The Laird Rams


Before Bulloch returned to the Confederacy aboard the Fingal, Stephen Mallory had asked him to investigate and prepare for the construction of ironclad rams in England.
The "ram" idea dated from ancient times, and had been revived in the "steam" era. The ram itself being a metal projection from the bow, the aim of which was to rip holes below an enemy`s waterline. Bulloch originally had the idea for building these vessels in Confederate ports, using the readily available timber from local forests. Once completed, the plans for these "ironclads" would be sent to England. The English would then produce all the necessary metalwork and fittings, fully marked for location, which would then be shipped back to the South aboard fast government blockade runners. It may well have succeeded, had the Confederate Government been open to such a radical suggestion.
After the Fingal voyage, upon Bullochs return to Liverpool in the Annie Childs, he focused his mind on producing the two rams. He worked out preliminary details for the vessels he required.
Length 230 feet
Beam 42 feet
Draft 15 feet
350 horsepower engines generating 10 1/2 knots speed
1.850 tons
With crew & stores for 3 months
Instead of broadsides, he required turrets, to reduce the wieght and strain of the side of the vessels.

Mallory wrote to Bulloch, urging him to hurry with building the rams, informing him that one million dollars had been credited to Bulloch with Fraser, Trenholm & Co.. Bulloch again turned to Lairds, ordering two vessels of the same size and model. One to be ready in March 1863, the other in May, at a cost of 93,750 each.

To comply with the Foreign Enlistment Act, no magazines or receptacles for ordnance and shells were specified, as Bulloch knew he could not arm these vessels in Britain.

By mid July 1862, work on both vessels was well underway, and they were referred to as numbers 294 and 295, but were not under the same high profile as the infamous 290.
Bulloch wrote to Mallory in September 1862, saying how pleased he was with the new design and progress of the rams. Taking into consideration their powers of offense and defense, and their very light draft of 15 feet, they would perform as near as possible like cruisers, for the 3,000 mile journey ahead of them. Bulloch wrote "I designed these ships for something more than harbour or even coast defence, and I confidently believe, if ready for sea now, they could sweep away the entire blockading fleet of the enemy."
He was forming detailed plans for the officers and crew, and for the escape from England. In particular he had hopes to command one of these ironclad rams. But, by the time he wrote to Mallory on 23rd January 1863, he was disturbed by the fact that rumours of the ironclads were being widely distributed, both in the Confederacy and in England, and he feared the British Government was about to change the rules respecting "his" rams.
With time running out, Bulloch realised that his chances of getting the rams out of England were rapidly fading. Bulloch received a despatch from Mallory on 9th March 1863, suggesting that France might be more tolerant, and even help to rescue the rams, with a possibility of building other vessels in France.
Then came the testimony of Clarence R. Yonge, the Confederate naval officer turned traitor, plus, the progress reports from Union spies in Liverpool and Birkenhead, were becoming so conclusive, that it was beginning to look as if the British would seize the vessels as soon as Charles Francis Adams (U. S. Minister to Great Britain) demanded such action. Bulloch informed Lairds that under the circumstances, he had no option but to sell the ironclads. Bulloch was making plans for a so called purchase of the rams in France, when a genuine offer to buy, came from the Russian Government. Bulloch immediately hastened to France, to set up the "sale" to A. Bravay & Co. of Paris, ostensibly acting for the Pasha of Egypt, and the vessels were named as "El Tousson" and "El Monassir" for the purposes of this bogus sale.
This was not a bona fide sale, but Bulloch`s lawyer Hull, guided him through the intricacies of the "sale", and Lairds accepted it as legal. The United States officials in England were very afraid of the damage the ironclads might do, if turned loose against the blockading fleet. Adams may have been particularly worried about the threat to his home town of Boston, Massachussets. In early September of 1863, Adams wrote an almost warlike letter to Lord Russell, and, on September 8th, Russell issued instructions for the seizure of the "Laird Rams." Lord Russell`s private papers indicate that he took this decision some time earlier. Orders were sent to customs officials in Liverpool, and, using a gunboat, and a guard from HMS Majestic they took possession of the two ironclads.
Bulloch hoped that Napolean the Third of France would demand the release of the rams, as property of private French citizens. But by then, the tide had turned against the Confederacy, with defeats at both Vicksburg and Gettysburg. Napolean consequently refused to intervene.

The rams were eventually sold to the British Government, who were delighted to get vessels of such advanced design for the Royal Navy. The rams thus became HMS Scorpion, and HMS Wyvern. Part of the money received for them went into the Confederate Treasury, and helped to pay for the Shenandoah.

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