Quartermaster Russell Baker Hobbs CSS Alabama.
1808 - 1901

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Russell Baker Hobbs was born in Sussex County, Delaware in 1808.

Apprenticed to a cabinetmaker he eventually decided to become a merchant seaman. His family continued to live in Delaware, while he shipped out of Philadelphia on merchant vessels.

In August 1863 he was in Simon's Town, South Africa, located on Simon's Bay, a short distance south of Cape Town. He had arrived there aboard a merchant vessel and for unknown reasons did not leave on the same vessel.

While Hobbs was waiting for another merchant vessel to join, the CSS Alabama anchored at Simon`s Town for several days (August 9-15, 1863). He signed on the Alabama as Quartermaster on 15 August 1863.
In his journal, George Townley Fullam states that "nine stowaways from an American ship joined the Alabama in Simon's Bay." This is a euphamism to make what happened appear legal, since their boarding the ship with intent to join while still in port was in contravention of Great Britain`s Foreign Enlistment Act ( Since South Africa was then a British Territory). The signing took place after they were in international waters.

The other eight who signed aboard with Hobbs, were:
John Adams,
F. Mahoney,
Nicholas Maling,
Richard Ray,
John Russell,
Samuel Volans.
James Welsh
P. Wharton,

When the Alabama stopped for coal in Singapore on December 22 1863, Hobbs and other crew were given liberty, and he was one of nine who did not return. A search party was dispatched and Hobbs, along with two others was rounded up and returned to the ship. Whether he did this intentionally or not is not known. Capt. Semmes convened a Court Martial on Dec. 31st, and Hobbs was disrated or "busted" from quartermaster to ordinary seaman. Lt Arthur Sinclair, in his book "Two Years On The Alabama" lists Hobbs as a Quartermaster, so it is possible that he may have regained his rank before the ship reached Cherbourg.

Russell B. Hobbs fought at Cherbourg, and was one of about 50 men rescued by Kearsarge lifeboats; they had to take the oath of allegiance as a proviso to being released, with Capt. John A. Winslow in attendance. Winslow paroled them all at Cherbourg. Hobbs then made his way to the paymaster at Southampton,England where he was honorably discharged from Confederate Service.

On or about July 22, 1864 he arrived in New York City. He was carrying an Alabama service document, and a paper confirming that he had taken the oath of allegiance in the presence of Capt. Winslow. The oath, in this case, was meaningless, because President Lincoln had suspended Habeas Corpus. Persons with questionable loyalties could be arrested and detained indefinitely without accusation or trial. Somehow Hobbs was detected, but not soon enough to prevent his getting on a train headed south for Delaware. Before reaching Sussex County, Delaware,and his family, the train made its routine stop at Dover, Kent County. There, agents of the Delaware Provost Marshal boarded the train and arrested him. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy under Lincoln, decided that Hobbs would be imprisoned aboard the receiving ship, Princeton, anchored off the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

Hobbs commenced his imprisonment on July 26 1864, and it took a year for the legalities to be completed, with a Presidential hearing resulting in a pardon. The date of this pardon, from President Andrew Johnson was July 26, 1865, and Hobbs was released from the ship the very next day, having been aboard her for a year and a day.

The two documents taken from Hobbs when arrested, are, possibly filed somewhere in the U.S. National Archives.

He lived out the rest of his life in Delaware, working as a house painter, and never again returned to the sea.

Footnote:
Russell Baker Hobbs never lived in the Confederacy, or attempted to visit there.

There is, in South Africa an Alabama ensign probably made by crew members. It was left there after the Alabama`s second visit, on her way to Cherbourg.

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The Hobbs "Alabama ring"

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My grateful thanks go to Dave Bryan of Delaware, USA, great-great grandson of R. B. Hobbs, for the above information. To e-mail Dave Bryan, please click here.

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