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Bulloch and the Alabama - Part 1:

James Dunwoody Bulloch
1823 - 1901

        In 1839, aged 16, James Dunwoody Bulloch joined the U.S. Navy as a Midshipman aboard the frigate 'USS United States' and quickly rose to the rank of Lieutenant, commanding the steamer USS Georgia. With little prospect of further promotion, he resigned from the military in 1853 after fourteen years service; and joined the Cromwell Steam Company. When war broke out in 1861, he was in command of the passenger mail ship, 'Bienville'. Within weeks however, he resigned his command and offered his services to the Confederacy.

        Bulloch was appointed by Confederate Navy Secretary, Stephen Mallory as the Navy Purchasing Agent for the Confederacy and sent immediately to Liverpool in England. Britain was officially neutral in the conflict between the North and South, but private and public sentiment favoured the Confederate cause. Britain's Admiralty certainly made little secret of their support to the confederates and provided Bulloch and others with considerable, 'behind the scenes' support. Bulloch also developed a close working relationship with the Liverpool offices of Fraser Trenholm & Company, who would act as unofficial bankers for the South during the war.

        James Bulloch's arrival in Liverpool on 3rd June 1861, heralded on of the greatest clandestine operations of the 19th Century. No less than a dozen Confederate agents worked out the town, utilizing Frazer Trenholm for their day to day requirements; but they were matched two-fold by spies and agents working for the North's resident Consul, Thomas Dudley.

        Within days, Bulloch contacted William C. Miller & Sons to design and build the first cruiser for the Confederate Navy. Miller was ex-Royal Navy and he used existing plans of a British gunboat to save time in the design process. Another Liverpool engineering company, Fawcett Preston & Company were contracted to supply the engines; but Bulloch insisted all his ships must be built of a wood construction to allow easy repairs anywhere in the world. The 'Oreto' as his first ship was originally called, took less than a year to build and finally 'escaped' from the Mersey in March 1862 to become the CSS Florida. That accomplished, James Dunwoody Bulloch could now focus his attentions of the second cruiser, already well advanced at John Lairds shipyard, Hull #290, the future Alabama!

        Barely a month had passed since his arrival in Liverpool, before available funding for a second cruiser allowed Bulloch to place an order with the John Laird, Sons & Company's shipyard in Birkenhead. Laird was known for his deep sympathy for the Confederate cause so the choice of his firm made good sense as far as procurement was concerned. Unlike the 'Oreto' (Florida) however, this was to be an entirely new design, again of wood construction; but one that would allow the vessel to remain at sea for considerable periods of time. With a total displacement in excess of one thousand tons, Hull #290 as the vessel was known, would be two hundred and twenty feet long, bark rigged with long lower cross-masts to allow oversized sails to be used. The 290's armament called for fitting a 7", 100 pound, rifled Blakely gun, an 8" smooth bore 68 pounder, both on swivel mountings; and no less than six, 6" 32 pound canons fitted broadside. 

Extract from Page One of 290 Contract. 

        Laird tackled the design and supply of this ship with no hesitation; but it was widely supposed that he also took advice from other naval architects and engineers prior to and during its construction.

        James Bulloch himself took an avid interest in the building of Hull #290, paying great attention to the detail of his latest procurement for the Confederate Navy. Wood of the finest quality for the ship's construction was sourced from many parts of England and Scotland and as far afield as Scandinavia. Laird's chief carpenter and Bulloch however, seemed to take a perverse interest in the quality of the timber, taking turns to reject considerable quantities as 'inferior' for the purpose it was intended; but by the middle of May 1862, the '290' was finally ready for launching!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      To be continued...