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Warship Wednesday, April 7, 2021: The Curious Confederate of Barcelona

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 7, 2021: The Curious Confederate of Barcelona

Here we see the Spanish bark-rigged screw steam corvette (corbeta) Tornado as she sits high in the water late in her career in the port of Barcelona, circa the 1900s. You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but she had one of the most (in)famous sisterships in 19th Century naval history and would dip her hand in a bit of infamy of her own.

In 1862, as the Confederate Navy was scrambling for warships of any kind, Lt. George T. Sinclair, CSN, was dispatched to Britain to work with CDR James Dunwoody Bulloch, the Confederacy’s chief foreign agent in Liverpool, to acquire a humdinger of a commerce raider. Coupled with a scheme to trade bulk cotton carried by blockade-runners out of Rebel ports for English credit and pounds sterling, Bulloch during the war had paid for the covert construction and purchase of the commerce raiders CSS Alabama and CSS Shenandoah as well as the less well-known CSS Florida.

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

Many consider the vessel that Sinclair and Bulloch ordered, which was drawn to a variant of the plans for the CSS Alabama, to be sort of a “Super Alabama.” Whereas the ‘Bama ran 220-feet overall and light with a 17-foot depth of hold and 1,050-ton displacement, her successor would be 231-feet and run 1,600 tons with larger engines and a battery of three 8-inch pivot guns (Alabama only had a single 8-inch pivot) and a 5-gun broadside.

When completed and armed, the Super Alabama was to take on the identity of the CSS Texas. However, to keep the construction secret, Bulloch arranged with the Clydebank firm of James and George Thomson of Glasgow to build her as a clipper under the name of Canton, then later Pampero, ostensibly for the Turkish Government, with an expected delivery date of October 1863.

Launched but lacking a crew, the English government was pressured after Thomas H. Dudley, United States Consul in Liverpool, discovered a near twin of the CSS Alabama was in the final stages of construction, and by late November a British man-o-war was anchored alongside the “Pampero.” On 10 December 1863, the yard’s owners and the ship’s agents were charged with violations of the Foreign Enlistment Act, wrapping the vessel up in legal proceedings for the rest of the war.

Drawing of the ‘Pampero’ published in The Illustrated London News 1864

In October 1865, six months after Lee surrendered at Appomattox but while the CSS Shenandoah was still raiding Yankee whalers in the Pacific, the Canton/Pampero/Texas was awarded to the bearers of the cotton bonds issued by Bulloch and company that had been used to finance the vessel then sold to the shipping firm of Galbraith & Denny.

The thing is, all the fast ships in European ports that could mount a hastily installed armament were at that time being bought up by the Empire of Spain or the Republic of Chile, who were engaged in a war in the Pacific. The Chilean agents, led by an interesting fellow by the name of Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, beat the Spanish to the punch and bought Pampero for £75,000 in February 1866, with the vessel soon entered on the Chilean naval list as the corvette Tornado, subsequently sailing for Hamburg.

Over the next several months, the Spanish played a cat-and-mouse game as the Tornado and a second ship with a similar backstory, the corvette Abtao (former CSS Cyclone) attempted to be armed and outfitted, moving around European ports just one step ahead of their pursuers.

By the evening of 22 August, the Spanish 1st class steam frigate Gerona (48 guns), caught up with the unarmed Tornado at Madeira off the Portuguese coast and, after a short pursuit and four warning shots, the Chilean vessel, helmed by retired RN officer Edward Montgomery Collier, struck its flag.

Ángel Cortellini Sánchez ‘s “Captura de la corbeta de hélice Tornado por la fragata de hélice Gerona”, 1881, via Museo Naval de Madrid 

With the Armada Española

The next day, Tornado sailed for Cadiz with a prize crew and soon joined the Spanish fleet. After taking part in the September 1868 naval revolt, the vessel was dispatched to service in Havana in 1870. There, she was involved in the so-called Virginius affair in 1873.

For those not aware, Virginius had an interesting Confederate connection to Tornado, being built originally in Glasgow as a blockade runner then surviving the war and being used briefly by the Revenue Cutter Service.

VIRGINIUS (Merchant steamer, 1864-1873) Built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1864 as a blockade runner. 1864-1867: SS VIRGIN; 1867-1870: U.S. revenue cutter VIRGIN; 1870-1873: SS VIRGINIUS. For more data, see Erik Heyl, Early American Steamers, vol. I. Watercolor by Erik Heyl, 1951. NH 63845

For three years starting in 1870, Virginius was used to run rebels under Cuban insurgent Gen. Manuel Quesada from the U.S. to the Spanish colony, with the somewhat tacit blind-eye and occasional support of the U.S. Navy. In October 1873, the steamer, skippered by Captain Joseph Fry, (USNA 1846, ex-USN, ex-CSN) and with a mixed British and American crew, was carrying 103 armed Cuban rebels when Tornado encountered her six miles off the Cuban coast.

Pursuit of Virginius by the Spanish gunboat Tornado, October 30, 1873.

Spanish man-of-war Tornado chasing the American steamer Virginius nypl.digitalcollections

1873 el Virginius, pirata estadounidense, es abordado por la corbeta española Tornado

The resulting chase and one-sided battle were short, with Fry striking his flag and Virginius sailed to Santiago de Cuba under armed guard.

There, the Spanish treated the crew and the insurgents as outlaws and pirates, executing 53 against the wall at the Santiago slaughterhouse, including Fry and the teenage son of Quesada, the lurid details of which were well-publicized by the press in the states, souring the relations between Washington and Madrid and pouring the foundation for the Spanish-American War.

Moving past Virginius

As for Tornado, she continued to serve the Spanish fleet for generations.

In 1878, she and the cruiser Jorge Juan stalked the pirate ship Montezuma, a mail steamer that had been taken by mutineers and Cuban rebels who turned to privateer against the Spanish. After a pursuit that spanned the Caribbean, Tornado found the Montezuma burned in Nicaragua.

Returning to Spain in 1879, Tornado was used as a training ship taking part in several lengthy summer cruises around the Med for the next few years, including escorting King Alphonso XII. By 1886, the aging bark was disarmed and used at Cartagena as a torpedo school for the rest of the century.

Home for boys

In 1900, Tornado was moved to Barcelona and assigned a new task– that of being a floating schoolship and barracks for orphan lads whose fathers had been lost at Manila Bay, Manzanillo, San Juan, and Santiago against the Americans. Remember, while U.S. naval historian largely covers these engagements as a tactical walkover and highlights Dewey, Sampson, and Schley as heroes, they left thousands of homes back in Spain missing a father.

Museu Maritim de Barcelona: The Tornado’s orphan cadets

Tornado would remain in Barcelona, moving past the education of the sons of 1898 to taking in general orphans and those of lost mariners and fishermen. Enduring well into the Spanish Civil War, she was sent to the bottom on 28 November 1938 by an air raid from Nationalist forces. Her wreck was scrapped in 1940.

Today, the Museu Maritim de Barcelona has her name board, recovered from the harbor in 1940, on display.

Via Museu Maritim de Barcelona

She is also remembered in a variety of maritime art.

Via Museu Maritim de Barcelona

For more on the Tornado, please read, “The Capture of Tornado: The History of a Diplomatic Dispute,” by Alejandro Anca Alamillo, Warship International, Vol. 45, No. 1 (2008), pp. 65-77. Keep in mind that old issues of WI are available on JSTOR to which access is open to INRO members.

Specs:
Displacement: 2,100 tons
Length: 231 ft
Beam: 33 ft
Draft: 16 ft
Machinery: Four boilers, 328 hp steam engine, one prop
Speed: 14 knots
Range: 1,700 miles
Complement: 202 men
Armament: (Spanish 1870)
1 × 7.8 in Parrott gun
2 × 160/15 cal gun
2 × 5 in bronze gun
2 × 3″/24 cal Hontoria breechloading guns

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Admiral Semmes statue to be shuffled to local museum

Facing a $25K-a-day fine from the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, the City of Mobile has decided to move the recently toppled statue of the former U.S. Navy CDR/C.S. Navy ADM/C.S. Army B. Gen., Raphael Semmes, to the city’s museum, where it belongs.

Notably, the museum also holds numerous relics of the commerce raider CSS Alabama, which Semmes helmed to 66 naval victories and one crushing defeat, as well as artifacts from the officer’s own life, including an ornate  French-made Houllier-Blanchard revolver I chronicled in the past.

You don’t see these every day. 

Update: It is still gonna cost the city some big bucks to be woke.

A link to Kearsarge, up at auction

We’ve talked extensively in passed Warship Wednesdays and other posts about the epic contest off France between the British-built steam privateer CSS Alabama, under the swashbuckling Capt. Raphael Semmes and the Mohican-class screw sloop of war USS Kearsarge on June 19, 1864.

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

Aboard Kearsarge that day was Acting Master James R. Wheeler, a Massachusetts man who later went on command, as a volunteer lieutenant, the captured blockade runner-turned-Union gunboat USS Preston in the tail end of the war before serving as U.S. consul to Jamaica under President Grant, where he died in 1870. Importantly, Wheeler commanded the crew of the Union vessel’s key 11-inch Dahlgren shell gun, which pummeled Alabama into the sea at relatively close range.

This guy:

Well, sometime after Alabama and before Preston, Wheeler was presented a custom Ames Model 1852 Officer’s Sword by popular subscription among Boston gentlemen, complete with acanthus scrollwork, naval battle scenes and the likes of both Amphitrite and Poseidon.

Interestingly, it is well preserved and is coming up at auction in May, after once being part of the esteemed collection of Norm Flayderman.

(Photo: RIA)

More here:

Estimate Price: $75,000 – $125,000.

Combat Gallery Sunday : The Martial Art of Tom W. Freeman

Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sunday, I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, and the like that produced them.

Combat Gallery Sunday : The Martial Art of Tom W. Freeman

Born in 1952 in Pontiac, Michigan, Tom’s family moved to the East Coast when he was 12. At age 18, Freeman joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve in 1970 and left the military during the post-Vietnam draw down in 1977.

Although not professionally trained as an artist, Tom was skilled and had an eye for naval subjects, visiting the offices of the U.S. Naval Institute and pitching artwork that went on to grace the cover of the USNI’s journal, Proceedings (I’ve had a subscription since 9th grade NJROTC and encourage you to do the same!)

In all, he did the covers for 9 issues of Proceedings and 22 issues of Naval History magazine. He became the first artist in residence to the United States Naval Institute.

Freeman's first cover, Feb. 1977, Proceedings.

Freeman’s first cover, Feb. 1977, Proceedings.

He went on to become widely accepted and painted portraits for the White House, National Museum of the U.S. Navy, Annapolis, the SECNAV’s office, the Naval Historical Command, CNET, the NROTC program, and others as well as publish extensively.

Yamato's Final Voyage

Yamato’s Final Voyage

USS Tennessee

USS Tennessee

USS Houston, CA 30 valiantly fights on alone during the night of February 27-28, 1942 against an overwhelming Japanese Naval Force. “They Sold Their Lives Dearly” by Tom Freeman.

USS Houston, CA 30 valiantly fights on alone during the night of February 27-28, 1942 against an overwhelming Japanese Naval Force. “They Sold Their Lives Dearly” by Tom Freeman.

USCG Hamilton, (WMSL-753) interdicts drug runners by tom freeman

USCG Hamilton, (WMSL-753) interdicts drug runners by tom freeman

Pioneers

Pioneers

Pawn Takes Castle during Battle of Midway by Tom Freeman (Akagi means red castle)

Pawn Takes Castle during Battle of Midway by Tom Freeman (Akagi means red castle)

Oil on canvas by the artist Tom Freeman entitled The Harder (SS-257) Rescues Ensign John Gavlin. Date is 1 April 1944. Image via Navsource

Oil on canvas by the artist Tom Freeman entitled The Harder (SS-257) Rescues Ensign John Gavlin. Date is 1 April 1944. Image via Navsource

Too Close

Too Close

Action in the Slot PT-109

Action in the Slot PT-109

IJN Soryu (Blue Dragon) by Tom Freeman

IJN Soryu (Blue Dragon) by Tom Freeman

French helicopter carrier Jeanne d'Arc

French helicopter carrier Jeanne d’Arc

(16 June 2003) Award-winning artist Tom W. Freeman presents his painting "Payment in Iron" to the Honorable Hansford T. Johnson, Acting Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV). The artwork will hang in the main entrance to the Acting SECNAV’s office. U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class Craig P. Strawser.

(16 June 2003) Award-winning artist Tom W. Freeman presents his painting “Payment in Iron” to the Honorable Hansford T. Johnson, Acting Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV). The artwork will hang in the main entrance to the Acting SECNAV’s office. U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class Craig P. Strawser.

He delved extensively into Civil War maritime history, a subject that is often left uncovered.

You Can Run, CSS Alabama chases down Yankee clipper.

You Can Run, CSS Alabama chases down Yankee clipper.

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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

"Gunfight on the Roanoke," The gun crew of the U.S.S. Miami witnesses the sinking to the U.S.S. Southfield by the C.S.S. Albemarle, April 19, 1864. Via TomFreemanArt.com

“Gunfight on the Roanoke,” The gun crew of the U.S.S. Miami witnesses the sinking to the U.S.S. Southfield by the C.S.S. Albemarle, April 19, 1864. Via TomFreemanArt.com

gotmb_tf-jpg.43930

CSS Fredericksburg at Trent's Reach - Tom Freeman

CSS Fredericksburg at Trent’s Reach – Tom Freeman

Freeman’s magnum opus was a series of 42 paintings and a mural covering the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 for the USS Arizona Museum, who display them prominently in their collection, seen by millions.

Attack on the Tang

Attack on the Tang

Tom_Freeman.jpg~original

Nakajima B5N2 attack bomber taking off from aircraft carrier Akagi, 7 December 1941. Artwork by Tom Freeman.

Nakajima B5N2 attack bomber taking off from aircraft carrier Akagi, 7 December 1941. Artwork by Tom Freeman.

The Last Mooring

The Last Mooring

Fuchida's planes cross the coast, by Tom Freeman.

Fuchida’s planes cross the coast, by Tom Freeman.

DC-242-2356.jpg~original

Sadly, Mr. Freeman crossed the bar last month on June 18 at age 62. Freeman is survived by his wife Ann, five children and 13 grandchildren.

Artist Tom Freeman at Pearl Harbor

Artist Tom Freeman at Pearl Harbor

His official website, Tom Freeman Art.com is up and running and I encourage you visit it.

'A Guest of the King' USS Enterprise arrives in Bahrain for a port call. Tom Freeman

‘A Guest of the King’ USS Enterprise arrives in Bahrain for a port call. Tom Freeman

This month’s Proceedings has a salute to Freeman included and is repeated on their website and they note that his “Guest of the King” might well be the only American painting gracing the palace of King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa of Bahrain.

Thank you for your work, sir.

More on the Semmes gun

Back in June I covered the famous raider CSS Alabama which, under the command of the Pirate of the Confederacy, Capt. (later Admiral/Brig. Gen.) Raphael Semmes, CSN (USN, resigned), captured an amazing 65 prizes and destroyed the side-wheeler gunboat USS Hatteras.

In that piece I gave you a sneak peak of his uber rare Houllier-Blanchard revolver.

Well, I’m back with a little more info on that piece after getting with the city-run History Museum of Mobile.

Click to big up

Click to big up

The gun is a cap and ball black powder .36 caliber wheelgun held in a rosewood case that holds the handgun and accessories, the metal plate on the lid reads, “Presented to Captain Raphael Semmes, Belsize Park, 14 May 1862.”

Click to big up

Click to big up

More here in my column at Guns.com

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 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 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 smoothbore 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 an 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, Kearsarge’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 badass 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 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 KEARSARGE” 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 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 National Museum of the U.S. Navy in Washington D.C. has one of her wheels as well as other artifacts to include a very nice toilet bowl.

Ships wheel CSS Alabama Exhibited in the Civil War section of Bldg. 76

English toilet from CSS Alabama Exhibited in the Civil War section of Bldg. 76

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 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

Interment 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 also 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 sternpost. 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 knots
Complement 145
Armament:
6 32-pdrs
1 110-pdr rifle
1 68-pdr

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