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"
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
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.
Back to Ships