The truly amazing story surrounding the birth of

THE ALABAMA

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The Confederate States Ship Alabama, was the second of the Confederate cruisers that J. D. Bulloch had built, this one by the Laird brothers of Birkenhead, England.
Originally designated the 290 (she was the 290th vessel to be built in the Lairds yard). She was launched as the Enrica, and was once referred to as the Barcelona upon her arrival in the Azores.
Being commissioned into the Confederate States Navy in August 1862 as the CSS Alabama.

THIS IS HER STORY

> In 1861 James Dunwoody Bulloch commissioned Lairds Shipbuilders of Birkenhead, England, to build him a ship. There can now be no doubt that Lairds knew the true purpose of this vessel, but she was built ostensibly as an unarmed vessel. This was done to prevent transgression of the British Neutrality Act , which would have resulted in the said vessels seizure by British authorities.

When Bulloch chose Lairds to build his vessel he knew that he what he was doing. At that time they were undoubtedly the finest shipbuilders in the world. The contract drawn up between Bulloch and Lairds simply named the vessel 290, neither realising the heights of fame that this number would reach.

The 290 was to be a screw steamer of some 1000 tons. Her length would be 210 feet and her beam 32 feet. She was to be barque rigged for long distance cruising, and to have long lower masts, which would allow for her large trysails to be set The 290 was to be fitted with twin horizontal engines, of 300 horse power each. 350 tons of coal could be stored in her iron bunkers, allowing for 18 full days of travel under steam. Both the funnel and propellor were moveable, to aid her when running under full sail with the wind. Her funnel could be lowered to deck level, and her screw raised from the sea, giving her a cruising speed of 13 knots.

Bulloch decided that she would be built of finest English oak, with iron fastenings, and a copper bottom to prevent fouling. Bulloch`s decision to build her from wood, was based on the fact that she could be repaired in virually any port, which was not the case with iron or steel vessels.

She was built to British Admiralty standards, at a final cost of 42,500. Needless to say, the United States consul was most concerned at what was happening in Lairds yard, even managing to procure a detailed description of the interior of the vessel.

There is also, on a lighter note, a spies report (Matthew Maguire) of meeting some of the crew and workmen from Lairds, as they walked down Canning Street, towards the Liverpool ferry terminal in Birkenhead, they were playing musical instruments and laughing and singing to the tune "Dixie`s Land". He states they kept this up on the ferry ride, all the way across the River. This was on July 26th 1862, just a few days prior to the escape.

The 290 was launched on May 15th 1862, and named Enrica, by a finely dressed lady. Upon completion of the ceremonies, she was immediately taken to Graving Dock No. 4, and placed on blocks, so that work on her could commence.

On June 15th she made her first trial, running up to the Formby lightship and back.

On July 12th 1862, the Enrica left Graving Dock Number 4, to enter the Great Float, in preparation for her coming journey.

On the morning of July 29th ,at around 10:30am she left her berth, festooned with flags and bunting, for a "trial" sail up and down the Mersey. A party was in progress on board, with several well dressed men and ladies present, including the two Messrs Laird, Mr A.E. Byrne, and five or six ladies, and the two Miss Lairds. Bulloch was accompanied by Lieutenants North and Sinclair. Captain Butcher was in command, with John Low as his first mate, second mate was George T Fullam with David Herbert Llewellyn as Assistant Surgeon. At this point Butcher was aware of Bulloch`s escape plan, and the fact that the Enrica was never to return again to Liverpool. At a pre-arranged point in mid river, Bulloch stated he wanted the vessel to go out for overnight trials, and he and the accompanying dignitaries left, aboard the steam tug Hercules. Once the Hercules had cleared the Enrica, Butcher set sail for the Enrica`s hiding place, Moelfre Bay, on the Isle of Anglesey.

The next morning at 3:00am, Bulloch attended the Woodside landing stage, there to meet with his agent Mr S.G.Porter, and 40 or so crewmen for the Enrica. Bulloch was most surprised to discover that the seamen had their wives and girlfriends with them. The current practise at that time on Merseyside was that the men, while on shore leave, would stay in the local drinking/lodging houses free of charge, on the understanding that their first months pay would be collected in advance. The womenfolk would do this and hand the money over to the landlord. So all boarded the steam tug Hercules, and set sail for Moelfre Bay, where they arrived in mid afternoon. Bulloch was unhappy that the women insisted on boarding his ship, but relented, and instructed that they and the crew be fed and given drinks. having been "fed and watered" the women then returned to the Hercules, with their mens money, and more than one commented what a fine ship this Enrica was.

Bulloch seemed to have a confidence in Captain Matthew J. Butcher, that he had in no other "outsider", and felt quite secure in impartimg to him the true purpose of the Enrica`s voyage. Bulloch ordered Lieutenant John Low, who had just returned from service in the Fingal and the Florida, to join Butcher as first officer. The second officer was George Townley Fullam. There were three more officers, Surgeon David H.Llewellyn, paymaster Clarence R. Yonge and Chief Engineer J. McNair.With the exception of Yonge (later to turn traitor), they were all British. Not only were the officers and crew British, except for Yonge, but everything about the vessel was British too.

Dudley and his spies had not been idle during this period, and were bringing great pressure on British officials to make a firm stand on the Enrica. In June, at the insistance of the U.S., British customs officials examined the Enrica but could find no trace of any armaments or weapons, not even a signal pistol was on board. Then in July Dudley and Adams submitted documentary proof to British officials (including William Passmore`s report). Bulloch received word, "from a private but very reliable source," that it would not be safe to keep the ship in Liverpool for another 48 hours. He was warned that the U.S.S. Tuscarora was prowling the English coast looking for the Confederate cruiser.

Much has been written about this warning, some writers speculating that members of Her Majesty`s Government, with financial interests in the Confederacy, or its cotton, gave the warning. Bulloch later defended Price Edwards, a local British official, against charges that Edwards aided the cruisers escape.

The Alabama rides out a huricane, 16 October 1862

Captain Butcher then sailed the Enrica North from Moelfre Bay at 3 am, his passage was to be around the North of Ireland, to keep clear of the USS Tuscaloosa, which was at that time searching British waters. Off the Giants Causeway, Butcher hailed a fishing boat, and Bulloch and his agent left the Enrica to go meet her destiny.

The USS Tuscaloosa eventually arrived at Moelfre Bay, but her quarry was long gone, the first of many such occurrences for the United States Warships.

It is interesting to speculate what might have happened had the Tuscaloosa located and sunk the Enrica. As a British registered vessel, with British crew in command. Would this have been seen as an act of war against Great Britain?

Bulloch returned to Liverpool on 3rd August, to await the arrival of Raphael Semmes, who was to commision the CSS Alabama into the service of the Confederate States Navy. Semmes finally arrived in Liverpool on 8th August 1862, with Lt. John McIntosh Kell and other officers after their passage from Nassau. He had been forced to leave the first, and possibly the most gallant of all the Confederate Cruisers, The CSS Sumter in Gibralter.

Spending a few days in Liverpool, Semmes re-assembled some of his crew from the Sumter, and through Bulloch made financial arrangements for the cruise to come, with Fraser, Trenholm & Co. It is also extremely likely that Bulloch and Semmes met to discuss tactics in the Liver Inn, Waterloo, Liverpool.


On August 13th 1862, Bulloch, Semmes, and his officers departed Liverpool aboard the steamer Bahama joining her downriver from a tug. The tug crew cheered the Southern Naval men on their way, and were probably from the tug Hercules, which had already assisted Bulloch immensely. The Captain of the Bahama was one Captain Tessier, a Savannah man, with whom Semmes had already travelled from Nassau to Liverpool. The Enrica had left Liverpool as an unarmed vessel, to satisfy British legal requirements, her armaments and warlike equipment, were to be sent to a pre-arranged meeting point.

Towards the end of May 1862, Bulloch hired an agent to locate a good strong sailing vessel, that could accomodate heavy weights. A bark of around 350 tons was soon purchased, for the sum of 1,400. She was the Agrippina, and her captain was a boastful and hard drinking Scot named Alexander McQueen. The Agrippina went to London docks and was loaded with all the equipment to be sent out for the new Confederate cruiser. Guns, ordnance supplies, large amounts of men`s clothing, general stores and 350 tons of coal were loaded, without attracting any kind of suspicion. All three vessels having a date with destiny, at Terceira, in the Azores

After a seven day voyage from Liverpool, the Enrica and the Agrippina were spotted in the harbour at Terciera on 20th August. Arrangements for the transfer of the Enrica`s ordnance began immediately. On August 21st 1862, the Agrippina, Bahama & Enrica all gathered to the leeward of the Azores, in International waters And so the transfer began, in relatively calm waters.
There followed 3 days of intense and backbreaking work, as the latest Confederate vessel was brought up to scratch, finally, on August 24th she was ready for sea.

All three vessels put to sea, to unfurl for the first time the flag of the Confederate States of America over a purpose built warship. With the exception of the working crews, all the men from the accompanying vessels were transferred to the deck of the Enrica, where all of her officers were in full uniform.
Captain Raphael Semmes mounted a gun-carriage, and proceeded to read his commission from President Jefferson Davis, authorizing him to take command of the ship.

Upon completion of the reading, the stops to the halliards at the peak and mainmast were broken, and the flag and pennant of this young nation floated on the breeze, at the same moment a gun boomed out, and the quartermaster hauled down the English colours.

Captain Semmes then made a speech to the assembled persons, asking for men to sign on as crew, for a voyage of unknown quantity.

Eighty-five men signed on that day, many of them completing the full cruise, up to Cherbourg, in June of 1864.

Bulloch returned to the Bahama, on his way back toLiverpool, and so began the momentous cruise of what is now recognised as the greatest commerce raider of all time.

The Alabama.

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Related Pages

Alabama Casualties.

Alabama painting in Liverpool

Journal of the CSS Alabama

Alabama visits Singapore

Merseyside Crew

Officers

Back to Ships

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