Warship Wednesday June 3, 2015 Roll Tide, Roll

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday June 3, 2015 Roll Tide

youcanrunCSS Alabama da caza al clíper Contest, Noviembre 1863, Tom FreemanHere we see “You Can Run” by naval artist Tom Freeman depicting the screw sloop-of-war Confederate States Ship Alabama chasing down the Yankee clipper Contest in November 1863. The Alabama, who captured an amazing 64 ships, of which she burned and sank 45 and paroled another ten, was the most successful surface raider in naval history.

In addition, perhaps no ship saw a greater number of ironies in her brief life (see how many you can spot).

Although the Confederate Navy picked up a few captured U.S. Naval ships (included the burned out frigate Merrimack) and Revenue Service Cutters, as well as a good number of naval officers of Southern heritage, they were short of legitimate combat ships. Further, most of the naval yards worth anything were in New England, which meant that they simply could not be built. With this, Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Russell Mallory sent agents abroad looking for warships. In the end, the best bet turned out to be in Great Britain where Commander James Dunwoody Bulloch, CSN, arranged for at least three commerce raiders and a pair of ironclads to be completed.

Arguably, the most famous and successful of this handful of ships was the CSS Alabama.

Bulloch, whose primary job was turning raw Southern cotton smuggled past the Union blockade into cash for guns, munitions and other supplies for the Confederate government, which in turn would be ran back through the U.S. fleet, managed to contract with John Laird Sons & Company (today’s Cammell Laird) to construct a steamship with a sloop auxiliary rig (and weight and space reserved for naval guns) on August 1, 1861, just months after Bull Run. Constructed in Liverpool as hull number 290, and christened in 1862 with the bogus name Enrica, she ran her trials at sea in June 1862.

She was handy, at 220-feet overall and light with a 17 foot depth of hold and 1,050-ton displacement. On her twin steam engines pushing a single iron screw, she could make 13-ish knots, or hoist her extensive barkentine-rig and make close that amount in the right conditions.

sail plan

Bulloch was originally to be the commander of the ship and assisted in her fitting out, acquiring stores and arms for the new cruiser but not mounting them as he was under watch by Union agents. As U.S. Ambassador Charles Adams (son and grandson respectively of 2 presidents of the same name) pressured the Brits to seize her, Bulloch weighed anchor just ahead of customs officials, claiming to just be taking her out on a brief sunset turn around. Slipping the brand new 9-gun sloop USS Tuscarora, he put to sea.

Instead of sailing under Bulloch, 52-year-old CDR Raphael Semmes (soon to be promoted to Capt.), late of the abandoned and broken-down commerce raider CSS Sumter, was dispatched from Bermuda to Porto Praya, Azores with the former officers of the Sumter, where they met Bulloch on the Enrica, which was crewed by mildly amused British merchantmen. After arming the ship and relieving the Brits, which Bulloch returned to England with, Semmes and his crew commissioned the CSS Alabama on 24 Aug, 1862.

Deck plan of Alabama, note guns

Deck plan of Alabama, note guns

Her armament, fitted above deck, was British. It consisted of a pair of “Royal Navy-style” smoothbore 6 inch 32-pounders, 4 6-inch 32-pound Blakely patent cannon cast specifically for the CSS Alabama by Fawcett, Preston & Company in Liverpool, one 7-inch 110-pounder Blakely rifle forward on a pivoting mount and a single 68-pounder (solid shot) 8 inch smoothbore pivot aft. In all, eight guns. Added to this was a stock of British and French musket rifles, revolvers, pistols, boarding hatchets and cutlasses. However, as she only had a single gray-coated Marine, Lt Beckett K. Howell, one of only 58 appointed officers in the Confederate States Marine Corps, (and Brother in Law to President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis), these were to be used by the ship’s bluejackets.

Or should we say Jack Tars? You see, Semmes only arrived with a handful of officers, and had to shop around among the Brits and other foreign sailors at hand to sign up, of which about 80 did. As her guns alone required that many men to crew them, she was shorthanded.

Although the Alabama never saw a southern port, the British-built (and largely crewed) ship with her skipper from Maryland carved a name for herself in the hides of the U.S. Navy and merchant fleets for the next 22 months.

"The Pirate 'Alabama,' Alias '290,' Certified to be correct by Captain Hagar of the 'Brilliant'" Line engraving published in "Harper's Weekly", 1862, depicting CSS Alabama burning a prize in Harper's Weekly.US Naval History and Heritage Command photo # NH 58738

“The Pirate ‘Alabama,’ Alias ‘290,’ Certified to be correct by Captain Hagar of the ‘Brilliant'” Line engraving published in “Harper’s Weekly”, 1862, depicting CSS Alabama burning a prize in Harper’s Weekly.US Naval History and Heritage Command photo # NH 58738

Art from Harper's Weekly image

Art from Harper’s Weekly image

First, she sailed around the North Atlantic, sinking 20 Yankee ships, mainly whalers, and captured and released three others. Then, proceeding to Fort Royal, Martinique, she refueled, recruited more crew members in that colonial port, and gave the 12-gun screw frigate USS San Jacinto the slip and broke into the Gulf of Mexico. It was of note that her crew was often fleshed out by volunteers from ships she captured and sank and included men from Germany Russia, and France.

Alabama's cruise from SCV Adm Semmes Camp

Alabama’s cruise from SCV Adm Semmes Camp

Off Texas, on 11 January 1863 she engaged the 1,126-ton paddlewheel steamer USS Hatteras off Galveston. As the Hatteras got close enough to the Alabama to be sucker punched before Semmes struck her British ensign (masquerading as HMS Petrel) and raised the Confederate Stars and Bars, and the fact that the Union gunboat had less than half the armament, Alabama sent her to the bottom within 20 minutes. Ever the gentleman pirate, Semmes picked up her crew and transported them to Jamaica.

The Fatal Chase by Tom Freeman. The USS Hatteras engages the Confederate raider CSS Alabama. Hatteras was sunk in the ensuing battle

The Fatal Chase by Tom Freeman. The USS Hatteras engages the Confederate raider CSS Alabama. Hatteras was sunk in the ensuing battle

From Semmes’s postwar account:

As Captain Blake of the Hatteras (whom I had known in the old service) came on deck, he remarked upon the speed we were making, and gracefully saluted me with, “Fortune favors the brave, sir!” I wished him a pleasant voyage with us; and I am sure he, with his officers and men, received every attention while on board the Alabama.

With the Gulf too hot, she slipped into the South Atlantic and slaughtered 29 Yankee merchies in those waters, primarily off the coast of Brazil.

CSS Alabama enters Table Bay at 10:00 AM August 5, 1863. She is increasing speed in order to capture the Sea Bride before she can escape to within one league of S.African territorial waters. This painting commissioned by Ken Sheppard of South Africa. Via the CSS Alabama Assoc

CSS Alabama enters Table Bay at 10:00 AM August 5, 1863. She is increasing speed in order to capture the Sea Bride before she can escape to within one league of S.African territorial waters. This painting commissioned by Ken Sheppard of South Africa. Via the CSS Alabama Assoc

Next, she put in at Cape Town, South Africa, where most of the images of her decks were taken. It was there that she added more members to her crew to include naval adventurer and soldier of fortune Baron Maximilian von Meulnier, late of the Imperial Prussian Navy.

Captain Raphael Semmes CSN, CSS Alabama's commanding officer, standing by his ship's 110-pounder rifled gun during her visit to Capetown in August 1863. His executive officer, First Lieutenant John M. Kell CSN, is in the background, standing by the ship's wheel.US Naval History and Heritage Command photo # NH 57256 from the collection of Rear Admiral Ammen C. Farenholt, USN(MC), 1931.

Captain Raphael Semmes CSN, CSS Alabama’s commanding officer, standing by his ship’s 68-pounder smoothebore during her visit to Capetown in August 1863. His executive officer, First Lieutenant John M. Kell CSN, is in the background, standing by the ship’s wheel. US Naval History and Heritage Command photo # NH 57256 from the collection of Rear Admiral Ammen C. Farenholt, USN(MC), 1931. Via Navsource

Two of the CSS Alabama's officers on deck, during her visit to Capetown in August 1863. They are Lieutenant Arthur Sinclair IV, (left) and Lieutenant Richard F. Armstrong (USNA 1861). The gun beside them is a 32-pounder of Lt. Sinclair's Division. Halftone image, copied from Sinclair's book, "Two Years on the Alabama". US Naval History and Heritage Command photo # NH 57255. via Navsource

Two of the CSS Alabama’s officers on deck, during her visit to Capetown in August 1863. They are Lieutenant Arthur Sinclair IV, (left) and Lieutenant Richard F. Armstrong (USNA 1861). The gun beside them is a 32-pounder of Lt. Sinclair’s Division. Halftone image, copied from Sinclair’s book, “Two Years on the Alabama”. US Naval History and Heritage Command photo # NH 57255. via Navsource

Georga native Midshipman Edwin Moffat Anderson. He later went on to serve on the CSS Owl and was the next to last of Alabama’s officers to die when he passed away in 1923 in Savannah, only beaten by Sinclair who passed in 1925.

Georga native Midshipman Edwin Moffat Anderson next to a RN pattern 32 pounder which may be the one on display currently in Mobile. Note the naval cutlass and gray Army type uniform. He later went on to serve on the CSS Owl and was the next to last of Alabama’s officers to die when he passed away in 1923 in Savannah, only beaten by Sinclair who passed in 1925. The unimpressed British Jack behind him is classic.

Kell and a 32. US Naval History and Heritage Command photo # NH 57257

Kell and the 68-pounder. US Naval History and Heritage Command photo # NH 57257

Crewmen on the deck of the Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, 1863.

Crewmen on the deck of the Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, 1863.

Crossing into the Indian Ocean and into the Pacific, she found her hunting grounds much reduced in those far-flung waters. In Singapore, she had her picture taken (one of just two of her profile known to be in existence) and Englishman Hugh Rowland Beaver of Cumming, Beaver and Co. who helped whistle up enough supplies to keep Alabama in the war. After coaling and dispatching a letter to Malloy back in Virginia, Semmes was off again.

Alabama in Singapore. Note instead of the Stars and Bars she is flying the Stainless Banner

Alabama in Singapore. Note instead of the Stars and Bars she is flying the Stainless Banner

Heading back to European waters where Semmes thought the pickings would be better (and Alabama could get a much-needed refit) she arrived in Cherbourg on 11 June 1864. There Semmes noted, “Our little ship was now showing signs of the active work she had been doing. Her boilers were burned out, and her machinery was sadly in want of repairs.”

She deserved a rest; after all, she had captured no less than 64 vessels in over 500 days at sea and won a naval engagement against a (weaker) adversary while slipping dozens of stronger ones. In a sign of how dignified warfare was on the high seas in this age, Alabama paroled over 2,000 merchant sailors she captured– landing them in nearby ports rather than leaving them adrift on the waves– and not a single civilian was ever killed by the raider.

But everything has to come  to an end…

Just three days after she made France, the Mohican-class screw sloop of war USS Kearsarge, steamed into the harbor, alerted to the wiley raider’s presence there by telegraph while in a Spanish port. Although shorter (201-feet) the Kearsarge was built from the keel-up with combat in mind, weighing half again as much as Alabama and mounting nine guns– including a pair of very dangerous 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore pivot cannons that fired 130-pounder shells.

Further, where Semmes had a scratch 140 man multinational crew and a ship that was falling apart, Kersarge‘s North Carolina-born Capt. John Ancrum Winslow, had a pair of aces up his sleeve. These included the fact that his 160+ man crew was highly trained, and that he had secretly wrapped his ship’s critical engineering spaces in over 700-feet of anchor chain secured to the hull and bolted into place, in effect, giving him crude armor plating. His powder was fresh, his decks were clear, and he wanted to clean Semmes’s clock.

Capt. John A. Winslow (3d from left) and officers on board the U.S.S. Kearsarge after sinking the C.S.S. Alabama, 1864

Capt. John A. Winslow (3d from left) and officers on board the U.S.S. Kearsarge after sinking the C.S.S. Alabama, 1864. Note the bad ass 11-inch Dahlgren

(Note: The two skippers had served together earlier in their career on the old three master USS Raritan, Semmes as the ship’s flag lieutenant and Winslow as a division officer, even sharing a cabin).

Semmes slapped Winslow across the face with an open challenge, sending the message:

“My intention is to fight the Kearsarge as soon as I can make the necessary arrangements. I hope they will not detain me more than until tomorrow evening or after the morrow morning at furthest. I beg she will not depart before I am ready to go out.”

While the locals stirred about the coming scrap between the two ships, the French forced Kearsarge out to sea, where she waited for Alabama. One of the most powerful ships in the world, the 6,500-ton 30-gun French ironclad Couronne (“Crown”) stood by as her crew anxiously waited for the bloodletting. On the afternoon of June 19, the fight was on in front of a delighted host of European spectators who were thrilled to watch a pair of American vessels locked in a knife fight–and it was a barroom brawl of a naval action.

Semmes fired first, trying to get the same type of fast kill as he had achieved on USS Hatteras the year before, but his shots were ineffective, likely due to poor quality powder and stale fuses as much to Kearsarge’s chainmail.

Winslow waited until the British-built cruiser was within 1,000 yards and clobbered her.

Engineers Department USS Kearsarge 1864: The crew that wrecked the CSS Alabama

The ships locked horns in a series of seven circles, slowing trying to out-maneuver each other without success. After all, their skippers had read the same naval textbooks so why not? In all, reports estimate that while Alabama got off more than 300 shots, Kearsarge was barely damaged; suffering four casualties after just three rounds hit his vessel. Alabama on the other hand, was a wreck after less than an hour of combat and was shipping water from the big Yankee’s 11-inchers.

7-circle The Chart of the battle off Cherbourg as recorded by American landscape painter and Union Army map-maker Robert Knox Sneden in the Library of Congress. Sneden was in Andersonville at the time of the battle after being captured by Confederate troops under John S. Mosby in 1863, but produced it from logs and charts from Kearsarge after the war. This chart was lost to history for more than a century until it popped up in 1994 in a bank vault in Connecticut and donated to the Virginia Historical Society. Click to big up

7-circle chart of the battle off Cherbourg as recorded by American landscape painter and Union Army map-maker Robert Knox Sneden in the Library of Congress. Sneden was in Andersonville at the time of the battle after being captured by Confederate troops under John S. Mosby in 1863, but produced it from logs and charts from Kearsarge after the war. This chart was lost to history for more than a century until it popped up in 1994 in a bank vault in Connecticut and donated to the Virginia Historical Society. Click to big up

The battle has been a favorite of painters and perhaps the most famous work, “Kearsarge and the Alabama” was created by one of no less skill than Édouard Manet.

The Battle of the USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabama By Claude Monet hanging today at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Battle of the USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabama By Claude Monet hanging today at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Click to big up

painting by Xanthus Smith, 1922, depicts Alabama sinking, at left, after her fight with Kearsarge (seen at right). NHHC Photo K-29827.

Painting by Xanthus Smith, 1922, depicts Alabama sinking by the stern, at left, after her fight with Kearsarge (seen at right). NHHC Photo K-29827.

CSS Alabama Sunday Showdown Archival Print.

CSS Alabama Sunday Showdown Archival Print.

Antonio Jacobsen's " ALABAMA vs KERSARGE" Click to big up

Antonio Jacobsen’s ” ALABAMA vs KERSARGE” Click to big up

Nine Alabama crewmembers were killed during the battle, 12 drowned when the ship sank and 70 picked up by Kearsarge from the sea, while Semmes and a handful of officers and men managed to make it to the British yacht Deerhound who sped them away to England. There, they were celebrated.

Semmes, who recovered the Stainless Banner of the Alabama, ran back into Hugh Beaver (the Singapore connection) and presented the flag to the Englishman with the deep pockets in appreciation.

Her Cherbourg flag.

Her Cherbourg flag.

The 69×34 inch wool bunting ensign still exists and was sold at auction in 2011. As the rest of her flags were lost at sea, this one was unique. Semmes had been given a beautiful and much larger silk battle-flag by English society women after the battle which he took back to the C.S. with him.

Semmes made his way back to Virginia where he was made an admiral and given commanded first the James River Squadron then a unit of infantry (as a Brig. Gen) late in the war. He later moved to Mobile, Alabama where he died of eating bad shrimp in 1877. Nevertheless, he had outlived Winslow who retired in 1872 and died the next year in Boston, buried draped in the Kearsarge ‘s own Cherbourg battle flag.

The City of Mobile has many Semmes artifacts in their museum, including the admiral’s sword presented to him after the war (he threw his own into the sea rather than let Winslow have it), his wartime 36 cal. Houllier & Blanchard Navy revolver, the silk flag given to him in England after the loss of his ship and the Alabama‘s commissioning pennant.

Semme's presentation Admiral's saber in the City of Mobile collection. Chris Eger photo

Semme’s presentation Admiral’s sword, a copy of his book and a scrimshawed whale’s tooth captured from a Yankee whaler in the City of Mobile collection. Chris Eger photo.Click to bigup the scrimshaw work on the tooth.

This U.S. Navy 27-star commissioning pennant was used above CSS Alabama to bring her into service. Her 4th Lt. John Low had it in his possession from his father's term in the old Republic's fleet and offered it up. Low would later leave Alabama with it when he took command of the CSS Tuscaloosa (formerly the bark Conrad captured by the raider in 21 June 1863). The pennant along with Low’s dolphin-handled British pattern naval officer’s sword is in the City of Mobile collection. Chris Eger photo

This U.S. Navy 27-star commissioning pennant was used above CSS Alabama to bring her into service next to a model of the ship. Her 4th Lt., John Low had it in his possession from his father’s term in the old Republic’s fleet and offered it up. Low would later leave Alabama with it when he took command of the CSS Tuscaloosa (formerly the bark Conrad captured by the raider on 21 June 1863). The pennant along with Low’s dolphin-handled British pattern naval officer’s sword is in the City of Mobile collection. Chris Eger photo

Semmes LeMat grapeshot revolver at the City of Mobile Museum. Chris Eger photo. Click to big up.

Semmes rare 1862-issued 36 cal. Houllier & Blanchard Navy revolver at the City of Mobile Museum. Chris Eger photo. Click to big up. And YES, I will be covering this amazing weapon in more detail in a later article

Alabama’s wreck was discovered by the 152-foot French Navy mine hunter (chasseur de mines) Circé  in November 1984 in 190-feet of water some 6 miles off the coast of Cherbourg. Between 1988 and 2008, with agreements of the U.S. government (who own the wreck as a war grave) and the French Republic (as its inside territorial waters) she has been extensively salvaged.

One of her RN-style 32 pounders, scrimshaw from ship’s Engineer William Param Brooks and other artifacts recovered from her wreck are in Mobile at the City Museum. The U.S. Navy has over 500 Alabama artifacts in its collection and many are spread over the world on loan, including her 7-inch gun, which is in France. In all, her wheel, seven out of eight guns, her bell, china, shells, small arms and other items have been brought to the surface.

One of her RN pattern 32s. click to big up. Eger image

One of her RN pattern 32s. click to big up. Eger image

A better view. Note the recovered mast collar.

A better view. Note the recovered mast collar.

A statue to the Admiral, erected in 1900, stands in downtown Mobile on Government Street, within a block or so of the Federal Building, gazing towards the Bay that holds the battleship USS Alabama (BB-60), who was a much luckier lady than Semmes’s own warship.

semmesIn the artifacts recovered from Alabama were at least one set of human remains to include a jawbone. An exam of the teeth at the Smithsonian Institution revealed the jaw’s owner was likely between 25-40 and in good health, other than an apparent habit of chomping on a pipe stem. A ceremonial burial was held for the crewmember’s remains in Mobile, where the lost sailor was interred at Magnolia Cemetery accompanied by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans of the Admiral Semmes Camp, who maintain a reference to the lost ship and the Admiral.

Internment at Magnolia Cemetery, Mobile. Via AL.com

Internment at Magnolia Cemetery, Mobile. Via AL.com

There is also a CSS Alabama Association and both the University of Alabama and Marshall University maintain special collections referencing the ship.

As for her adversary, 17 of Kearsarge ‘s crew received the Medal of Honor and the ship remained in hard service until wrecked on a reef off Roncador Cay on 2 February 1894 while her officers and crew made it safely ashore. A damaged section of her stern post, still with an intact 110-pound Blakely shell in it from Alabama, is on display at the Navy Museum in Washington.

CSS Alabama fired this shell from its 110-pound rifle early in the action against USS Kearsarge, landing a critical blow into Kearsarge’ s stern post. However, it didn’t explode due to a faulty fuse, allowing Kearsarge to continue the battle, eventually defeating Alabama. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford/Released

CSS Alabama fired this shell from its 110-pound rifle early in the action against USS Kearsarge, landing a critical blow into Kearsarge’ s stern post. However, it didn’t explode due to a faulty fuse, allowing Kearsarge to continue the battle, eventually defeating Alabama. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford/Released

The only USN battleship not named for a state, USS Kearsarge (BB-5), was christened 24 March 1898 in her honor and went on to serve the Navy in one form or another for 57 years.

Currently, the Navy maintains both an Alabama (SSBN-731) and a Kearsarge (LHD-3) on the Naval List. In a twist of fate, the ‘Bama was built in the North (Electric Boat, Groton) and the Mighty Kay in the South (Ingalls, Pascagoula), but it’s not likely that they will ever get in a scrap moving forward.

We’re better than that these days.

Specs:

2dbcd70744194b91b391226a65445c3aDisplacement 1,050 t.
Length 220′
Beam 31′ 8″
Depth of Hold 17′ 8″
Draft 14′
Installed power: 2 × 300 HP horizontal steam engines, auxiliary sails, bark rig
Propulsion: Single screw propeller, retractable
Speed 13 kts
Complement 145
Armament
6 32-pdrs
1 110-pdr rifle
1 68-pdr

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find
http://www.warship.org/

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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