Alabama (Confederate warship)

The full index of our ship stamp archive
Post Reply
john sefton
Posts: 1794
Joined: Sun Mar 22, 2009 1:59 pm

Alabama (Confederate warship)

Post by john sefton » Sat Jul 18, 2009 9:54 pm

CSS Alabama was a screw sloop-of-war built for the Confederate States Navy at Birkenhead, United Kingdom, in 1862 by John Laird Sons and Company. Alabama served as a commerce raider, attacking Union merchant and naval ships over the course of her two-year career, during which she never laid anchor in a Southern port.
Displacement: 1050 tons
Length: 220 ft (67 m)
Beam: 31 ft 8 in (9.7 m)
Draft: 17 ft 8 in (5.4 m)
Installed power: 300 HP
Propulsion: Steam engine
Speed: 13 knots (24 km/h)
Complement: 145 officers and men
Armament: 6 x 32 lb (15 kg) cannons, 1 x 110 lb (50 kg) cannon, 1 x 68 lb (31 kg) cannon

Alabama was built in secrecy in 1862 by British shipbuilders John Laird Sons and Company in North West England at their shipyards at Birkenhead, Merseyside. This was arranged by the Confederate agent James Dunwoody Bulloch, who was leading the procurement of sorely needed ships for the fledgling Confederate States Navy. He arranged the contract through Fraser, Trenholm Company, a cotton broker in Liverpool with ties to the Confederacy.

Initially known as hull number 290, the ship was launched without fanfare on 29 July 1862 as Enrica. Agent Bulloch arranged for a civilian crew and captain to sail Enrica to Terceira Island in the Azores. With Bulloch staying aboard to witness her recommissioning, the new ship's captain, Raphael Semmes, left Liverpool on 5 August 1862 aboard the steamer Bahama to take command of the new cruiser. Semmes arrived at Terceira Island on 20 August 1862 and began overseeing the refitting of the new vessel with various provisions, including armaments, and 350 tons of coal, brought there by Agrippina, his new ship's supply vessel. After three days of back-breaking work by the three ship's crews, the new ship was transformed into a naval cruiser, designated a commerce raider, for the Confederate States of America.
The new Confederate cruiser was powered by both sail and a John Laird Sons and Company 300 horsepower (220 kW) steam engine, driving a single, Griffiths-type, twin-bladed brass screw. With the screw retracted using the stern's brass lifting gear mechanism, Alabama could make up to ten knots under sail alone and 13.25 knots (24.54 km/h) when her sail and steam power were used together.
The ship was commissioned at Terceira Island on 24 August 1862 with little ceremony: All the men from Agripinna and Bahama were transferred to the deck of Enrica, where her 24 officers, some of them Southerners, stood in full dress uniform. Captain Raphael Semmes mounted a gun-carriage and read his commission from President Jefferson Davis, authorizing him to take command of the new cruiser. Upon completion of the reading, the quartermaster hauled down Enrica's British colors. A cannon boomed and the stops to the halliards at the peaks of the mizzen gaf and mainmast were broken and a new battle ensign and commissioning pennant floated free on the breeze. With that the cruiser became Confederate States Steamer Alabama.

Captain Semmes then made a speech about the Southern cause to the assembled seamen, asking them to sign on for a voyage of unknown length and destiny. Semmes had only his 24 officers and no crew to man his new command. When this did not succeed, Semmes changed his tack. It should be noted here that engraved in the bronze of the great double ship's wheel was Alabama's motto: "Aide-toi et Dieu t'aidera" (God helps those who help themselves). Semmes then offered signing money and double wages, paid in gold, and additional prize money to be paid by the Confederate congress for all destroyed Union ships. When the men began to shout "Hear! Hear!" Semmes knew he had closed the deal: 83 seamen, many of them British, signed on for service in the Confederate Navy. Confederate agent Bulloch and the remaining seamen returned to the other two ships, and then England. Semmes still needed another 20 or so men for a full crew compliment, but enough had signed on to at least handle the new commerce raider. The rest would be recruited from among captured crews of raided ships or from friendly ports-of-call. Of the original 83 crewmen that signed on that day, many completed the full voyage.

Under Captain Semmes, Alabama spent her first two months in the Eastern Atlantic, ranging southwest of the Azores and then redoubling east, capturing and burning northern merchant ships. After a difficult crossing, she then continued her path of destruction and devastation in the greater New England region. She then sailed south, arriving in the West Indies where she raised more havoc before finally cruising west into the Gulf of Mexico. There, in January of 1863, Alabama had her first military engagement. She came upon and quickly sank the Union side-wheeler USS Hatteras just off the Texas coast, near Galveston, capturing that warship's crew. She then continued further south, eventually crossing the equator, where she took the most prizes of her raiding career while cruising off the coast of Brazil. After a second Atlantic crossing, Alabama sailed down the southwestern African coast where she continued her war against northern commerce, finally making a much-needed refitting and reprovisioning visit to Cape Town, South Africa. She then sailed for the East Indies, where she spent six months destroying seven more ships before finally redoubling the Cape of Good Hope en route to France. Union warships hunted frequently for the elusive and by now famous Confederate raider, but the few times Alabama was spotted, she quickly outwitted her pursuers and vanished beyond the horizon.

All together, she burned 65 Union vessels of various types, most of them merchant ships. During all of Alabama's raiding ventures, captured ships' crews and passengers were never harmed, only detained until they could be placed aboard a neutral ship or placed ashore in a friendly or neutral port.
On 11 June 1864, Alabama arrived in port at Cherbourg, France. Captain Semmes soon requested permission to dry dock and overhaul his ship, much needed after so long a time at sea and so many naval actions. Pursuing the raider, the American sloop-of-war USS Kearsarge, under the command of Captain John Winslow, arrived three days later and took up station just outside the harbor. While at his previous port-of-call, Winslow had telegraphed Gibraltar to send the old man-o-war USS St. Louis with provisions and to provide blockading assistance. Kearsarge now had Alabama boxed-in with no place left to run.

Having no desire to see his worn-out ship rot away at a French dock while quarantined by Union warships, and given his instinctive aggressiveness and a long-held desire to once again engage his enemy, Captain Semmes chose to fight. After preparing his ship and drilling the crew for the coming battle during the next several days, Semmes issued, through diplomatic channels, a bold challenge to the Kearsarge's commander, "my intention is to fight the Kearsarge as soon as I can make the necessary arrangements. I hope these will not detain me more than until to-morrow or the morrow morning at farthest. I beg she will not depart until I am ready to go out. I have the honor to be Your obedient servant, R. SEMMES, Captain."

On 19 June, Alabama sailed out to meet the Union cruiser. As Kearsarge turned to meet her opponent, Alabama opened fire. Kearsarge waited patiently until the range had closed to less than 1,000 yards (900 m). According to survivors, the two ships steamed on opposite courses in seven spiraling circles, moving southwesterly with the 3-knot current, each commander trying to cross the bow of his opponent to deliver a heavy raking fire. The battle quickly turned against Alabama due to the superior gunnery displayed by Kearsarge and the deteriorated state of Alabama's contaminated powder and fuses. Her most important shot, fired from the forward 7-inch (178 mm) Blakely pivot rifle, hit very near Kearsarge's vulnerable stern post, the impact binding the ship's rudder badly. That rifled shell, however, failed to explode. If it had done so, it would have seriously disabled Kearsarge's steering, possibly sinking the warship, and ending the contest. In addition, Alabama's too rapid rate-of-fire resulted in frequent poor gunnery, with many of her shots going too high, thus sealing the fate of the Confederate raider. As a result, Kearsarge benefited little that day from the protection of her outboard chain armor, whose presence Semmes later said was unknown to him at the time of his decision to issue the challenge to fight. In fact, in the years that followed, Semmes steadfastly claimed he would have never fought Kearsarge if he had known she was armor-clad.
This hull armor had been installed in just three days, more than a year before, while Kearsarge was in port at the Azores. It was made using 120 fathoms (720 feet) of 1.7-inch (43 mm) single link iron chain and covered hull spaces 49 feet (15 m), six-inches (152 mm) long by 6-feet, 2-inches deep. It was stopped up and down to eye-bolts with marlines and secured by iron dogs. It was concealed behind 1-inch deal-boards painted black to match the upper hull's color. This chaincladding was placed along Kearsarge's port and starboard midsection down to the waterline, for additional protection of her engines and boilers when the upper portion of her coal bunkers were empty. This armor belt was hit twice during the fight: First in the starboard gangway by one of Alabama's 32-pounder shells that cut the chain armor, denting the hull planking underneath, then again by a second 32-pounder shell that exploded and broke a link of the chain armor, tearing away a portion of the deal-board covering. If those rounds had come from Alabama's more powerful 100-pounder Blakely pivot rifle, the likely result would not have been too serious, as both struck the chain armor a little more than five feet above the waterline. Even if both shots had penetrated Kearsarge's side, they would have completely missed her vital machinery.

A little more than an hour after the first shot was fired, Alabama was reduced to a sinking wreck by Kearsarge's powerful 11-inch (280 mm) Dahlgrens, forcing Captain Semmes to strike his colors and to send one of his two surviving boats to Kearsarge to ask for assistance. According to witnesses, Alabama fired 370 rounds at her adversary, averaging one round per minute per gun, while Kearsarge's gun crews fired less than half that many, taking more careful aim. During the confusion of battle, five more rounds were fired at Alabama after her colors were struck. (Her gun ports had been left open and the broadside cannon were still run out, appearing to come to bear on Kearsarge.) Then a hand-held white flag came fluttering from Alabama's stern spanker boom, finally halting the engagement. Prior to this, she had her steering gear compromised by shell hits, but the fatal shot came later when one of Kearsarge's 11-inch (280 mm) shells tore open a mid-section of Alabama's starboard waterline. Water quickly rushed through the defeated cruiser, eventually drowning her boilers and forcing her down by the stern to the bottom. Kearsarge rescued the majority of the survivors, but 41 of Alabama's officers and crew, including Semmes, were rescued by the Deerhound, a private yacht, while the Kearsarge stood off to recover her rescue boats while waiting for Alabama to sink. Captain Winslow was forced to stand by helplessly and watch Deerhound spirit away to England his much sought after adversary, Captain Semmes and his surviving shipmates.


Grenadines of Grenada SG2523 Gren of St Vincent SG217
Raphael Semmes
Raphael Semmes
Civil War
Civil War
Scan 35.jpeg

Posts: 7439
Joined: Thu Apr 02, 2009 1:28 am

Re: Alabama (Confederate warship)

Post by aukepalmhof » Thu Dec 15, 2011 8:04 pm

Mistique Grenadines of St Vincent 2011 $2.75, sg?, scott?

The stamp sheet of Grenada Grenadines gives that the vessel on this stamp is the TECUMSEH built in 1863 for the USA Navy, she was a monitor, while the vessel on the stamp clearly shows us a sailing vessel.
Watercraft Philately November/December 1999 gives that she is not the TECUMSEH but the Confederated warship ALABAMA, and I agree.
The stamp shows part of a painting by Eduard Manet and shows the ALABAMA on fire and sinking. The ship on the stamp is reversed otherwise an exact copy of part of the painting.
The painting was painted in 1864 by Manet and shows the engagement between the Union cruiser USS KEARSARGE (not visible on the stamp) and the privateer CSS ALABAMA during the battle of Cherbourg in 1864. Manet did not see the battle himself but relied on press descriptions of the battle to document his painting.

Grenada Grenadines 1998 $1 sg2541, scott2014g
Source: watercraft Philately. Wikipedia.
Alabama Edouard_Manet_056.jpg
Image (35).jpg

Post Reply