict was entered for the Crown, and the owners were allowed to retain the vessel, provided they should not sell her for two years without the consent of the Crown. This simple arrangement, if it had been adopted in the case of the other cruisers, would have obviated the whole controversy over the so-called Alabama claims.

Secretary Mallory attached a high importance to the construction of iron-clads, and already, in June, 1862, he had directed Bulloch to procure them. The latter immediately made a contract with the Lairds, the builders of the Alabama, to build two double-turret iron-clads, of 1800 tons each, fitted with rams and with powerful engines, and carrying 5 1/2 inches of armor and a battery of four 9-inch rifles. They were probably superior to any vessels at that time in the possession of the United States. The main object for which they were intended was the recovery of the Mississippi. In the spring of 1863 Bulloch began to feel apprehensive that measures might be taken to stop the building of the rams. He accordingly arranged with a mercantile firm in Paris, Messrs. Bravay & Co., that they should become the purchasers of the vessels, ostensibly for the Viceroy of Egypt, and that they should subsequently sell them [598] to him. This plan was carried out with every formality, and the rams became the property of the firm of Bravay.

Early in June the first of the rams was launched. Mr. Adams had for some time been observing their progress, and on the 11th of that month he wrote an urgent letter to Earl Russell, detailing the circumstances, and inclosing four affidavits, which gave conclusive evidence of the character and destination of the rams. More forcible protests, accompanied by further affidavits, were made on the 16th, and again on the 24th of July, on the 14th of August, and on the 3d and 4th of September.

All these letters met with no response from Foreign Office other than simple acknowledgment.

Commander John M. Brooke, C. S. N. From a photograph.

On the 29th of August the second ram was launched. It had been Mr. Adams's belief at the beginning that in so clear a case it would only be necessary to recite the facts to induce the Government to take action. As the days and weeks passed by and no answer came, his appeals grew more and more earnest and forcible, until in the later letters they had reached a tone of solemn warning.

At last a reply came, which had been written on the 1st of September, and therefore before the receipt of the last two communications. It repeated the usual formula of the Foreign Office that the evidence was insufficient for legal proceedings, and quoted the belief of the collector at Liverpool that the vessels were not intended for the Confederates. It was in reply to this letter that Mr. Adams sent the dispatch containing his famous ultimatum: “It would be superfluous in me to point out to your lordship that this is war.”

In consequence of this letter, or at least directly upon its receipt, instructions were issued by the British Government to detain the rams. Shortly afterward they were seized, a guard was placed on board, and a squadron of the royal navy was detailed to watch them. After a detention lasting several months, the vessels were finally purchased by the Admiralty for the royal navy, on whose list they appeared as the Scorpion and the Wivern.

Only one attempt was made to procure ships of war for the Confederates in France. From intimations received by Mr. Slidell, the commissioner at Paris, it was believed that the French emperor would place no obstacle in the way of Confederate operations in France. A contract was therefore made with Arman, an influential ship-builder, of Bordeaux, early in 1863, for four corvettes, and in the following July for two powerful iron-clad rams, each carrying a 300-pounder Armstrong rifle in a casemate and two 70-pounders in a turret. Before the work was far advanced, however,--that is, in September, 1863,--the United States Minister, Mr. Dayton, was informed of the whole transaction, the through certain letters which came into the possession of John Bigelow, Consul-General at Paris. The letters formed a complete exposure of the business, and the Government was forced to interpose; and although during the next six months the work of construction was permitted to go on, at the end of that time the ships were ordered to be sold under penalty of seizure.

Of the four corvettes, two were bought by Prussia and two by Peru. One of the rams was sold to Prussia and the other, known as the Sphinx, to Denmark. Before her arrival in Copenhagen the Schleswig-Holstein war was over, and the Danes, having no use for her, were well satisfied to have her taken off their hands without inquiring too closely into the character of the purchaser. In this way Bulloch got possession of her, and on the 30th of January, 1865, she was commissioned in the English Channel as the Stonewall, and started on a cruise under Captain T. J. Page.

The Stonewall had not gone far before she sprang a leak and put into Ferrol for repairs. Here she was found by the Niagara and Sacramento, under Commodore T. T. Craven, who took up a position in the adjoining port of Coruña. On the 24th of March the Stonewall steamed out of Ferrol and lay for several hours off the entrance of Corufia; Craven, however, declined to join battle, under the belief that the odds against him were too great, although the Niagara carried ten heavy rifles, and the Sacramento two 11-inch guns. The Stonewall steamed that night to Lisbon, thence to Teneriffe and Nassau, and finally to Havana. It was now the middle of May, and the Confederacy was breaking up; Captain Page therefore made an agreement with the Captain-General of Cuba, by which the latter advanced $16,000 to pay off his officers and men and received possession of the vessel. She was subsequently turned over to the United States, and finally sold to Japan.

Another cruiser, the Tallahassee, was originally the English blockade-runner Atlanta, and made two trips from Bermuda to Wilmington in the summer of 1864. She was then fitted out and armed as a cruiser, and on the 6th of August sailed from Wilmington under Commander John T. Wood. Her cruise lasted less than three weeks, but was remarkably successful. It extended along the United States coast and so on to Halifax. The small coasters and fishing vessels were totally unprepared for an enemy, and over thirty of them were captured, nearly all being destroyed. At one time the Tallahassee was not [599] far from New York, and several cruisers were sent out in pursuit of her, but without success. At Halifax the authorities were not inclined to permit repairs or supplies of coal. Wood put to sea again, and on the 26th ran the blockade into Wilmington. On the 29th of October the Tallahassee, now called the Olustee, made another short cruise along the coast as far as Sandy Hook, under Lieutenant Ward, making seven prizes, and returning again to Wilmington after a slight brush with the blockading vessels. Her battery was now removed, and, after a fictitious sale to the navy agent at Wilmington, she was renamed the Chameleon. She sailed with a cargo of cotton on December 24th, while the first attack on Fort Fisher was in progress. Captain John Wilkinson of the navy commanded her, and his object was to obtain supplies at Bermuda for Lee's army. She returned late in January, but was unable to enter either Wilmington or Charleston, and after landing her stores at Nassau she proceeded to Liverpool. Here she was seized by the authorities, and ultimately she was delivered to the United States.

The last of the Confederate commerce-destroyers was the Sea King, or Shenandoah. Commander John M. Brooke, the Confederate ordnance officer at Richmond, devised the plan which was afterward adopted on her cruise. Brooke's service in the North Pacific Exploring Expedition of 1855 had familiarized him with the movements of the New Bedford whaling fleet, and it was against this fleet that the proposed cruise was to be made. The whalers generally cruised in the South Pacific in winter, going in the spring to Behring Strait, where they remained during the summer season, returning in October to the Sandwich Islands. As the Alabama and her consorts had nearly swept American commerce from the seas, the whaling fleet was the only remaining object of naval attack.

The summer of 1864 was now nearly over, and it was evident to Bulloch that no ships specially fitted for war could safely be purchased in England. He therefore turned his attention to securing a merchant vessel which should answer the requirements of the commerce-destroying service: speed, sail-power, and sufficient strength for a battery and room for a crew. Such vessels were difficult to find, but Bulloch, by good luck, discovered one that answered his purpose,--the Sea King, a vessel built for the Bombay trade, which had made only one voyage; and in September she was purchased, her ostensible owner being a British subject who acted privately as Bulloch's agent.

On the 8th of October the Sea King cleared from London for Bombay, carrying coal as ballast, and with Lieutenant Whittle of the Confederate navy on board as a passenger. On the same day the Laurel, a fast steamer, purchased ostensibly for a blockade-runner, sailed from Liverpool with a cargo containing six guns and their appurtenances, and nineteen passengers, who consisted of Captain James I. Waddell and eighteen other Confederate officers. The two vessels proceeded directly to Madeira. On their arrival they withdrew to the Desertas, a group of barren islands in the neighborhood, where the passengers and cargo were transferred, and the Sea King was put in commission as the Confederate States ship Shenandoah, under the command of Waddell. Contrary to his expectation, most of the seamen who had been shipped for a voyage to Bombay refused to join the Shenandoah's crew when her real character was known. She was therefore obliged to start with only 23 seamen instead of 120, which was her complement.

The Shenandoah proceeded first to Melbourne. On her way she met nine American vessels, seven of which were destroyed and the others ransomed. From the crews of the captured prizes, Waddell succeeded in obtaining twenty-four seamen who consented to enlist on board the Shenandoah, making her total number forty-seven.

The Shenandoah arrived at Melbourne on the 25th of January, 1865. Here she was admitted to a building slip on the ground that she needed repairs. She was also allowed to remain at Melbourne nearly four weeks, to put her machinery in thorough order at her leisure, and to take on board 300 tons of coal. Her crew, which had now been reduced by desertions to thirty men, was reinforced with an addition of forty-two new recruits, the authorities showing extreme slackness in preventing the enlistments, notwithstanding the urgent representations of the United States Consul. Leaving Melbourne on February 18th, the Shenandoah pursued her course to the northward. Three vessels were captured in April and one in May.

In the latter part of June, approaching Behring Strait, she fell in with the New Bedford whaling fleet. In the course of one week, from the 21st to the 28th, twenty-five whalers were captured, of which four were ransomed, and the remaining twenty-one were burnt.

The loss on these twenty-one whalers was estimated at upwards of $3,000,000, and considering that it occurred in June, 1865, two months after the Confederacy had virtually passed out of existence, it may be characterized as the most useless act of hostility that occurred during the whole war.

The first intimation received by Waddell of the progress of events at home was on June 22d, when the captain of one of the whalers told him that he believed the war was over; the statement was, however, unsupported by other evidence, and Waddell declined to believe it. On the 23d he received from one of his prizes San Francisco newspapers of a sufficiently late date to contain news of the fall of Richmond. The war was not yet ended, however, and subsequently to the receipt of these newspapers fifteen whalers were destroyed. On the 28th, the work of destroying the fleet having been completed, Waddell started to return home. On his way southward, on August 2d, he met the British bark Barracouta, from which he received positive information that the Confederacy was at an end ; he thereupon dismounted his battery and shaped his course for Liverpool, where he arrived on the 5th of November, having made his voyage of 17,000 miles without speaking a vessel. The Shenandoah was surrendered on her arrival to the British Government, which in turn delivered her to the United States.

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