Friday, January 29, 2010

The Destruction Of The CSS Alabama.

When I first read the reports of the battle between the Alabama and Kearsage, I thought it would make for a good page. But I soon found that there very few reports on what happened to the Alabama in the battle, and about the same on the part of the Kearsage. The outcome of the battle was a big surprise for most English men and those of the Alabama.

Most Englanders know of the battle two days before it happen, and it was expected that the Alabaman would annihilate the Kearsage, but they were in for a big disappointment. The battle took about a hour, the newspapers of England carried many accounts of the battle. But these stories were over shadow by the involvement of the Royal yacht Deerhound, in the battle.

The Deerhound was at the scene and the American Government wanted to know why, and why the Deerhound ran off with the Kearsage prisoners. But the British Government was as much in the dark as the Americans were so the finger pointing started. It took some months before the whole story was told. I will give reports that will cover all three sides of the battle, so you will know the true story, or as much truth that can to told from these repots.

Note. Photos can be enlarged by pushing on the.


“Sir: I hear that you were informed by the United States consul that the Kearsarge was to come to this port solely for the prisoners landed by me, and that he was to depart in twenty-four hours. I desire you to say to the United States consul that my intention is to fight the Kearsarge as soon as I can make the necessary arrangements. I hope these will not detain me more than until to-morrow evening, or after the morrow morning at furthest. I beg she will not depart before I am ready to go out.
“I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. SEMMES, Captain.”

Cherbourg, France, June 21, 1864.

Sir: I have the honor to report that towards the close of the action between the Alabama and this vessel all available sail was made on the former for the purpose of again reaching Cherbourg. When the object was apparent, the Kearsarge was steered across the bow of the Alabama for a raking fire, but before reaching this point the Alabama struck. Uncertain whether Captain Semmes was not making some ruse., the Kearsarge was stopped.

It wan seen shortly afterwards that the Alabama was lowering her boats; and an officer came alongside in one of them to say that they had surrendered and were fast sinking, and begging that boats would be dispatched immediately for saving of life. The two boats not disabled were at once lowered, and, as. it was apparent the Alabama was settling, this officer was permitted to leave in his boat to afford assistance.

An English yacht, the Deerhound, had approached the Kearsarge at this time, when I hailed and begged the commander to run down to the Alabama, as she was fast sinking, and we had but two boats, and assist in picking up the men. He answered affirmatively, and steamed toward the Alabama; but the latter sank almost immediately. The Deerhound, however, sent her boats, and was actively engaged, aided by several. others which had come from the shore.

These boats were busy in bringing the wounded and others to the Kearsarge, whom we were trying to make as comfortable as possible, when it was reported to me that the Deerhound was moving off. I could not believe the commander of that vessel could be guilty of so disgraceful an act as taking our prisoners off, and, therefore, took no means to prevent it, but continued to keep our boats at work rescuing the men in the water.

I am sorry to say that I was mistaken. The Deerhound made off with Captain Semmes and others, and also the very officer who had come on board to surrender. I learned subsequently that the Deerhound was a consort of the Alabama, and that she received on board all the valuable personal effects of Captain Semmes the night before the engagement.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

List of officers and men belonging to the Alabama who were picked up by the British yacht Deerhound and landed at Southampton.

Captain, Semmes; lieutenants, Kelland Sinclair; Lieutenant, Howell, (marines;) sailing-master, Bullock; midshipmen, Maffit and Anderson; master’s assistants, G. T. Fullam, J. Evans, M. Meulvier, and Schrader; engineer, O’Brien; gunner, Cuddy; captain’s clerk, Smith; petty officers, J. Broesman, W. Crawford, W. Purdy, J. Dent, B. Johnson, C.
Seymour, C. Sleeson, J. Connor; firemen, O. Duffy, J. Foxton, W. Levins, M. Macfarland, J. Mason; seamen, T. McMillan, F. Townshend, R. Masters, G. Redman, W; Angel, W. McClellan, W. Ream, L. Depoys, A. Pfiffer, F. Lennan, J. Mahan, P. Wharton, T. Kehoe, R. Longshaw.

Liverpool, June 21, 1864

Sir: The pirate Alabama has at last met the fate she deserves. She was sank by the United States steamer Kearsarge, commanded by Captain Winslow, off of Cherbourg, on Sunday morning last, after a fight of one hour. We only have here at Liverpool the confederate account of the action. I send you slips cut from the London Times, Liverpool Courier, Daily Post, and Mercury, of to-day, giving all that is known about it. It has formed the main topic of conversation for the last two days. There is much regret among the merchants that she is lost. At least nine out of every ten persons deplore it. Captain. Semmes was expected here to-day. While I write a large crowd of persons are gathered on change to welcome him. It is proposed to give mm an ovation, but I think the more prudent and thoughtful will back out, and thus prevent it.

Semmes has not arrived in town, and my information is that lie is not coming for some days. You will see by looking over the reports that her Majesty’s subjects composing the crew were properly cared for at the sailor’s home, on their arrival at Southampton. Tt is also worthy of note that the best practice on the Alabama during the action was shown by the gunners who had been trained on board her Majesty’s war vessel the Excellent, in Portsmouth harbor. The English steamer. Deerhound was on hand to render assistance to the Alabama., and appears to have taken an active part in rescuing and running away with the officers and men belonging to this English piratical craft, built at .the same yard., by the same persons, and at the same time that the Deerhound was built.

I am, sir, your obedient servant,


“DEAR Sir: I received from Captain Semmes at Southampton, where I had the pleasure to see you yesterday, a full report of the efficient service rendered under your orders by the officers and crew of your yacht, the Deerhound, in rescuing him, with thirteen of his officers and twenty-seven of his crew, from their impending fate, after the loss of his ship.

“Captain Semmes reports that, finding the Alabama actually sinking, he had barely time to dispatch his wounded in his own boats to the enemy’s ship, when the Alabama vent down, and that nothing was left to those who remained on board but to throw themselves into the sea. Their own boats absent, there seemed no prospect of relief, when your yacht arrived in their midst, and your boats were launched; and he impressively told inc that to this timely and generous succor he, with most of his officers and a portion of his crew, were indebted for their safety. He further told inc that on their arrival on board the yacht every care and kindness were extended to them which their exhausted condition required, even to supplying all with dry clothing.

“I am fully aware of the noble and disinterested spirit which prompted you to go to the rescue of the gallant crew of the Alabama, and that I can add nothing to the recompense already received by you and those acting under you in the consciousness of having. done as you would be done by; yet you will permit me to thank you, and, through you, the captain, officers, and crew of the Deerhound, for this signal service, and to say that, in doing so, I but anticipate the grateful sentiment of my couxitry and of the government of the Confederate. States.
“I have the honor to be, dear sir, most respectfully and truly, your obedient servant,”
“JOHN LANCASTER, Esq., Hindley Hall, Wigan.”

[From the London Daily News of June 29, 1864.]


To the Editor of the Daily News:

Sir: As two correspondents of your journal, in giving their versions of the fight between the Alabama and the Kearsarge, have designated my share in the escape of Captain Semmes and a portion of the crew of the sunken ship as “dishonorable,” and have moreover affirmed that my yacht, the Deerhound, was in the harbor of Cherhourg before the engagement, and proceeded thence on the morning of the engagement in order to assist the Alabama, I presume I may trespass upon your kindness so far as to ask for an opportunity to repudiate the imputation and deny the assertion.

They admit that when the Alabama went down, the yacht, being near the Kearsarge, was hailed by Captain Winslow and requested to aid in picking up the men who were in the water; but they intimate that my services were expected to be merely ministerial; or, in other words, that I was to put myself under the command of Captain Winslow, and place my yacht at his disposal for the capture of the poor fellows who were struggling in the water for their lives. The fact is, that when we passed the Kearsarge the captain cried out, “For God’s sake do what you can to save them,” and that was my warrant for interfering in any way for the aid and succor of his enemies.

It may be a question with some whether, without that warrant, 1 should have been justified in endeavoring to rescue any of the crew of the Alabama; but my own opinion is that a man drowning in the open sea cannot be regarded as an enemy at the time to anybody, and is therefore entitled to the assistance of any passer-by. Be this as it may, I had the earnest request of Captain Winslow to rescue as many of the men who were in the water as I could lay hold of, but that request was not coupled with any stipulation to the effect that I should deliver up the rescued men to him as his prisoners.

If it had been I should have declined the task, because I should have deemed it dishonorable that is, inconsistent with my notions of honor—to lend my yacht and crew for .the purpose of rescuing those brave men from drowning only to hand them over to their enemies for imprisonment, ill-treatment, and perhaps execution. One of your correspondents opens his letter by expressing a desire to bring to the notice of the yacht clubs of England the conduct of the commander of the Deerhound which followed the engagement of the Alabama and Kearsarge. Now that my conduct has been impugned, I am equally wishful that it should come under the notice of the yacht clubs of England, and I am quite willing to leave the point of “honor” to be decided by my brother yachtsmen, and, indeed, by any tribunal of gentlemen.

As to my legal right to take away Captain Semmes and his friends, I have been educated in the belief that an English ship is English territory, and I am, therefore, unable even now to discover why I was more bound to surrender the people of the Alabama, whom I had on board my yacht, than the owner of a garden on the south coast of England would havd beam if they had swam to such a place and landed there, or than the mayor of Southampton was when they were lodging in that city; or than the British government is now that it is known that they are somewhere in England.

Your other correspondent says that Captain Winslow declares that ‘ the reason he did not pursue the Deerhound or fire into her was that he could not believe at the time that any one carrying the flag of the royal yacht squadron could act so dishonorable a part as to carry off the prisoners whom he had requested him to save, from feelings of humanity.” I was not aware then, and I am not aware now, that the men whom I saved were or ever had been his prisoners. Whether any of the circumstances which had preceded the sinking of the Alabama constituted them prisoners was a question that never came under my consideration, and one which I am not disposed to discuss even now.

I can only say that it is new doctrine to me, that when one ship sinks another in warfare, the crew of the sunken ship are debarred from swimming for their lives and seeking refuge wherever they can find it, and it is a doctrine which I shall not accept unless backed by better authority than that of the master of the Kearsarge. What Captain Winslow’s notion of humanity may be is a point beyond my knowledge, but I have good reason for believing that not many members of the, royal yacht squadron would, from “motives of humanity, have taken Captain Semmes from the water in order to give him up to the tender mercies of Captain Winslow and his compatriots.

Another reason than that assigned by your correspondent for that hero’s forbearance may be imagined iii the reflection that such a performance as that of Captain Wilkes, who dragged two “enemies” or “rebels” from an English ship, would not bear repetition. Your anonymous correspondent further says that “Captain Winslow would now have all the officers and men of the Alabama as prisoners had he not placed too much confidence in the honor of an Englishman, who carried the flag of the royal yacht squadron.” This is a very questionable assertion; for why did Captain Winslow confide in that Englishman? Why did he implore his interference, calling out, “For God’s sake do what you can to save them?” I presume it was because he could not or would not save them himself The fact is that if the captain and crew of the Alabama had depended for safety altogether upon Captain Winslow, not one-half of them would have been saved. He got quite as many of them as he could lay hold of time enough to deliver them from drowning.

I come now to the more definite charges advanced by your correspondents, and these I will soon dispose of. They maintain that my yacht was in the harbor of Cherbourg for the purpose of assisting the Alabama, and that her movements before the action prove that she attended her for the same object. My impression is that the yacht was in Cherbourg to suit my convenience and pleasure, and I am quite sure that when there I neither did, nor intended to do, anything to serve the Alabama.

We steamed out on Sunday. morning to see the engagement, and the resolution to do so was the result of a family council, whereat the question “to go out” or “not to go was duly discussed, and the decision in the affirmative was carried by the juveniles rather against the wish of both myself and my wife. Had I contemplated taking any part in the movements of the Alabama, I do not think I should have been accompanied with my wife and several young children. One of your correspondents, however, says that he knows that the Deerhound did assist the Alabama, and if he does know this he knows more than I do. As to the movements of the Deerhound before the action, all the movements . with which I was acquainted were for the objects of enjoying the summer morning, and getting a good and safe place from which to watch the engagement. Another of your correspondents declares that since the affair it has been discovered that the Deerhound was a consort of the Alabama, and on the night before had received many valuable articles for safe-keeping from that vessel. This is simply untrue.

Before the engagement neither I nor any of my family had any knowledge of or communication with either Captain Semmes or any of his officers, or any of his crew. Since the fight I have inquired from my captain whether he or any of my crew had had any communication with the captain or crew of the Alabama prior to meeting them on the Deerhound after the engagement, and his answer, given in the most emphatic manner, has been, “None, whatever.” As to the deposit of chronometers and other valuable articles, the whole story is a myth. Nothing was brought from the Alabama to the Deerhound, and I never heard of the tale until I saw it in an extract from your own columns.

After the fight was over, the drowning men picked up, and the Deerhound steaming away to Southampton, some of the officers who had been saved began to express their acknowledgments for my services, and my reply to them, which was addressed also to all who stood around, was: “Gentlemen, you have no need to give me any special thanks. I should have done exactly the same for the other people if they had needed it.” This speech would have been a needless, and indeed an absurd, piece of hypocrisy, if there had been any league or alliance between the Alabama and Deerhound.

Both your correspondents agree in maintaining that Captain Semmes and such of his crew as were taken away by the Deerhound are bound in honor to consider themselves still as prisoners, and to render themselves to their lawful captors as soon as practicable. This is a point which I have nothing to do with, and therefore I shall not discuss it. My object in this letter is merely to vindicate my conduct from misrepresentation; and 1 trust that in aiming at this I have not transgressed any of your rules of correspondence, and shall therefore be entitled to a place in your columns.
I am, &c.,
HINDLEY HALL, Wigan, June 27.

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