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.
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
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
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:
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.
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
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.
He lived out the
rest of his life in Delaware, working as a house painter, and never again
returned to the sea.
Russell Baker Hobbs never lived in the Confederacy, or attempted to visit
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.****
The Hobbs "Alabama ring"
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.