Engineer William Param Brooks CSN.
1832 - 1889

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Born in Edgefield County, South Carolina on March 27, 1832, he was the son of Jordan Param and Ann F. McAlroy Brooks and it was in South Carolina where Brooks spent much of his early childhood and received his education up until the death of his mother in 1845, when his father, shortly afterwards moved his family to Savannah, Georgia. It was here where young Brooks was to spend his teenage years, serving his seaman's apprenticeship on his father's ship, taking mail and cargo from Augusta, Georgia to Charleston, South Carolina and back again to Savannah, Georgia.

Not too long after serving his engineering apprenticeship at the Cunningham Belknap, Phoenix Foundry in New York in October 1852, Brooks served as one of the engineers aboard the S.S. "Habana", a passenger and freight steamer which cruised between Havana, Cuba and New Orleans up until the outbreak of hostilities between the States, when it was purchased by the Confederate Government in order to serve its navy.

Brooks, like so many of his fellow countrymen, immediately offer his services to the Confederacy who appointed him an acting second assistant engineer aboard the steamer "Habana" receiving his commission from the State of Louisiana on May 11, 1861. He was one of the engineering officers, under its Chief Engineer Miles James Freeman, who assisted in the fitting out of the "Habana" into the Confederate States Steamer "Sumter" and after being placed under the command of Captain Raphael Semmes, served aboard for its brief but successful cruise until she became trapped at Gibraltar by three federal warships during February 1862, after putting in a month earlier to carry out repairs to her boilers and engines. With the "Sumter" laid up at Gibraltar, Brooks and the other officers were order to London to await further orders and on April 9th took passage aboard the English steamer Euphrosyne bound for London.
However a few days after leaving Gibraltar, she encountered strong head winds and heavy seas and during the next few hours hardly made any progress at all, so its Captain decided to turn his ship around and set course for Vigo Bay, Spain. On April 15th after taking on more coal the Euphrosyne left Vigo Bay for open sea but again she met with strong winds and turbulent seas which caused the steamer to strike a submerged rock, hitting it three times which fractured her hull and leaving the captain with no other option but to order the lease of the life boats. All the passengers and crew of the Euphrosyne, numbering about fifty (50), were eventually picked up from the life boats by two fishing boats which had come out from Vigo to offer some assistance, and finally returned to that port a little after midnight, when all had been rescued. After a short convalescence a Vigo, Brooks and the other officers booked passage on another steamer and arrived in London on or about April 28th where they immediately reported to the Confederate envoy, the Honorable John M Mason of their arrival.

It was while in London, awaiting to be assigned to the CSS Alabama, that Brooks met and fell in love with the beautiful Wiltshire born Emily Ann Bence, and within a fortnight of their meeting they were married at the parish church of Saint Mary's, Newington, on July 16, 1862 with most of the officers from the late Sumter attending in full dress uniform. Their short honeymoon was spent in Ireland accompanied by her mother, and it was while here that they paid a visit to Blarney Castle near Cork, where Brooks held his new bride by her heels in order that she could kiss the famous Blarney Stone.

On August 13th, 1862, Brooks and the other officers assigned to the Alabama, left Liverpool aboard the steamer Bahama for a voyage to Porto Praya, on the island of Terceira, and a rendezvous with the Alabama. After meeting at the Azores on August 20th, Brooks assisted in the fitting out of the "290" or the "Enrica" as she was then called, into the Confederate States Steamer Alabama, and after her commissioning on August 24th, served aboard as first assistant engineer under the command of Captain Raphael Semmes. Brooks served aboard for the full cruise and took part in the naval engagement against the USS Kearsarge on June 19th 1864 off the coast of Cherbourg, France and was among the survivors who were rescued from the channel by the crew of a French pilot boat under the command of its pilot Monsieur Mauger.
In gratitude to Mr. Mauger for his assistance in rescuing some of the officers and crew of the late Alabama, the Confederate Government, through its Cherbourg agent Mr. Bonfils, delivered personally by lieutenant Armstrong and Engineer Brooks, sent to him the sum of five hundred Francs, which he accepted on behalf of his men by sharing it amongst them all. It was reported in the local newspapers that Mauger received a gold medal of the second class from the French Minister of Marine, with silver medals being awarded to the pilot Gosselin and the apprentice pilot Doncet for their gallant conduct during the rescue.

Brooks remained in France for some months after the sinking of the Alabama, along with his wife Emily who had come over especially to see him. During his stay there he received news of his promotion to the rank of chief engineer, with orders requesting his immediate return to England for assignment to the Confederate States Iron Clad Stonewall. He was given orders to report to Captain Thomas J. Page aboard the Stonewall, and on the morning of January 10th 1865 left Gravesend in Kent with other officers aboard the City of Richmond for a voyage to Quiberon, France and a rendezvous with the Stonewall. Her armaments consisted of one (1) nine inch three hundred pounder and two (2) seventy pounder guns, and after receiving her officers and crew, steamed toward the port of Ferrol, Spain weathering several violent storms before dropping anchor in early February 1865 in order to carry out repairs due to the storms.
February also saw the arrival in Ferrol of the USS Steamers Sacramento and Niagara, with both sloops staying just outside the harbor keeping a close watch on the Stonewall. By March the repairs to the Stonewall were completed and despite her attempts over a course of three days to get the two federal ships to fight, both vessels continued to remain at anchor simply refusing to be tempted.
On the third day, the Ferrol authorities refused to allow the Stonewall back into the harbor, so Captain Page steamed toward Santa Cruz on the island of Tenerife with the two federal ships following closely behind. At Santa Cruz he took on more coal for his voyage westward toward Bermuda and from there to Port Royal, South Carolina where he would attack General Sherman's supply base. However during the cruise Captain Page had to alter his plans when he encounter heavy storms and as such had to change course for Nassau where he arrived on May 6th.

It was at Havana Cuba a short while later that he learned of General Lee's surrender at the Appomattox Court House from Captain C.S. Boggs of the USS Connecticut, when he ordered Captain Page to give up his ship and accept his terms on surrender. Page simply refused his terms and instead sold the Stonewall to the Spanish Captain-General of Cuba with the proceeds from the sale being used to pay off his crew.

With the ending of hostilities, Brooks decided to remain in Havana and with his wife Emily, who soon joined him, worked as an inspector of shipping for the Spanish Government for eleven years. During his term of service in the Spanish Navy, Brooks was instrumental in saving two steamers during a terrific hurricane and tidal wave on the island of Saint Thomas, in which it is said that over sixty sailing vessels and crews and ten steamers and their crews were lost. The loss of life was appalling and for the bravery exhibited by Mr. Brooks in endeavoring to save the vessels and rescue the people, the queen of Spain conferred upon him the Naval Cross of the Order of Merit, First Class. Queen Isabel, the Second, in the official decree commands that
"general and private officials of Navy and all Armed and other personnel of the Army, Commanders of Navy, Ministers and all other persons of whatever class, order and condition, that they hold and regard you a Knight, First Class, of the Naval Order of Merit".

After eleven years in the service of Spain, he resigned his position and returned home to Savannah, Georgia. Upon his return he was engaged as chief engineer aboard the Ocean Steamship Company's vessel Tallahassee, a post he held until his demise on April 19, 1889. With his coffin draped in the colors of the Sumter and Alabama, he was buried in a private grave at the Laurel Grove Cemetery and where his Emily, who survived him, joined him on April 7th 1927.

Mr. Brooks had an historic album containing the pictures of each one of the vessels and a photograph of the officers. He also had in his possession a whale's tooth, on which were cut, by some of the staff, the pictures of both the Alabama and the Sumter. The pictures are exact likenesses of the vessels with each flying the flag of the Confederacy. The Sumter flying the original "Stars and Bars" , while the Alabama flies the flag with the standard in the corner and the white field flowing, the second National. Admiral Raphael Semmes, in securing a picture of them for his "Memoirs of Service Afloat", took copies from the whales tooth. Among other relics are two flags of the Alabama and the Sumter. The former is of bunting and the latter is of silk.

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The following photographs were provided by Mr. Clint Brooks.

The Brooks whales tooth scrimshaw depictions of the CSS Sumter & CSS Alabama.

Descendants

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