NARRATED BY HER OFFICERS.
IT was the13th of august, 1862, that we left Liverpool in the chartered steamer Bahama, to the Western Isles, where we were to meet the Alabama, which had gone out before us to receive her armament, officers, and crew, for service. Our party consisted chiefly of the former officers of the Sumter–the gallant little vessel which created so much terror amongst the Yankee bottoms on the American coast, and although pursued by all the Federal fleet, crossed the Atlantic in winter with safety, and found a harbor refuge under the guns of Gilbraltar. There, however, she was blockaded, and was sold on account of the Confederate States Government. She was re-purchased privately, and her hull was taken over to England, where she was to be refitted, and is now, no doubt, afloat again under another name, but still bearing proudly the Southern flag. Her officers followed their captain, ready to obey his orders, for all admired him as a skilful seaman, a good tactician, an excellent diplomatist, and a brave man. They spent a short time in England, when the Alabama, or 290, as she was then named, was purchased, and Capt. Semmes at once prepared to take command of her, under commission from President Davis, with the object of doing as much damage as possible to the enemys commerce on the sea.
At Porta Praya, in the Island of Terceirs, (Azores,) we found our ship taking in guns, ammunition, &c., which had been brought to this place by chartered vessels. The Alabama please us all. She is a fine ship of 1040 tons; the length of keel, 210 feet; breadth of beam, 32 feet; depth of hold, 17 feet 3 inches; has two engines combined of 300 horse power, and three furnaces, each below the water line; the diameter of her propeller is 14 feet, with two blades 3 feet in width and 21 feet pitch; and is capable of running 14 knots. She mounts eight guns–one rifled 7-inch Blakeleys patent, and one 8-inch shell or solid-shot gun, (pivots,) and six 32-pounders of forty-two hundred weight, (broad-sides.) Her motto is: Aide toi et Dieu taidera. The officers numbered twenty, and the crew at this time only eighty–and the terms which the latter insisted upon on engaging called forth the remark from Capt. Semmes, that the modern sailer has greatly changed in character; for he now stickles for pay like a sharper, and seems to have lost his former love of adventure and recklessness. The ordinary seamen get at much as L4 10 per month; petty officers, L5 to L6; firemen, L7. All the officers held commissions from the Confederate States Government, and receive pay according to the regular scale, varying from L150 to L800 per annum.
On the 24th of August, the command of the Alabama was formally handed over by Capt. Bullock (who had brought her out from Liverpool) to Capt. Semmes; and the “Stars and Bars” were flung to the wind amid the cheers of all hands. The Captain called all the crew and explained to them the risks and dangers they would have to undergo, and the inducement of prize money; furthermore, he said he did not intend to rush headlong into battle with a whole fleet of the enemy, but that he did not intend to run away if he met with any, and that he would give battle to the last, so that he expected every man to do his duty. He did not wish to deceive or entice any one to go, and they were free to judge for themselves, either to stay in the Alabama or return with the Bahama to Liverpool. This speech had a good effect, and was loudly cheered, and very few left with the Bahama, which then departed company with us.
After leaving Terceira, several days were devoted to putting our ship in order and drilling the crew, who were mostly good seamen, but unacquainted with naval discipline. On the 5th Septemmber we caught our first prize, the Ockmulgee, off the Azores, and continued to cruise in that vicinity for about ten days, capturing and destroying several ships of the enemy. From the Azores we proceeded to the Banks of Newfoundland, and cruised thence in the direction of New York, capturing and destroying several other valuable ships. Among our seizures were the Starlight, on board of which we found some despatches for Secretary Seward; the Tonawanda, bound from New York to Liverpool, with seventy-five passengers, forty of whom were women; and the T. B. Wales, from Calcutta, with an American consul and his lady on board. We provided for them as well as possible–two of the wardroom officers giving up their rooms for them. The consul, however, got so troublesome and intermeddling, that Capt. Semmes had to tell him that he was only tolerated there on account of his lady; but if he again spoke to the men or his crew, he would be put in double irons and tied to the gun rack–which threat had its intended effect on the Yankee. The fate of the vessels captured was to be destroyed by fire, and the night effect of this spectacle at sea was sometimes very striking. One of the doomed vessels, the Levi Starbuck, was set on fire at six oclock in the evening, and was one of the grandest sights ever witnessed by us. After the decks took fire, the flame sprang to the rigging, running from yard to yard, until it reached the royal truck, leaving half the canvas-head burnt away, and forming one mass of glittering stars; in a few minutes afterwards the powder charges exploded, tearing the vessel into a thousand pieces.
When within about 250 miles of New York, finding we had but four days coal on board, Capt. Semmes bore off for the island of Martinique, where he had ordered a coal ship to rendezvous. On the way we captured and destroyed two very valuable ships. We reached Martinique on the 18th November, where we were received with enthusiasm by the inhabitants; but finding that our coal ship had been there a week or ten days, and that the object of her visit was well known, Capt. Semmes sent her out to sea again, appointing a new rendezvous. It was well that he did so, for she had not been gone twenty-four hours when the United States frigate San Jacinto arrived. Immediately she was seen, all our hands were called to quarters, ready for action, thinking the enemy would put his threat into force, of running into us, wherever he found us; but, as usual, it turned out to be their mode of gaining a victory. The San Jacinto kept moving in and out so long, that the Governor of the island boarded her, and ordered her either to come to anchor or proceed to sea, three miles clear of the land, which she obeyed, and lay to, blockading the port. Capt. Semmes determined to go out and fight her; but was advised against this by the French officer, who came on board of us, who said she was too heavy, as she carried twelve eight-inch broadside guns, and two eleven-inch pivots, with a crew of two hundred and fifty men. The Governor said that if we desired to take in coals, we must get under the guns of his fort, and he would protect us against Admiral Wilkes and his fleet; but as the bark with coals was sent off the day before, we concluded it was best to go to sea. So at eight oclock that night we got ready for action, and steamed out of harbor, without any molestation from the enemy, who was keeping watch and ward a marine league off. We coaled at the Island of Blanquille, on the coast of Venezuela, the new rendezvous appointed; and here we found a United States whaling schooner, but forbore to capture her, because of the claim of Venezuela to the barren little island–a claim as barren as the island, for there was no settled population on it, and, of course, no vestige of government. There were only two or three fishermens huts on the place; and we put ashore, with the brand of infamy, a seaman named Forest, who had deserted from the Sumter, and was captured on board one of our prizes; he was found guilty of inciting the crew to mutiny.
Desiring to strike a blow at the enemy, the Alabama, after coaling, sailed for the east of Cuba, in the track of the California steamers. On our way we captured and destroyed a bark from Boston for Aux Cayes; on the 7th of November, after lying off Cape Maise for several days, we captured the U. S. steamer Ariel–unfortunately outward, instead of homeward bound. She was brought to by a shot which struck her mizzenmast. She had on board $8000 in United States treasury notes, and $1500 in silver; and as there was no certificate or other papers on board claiming it as neutral property, it was taken possession of as prize of war. There were one hundred and forty marines on board, with six officers, all of whom were disarmed and paroled, as was also Commander Saston, U. S. A., who was on board. As this ship had some seven hundred passengers and crew, many of whom were women and children, and it was alike impossible to take her into a neutral port, or to receive the passengers in the Alabama, there was no alternative but to release her under a ransom bond of $250,000; and as we parted company, the passengers gave three cheers for Capt. Semmes.
After this the Alabama hove to on the north side of Jamaica, to repair some damage which had happened to one of our engines, and then set out for the Accas Island, Gulf of Mexico, where we refilled with coal, and calked and repaired ship. Here some of our men erected on the island an epitaph in black, “To the memory of Abe Lincoln, who died January, 1861, of negro fever of the head,” with a card on which was written, in Spanish, instructions to those who visit the island to forward the board to the nearest United States Consul.
On board the Ariel we found some New York papers containing accounts of an intended expedition by Gen. Banks, which we concluded was destined for Texas, and we presumed would rendezvous at Galveston. As it was said that the expedition was to consist of twenty thousand men, we knew a large number of transports would be required: many of these vessels would have to lie outside the bar, and we determined upon making a night attack upon forty or fifty of them, laden with troops, sink and set on fire many of them, and escape before our vessel could be pursued by a superior force. As it afterwards turned out, we found the expedition of Gen. Barks took another direction, and landed at New Orleans.
After coaling at Accas, however, the Alabama set sail for Galveston, and arrived there on the 11th January, and before nightfall made out the enemys fleet lying off the bar, consisting of five ships of war. One of their steamers we observed to get under weigh, and come in our direction. Captain Semmes ordered steam to be got up, but kept sail on our vessel as a decoy, to entice the enemys ship sufficiently far from the fleet to give battle. We wore ship, and stood away from the bar, permitting the enemy to approach by slow degrees. When she was sufficiently near we took in all sail, and wearing short round, ran up within hail. It was now dark, about nine oclock. The enemy hailed: “What ship is that?” We replied: “Her Majestys steamer Petrel.” The reply was, “Ill send a boat on board.”
We now hailed in turn, to know what the enemy was, and when we received the reply that she was the United States steamer Hatteras, we again hailed and informed him that we were the Confederate steamer Alabama; and at the same time Capt. Semmes directed the First Lieutenant to open fire on him. This fire was promptly returned, and a brisk action ensued, which lasted, however, only thirteen minutes, as at the end of that time the enemy fired an off-gun, and showed a light; and on being hailed to know if he surrendered, he said he did, and was in a sinking condition. We immediately despatched boats to his assistance, and had just time to rescue the crew, when the ship went down. The casualties were slight on both sides, although the action was fought at a distance of one hundred and fifty to four hundred yards. Our shot all told on his hull, about the water line, and hence the small number of killed and wounded on the part of the enemy–two of the former, and three of the latter. We had none killed, and only one wounded, although the Alabama received several shot-holes, doing no material damage. The Hatteras mounted eight guns, and had a crew of eighteen officers and one hundred and eight men. The Alabama had also eight guns, with a small captured piece, (a twenty-four-pounder, too light to be of any service,) and a crew of one hundred and ten men, exclusive of officers. Four of the Hatteras guns were thirty-two pounders, the same calibre as our broadside guns, but our pivot guns were heavier than theirs. This was the only disparity between the two ships. The U. S. frigate Brooklyn and another steamer came out in pursuit soon after the action commenced, but missed us in the darkness of the night. The Alabama then proceeded to Kingston, Jamaica, where the prisoners were landed on the 20th January, and we repaired damages and coaled, and on the 25th proceed again to sea.
We touched at the Island of St. Domingo, on the 28th, to land two enemys crews we had captured; sailed again next day for the Equator, and remained for some days at the Island of Fernando de Noronha. From thence we put into Bahia, where we landed more prisoners. The Government at this place demanded explanations of our proceedings at Fernando de Noronha, as the American Consul represented that we had made captures there in Brazilian waters; but as we clearly showed that no vessel had been taken within a prescribed distance from the island, the authorities were satisfied, and we were allowed to remain ten days, refitting. Meanwhile, the Castor, a coal ship, ostensibly bound for Shanghai, entered the port, and we commenced coaling from her. The American Consul again protested, and wrote to the President of Bahia, stating that the Castor had on board guns and sailors for the Confederates. The President next day forwarded this complaint to the English Consul at Bahia, inviting him to accompany the custom-house officers on board the Castor, to see whether the complaint had any foundation. The English Consul returned the following reply:
“The denunciation of the American Consul is devoid of foundation. The facts he has put forward are quite inexact. The opinion he expresses is entirely illusive. The English Consul has been on board the Castor; has ascertained that she does not carry arms; that her crew consists only of the men upon the ships books; and that the only real fact of those alleged is her delivery of coal–a proceeding which it is the sole aim of the American Consul to prevent. The Consul is ready to be present at the visit proposed by the President. The Captain of the Castor is perfectly willing to permit such visit, but the Consul, in any case, protests against every act assuming the character of the right of search or of requisition by the Consul of the United States. He (the English Consul) entertains grave doubts of the American Consuls right, owing to the mere supply of coal, to raise any claim against an English ship, belonging to a neutral nation, at anchor in the harbor of Bahai, a neutral port. The neutrality resulting from the independent exercise of its right by a state cannot obstruct commercial relations, and a belligerent power is not entitled to demand their cessation in a neutral port between its opponent and the subjects of a neutral nation. Toleration by the President of the province of the supply of coal, by an English ship, to the Confederate cruisers in this port, cannot (without infringing common sense and international law) be considered a hostile act, contrary to the strict neutrality of Brazil.”
The proposed visit on board the Castor took place, accompanied by interrogation of Captain and crew. The result showed no proof whatever of the allegations,although it seemed pretty clear that the cargo of coal had no other original destination than the Confederate privateers. The Captain of the Alabama, indeed, admitted the fact, plainly declaring that he had a perfect right to purchase coal in England, and to provide for its discharge taking place out of a neutral ship, within a neutral port. Capt. Semmes, at the same time, requested the Presidents authorization to continue taking in his coal. The President replied that the coal must be put on shore and sent to the market, where Capt. Semmes could buy as much as he pleased. He added that his instructions forbade him to allow the delivery of any kind of goods coming direct from another country, where the sale had taken place abroad. Under these circumstances, Captain Semmes directed the coal ship to meet him at Aaldanha Bay, Cape of Good Hope,–and we left Bahia. On our passage to the Cape, we captured the S. Gildensleeve, the Justina, Jabez Snow, Amazonian, Talisman, Conrad, A. F. Schmidt, and Express–all valuable prizes except the Justina, which, being a Baltimore ship, was ransomed, and a number of the crews of the other vessels were transferred to her. The Amazonian attempted to elude us, but we gave chase, and while five miles distant from her, fired our rifle-gun, with a reduced charge of 7 lbs. powder and a 100-pound shot, at an extreme elevation, which crossed her bows, and she soon clewed her courses and hove to.
The Conrad, which we captured, was a fine bark, and we fitted her out as a tender to the Alabama. The vessel was named the Tuscaloosa, and commissioned at sea on the 21st June. The command was given to Lieut. Lowe, an excellent officer, with fifteen men; she was provided with two brass rifled twelve-pounders, pistols, rifles, and ammunition, and having provisions for three months, was ordered to cruise in the direction of the Cape. We then made for Saldanha Bay, where we anchored and repaired ship, expecting to meet the coal vessel; but nothing could be seen of her, and we supposed she must have met with some mishap* (*If the Castor was the vessel expected, it is very probable that some mishap occurred to her; for by late Rio papers we learn that after the Alabama left, the Federal steam frigate Mohican put in at Babia, and a report was immediately circulated that she intended to seize the Castor. The Captain of the English vessel attempted to leave the port without having complied with the forms required by the customs. He was brought to by the guns of the forts, and put back, and went through the accustomed formalities preparatory to setting sail anew. Before the Castor was outside the harbor, the Mohican got up steam and went in pursuit. Perceiving himself chased, the Captain of the Castor determined not to leave the port, but to place himself under the protection of Brazilian ships until the arrival of an English man-of-war. Thereupon the Mohican left Bahia to look after the Confederate privateers.)
From Saldanha Bay we came round to Table Bay, and spied the American bark Sea Bride, standing into port, outside of all headlands, and at a distance from the main land. As we approached her, our officers were directed by the Captain to make observation of the distance; and all agreed that the capture was made from two to three miles outside of the marine league.
The total number of our captures has been fifty-six ships, by which we estimate the damage to the enemy to be not less than four million dollars, to say nothing of the indirect results of the cruise in the way of loss of freights, high war insurance, and numerous sales of enemys ships, to put them under neutral flags. In no instance, however, have we destroyed a ship where the proof was complete that the cargo was neutral, though there have been some awkward attempts on the part of unscrupulous merchants to cover property,–but when such were destroyed the proof of the fraud was apparent on the papers.
The following is a complete list of her captures:
Ocean Rover, Golden Eagle,
Alert, Olive Jane,
Altamaba Betha Thager,
Benjamin Tucker, J. A. Parker,
Virginia, Morning Star,
Elisha Dunbar, Kingfisher,
Brilliant, Charles Hill,
Emily Farnum, Nora,
Wave Crest, Louisa Hatch,
Manchester, Kate Corey,
Lamplighter, Dorcas Price,
Crenshaw, Union Jack,
Lauretta, S. Gildensleeve,
Baron De Castine, J. Snow,
Levi Starbuck, Justina,
T. B. Wales, Amazonian,
Ariel, mail steamer, A. F. Schmidt,
U. S. gunbt Hatteras, Express,
Golden Rule, Sea Bride.
The Alabama had the usual quota of wits and fun-makers among her crew. An Irish fiddler on board is the life of the forecastle. When the men are off duty he sets them dancing to his lighter strains, or, dividing them into Northerners and Southerners, like a true Irishman, he gets up a sham fight to the spirit-stirring strains of a march, in which fight the Northerners are, of course, invariably beaten. Another sailor, Frank Townshend, is no mean poet, as will be seen from the verses which here follow. He had sung the exploits of their beloved ship to his messmates in rude and vigorous strains.
THE FIGHT OF THE “HATTERAS” AND “ALABAMA.”
Off Galveston, the Yankee fleet secure at anchor lay,
Preparing for a heavy fight they were to have next day;
Down came the Alabama, like an eagle oer the wave,
And soon their gunboat Hatteras had found a watery grave.
Twas in the month of January; the day was bright and clear;
The Alabama she bore down; no Yankee did we fear:
Their Commodore he spied us; to take us long he burned;
So he sent the smartest boat he had, but she never back returned!
The sun had sunk far in the West when down to us she came;
Our Captain quickly hailed her, and asked them for her name;
Then spoke our Frst Lieutenant,–for her name had roused his ire,–
“This is the Alabama–now, Alabamas, fire.”
Then flew a rattling broadside, that made her timbers shake;
And through the holes made in her side the angry waves did break;
We then blew up her engine, that she could steam no more–
They fired a gun to leeward, and so the fight was oer.
So thirteen minutes passed away before they gave in heat;
A boat had left the Yankees side, and pulled in for their fleet;
The rest we took on board of us, as prisoners to stay;
Thus stopped and say their ship go down, and then we bore away.
And now, to give our foes their due, they fought with all their might;
But yet they could not conquer us, for God defends the right;
One at a time the ships they have to fight us they may come,
And rest assured that our good ship from them will never run.
Originally posted 2008-06-25 11:57:12.