Great Britain & the Confederate Navy (Pt.1):
Both the Federal and Confederate governments expected the war would be over in a matter of weeks. The South`s President Jefferson Davis was convinced that cotton was the key and knowing that the European powers would not allow the newly announced blockade to starve them of that essential staple, he encouraged the cotton growers to hold their crops off the market. Commissioners from both North and South were sent to Europe, the South to try to get Europe to intervene on its behalf and the North to thwart this. Jefferson Davis was fortunate in having Stephen R Mallory as Secretary of the Navy, a very able appointee who, in a shrewd move, chose James Dunwoody Bulloch as his chief purchasing agent in Europe. Mallory had to take account of the South`s virtual lack of a navy in developing a strategy to counter the Northern blockade. He decided that what was needed was several fast wooden cruisers to strike, not at the blockading fleet, but at the North`s vast commercial fleet. He hoped this would divert warships from the blockade so weakening its effectiveness.
Bulloch was given the task of procuring the necessary ships and with his experience of shipping matters, felt that Liverpool with its vast shipyards was the perfect choice. Mallory warned him that the task would not be easy. Queen Victoria`s Proclamation of Neutrality recognized the parties as belligerents and limited the amount of help that could be given to their ships in British ports. But this was not the only obstacle. Mallory advised Bulloch to familiarize himself with Britain`s Foreign Enlistment Act 1819. This Act stated, inter alia, that ‘No British subject shall engage in equipping any vessel or ship, with the intent that such ship or vessel shall be employed in the service of a belligerent.’ Bulloch wasted no time in seeking legal advice from an eminent Liverpool solicitor Mr F.S. Hull, a choice which was to have far reaching results. Mr Hull briefed two leading barristers on the interpretation of Section 7 of the Act. He framed his brief to the barristers to the effect that Section 7 dealt with warships and he argued that to be a warship, a ship had to have guns. However it would be legal to sell an unarmed vessel to a belligerent regardless of its intended use. The two barristers concurred with his interpretation.
Armed with these opinions, Bulloch lost no time in placing his first ship order in Liverpool with the yard of William C Miller & Sons. This was for a screw gunboat called the Oreta. Bulloch`s activities in Liverpool attracted the unwelcome attention of the newly appointed US Consul Thomas Haines Dudley. Dudley employed a retired detective, Matthew McGuire, to spy on the Confederate shipbuilding operations. Within days, McGuire spotted the Oreta in Miller`s yard and was able to identify her as a gunboat possibly destined for the Confederacy. Dudley reported these facts to Charles Francis Adams, the American Minister in London, who in turn, protested to Lord John Russell the British Foreign Secretary, requesting that the ship be detained under The Foreign Enlistment Act. Lord Russell undertook to look into the matter. He instructed The Collector of Customs in Liverpool, Mr S. Price Edwards to interview the owner William C Miller and Price Edwards himself made arrangements for his officers to examine the Oreto. Ostensibly, the ship was being built for an Italian firm in Palermo and although she had all attributes of a gunship, she carried no guns. A report of these enquiries was sent to London by the Collector who advised that the ship could not be detained as her builders had broken no law.
Bulloch, realizing that he’d had a narrow escape, lost no time in arranging for the Oreta to sail and hired an English captain, James Angus Duguid and a crew for a voyage to Italy. To further conceal her true destination he arranged a party on board with female guests hoping that this would suggest to the authorities that she was going on a routine trial. On March 22nd 1862, the Oreta steamed out of Liverpool. The steamer Bahama, chartered by Bulloch and carrying Oreta`s guns sailed to meet her at Nassau in the Bahamas where she also took on her Confederate commander, Captain John Newland Maffitt. When she finally set sail again, it was as the commerce raider CSS Florida. This successful ruse was repeated by Bulloch in the case of his second order for a screw gunboat placed with Laird`s of Birkenhead. This vessel was known as No. 290 and Dudley quickly identified the 290 as being built in Laird`s yard and reported that he believed she was a gunboat intended for the Confederates. Once again, Adams complained to Lord Russell who showed no more interest than he had done in the case of the Oreta.
Adams took legal advice from Robert Collier QC who confirmed that Britain would lay itself open to substantial redress unless the 290 was seized. Bulloch received warning of this and as with the Oreta he arranged for the 290 to go to sea. This time the rendezvous was with the steamer Agrippina in the Azores. Fully armed and with her new captain, Raphael Semmes at the helm, the CSS Alabama as she was now known, proceeded on a two year guerre de course around the world. She sank or bonded so many ships that she became a major factor in crippling the American Merchant Marine.
The CSS Alabama was finally lost in an engagement off Cherbourg with the USS Kearsarge. Following a relatively short battle, the CSS Alabama sank but Captain Semmes and some of his officers were rescued by the British yacht Deerhound and returned to the UK.
After the end of the Civil War, Adams made several attempts to claim reparations from Britain for the damage inflicted on Northern shipping by the CSS Alabama and other Confederate cruisers which had been built, fitted out and otherwise aided by British interests. The Prime Minister, Lord Palmerstone dismissed the claims out of hand and it wasn't until 1871 the US Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish, brought about The Treaty of Washington which provided for arbitration between the two governments. The object of the parties in agreeing the Treaty was to deal with all outstanding disputes under one umbrella, generically called The Alabama Claims. The Treaty provided for a panel of five arbiters representing Britain, America, the King of Italy, the President of the Swiss Federation and the Emperor of Brazil. It set out three rules which were to codify the obligations of neutrality which America regarded as international law, but Britain disagreed. The parties instructed the tribunal to apply these rules as a ‘lex specialis’.
The three rules were:
1. That a neutral government is bound to use due diligence to prevent the fitting out, the arming or equipping, or the departure of any vessel from within its jurisdiction, which it has reasonable grounds to believe is intended to cruise or carry on war against a power with which it is at peace.
2. That a neutral government is bound not to permit or suffer any belligerent to use its ports or waters as a base for naval operations or to allow supplies or repairs to be carried out therein.
3. That a neutral government is bound to exercise due diligence in its own ports or waters and as to all persons within its jurisdiction to prevent any violation of the foregoing obligations and duties.
The Tribunal met in Geneva and the cases of the two parties were exchanged. At the first hurdle, the Treaty seemed doomed. The American case revived the indirect, constructive, consequential and national claims, originally put forward by Charles Sumner, a senior senator from Massachusetts. Chief Justice Cockburn, Counsel for Great Britain, argued that the Treaty entirely waived indirect claims, whether by grammar, by reason, by policy, or by any other standard. Charles F Adams the American representative finally persuaded his colleagues on the Tribunal to drop the indirect claims. With this obstacle removed and after considerable argument on the differing interpretations of the legal definitions of ‘due diligence’, the panel delivered its award. They were unanimous in finding that Great Britain was liable for the depredations committed by the CSS Alabama. In the case of the CSS Florida, the Tribunal found in favour of America by a majority of 4 to 1, and by a majority of 3 to 2 they found that the CSS Shenandoah should have been detained at Melbourne where she had recruited and coaled. The damages finally awarded in full and final settlement of all claims amounted to £3,250,000 against an American claim for £9,500,000. As there was some difficulty in distributing the money to those who enjoyed a right to compensation, the American Treasury benefited most from the damages.
The CSS exploits of the Alabama and her captain Raphael Semmes continued to stir passions long after the Civil War had ended. During the First World War, Kaiser William ordered his Admirals to study the book written by Semmes entitled ‘My Adventures Afloat in the Sumter and the Alabama.’ No doubt in turn, they influenced their U-Boat commanders. It was only after World War One that the U.S. Merchant Marine started to recover from the damage caused by the Confederate raiders. As insurance rates went sky high, American merchant ships transferred their legal ownership to neutral nations and flags of convenience. In 1984 the French Navy minesweeper Circe, commanded by Bruno Duclos discovered the wreck of the Alabama on the seabed, seven nautical miles off Cherbourg. Five years later in 1989, France and the US signed a pact agreeing the US owned the ship but the French retained custody. Even after this remove in time and despite having built the ship, Britain was not given any say in its legitimate ownership.
There has always been a keen interest as to how the big, mounted artillery on ships like Alabama were moved about. When you look at a model or drawing of a CW-era ship, the deck often seems to be covered with metal arcs, obviously related to moving the gun, but in no clear pattern that’s easy to discern. Fortunately, Andrew Bowcock covers this procedure in some detail in his ‘C.S.S. Alabama: Anatomy of a Confederate Raider’. Although he described the procedure for a specific gun on that vessel, the process would be similar on other ships.
There are three basic components to the gun - the tube, the carriage on which the tube is mounted, and the slide in which the carriage was run forward and back (with recoil). It’s the arrangement of the slide here that’s important. The key to the whole process is that each end of the slide is fitted with a hole through which a brass pivot pin could be dropped, going through the carriage and into a matching, iron-reinforced hole in the deck. The key to shifting the gun from one position to another was to swing the slide on one pivot to line up the pivot hole at the other end with another point, put that pin in place, remove the first pin, and then swing the whole thing from the other end. It sounds complicated, but it is practical and (relatively) safe on a rolling deck, since the slide will (at worst) swing in an arc, rather than go careering across the deck like a loose gun on trucks.
Here is a diagram of the eight pivot positions (marked in red) used for Alabama’s aft 8-inch smoothbore pivot - the one Captain Semmes was famously photographed with:
With gratefull acknowledgement to Andrew W. Hall
CSS Alabama 32 Pound Cannon:
(See pages on CSS Alabama & Alabama v Kearsarge)
A French navy mine hunter located the ship's remains in 1984. In 2000 a 32-pounder cannon was delivered to Charleston, SC for restoration at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center. Conservators discovered a stamped inscription, 'Liverpool 1862' on the 2½-ton, 10-foot-long gun.
Above, a photograph of a similar 32 pounder on board the Alabama and below the restored cannon after delivery to the Museum of Mobile, Alabama. To my mind, this conservation undertaken in Charleston is superb. It looks almost new. The timber carriage was constructed by the experts at the Mobile shops with great care and attention; and the wrought iron fittings and fixtures were made by the Gulf Coast Blacksmiths Association. All precisely to the original plans and the culmination of seven years work by many people.
USS Kearsarge (Stern-post damage):
during theearly stages of the battle. This rifle shell is about seven inches in diameter and weighs about 56 pounds and had it exploded, opinion conceeds that the outcome to that engagement might have been very different!
The sketched impression better illustrates the damage the unexploded projectile caused nonetheless.
Credit: The section of stern-post and (inert) cannon shot are now exhibited at the U.S. Navy Memorial Museum, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C
Blockade Run (Postal) Covers:
The blockade also prevented the import of paper, usually sourced from Europe at that time. As a result, correspondence would be completed on anything with a blank face and wallpaper became a favourite substitute. Whatever, the conveyance of such cargo including mail in this manner was an extremely dangerous occupation.
Credit: The example cover(s) shown here are displayed with kind permission of the Smithsonian, courtesy of the National Postal Museum.
The CSS Neuse:
Fortunately, the muddy waters of the Neuse River preserved much of the remains of the Neuse for nearly a hundred years. Private efforts to recover the ship began in 1961 but poor weather, lack of funds and ownership controversies prevented the ship from being raised until 1963. A year later the hull was transported to the site where it now rests (See image above). Nearly 15,000 articles of historic interest were recovered from the ship's remains The Neuse 'collection', one of the largest for a Confederate naval vessel, provides valuable insight into 19th century shipbuilding and naval warfare.
Credit: Over 100 items including the hull remains are displayed at 100 N. Queen Street, Kingston N.C., by North Carolina Museums.