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The Confederate cruisers and the “Alabama” : the Confederate destroyers of commerce

After the sinking of the “Alabama Admiral Semmes (above) and Commander Kell with their English hostesses


Rear-Admiral Raphael Semmes: a photograph immediately after the Alabama's fight with the Kearsarge Very few officers in the Civil War had the opportunity of serving in both the army and navy: Admiral Semmes of the Confederate service was one of the small number. This fine likeness represents him at Southampton, England, whither he was taken by the Deerhound when the unlucky Alabama sank to her watery grave. Upon his return to America he was appointed rear-admiral and put in charge of the James River Squadron. This was February 10, 1865. On April 2d came the order from Secretary Mallory to destroy the ships, for Richmond was to be evacuated. His occupation gone, Semmes did not stand idly by and witness the ruin of his Government, but with a commission of brigadier-general undauntedly led a marine brigade in the last efforts of the expiring Confederacy.


Commander John McIntosh Kell: the right-hand man of captain Semmes As first-lieutenant, ell was Captain Semmes' executive officer on the Alabama. The captain gave him “great credit for the fine condition in which the ship went into action” and further stated that he rendered him “great assistance by his coolness and judgment as the fight proceeded.” Kell, like his superior, was rescued by the Deerhound and taken to Southampton, where this photograph was made. On his return to the Confederate States, he was appointed commander and given the ironclad Richmond, in the James River Squadron. The fine features and resolute bearing of these naval officers go far to explain the daring and effective handling of the famous Alabama. With such sailors, an extensive Confederate Navy would have added even more dramatic chapters to history.


For a year or more after the outbreak of the war, privateering under letters of marque issued by President Davis was carried on with considerable success, but shipowners soon discovered that commerce destroying was not a lucrative business. The Federal war-ships captured most of the early privateers or drove them from the seas, and their masters found a more congenial occupation in carrying contraband goods. The Confederate navy now took entirely upon itself the work of commerce destroying. In the middle of April, 1861, the Habana, one of a line of steamers plying between Havana and New Orleans, was lying at her wharf in the latter city. She was taken by the Government, renamed the Sumter, and refitted and armed under the direction of Commander Semmes. She cruised in the Gulf, the Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic, and succeeded in burning six American vessels with their cargoes. Seventeen captures in all were made, of which two were ransomed and seven were released in Cuban ports. The Sumter finally found herself blockaded, early in 1862, in the harbor of Algeciras, Spain, by the Tuscarora, Kearsarge, and Ino. Her boilers were now worn out, and there was no opportunity to repair them. So the vessel was sold, and was turned by her new owners into a blockade-runner.

This vessel, of all those available for the Confederate navy, alone seemed suited for commerce destroying, and consequently the authorities at Montgomery, early in May, 1861, determined to send agents to Europe to obtain there what the South had not the means to provide.

One of the first of the confidential emissaries employed by Secretary of the Navy Mallory was James D. Bulloch, a [291]

The contending forces abroad

The names of Mason and Slidell were linked throughout the war with the diplomatic efforts made in behalf of the Confederacy at the courts of England and France. The most concrete evidence of these efforts were the vessels that were built in English and French shipyards and, eluding the “vigilance” of the two Governments, passed into the hands of the Confederates to strike telling blows at American commerce, then next to the largest on the seas. Actively opposed to Mason and Slidell was John Bigelow, consul at Paris for the Federal Government during the war. His efforts to circumvent the construction of Confederate cruisers were untiring and in great measure successful in keeping in check the foreign tendency to encourage the division of the United States. At the very outset of this diplomatic struggle the Federal Government narrowly escaped becoming involved in war with England when Captain Charles Wilkes, in the “San Jacinto,” seized Mason and Slidell aboard the British steamer “Trent,” Nov. 8, 1861. Had not the captain of the “Trent” forgotten to throw his vessel on the hands of Captain Wilkes as a prize, hostilities could scarcely have been prevented. While Mason and Slidell were paving the way with diplomacy, a commission of Confederate naval officers, with headquarters in London, were striving energetically to arrange for the purchase and building of vessels to be used as blockade-runners or privateers. Particularly active among these officers was Captain James Newland Maffit, C. S. N., and he was given command of the first cruiser built with Confederate funds that safely put to sea. In the “Oreto,” Captain Maffit proceeded to Nassau; after she had been released by the British authorities there, her armament was again put aboard her and she began her career as the “Florida.” She had been out but five days when yellow fever broke out on board. It reduced the working force to one fireman and four deck-hands. Maffit, himself stricken, ran into Cardenas, but was soon ordered by the Cuban authorities to bring his ship to Havana. Maffit determined to escape. On Sept. 4, 1862, he took the “Florida” boldly through the blockading squadron into Mobile Bay. The vessel was refitted, and on the night of Jan. 15, 1863, Captain Maffit ran out with her and got safely to sea. He continued to command the cruiser on her adventurous voyages until the latter part of 1864, when his health was so broken that he was relieved. In January, 1865, he took the blockade-runner “Owl” out from Wilmington and over the bar near Fort Caswell, the very night that the forts surrendered to the Federal fleet. Maffit arrived at Bermuda in time to stop the sailing of five blockade-runners.

A. P. Mason

John Slidell

John Bigelow

Capt. James N. Maffit, C. S. N.


Georgian by birth, and a lieutenant in the United States navy who had been detailed by the United States Government some years before to the mail service for the acquisition of experience in the new art of steam navigation.

Bulloch arrived in England, by way of Canada, on the 4th of June, 1861. With characteristic energy he began his delicate mission, and continued to work unceasingly during the whole course of the war, sometimes meeting with brilliant success, but often with disheartening failure. England, together with other European powers, had not recognized the Confederate States, only admitting a de facto government. Moreover, a proclamation of neutrality had been issued, and the conditions under which the ships of both belligerents were allowed to enter and equip at British ports were clearly defined. The terms of the Foreign Enlistment Act had to be considered also.

The first foreign-built Confederate cruiser was the Oreto, renamed the Florida as soon as she flew the emblem of the new republic. Her construction was carried on in great secrecy at a Liverpool shipyard in the fall and winter of 1861-62. By the middle of March, 1862, the vessel was ready for sea. Before this, however, the new steamship had fallen under the suspicion of the American minister, who pressed the British Government to detain her, but so well had the secret of her ultimate use been kept that nothing definite could be learned.

The Florida had much ill-luck at first, and spent several months in the harbor of Mobile. Late in February, 1863, she left Barbadoes for a cruise which proved to be one of the most brilliant in the history of the Confederate navy. From the latitude of New York city to that of Bahia, Brazil, this gallant vessel roamed the Western Atlantic. In May, the big Clarence was taken off the Brazilian coast, and Lieutenant Charles W. Read, a most daring officer, was put on board with a crew. Read started north and within a month had captured five vessels. Four of these were burned, and to the fifth, the schooner Tacony, Read transferred himself and his crew. [293]

The “Tuscarora” near Gibraltar, in chase of the Confederate cruisers The U. S. S. “Tuscarora” with other vessels during the latter half of 1861 was scouring the seas in search of the “Sumter” --the first of the Confederate cruisers to get to sea, eluding the blockading squadron at the mouth of the Mississippi, June 30, 1861. She was a 500-ton passenger steamer with a speed of but ten knots and had been declared unfit for naval service by a board of Confederate officers. Captain Raphael Semmes, upon seeing the report, said: “Give me that ship; I think I can make her answer the purpose.” Within a week after she got away, the “Sumter” had made eight prizes. On Nov. 23d Semmes cleverly eluded the “Iroquois,” then lying outside the harbor of St. Pierre, Martinique, and cruised to Gibraltar. There the “Sumter” was blockaded by the “Tuscarora,” the “Kearsarge” and the “Ino.” Semmes, seeing that escape was impossible, sold his vessel and disbanded her crew. Her prizes totalled fifteen, and Semmes was soon making another record for himself in the “Alabama.” The “Florida” was the first cruiser built for the Confederacy abroad. She was allowed to clear from Liverpool on March 22, 1862, under the name “Oreto.” On August 7th she began her career under Captain John Newland Maffit, with a crew of but twenty-two men. She had an adventurous career till she ran into the harbor of Bahia, Oct. 5, 1864, where she encountered a vessel of Wilke's flying squadron, the “Wachusett.” Commander Napoleon Collins, in violation of the neutrality laws, suddenly attacked the “Florida” and received her surrender.


The Clarence was burned. Within two weeks the Tacony had ten prizes, and the coast between Chesapeake and Casco bays was in a state of terror. The dauntless schooner shared the fate of the Clarence when the better-suited Archer fell into her clutches. But the latter's career was short. Dashing into the harbor of Portland, Maine, Read cut out the revenue cutter Caleb Cushing. The next day he was attacked, captured, and sent as a prisoner to Fort Warren, in Boston Harbor.

The Florida had no less than fourteen prizes to her credit, when, late in August, 1863, she entered the harbor of Brest, France, greatly in need of repairs. Here she remained until February, 1864, and became in the mean time almost a new ship. Back and forth across the Atlantic she went, preying on the merchant vessels of the United States until, on the 5th of October, Lieutenant Morris brought her into the harbor of Bahia.

Commander N. Collins, of the United States war-ship Wachusett, then in that port, on October 7, 1864, broke the laws of neutrality and ran into and captured the Florida, which got him a court martial (and in course of time, promotion). The Florida was brought up to Chesapeake Bay, and after much international confabulation her prisoners were released, and she was ordered to be turned over to the Brazilian Government. But a blundering ferryboat ran her down, and Brazil received only an apology, for this time the Florida went to the bottom.

While the Florida was building, Captain Bulloch visited the shipyard of John Laird, at Birkenhead, and arranged to build a wooden screw despatch-vessel. This ship, when it finally went into commission on the 24th of August, 1862, was the famous Alabama, and she was under the charge of Commander Semmes of the dismantled Florida. In a month's cruise in the North Atlantic twenty American vessels were destroyed. Then she went south, swept the Gulf, and among her captures was the Federal war vessel Hatteras. The [295]

At Antwerp — U. S. S. “Niagara” and the fight that was not fought No sooner did it become known that the “Stonewall” was a broad than the Federal vessels in foreign waters began an active search for her. At the very beginning of her cruise she was found to have sprung a leak, however, and put into Ferrol, Spain, for repairs. There, during the first week in February, 1865, the frigate “Niagara” and the sloop-of-war “Sacramento” found her and attempted to blockade her. On March 24th the “Stonewall” steamed out of Ferrol and cleared for action. Commander T. T. Craven, of the “Niagara,” had already notified his Government that in a smooth sea the “Stonweall” would be a match for three such ships as the “Niagara.” Twice when the sea was rough he had stood out and offered battle to the Confederate ram, but Captain Page refused the offer, choosing his own time on a day when the water was as smooth as glass and no slight advantage could accrue to the Federals. Commander Craven was equally determined not to give his antagonist an inexpensive victory and carefully avoided the encounter. The “Stonewall” after flaunting her flag in his face, sailed jauntily off to Lisbon with the intention of crossing the Atlantic and striking a blow at Port Royal and at the cities of the North, hoping thus to revive the waning cause of the Confederacy. Arriving at Havana early in May, Captain Page learned that the war was over, and surrendered his vessel to the captain-general of Cuba.

[296] successful cruiser now visited Jamaica, landed her prisoners, and made necessary repairs. Semmes then cruised off the coast of Brazil, making ten prizes, and in company with one of them, taken into the Confederate service and renamed the Tuscaloosa, proceeded to the Cape of Good Hope. The vessel next spent six months in Eastern waters, even crossing the China Sea. On this cruise seven vessels were destroyed. In March, 1864, she was back at the Cape, and before the end of the month sailed for Europe. On June 11th, the Alabama entered the harbor of Cherbourg, France, in order to coal and to refit. What happened to her now will be told at the end of this chapter.

Among other Confederate cruisers was the Georgia, bought in March, 1863, by one of the Confederate agents, Commander Matthew F. Maury, the distinguished hydrographer. The Georgia started from England, but her sail power was found to be so small that she was constantly compelled to enter port to take on coal. This circumstance made her useless for long cruises, and she was taken to Liverpool and sold, after a year's activity in the Middle and South Atlantic. The Victor, an old despatch-boat of the British navy, was also bought by Commander Maury and, as the Rappahannock, was long detained in the harbor of Calais.

With neither of these vessels was it possible to duplicate the Alabama, and, as yet, the whaling industry in the Pacific had been quite free from the unwelcome attentions of the Confederate cruisers. The Sea King was purchased by the Southern agents in Europe in the summer of 1864. She was refitted and armed, and, as the Shenandoah, was sent to the Pacific under command of Lieutenant Waddell. In these far seas he destroyed a large number of whalers, keeping the work up until the end of June, 1865, in ignorance of the termination of the war. Lieutenant Waddell then returned to Liverpool and surrendered the Shenandoah to the British Government.

A ship of many names began her adventures as the blockade-runner Atlanta, in the summer of 1864. She made two [297]

The “Stonewall

In this picture, taken after the “Stonewall” was voluntarily delivered by Spain to the United States in July, 1865, is seen the tremendous power for harm possessed by the vessel. Commodore Craven, at his own request, was tried in a court of inquiry for his failure to engage the Confederate ram with the “Niagara” and “Sacramento” and was exonerated of all blame. By taking the less popular course he undoubtedly saved the Federal navy a grave disaster. His were wooden ships, while the “Stonewall” was heavily armored, and her great ram could easily have sunk both her antagonists even if her gunnery should have proved inaccurate. Although the “Niagara” was rated as one of the most powerful vessels of the old navy and perhaps the fastest sailing-ship afloat, under steam she was scarcely a match for the “Stonewall” in that particular. The condition of her boilers at the time was still further disadvantageous. The “Niagara” could not turn around in less than fifteen minutes, while the “Stonewall” could turn on her center while going either forward or backward in a minute and a half. The battery of the “Niagara” had been condemned as unserviceable by a board of survey. Her target-practice reports showed that the shot from her guns would “tumble.” The “Niagara” carried twelve 9-inch smooth-bores and the “Sacramento” ten guns, but unless both ships could bring their broadsides to bear on their antagonist it was bound to be a one-sided battle, for the “Stonewall's” powerful and modern Armstrong rifles were mounted in two turrets and could be brought quickly to bear over a wide range.

The “Stonewall,” a dread Confederate destroyer

Commodore Thomas T. Craven

[298] trips from Bermuda to Wilmington, and was then fitted out as a commerce-destroyer, being renamed the Tallahassee and put under the command of Commander John Taylor Wood. She set out from Wilmington in August. A successful three weeks cruise extended as far as Halifax; nearly thirty coasting and fishing vessels were destroyed. In October, she became the Olustee and took seven prizes. This ended her career as a cruiser, for there was now more pressing work for her to do. Once more she became a blockade-runner, and, as the Chameleon, went to Bermuda with a cargo of cotton. Bringing back much needed supplies for Lee's army, she was unable, in January, 1865, to enter either Wilmington or Charleston, the only ports then in the hands of the Confederacy. So her captain was compelled to take her to Liverpool, where she was seized and delivered to the United States Government.

Beside the cruisers, the Confederate agents attempted to procure in Europe iron-clad vessels for the purpose of opening blockaded ports and navigating the shallow waters of the Mississippi and the Gulf. This was a most difficult matter, inasmuch as their character could not be disguised. Two ships were started in England, but the British Government seized the unfinished vessels and finally purchased them. The Confederate Government suffered no financial loss, but the blow to its prospects was severe.

John Slidell, the commissioner in France, finally got six war vessels started in that country, but all but one had to be abandoned. The latter, a light-draft iron-clad ram, after many strange adventures, including a purchase by the Danish Government, finally sailed at the end of January, 1865, for the Confederacy, under the name of the Stonewall. Stopping at Coruña, Spain, she was threatened by the United States warships Niagara and Sacramento. But Commodore Thomas T. Craven of the Niagara decided that the Stonewall in a fight “ought to be more than a match for three such ships as the Niagara,” and let her get away. When the ram reached [299]

The Confederate ram “Stonewall” in the Port Royal dry-dock.

Here are two striking views in the Port Royal dry-dock of the Confederate ram “Stonewall.” When this powerful fighting-ship sailed from Copenhagen, Jan. 6, formidable antagonist during the war. In March, 1863, the Confederacy had negotiated a loan of £ 3,000,000, and being thus at last in possession of the necessary funds, Captain Bulloch and Mr. Slidell arranged with M. Arman, who was a member of the Corps-Legislatif and proprietor of a large shipyard at Bordeaux, for the construction of ironclad ships of war. Mr. Slidell had already received assurances from persons in the confidence of Napoleon III that the building of the ships in the French yards would not be interfered with, and that getting them to sea would be connived at by the Government. Owing to the indubitable proof laid before the Emperor by the Federal diplomats at Paris, he was compelled to revoke the guarantee that had been given to Slidell and Bulloch. A plan was arranged, however, by which M. Arman should sell the vessels to various European powers; and he disposed of the ironclad ram “Sphinx” to the Danish Government, then at war with Prussia. Delivery of the ship at Copenhagen was not made, however, till after the war had ceased, and no trouble was experienced by the Confederates in arranging for the purchase of the vessel. On January 24, 1865, she rendezvoused off Quiberon, on the French coast; the remainder of her officers, crew, and supplies were put aboard of her; the Confederate flag was hoisted over her, and she was christened the “Stonewall.” Already the vessel was discovered to have sprung a leak, and Captain Page ran into Ferrol, Spain. Here dock — yard facilities were at first granted, but were withdrawn at the protest of the American Minister. While Captain Page was repairing his vessel as best he could, the “Niagara” and the “Sacramento” appeared, and after some weeks the “Stonewall” offered battle in vain.

The Confederate ram “Stonewall

The Confederate ram “Stonewall


Havana the war was over. The Cuban authorities took over the vessel and paid off the crew. Commodore Craven was declared guilty by court martial for his lack of effort to destroy the Stonewall, but Secretary Welles, finding fault with the decreed punishment of two years suspension from duty on leave pay, set the proceedings aside.

While the Confederate cruisers were busy at their work of destruction, the Federal Government had a number of well-equipped and well-armed cruisers, mostly steam sloops-of-war, scouring the ocean in all directions in search of them. Every captain of merchant-marine vessels was on the lookout for a full bark-rigged steamer with very lofty spars. To almost all merchant ships that had touched in any port since 1862, there had been sent descriptions of each one of the seascourgers, but the swiftest and most formidable of them was the Alabama.

Battle of the Kearsarge and the Alabama

Among the Federal war vessels that were searching for this much-advertised craft was the U. S. S. Kearsarge, whose sister ship, the Tuscarora, was also in foreign waters bent on the same mission. The Kearsarge was built in 1861, was of fourteen hundred and sixty-one tons displacement, and in all respects varied but a few feet in her dimensions from her much-looked — for adversary. The Kearsarge carried two 11-inch smooth-bore guns, one 30-pounder rifle, and four 32-pounders, as compared with six 32-pounders, one rifled 100-pounder, and one 8-inch shell gun on the Alabama. The personnel of the Confederate vessel numbered one hundred and forty-nine of various nationalities, while the ship's company of the Kearsarge, one hundred and sixty-three all told, with the exception of eleven ordinary seamen and firemen, all were native-born citizens of the United States. Captain Winslow's ship and his crew were trained to the hour, and her engines and engine-room force were in excellent condition, an [301]

Officers of the “Alabama” in 1862 From left to right: First Lieut. John M. Kell; Surgeon David H. Llewellyn; Capt. Raphael Semmes; Third Lieut. Joseph D. Wilson; Lieut. P. Schroeder; Master J. P. Bullock; Lieut. Arthur Sinclair; Chief Engineer Miles D. Freeman; Lieut. Richard F. Armstrong; Captain's Clerk W. B. Smith; Surgeon Francis L. Galt; Asst. Engineer William P. Brooke; Midshipman Eugene Maffitt; Midshipman E. M. Anderson; Master's Mate George T. Fullman; Lieut. of Marines Becker K. Howell; Carpenter William Robinson; Paymaster Clarence R. Yonge; Fifth Lieut. John Lowe; Asst. Engineer S. W. Cummings. The portraits here grouped were taken in London in 1862 before the departure on August 13th in the steamer “Bahama” to join “Ship no. 290,” built at the Lairds' shipyard, which received her guns and crew on the high seas off the Azores.

[302] advantage that was proved completely in the action between the two well-matched vessels when at last they met.

June 19, 1864, was the momentous day of the meeting. The Kearsarge had located the Alabama in the harbor of Cherbourg, France, and on the 14th of the month had steamed in and passed out again without anchoring. This was both a challenge and a defiance, and Captain Semmes decided that he could “hardly do less than go out and meet her.” So he wrote the Alabama's agent at Cherbourg, expressing the hope that the Kearsarge would not depart at once, as he intended to fight just as soon as the Alabama could be gotten ready. Through this channel, Winslow was informed of Semmes' intention by the United States consul. It was a bright Sunday morning when the Alabama steamed through the opening of the harbor, accompanied by the French man-of-war Couronne, and steered straight for her waiting adversary. Let us quote from a Confederate chronicle:

The late foul weather had given way to a gentle breeze, and the subsiding swell of the Atlantic wave under a clear sky made the day eminently favorable for the work in hand. All Cherbourg was on the heights above the town and along the bastions and the mole. Never did knightly tournament boast a more eager multitude of spectators. It chanced, fortunately, that an English steam-yacht, the Deerhound, with its owner, Mr. John Lancaster, and his family on board, was in harbor at the time. The Deerhound followed the Alabama at a respectful distance and was the closest witness of the fight. Some French pilot-boats hung as near as they considered prudent. At the limit of neutral waters the Alabama parted company with her escort, and the Couronne returned to within a league of the shore.

In three-quarters of an hour, at the distance of about a mile, the Alabama opened fire. It was some time before the Kearsarge replied. Captain Winslow soon perceived that, despite the supposed superiority of the Alabama in enginepower, he had the faster vessel, and the circling tactics which the two ships observed during the fight were made necessary [303]

The gun that sunk the “Alabama” --on board U. S. S. “Kearsarge” On the main deck, showing one of the two 11-inch pivot-guns that were handled with superb skill in the famous fight with the “Alabama.” The engagement was in reality a contest in skill between American and British gunners, since the crew of the “Alabama” was composed almost entirely of British sailors. Word was passed to the men in the “Kearsarge” to let every shot tell, and there followed an exhibition of that magnificent American gunnery that had characterized the War of 1812. The “Kearsarge” fired only 173 missiles, almost all of which took effect. The “Alabama” fired 370 missiles, of which but 28 struck her antagonist. An 11-inch shell from the pivot-gun of the “Kearsarge” entered the “Alabama's” 8-inch gun-port, mowing down most of the gun crew. It was quickly followed by another shell from the same gun, and then by another, all three striking in the same place. Although the gunnery aboard the “Alabama” was inferior, one of her 68-pound shells lodged in the sternpost of the “Kearsarge” but failed to explode. Had it done so, in all likelihood it would have been the “Kearsarge” and not the “Alabama” that went to the bottom of the English Channel. Although the “Kearsarge” was wrecked on Roncador Reef in 1894, her sternpost with the shell still imbedded in it was recovered and became a historic relic.

[304] in order to keep the two vessels from passing each other too rapidly, and to keep their respective broadsides bearing upon each other. Captain Winslow, in his report, says that he determined to keep full speed on and run under the stern of the Alabama and rake her. But Semmes sheered and kept his broadside to the Kearsarge. In consequence, the ships were forced into a circular track during the engagement.

For over an hour the two vessels fought, with their starboard sides constantly opposed. The Kearsarge had gone into the action with her fires raked perfectly clean and employing artificial draft; even the safety-valves were lashed down, and she kept at her utmost speed throughout the engagement. The men on her deck fought with the deliberation and coolness that had characterized her daily drills, and the engineer's division, after the action, came in for its share of praise. Semmes' crew fought with desperation and bravery, and the men stood bravely to their guns. But very soon the well-placed shots from the heavy 11-inch guns began to have their effect; the Alabama, stricken between wind and water, began to leak badly, and Captain Semmes and his officers soon perceived that they had but a short time longer to continue fighting. The chief engineer had reported that the water had begun to enter the fire-room, and First Lieutenant Kell, being sent below to ascertain the amount of the damage, came back on deck with the news that the ship was sinking. At once, Captain Semmes ordered his ship's head put toward the shore, but, the water rising, the Alabama's furnaces were soon flooded; she was doomed. Every thought was now directed toward saving the lives of the crew; the flag was hauled down, and Mr. Fullam, the Alabama's master's mate, was sent in a small boat to the Kearsarge with a request for immediate assistance in saving the wounded men. Before the Kearsarge's boats could reach the side of her adversary she settled and sank, leaving her officers and many of her crew struggling in the waves.

The Deerhound was soon among them; lines were thrown [305]

After the most famous sea-fight of the war captain Winslow and his officers on the “Kearsarge” Here on the deck of the “Kearsarge” stand Captain John A. Winslow (third from left) and his officers after their return from the victorious battle with the “Alabama.” On Sunday morning, June 19, 1864, Captain Winslow, who had been lying off the harbor of Cherbourg waiting for the Confederate cruiser to come out, was conducting divine service. Suddenly a cry--“She's coming, and heading straight for us” --rang out on the deck. Laying down his prayer-book and seizing his speaking-trumpet, Winslow ordered his ship cleared for action. He stood out to sea to make sure that the fight would occur beyond the neutrality limit. Meanwhile, people were crowding to every vantage-point along the coast with spy-glasses and camp-chairs, eager to witness the only great fight on the high seas between a Federal and a Confederate cruiser. The two ships were almost precisely matched in tonnage, number of men, and shot-weight of the guns brought into action on each side. The battle was begun by the “Alabama” at a range of 1,200 yards. The “Kearsarge,” however, soon closed in to 900 yards, training her guns for more than an hour upon the “Alabama” with telling effect. Precisely an hour and thirteen minutes after the “Alabama” fired her first broadside, her colors were hauled down from her masthead; the 11-inch shells of the pivot-guns of the “Kearsarge” had pierced her again and again below the water-line; twenty-six of her men were killed and drowned and twenty-one wounded, while aboard the “Kearsarge” only three men were injured. Twenty minutes after the surrender the “Alabama” settled by the stern and sank. Some survivors escaped on the British steam-yacht “Deerhound.”

[306] from the yacht, and many exhausted men, including the Alabama's commander, were picked up. This done, the yacht steamed away for England.

During the action the Alabama fired about three hundred and seventy times, but only twenty-eight of her shots struck the Federal vessel, whose immunity from harm was due, perhaps, in a measure, to the fact that she had slung along her sides her spare chains sheathed with light planking, from which some of the shells and even the solid shot of her foe had bounded harmlessly. The Kearsarge fired one hundred and seventy-three projectiles, and the Alabama was probably struck about as many times as was the Kearsarge. The latter had a narrow escape from destruction, for after the action there was found lodged in her stern-post a 100-pound shell that was unexploded. A close student of such matters and an authority on this special sea-fight, Passed Assistant Engineer Frank M. Bennett, has written about this shell as follows,

“The truth is, however, that this shell struck the counter of the Kearsarge at least twenty feet from the stern-post and would have exploded there, where the damage would have been slight, had it possessed any explosive power, for it was a percussion shell. . . .”

When she sank, the famous Confederate cruiser scarcely left a trace behind. A broken whale-boat, a few floating oars and struggling swimmers alone were on the surface. Her loss in killed and wounded was not far from forty, and one officer, Assistant Surgeon Llewellyn, and nineteen men, including the carpenter and one assistant engineer, were drowned. On board the Kearsarge there were but three casualties and no deaths, although a brave and gallant sailor, William Gowin, died a few weeks later from his wounds. When the news reached him that the Alabama's colors had been lowered, he insisted that the surgeon who was attending him should go on deck and join in the ringing cheers of victory. [307]

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San Jacinto (Texas, United States) (1)
Quiberon (France) (1)
Preussen (1)
Portland (Maine, United States) (1)
Port Royal (South Carolina, United States) (1)
Paris, Ky. (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Olustee (Florida, United States) (1)
Newton (Florida, United States) (1)
Nassau River (Florida, United States) (1)
Montgomery (Alabama, United States) (1)
Mobile, Ala. (Alabama, United States) (1)
Mobile Bay (Alabama, United States) (1)
Lisbon (New York, United States) (1)
Kearsarge (California, United States) (1)
Jamaica, L. I. (New York, United States) (1)
Iroquois, Wyoming (West Virginia, United States) (1)
Havana (Cuba) (1)
Halifax (Canada) (1)
Fort Warren (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Fort Caswell (North Carolina, United States) (1)
English Channel (1)
Dunavant (Virginia, United States) (1)
Department de Ville de Paris (France) (1)
Cuba (Cuba) (1)
Casco Bay (Maine, United States) (1)
Caribbean Sea (1)
Cardenas (Cuba) (1)
Canada (Canada) (1)
Brest (France) (1)
Boston Harbor (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Bordeaux (France) (1)
Birkenhead (United Kingdom) (1)
Barbados (Barbados) (1)
Antwerp, Paulding County, Ohio (Ohio, United States) (1)
Algeciras (Spain) (1)

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