The Confederate Veteran, Volume XVII, May, 1904



Rev. W. S. Hammond
Rev. W. S. Hammond, of the M. E. Church, South, furnishes an interesting sketch of Confederate naval service during the sixties. He refers to a statement of Lieut. Henry E. Rhoades, of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which appeared recently in the New York Tribune. Rhoades, upon being asked if he was not one of the American naval officers who received appointments in 1868 to aid in the organization of the Japanese navy, replied that the credit for the Japanese navy may be placed to the American naval officers, as it really began with the purchase of the armor-clad Stonewall (later called the Adzumd) from the United States government in 1866.

The story of the Stonewall is unique in every particular. Its vicissitude was great, for in its career it passed under the control, for a time, of no less than six governments---France, Denmark, Confederate States of America, Spain, United States, and Japan. It represented the last naval effort of the Confederacy, and the first serious naval effort of Japan.

The story of the Confederate navy is without a parallel in history. When the war began it was not in existence---its timbers were in the forests and its ropes and hawsers in the hemp fields of the South. Its achievements bespeak the genius and indomitable courage of Stephen R. Mallory and his gallant coadjutors, who wiped the Federal merchant marine from the seas. Their prowess is attested by the fact that our country has not yet recovered from the blow. The "ship subsidy" scheme so warmly advocated by Northern Congressmen in recent years is a measure designed to repair the damage done and havoc wrought by Semmes, Waddell, and their heroic compeers forty years ago. These men, who, with such limited resources, and facing almost insurmountable obstacles, accomplished such deeds of daring, were men of no common mold.

Not the least among these was Commander James D. Bul. loch, of Georgia (an uncle of President Roosevelt), Confederate naval agent in England. Brave as men are made, and in diplomacy fully equal to Adams, who represented the Federal government at the Court of St. James---a stronger representative than Adams this country never sent abroad---Bulloch was a fitting representative of a government whose main assets were courage and daring. Men were never placed in a more difficult position than these naval agents of the Confederacy. The nations of the world never assigned to their government a higher status than that of a "belligerent." Her representatives abroad enjoyed only a quasi political status, and could exercise none of the privileges of a full diplomatic standing.
Had the independence of the Confederacy been acknowledged by foreign movements, their situation would have been greatly relieved, as they then would have stood on an equal footing with the representatives of the Federal government. Such, however, was not the case, as the acknowledgment of Southern independence by foreign powers never became an accomplished fact. Every act of the Confederate agents was closely scrutinized by foreign officials, zealous in their observance of neutrality laws, and their every movement was made in spite of the Argus-eyed surveillance of watchful representatives of the United States government.
Hampered by such limitations, it is a little short of a miracle that they accomplished anything at all.

In the autumn of 1864 Bulloch learned that Arman, a shipbuilder of Bordeaux, France, had completed an ironclad of the ˘ram÷ pattern for the Danish government. It was probable that the Danish government would not accept this vessel, as the exigency of war which created a demand for it had passed away. Bulloch determined to secure this craft for his government, although he well knew that it could not be bought outright in France, nor manned and launched from a French port. He immediately devised an ingenious plan for attaining his end and circumventing the laws of neutrality. He entered into negotiations with M. Henri Riviere, Arman's agent. By the allowance of a liberal commission he secured Riviere's cooperation in a plan to conduct the vessel to Copenhagen, as if to turn it over to the Danish government.
Capt. J. T. Page, of the Confederate navy, accompanied the French agent, and was to assume command of the ironclad should Bulloch's plan prove successful. Riviere, by the bestowal of another generous commission, prevailed on the Danish government inspector to condemn and reject the boat as not measuring up to the required specifications. Upon the refusal of the Danes to accept the vessel, the agent started, ostensibly to return with it to Bordeaux, but in reality to conduct it to Belle Isle, on the coast of France, the place appointed by Bulloch as a rendezvous.

The ironclad, which had borne the name Sphynx, was rechristened Stonewall, in honor of the hero of Chancellorsville. While Riviere was carrying out his part of the contract, Bulloch had brought to Belle Isle from Calais a crew for the Stonewall, made up of men who had served on the privateer Florida. A small steamer, the City of Richmond, had escaped the vigilance of the English authorities, and brought ammunition from London. That the ironclad should he brought from one point, the crew from another, and the stores and ammunition from yet another, and that they should all meet at the appointed place and time, indicates no small ability on the part of Bulloch. These arrangements were made and consummated despite the vigilance of enemies on all sides.

Capt. Page assumed command, ran up his flag, and the Stonewall started on its career as a Confederate battleship. Bermuda, in the West Indies, was the destination suggested by Bulloch. From this vantage point the Stonewall was to deal havoc among the Federal blockading squadrons along the coast of the Carolinas. Page found that his supply of coal was running short, and that he would be compelled to secure an additional supply before the transatlantic trip could be attempted. In this dilemma he made for Ferrol, Spain. His right as a "belligerent" permitted him to take sufficient coal at a neutral port to carry his vessel to the nearest port of his own country. There was a great risk, however, in this, as he knew the United States Ministers and Consuls would "move heaven and earth" to detain his ship in any neutral port into which he might enter. Passing through the Bay of Biscay in a furious storm, he made Ferrol, Spain. Here he found coaling to be his smallest task, as the Stonewall had suffered serious damage in the recent storm, and could not proceed until the necessary repairs could he made.

The Federal officials did all in their power to hinder this work by playing on the fears of the Spanish authorities. Making needed repairs in the face of all the obstacles interposed by the Federal officials detained Page until the 24th of March, when he started out to sea. Just sixteen days afterwards, Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Commodore T. T. Craven, in command of the Niagara, and accompanied by the Sacramento, was sent in pursuit of the Stonewall as soon as the Federal officials learned of her departure from Belle Isle.

Craven followed Page to Ferrol, and awaited with the Niagara and Sacramento in the Bay of Coruna, ostensibly for the purpose of attacking the Confederate ironclad when it should come out of the port of Ferrol. The time spent in waiting gave the Federal Commodore's courage an opportunity to wane and finally ooze away; for, when the Stonewall finally made for the open sea, Craven never budged. This inaction involved him in a court-martial a few months later. Craven's report of the matter to the Navy Department is very explicit as to his feelings: "With feelings no one can imagine, I was obliged to undergo the deep humiliation of knowing that she (the Stonewall) was there, steaming back and forth, flaunting her flags, and waiting for me to go out to the attack. I dared not do it." The court-martial must have considered this damage to his feelings ample punishment for his derelictions, as they found him guilty on the general charge and sentenced him "to be suspended from duty on leave pay for two years." This light sentence called from Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, a severe reprimand of the court, and a causic review of their proceedings. The indignant Secretary claimed that the inference from the court's verdict established a vicious rule for the conduct of naval commanders---viz., "Do not fight if there is a chance of defeat," rather than the converse rule: "Fight if there is a chance of victory."
Without further delay the Stonewall sailed for the West Indies, only to find on her arrival that the Confederacy had fallen, and that further resistance by sea or land was altogether useless. At Havana, Captain Page turned over his battleship to the Spanish authorities, who, in turn, surrendered her to the United States officials. This government, as stated by Lieutenant Rhoades, sold their prize, in 1866, to Japan. The Stonewall, renamed the Adzuma, thus became the embryo of a new navy which, from present indications, may make a name for itself not unworthy of the best traditions of the great chieftain for whom her first warship was named.