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Chapter 21

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A Short History of the United States Navy

by
George R. Clark et al.

published by
J. B. Lippincott Company,
Philadelphia & London 1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 23
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

p365 XXII
Actions in Foreign Waters

The Wyoming at Shimonoséki

While the Federal Navy was using the utmost of its resources in tightening the line of blockade, in opening the Mississippi, and in capturing harbor defenses, the activity of the Confederate commerce-destroyers made it necessary to detach several cruisers to hunt them down in foreign waters. One of these Federal cruisers, the screw-sloop Wyoming, Commander David McDougal, was ordered to the Pacific in pursuit of the Confederate steamship Alabama. As the Alabama's business was to destroy commerce rather than to engage a man-of‑war, she avoided meeting the federal vessel.

After a fruitless search for the Alabama, Commander McDougal, early in the summer of 1863, arrived on the Japanese coast. There he received a dispatch from the American minister to the effect that the guns of the Wyoming were greatly needed to protect American lives and property at Yokohama. McDougal went thither at once and made his vessel a refuge for American residents until safe quarters could be found for them on shore. The American commander found himself face to face with a wholly unexpected situation. At that time Japan was on the verge of a civil war which, like the Boxer rebellion in 1900, represented a determined effort on the part of the rebels to expel the "foreign devils" from the nation.

This disturbance was the sequel of Perry's mission to Japan. In 1858, the Japanese prime minister signed the completed treaty establishing commercial and diplomatic relations with the United States, but this act of amity p366five years later precipitated civil war in Japan. Although for 250 years Japan had been at peace, the embers of rebellion had long been smouldering, and the act that admitted the foreigner only fanned them into open blaze. The trouble at bottom was that the "Shogun," or "Tycoon" — the viceroy of Japan — had become all‑powerful; while the Mikado himself, because of a policy of seclusion that had been forced on him, had become only a figurehead. Since the treaty with America had been signed under the authority of the Tycoon, the rebels took up arms in a double cause of patriotism, to restore the Mikado to his old‑time authority and to expel the foreigner.

The insurgents represented some of the most warlike elements of the population, especially the great clans of Choshiu and Satsuma, which surrounded the Mikado at Kioto, and proclaimed his throne the seat of authority. They persuaded him to issue an edict setting June 25, 1863, as the date on which all foreigners should be expelled. The Tycoon, who was bound by treaty to the United States and other powers, was helpless. He sent in his resignation, but the Mikado refused to accept it, and left the viceroy to get out of his predicament as best he could.

The chief of the Choshiu clan proceeded at once to fortify the straits of Shimonoséki, the gateway to the inland sea of Japan, and to make war on his own account. On the 11th of July, McDougal received the news that an American steamer, the Pembroke, had been fired on without warning in the straits, and, according to the report, had been sunk with all on board. At this time McDougal was under orders to return to America, but realizing that the situation called for prompt action on his part, he weighed anchor and on the evening of the 15th arrived off the eastern end of the straits.

p367 At this point the inland sea narrows down to a channel about three miles in length, and varies from one‑half mile to a mile in width. The town of Shimonoséki lies at the foot of high bluffs which overlook the channel.1 Through this the tides run like a mill race, over sunken rocks and shoals that have long made the place famous for shipwrecks.

It was here that the Pembroke, while she awaited a pilot and the turn of the tide, had been fired on. As a matter of fact, she came off with small injury, but others were not so fortunate. A French dispatch boat was attacked shortly after the Pembroke and narrowly escaped sinking in mid‑channel. Her commander reported his experience to Captain Casembroot of the Dutch steam frigate Medusa of 16 guns. On account of the long-standing friendship between the Dutch and the Japanese, Casembroot went to Shimonoséki with the expectation of making peace; but hardly was the Medusa in the channel when she was under heavy fire. Before she could get away she had been hulled thirty‑one times, and had lost four killed and five wounded. A day or two later, a French gunboat was hulled three times as she dashed past the batteries at full speed, and a Satsuma vessel, which was mistaken for a foreigner, was sent to the bottom. It was evident that the Japanese knew how to handle their guns, and had the range of the channel.

At five o'clock on the morning of the 16th, the Wyoming got under way. Her entry into the straits was announced by signal guns on shore, and as soon as she came in range she was fired upon by the batteries. She made no reply, however, until she reached the narrowest part of the straits. At that point the larger shore batteries concentrated their fire; beyond, in more open water p368lay three armed merchantmen, all heavily manned, and with their crews yelling defiance. These ships were the bark Daniel Webster, the brig Lanrick, and the steamer Lancefield, all, oddly enough, American vessels which had been purchased by the Choshiu clansmen. In the land batteries, too, were five 8‑inch Dahlgren guns which had recently been presented to Japan by the United States. The bark lay anchored close to the town on the northern shore, the brig was about fifty yards outside and a little beyond, while the steamer lay further ahead and outside, that is, nearer mid‑channel. As McDougal approached the narrows, he noticed a line of stakes which he rightly guessed had been used by the Japanese to gauge their aim. Accordingly, he avoided the middle of the channel and steered close under the batteries. This shrewdness probably was the salvation of the Wyoming, for the batteries at once opened a tremendous cannonade which would have sunk a dozen vessels in mid‑channel, but which only tore through her rigging. She soon cleared the narrows and bore out into the open water where her guns could reply.

Commander McDougal then gave orders to "go in between those vessels and take the steamer." The Yokohama pilots2 protested loudly, but the American had made up his mind to take the chances of shallow water and headed for the three ships. At this moment a fresh battery of four guns opened a raking fire, but the Wyoming answered with a single shell so accurately aimed that it tore the entire battery to pieces. Dashing ahead, she passed abreast the bark and the brig at close quarters and exchanged broadsides with both. The firing was so close that the long guns of the Wyoming seemed almost to touch the muzzles of the enemy, and it p369was in these few minutes at close quarters that the greater part of the American loss occurred. The forward gun division suffered most on account of its exposed position, sustaining, in fact, all the casualties of the day except three. The Japanese handled their guns so rapidly that the brig alone managed to pour three broadsides into the Wyoming. On the latter every gun was served to the utmost and every shot told on the hulls of the enemy.

Passing on, McDougal rounded the bow of the steamer and maneuvered for a fighting position. The brig was already settling, but the Daniel Webster, in spite of the great holes in her side, still kept up a steady fire, and six land batteries now reopened with the Wyoming as a fair target. The steamer, meanwhile, weighed anchor and, moving to the opposite side, seemed to be getting ready to ram the American. At this critical moment the rushing tides sent the Wyoming's bow aground, but after some minutes her engines succeeded in backing her off.

Then, ignoring the shore batteries and the Daniel Webster, McDougal opened fire with his two 11‑inch Dahlgren pivot guns on the steamer Lancefield. Both shells took effect in her hull; another from the forward pivot tore through her boiler, and in a cloud of smoke and steam the vessel went down. Meanwhile, the bark Daniel Webster had been firing as fast as the guns could be loaded, and the six shore batteries were a continuous line of smoke and flame. McDougal now trained his guns to reply. In a few minutes bark was wrecked, and then one shore battery after another was silenced. When satisfied that he had destroyed everything within range, he turned and steamed slowly back. On his return he was practically unmolested.

This action had lasted one hour and ten minutes, in the course of which the Wyoming had been hulled ten times, her rigging had been badly cut, her smokestack p370perforated, and she had lost five killed and seven wounded. The battle had been won by the coolness and nerve of the American commander, and a fine feature of the story is that while most of the Wyoming's crew had never before been under fire, even when the ship was aground and the pilots were paralyzed with terror the bluejackets stood by their guns like veterans. Those were the days, too, when a white man caught by the insurgents endured the unspeakable death of the "torture cage," and the men knew that their commander had ordered that if the ship became helpless by grounding or by shot she was to be blown up with all aboard.

A few days after McDougal's exploit a heavy French frigate with a gunboat entered the straits and destroyed what was left of the batteries by landing a force of marines. Some months later, however, the clansmen rebuilt their forts and succeeded in closing the straits for fifteen months. Finally, a large allied fleet put an end to the uprising and restored safety to the foreigner in Japan. But no other operation impressed the insurgents with the same respect as the attack of the Wyoming, singlehanded, against their entire force.

The Dutch captain who had taken his punishment without accomplishing anything in return, was knighted on his arrival in Holland, and all his crew received medals. McDougal, on the other hand, got no promotion and not even contemporary fame among his countrymen, for 1863 was the crucial year of the Civil War, and his exploit in far‑away Japan was lost in the roar of battles at home. As Roosevelt once said of this fight, "Had that action taken place at any other time than during the Civil War, its fame would have echoed all over the world."3

p371 The Alabama and the Kearsarge

The Confederate sloop of war Alabama, which Commander McDougal failed to meet in the Pacific, had, in the course of two years, practically banished American merchantmen from the ocean. Built like her sister ships, Florida, Georgia, and Shenandoah, in the dockyards of Liverpool, she was from the first suspected of being a vessel of war destined for the Confederacy; and the United States minister, Adams, was so energetic in pressing on Lord Russell his evidence of her destination that even the British authorities, pro‑Confederate as they were, reluctantly issued orders to restrain her from getting to sea.

As the Confederate agents learned of this orders in advance, the Alabama was hastily taken out (July 29, 1862) on a "trial spin" in the Mersey, from which she never returned. Instead, she steamed to the secluded port of Praya in Terceira, one of the Azores. There she was met by the bark Agrippina from London, carrying a cargo of ammunition, coal, and supplies of various sorts, which was transferred to the Alabama. Scarcely was this done when the steamer Bahama from Liverpool arrived with the future officers of the Alabama — including Captain Semmes — thirty of her crew, and $100,000 in money. Considerable difficulty was experienced in fitting out the Alabama in the Azores on account of the evident purpose for which she was intended, but under cover of various excuses to the Portuguese officials, the work went on rapidly. On August 24, after gaining the open sea, Captain Semmes summoned his crew and announced to them the character of his ship and of the cruise he intended to make. Then he lowered the English ensign, hoisted the Confederate colors, and read aloud his commission from p372President Davis. With that formality the Alabama began her career.

After a few minutes of deliberation, eighty-five of the crew who had shipped in the Alabama at Liverpool stepped to the capstan and signed the articles as seamen in the Confederacy. Among them were many English man-of‑warsmen, who were the bone and sinew of the crew. The rest of the complement — except the southern coast-pilots who came with the Bahama — was made up later by volunteers from the crews of the prizes.

Of the officers, Master's-mate Fullam, Assistant Surgeon Llewellyn, and Fourth Lieutenant Low also were Englishmen; Fullam and Low were at the time of their enlistment members of the Royal Naval Reserve. It was due to the latter's superb seamanship that the Alabama was saved from foundering during a hurricane early in her career. The remaining watch officers, the captain, and the surgeon were from the Southern States.

Captain Semmes, like most of the Confederate naval officers, had received his training in the "old navy," in which he had risen to the grade of commander. He was captain of the Somers at the time she foundered off Vera Cruz during the Mexican War, but had been honorably acquitted of blame by the subsequent court-martial. His first command under the Confederacy was the Sumter, a converted packet steamer; but this, after a brief though successful cruise, he was forced to abandon at Gibraltar, where it had been blockaded by Federal vessels. His second command, the one with which his name is chiefly associated, was the Alabama. This vessel, rated as a "screw-sloop," was 220 feet long, thirty‑two feet in beam, and eighteen feet from deck to keelson. She carried two horizontal engines of 300 horsepower each, and bunkers holding coal sufficient for eighteen days' steaming. In order to economize his coal supply, Semmes cruised p374most of the time only with his sails. The Alabama was rigged as a barkentine, and proved a good traveller under canvas. She had a device by which her propeller could be quickly detached from the shaft and hoisted so as not to retard her progress while under sail.
(p373) 
[image ALT: A map of most of the world, showing the route of a ship from Liverpool to the Azores, offshore New York City, Martinique, Venezuela, Yucatan, offshore Texas, Fernando Noronha near the NE tip of Brazil, the Cape of Good Hope, Singapore, offshore Vietnam, Singapore, Ceylon, offshore East Africa, passing between Africa and Madagascar, round the Cape of Good Hope, St. Helena, Fernando Noronha, and Cherbourg.]

The Cruise of the Alabama, July 29, 1862 to June 19, 1864

Captain Semmes did not have far to seek for his first prizes. After capturing and burning nine American merchantmen in the vicinity of the Azores, he steered across the Atlantic, taking in all twenty prizes before he headed toward the West Indies for fresh coal. At one time he took a ship within 200 miles of New York, and though searched for by Federal war vessels, managed to keep out of sight. While he was at Martinique, coaling from the Agrippina, which met him by appointment, he was blockaded by the San Jacinto, Commander Ronckendorff, but two nights later Semmes escaped to sea unobserved. From the West Indies he sailed to the Gulf; and, hoping to intercept some Federal transports that he knew were due at Galveston, he lured away one of the blockading squadron, the Hatteras, a converted paddle-wheel river boat, and sank her, getting away again before the other vessels could come to the rescue. From this point Semmes began a slow cruise, along the Brazilian coast, round the Cape of Good Hope, to the East Indies. There he remained seven months; then, eluding the Wyoming, he returned round the Cape.

On June 11, 1864, the Alabama entered the harbor of Cherbourg for fresh coal and general overhauling. Since the day she went into commission, Aug. 24, 1862, she had been on one continuous cruise, covering about 75,000 miles, during which she had burnt fifty-seven merchantmen and released a large number on ransom bond. The total valuation of these vessels reached a high figure, but the loss to American commerce was far more serious p375because the ships that were not captured were sold or kept in port, and the American carrying trade was turned over to British bottoms. By this time the Alabama entered Cherbourg practically all American shipping, save the Arctic whalers, had been annihilated or driven to cover, and even the whaling fleet was soon after destroyed by the Shenandoah.

The amount of damage inflicted by the Shenandoah came within half a million of the sum represented by the work of Alabama, but since the depredations of the former in the whaling fleet took place after June, 1865 — when the war had been ended two months — her cruise, as an act of hostility, was worse than useless. While the damage inflicted by these two vessels more than doubled that of the ten other Confederate cruisers combined, it is necessary to bear in mind that there were these others as well, operating with varying degrees of success, but on a comparatively insignificant scale.4 Like the Alabama and the Shenandoah, the most efficient of these minor commerce-destroyers were built to order or purchased on the Clyde, and some of them never saw the Southern coast during their entire career. The extraordinary success of Captain Semmes was due to the diligent study he had made of trade routes during his brief cruise on the Sumter, and his careful study of time-calculation, by which he would remain in one vicinity just long enough for news of his whereabouts to start a Union man-of‑war after him, and then shift to another cruising ground.

The wholesale destruction of defenseless merchantmen naturally aroused the bitterest feeling in the North against Captain Semmes, and, it might be added, he reciprocated p376the sentiment. He was referred to as a "pirate," not only by loyal newspapers, but also by Secretary Welles and the President, and there was much high talk of hanging the captain and crew of the Alabama at the yardarm if they ever were caught. As a matter of fact, if Semmes was a pirate so was Paul Jones, David Porter, or any other commissioned officer of any government who has attacked the commerce of his enemy. As a recognized belligerent power, the Confederacy could commission vessels entitled to all the privileges of a man-of‑war, among which the destruction of the enemy's shipping could certainly be included. The irregularity of burning his prizes instead of sending them to a Confederate prize court was forced on Semmes by the existence of the blockade, which made it impossible for a prize to reach a Confederate port. Semmes, who was a lawyer as well as a naval officer, examined the ship's papers himself, and constituted himself in all cases the prize court. He conducted his cruise with extraordinary skill, and it is not too much to say that Semmes with the Alabama injured the United States more than did all the rest of the Confederate Navy put together.

As soon as the Alabama arrived at Cherbourg, the United States minister to France telegraphed the fact to Commander Winslow of the United States sloop Kearsarge, then lying at Flushing, Holland. Three days after the arrival of the Alabama the Kearsarge appeared off the port, Winslow came in close enough to send a boat ashore, but did not anchor, for fear the "twenty-four hour rule" might be applied to allow the Alabama to escape. Then for five days the Kearsarge maintained a patient blockade, steaming back and forth just outside the breakwater, waiting for the Alabama to come out. Semmes had asked permission to use the naval dock at Cherbourg for a stay of two months, during which he had intended p377to give his ship a thorough overhauling; but this request was denied as being incompatible with the position of France as a neutral. Hitherto Semmes had very properly refused to fight the San Jacinto, the Wyoming, the Vanderbilt, and the other cruisers sent after him; but at Cherbourg the French naval officers gave him emphatically to understand that the conduct of the Kearsarge was a "challenge" which no "man of honor" could decline.5 This made it virtually impossible for one like Semmes to avoid a combat, in which, as he must have realized, he had little to gain and everything to lose. The North could have readily made good the loss of the Kearsarge with any one of a number of cruisers in European waters, but the South could not replace a sunken Alabama. Having applied for and received permission from Commodore Samuel Barron, the Confederate officer in charge of naval matters abroad, Semmes forwarded to Commander Winslow through the United States consul a note to the effect that if the Kearsarge would wait, the Alabama would come out and fight as soon as she could get her coal on board. On Saturday, he announced that on the next day he would go out to fight the Kearsarge. The sentiment in France was overwhelmingly in favor of the Confederate vessel, although the officials of Cherbourg were scrupulous in observing the laws of neutrality.

By ten o'clock in the morning of the 19th the preparations on the Alabama were complete, and shortly afterward she got under way. As she left the harbor she was escorted by the French ironclad Couronne, which stood by to see that the action took place outside the marine league. As soon as Commander Winslow of the Kearsarge saw his antagonist coming out to meet him, he sent his crew to quarters and headed out to sea, in order to draw p378her a safe distance from neutral waters. The Couronne, after accompanying the Alabama beyond the three mile limit, returned to port; but an English steam yacht, the Deerhound, which had also followed the man-of‑war, kept on her course in order to be a spectator of the coming fight.

When the Kearsarge had led the way about seven miles off the coast, she turned to meet her enemy. The following details of the engagement are from the narrative of Lieutenant Sinclair of the Alabama:6

"The Kearsarge suddenly turned her head inshore and steamed toward us, both ships being at this time about seven or eight miles from the shore. When at about a mile distant from us, she seemed from her sheer‑off with helm to have chosen this distance for her attack. We had not yet perceived that the Kearsarge had the speed of us. We opened the engagement with our entire starboard broadside; the writer's 32‑pounder of the port side having been shifted to the spare port, giving us six guns to broadside; and the shift caused the ship to list to starboard about two feet, by the way, quite an advantage, exposing so much less surface to the enemy, but somewhat retarding our speed. The Kearsarge had pivoted to starboard also; and both ships with helms a‑port fought out the engagement, circling around a common centre, and gradually approaching each other. The enemy replied soon after our opening; but at the distance her pivot shell-guns were at a disadvantage, not having the long range of our pivot guns and hence requiring judgment in guessing the distance and determining the proper elevation. Our pivots could easily reach by ricochet, indeed by point-blank firing, so at this stage of the action and with a smooth sea, we had the advantage.

p379 "The battle was now on in earnest; and after about fifteen minutes' fighting, we lodged a 110‑pound percussion-shell in her quarter near the screw; but it failed to explode, though causing some temporary excitement and anxiety on board the enemy, most likely by the concussion of the blow. We found her soon after seeking closer quarters (which she was fully able to do, having discovered her superiority in speed), finding it judicious to close so that her 11‑inch pivots could do full duty at point-blank range. We now ourselves noted the advantage in speed possessed by our enemy; and Semmes felt her pulse, as to whether very close quarters would be agreeable, by sheering towards her to close the distance; but she had evidently reached the point wished for to fight out the remainder of the action, and demonstrated it by sheering off and resuming a [course] parallel to us. Semmes would have chosen to bring about yard‑arm quarters, fouling, and boarding, relying upon the superior physique of his crew to overbalance the superiority in numbers; but this was frustrated, though several times attempted, the desire on our part being quite apparent. We had therefore to accept this situation, and make the best of it we could, to this end directing our fire to the midship section of our enemy, and alternating our battery, with solid shot and shell, the former to pierce, if possible, the cable-armor, the latter for general execution.

"Up to the time of shortening the first distance assumed, our ship received no damage of any account, and the enemy none that we could discover, the shot in the quarter working no serious harm to the Kearsarge. At the distance we were now fighting (point-blank range), the effects of the 11‑inch guns were severely felt, and the little hurt done the enemy clearly proved the unserviceableness of our powder, observed at the commencement of the action.

p380 "The boarding tactics of Semmes having been frustrated, and we unable to pierce the enemy's hull with our fire, nothing could place victory with us but some unforeseen and lucky turn. At this period of the action our spanker-gaff was shot away, bringing our colors to the deck; but apparently this was not observed by the Kearsarge, as her fire did not halt at all. We could see the splinters flying off from the armor covering of our enemy; but no penetration occurred, the shot or shell rebounding from her side. Our colors were immediately hoisted to the mizzenmast-head. The enemy having now the range, and being able with her superior speed to hold it at ease, had us well in hand, and the fire from her was deliberate and hot. Our bulwarks were soon shot away in sections; and the after-pivot gun was disabled on its port side, losing in killed and wounded all but the compressor‑man. The quarter-deck 32‑pounder of this division was now secured, and the crew sent to man the pivot gun. The spar deck was by this time being rapidly torn up by shell bursting on the between-decks, interfering with working our battery; and the compartments below it had all been knocked into one. The Alabama was making water fast, showing severe punishment; but still the report came from the engine room that the ship was being kept free to the safety-point. She also had now become dull in response to her helm, and the sail-trimmers were ordered out to loose the head-sails to pay her head off. We were making a desperate but forlorn resistance, which was soon culminated by the death blow. An 11‑inch shell entered us at the water line, in the wake of the writer's gun, and passing on, exploded in the engine room, in its passage throwing a volume of water on board, hiding for a moment the guns of this division. Our ship trembled from stem to stern with the blow. Semmes at once sent for the engineer on watch, who reported the fires out, and p381water beyond the control of the pumps. We had previously been aware that our ship was whipped, and fore-and‑aft sail was set in endeavor to reach the French coast; the enemy then moved inside of us, but did not attempt to close any nearer, simply steaming to secure the shoreside and await events. MAP

"It being now apparent that the Alabama could not float longer, the colors were hauled down, and the pipe given, 'All hands save yourselves.' Our waist-boats had p382been shot to pieces, leaving us but two quarter-boats, and one of them much damaged. The wounded were dispatched in one of them to the enemy in charge of an officer, and this done we awaited developments. The Kearsarge evidently failed at once to discover our surrender, for she continued her fire after our colors had been struck — perhaps from the difficulty of noting the absence of a flag with so much white in it,a in the powder smoke. But be the reason what it may, a naval officer, a gentleman by birth and education, would certainly not be guilty of firing on a surrendered foe; hence we may dismiss the matter as an undoubted accident.

"The Kearsarge was at this time about 300 yards from us, screw still and vessel motionless, awaiting our boat with the wounded. The yacht was steaming full power towards us both. In the meantime the two vessels were slowly parting, the Alabama drifting with her fore-and‑aft sails set to the light air. . . .

"The Deerhound approached the Kearsarge and was requested by Captain Winslow to assist in saving life; and then, scarcely coming to a full stop, turned to us, at the same time lowering all her boats, the Kearsarge doing the same. The officers and crew of our ship were now leaving at will, discipline and rule being temporarily at an end. The ship was settling to her spar deck, and her wounded spars were staggering in the 'steps,' held only by the rigging. The decks presented a woeful appearance, torn up in innumerable holes, and air‑bubbles rising and bursting, producing a sound as though the boat were in agony. . . . The Alabama's final plunge was a remarkable freak. She shot up out of the water bow first, and descended on the same line, carrying away with her plunge two of her masts, and making a whirlpool of considerable size and strength."

(p381) 
[image ALT: A diagram of the evolutions of two ships, the U. S. S. Kearsarge and the C. S. S. Alabama, off the port of Cherbourg, sketchily indicated at the bottom.]

Drawn from the Diagram Submitted
to the Secretary of the Navy
by Commander Winslow

The loss of the Alabama in this engagement amounted p383to twenty‑six killed or drowned and twenty wounded, three mortally. The wounded were brought to the Kearsarge, and her boats picked up fifty prisoners more. Nine escaped to Cherbourg on a French pilot boat and forty‑two were carried to Southampton on the Deerhound.7

Captain Semmes, who had been wounded in the arm by a fragment of shell, was kept afloat by his first lieutenant, Kell, until both were picked up by one of the Deerhound's boats. Master's-mate Fullam, who brought the first boat load of wounded to the Kearsarge, was sent back under parole in order that he might assist in the rescue of the drowning crew. Before this task was finished, he, too, made for the Deerhound. In a few minutes the yacht, instead of returning with the prisoners to the Kearsarge as Winslow expected, put on full speed for Southampton.

The reception of Captain Semmes and his officers in England was most enthusiastic. A few newspapers, like the London Daily News, took the opposite side, and referred to the hero of the hour as a "runaway smuggler" and "nimble-footed buccaneer," but these were rare exceptions. This general cordiality on the part of the English is not surprising in view of the fact that the welcome accorded to the Alabama in the ports of the British empire had invariably been so hearty as to strain to the breaking point all pretense of neutrality. The reasons were that the ship was a produce of a British shipyard, manned chiefly by a British crew, and numbering British officers in the wardroom; and in less than two years she had driven from the seas England's most formidable commercial rival.

Scarcely was the defeated captain on English soil before he wrote to the press, opening a controversy remarkable p384for the violence of its contradictions. In the first place he charged the Federal captain with lack of "chivalry" in hanging chains over the sides amidships to protect the engines. To Semmes this was a sly "Yankee" trick, constituting the Kearsarge ironclad, while she was rated only as a wooden ship. If he had known this circumstance, he declared, he would never have risked the Alabama in such unequal combat. The idea had been suggested to Winslow the year before by his able executive, Lieutenant-Commander Thornton, who had seen the device used by Farragut during the passage of the defenses of New Orleans. The idea had been put into effect at once as a special protection to the engines when the coal bunkers were empty, as was the case when the Kearsarge fought the Alabama, and it attracted no little attention in European ports. Lieutenant Sinclair, who must have known his commander's statements to the contrary, says in half a dozen places that the chain protection of the Kearsarge was a matter of common knowledge on the Alabama. He adds, "Winslow for protecting his ship with chain armor should, in the humble judgment of the writer, submitted with diffidence, be accounted as simply using proper prudence in the direct line of duty. He had not given, accepted, or declined a challenge. But it was his duty to fight if he could and to win. Semmes knew all about it and could have adopted the same scheme. It was not his election to do so."8

The more serious charge that Semmes brought against Winslow was that of inhumanity. He declared that Winslow had fired into a surrendered ship, and was criminally negligent in the rescue of the Alabama's crew. These statements provoked equally scathing counter-charges from Winslow and his officers. According to them, after the Alabama surrendered she fired two guns p385at the Kearsarge. Furious at this breach of the flag of truce, Winslow opened fire again till he was assured of the Alabama's surrender. Surgeon Brown of the Kearsarge fully corroborated Winslow's account, adding that he was informed by the prisoners that two of their junior officers "swore they would never surrender, and in a mutinous spirit rushed to the two port guns and opened fire on the Kearsarge."9 This Lieutenant Kell of the Alabama emphatically denied, and so the question of fact must always stand in doubt.10 As to the dilatory rescue of prisoners, Surgeon Brown gave as his opinion that Winslow would have done better to run alongside the sinking Alabama than to lie some 400 yards away. However, Winslow's asking the Deerhound to save lives, and allowing Fullam's boat to return, together with the fact that his own uninjured boats were immediately called away, clear him of the charge of inhumanity. The difficulty with the Kearsarge's boats lay in the fact that only two were uninjured — the sailing launch and the second cutter — and these were the least accessible.

In the North, as well as among the officers of the Kearsarge, indignation was kindled by the conduct of Semmes in escaping to an English vessel after his surrender to the Kearsarge, and by the conduct of the Deerhound in running away with the prisoners. For thus allowing the yacht tot get away, Winslow was, in many quarters, sharply criticised. The only justification of Semmes' conduct lies in his belief that the Federal ship had already broken faith by firing on a surrendered vessel, and that fact relieved him of all obligations. Second Lieutenant Joseph Wilson of the Alabama, however, refused to go aboard the Deerhound, and was the only officer to surrender his sword to Commander Winslow. For p386this he was released on parole by Winslow with a special letter of recommendation which gave him a speedy exchange. This conduct makes a sharp contrast with that of Fullam, which is inexcusable.

As to the Deerhound, the Federal commander should have known that once his prisoners were on her decks they were on neutral territory, and could neither be touched by him nor surrendered by her captain. Any attempt to take them by force would have been only a repetition of the Trent blunder. The case of the Deerhound led subsequently to special rulings in international law covering the services of neutral vessels in saving the drowning. To‑day, in the same situation, the Deerhound would be obliged to give up the rescued men to the victorious commander.

The Kearsarge in this engagement had a broadside of five guns to her opponent's six, but the Federal battery was heavier at the point-blank range in which the greater part of the action was fought. The conclusive victory, however, was due rather to the great superiority in the gunnery of the Kearsarge. The Alabama's crew fired three broadsides to the Kearsarge's one, but this rapidity seems to have contributed to the wildness of the Confederate fire.11 Only one dangerous wound was inflicted, a 100‑pound shell that lodged in the stern post of the Kearsarge, but failed to explode. Two shots were deflected by the chains that hung over the side, but according to the testimony of the Federal officers, even if these shots had penetrated they would have cleared the engines and boilers. Eleven other shot or shell pierced the hull, most of them through the bulwarks. The rest of the shot seem to have gone high, for three boats were destroyed, p387the smokestack was badly perforated, and the rigging was considerably cut. On the other hand, the guns of the Kearsarge were handled deliberately and with such precision that the Alabama was literally shot to pieces.

The newspaper warfare over this battle was not its most important sequel. In September, 1872, the "Geneva Tribunal," which had convened as a board of arbitration on the claims of the United States against Great Britain, found the defendant guilty of a violation of neutrality in that she had permitted Confederate men-of‑war to be built, bought or equipped in her ports, and awarded to the plaintiff $15,500,000 for the value of ships and cargoes destroyed by the Alabama Shenandoah, and Florida. This sum was increased by interest to about $16,000,000.

The theory, which is still widely held, that the Alabama was responsible for the disappearance of the American merchant marine after the war cannot be maintained. Though she and her consorts drove practically all American ships to cover, they captured only five per cent of the whole number, and only 32 per cent were sold or transferred temporarily to neutral hands.12 Under normal conditions, the American carrying trade ought to have revived after the Civil War as it had done after the War of 1812. The reason it did not revive is to be found in changed economic conditions brought about, at least in part, by an increased tariff, which made it impossible to build and man ships as cheaply as our commercial rivals, and by the laws of navigation, which forbade the purchase of foreign vessels for use under the American flag. These measures operated severely against the merchant marine and drove American capital from ships into railroads, factories, and mines.


The Authors' Notes:

1 For map of Japan, see p228.

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2 These pilots had been furnished by the Tycoon's government.

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3 Quoted by E. S. Maclay, A History of the United States Navy II, 396.

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4 The following are the names of these cruisers, given in the order of the amount of damage inflicted by each: Florida, Tallahassee, Georgia, Chickamauga, Sumter, Nashville, Retribution, Jeff. Davis, Sallie and Boston.

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5 Harper's Magazine, Nov. 1910, p873 ff.

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6 Sinclair, Two Years on the Alabama, p267, ff.

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7 Figures from Ellicott's Life of Winslow.

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8 Two Years on the Alabama, p273.

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9 Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, IV, 619.

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10 Ibid., p610.

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11 Lieutenants Kell and Sinclair attributed the ineffectiveness of the Alabama's fire to damaged powder, a circumstance which Kell says he did not discover in the careful overhauling of ammunition made by him prior to the battle.

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12 Figures from "A Memorandum of the Admiralty to the Royal Commission on the Supply of Food and Raw Materials to the War," quoted by Thursfield, Nelson and Other Naval Sketches, p306.


Thayer's Note:

a The Confederate naval ensign at the time of the battle was this:


[image ALT: A horizontal rectangle of 3:2 proportions: most of it is empty, but in the upper left hand corner a square about two‑thirds the height (and therefore a bit less than half the width) of the total rectangle is of a contrasting color and bears a saltire charged with thirteen evenly spaced five-pointed stars, three along each arm of the saltire, and the thirteenth at their intersection. It is the naval ensign of the Confederacy, 1863‑1865.]


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