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She blew up after the crew had made their escape. Thus ended the second iron-clad vessel of the enemy. Each of them had a very short, but very brilliant existence, powerfully illustrating the force of the new agents introduced into naval warfare.
Privateers.-Confederate Navy.-Oreto-Her Operations. The Alabama-Her Move
ments.—Diplomatic Correspondence.-CapturesHatteras Captured.
The organization of the Confederate Government included a naval force, of which, bowever, they possessed only the officers, most of whom had been in the service of the Federal Government, and had embraced the Southern cause on the outbreak of the war. The Southern States had never been commercial, nor were they possessed of much shipping or seafaring population; hence the material of a navy did not exist, even if the strict blockade which the immense naval force of the North maintained on the Southern coast, bad permitted ingress to and ingress from the numerous harbors of that section. Notwithstanding these difficulties, the naval authorities managed to get to sea the Sumter and several other small crafts, which did much damage upon the ocean to Northern property in the first year of the war. The operations of that class of vessels closed with the year 1861, when the Sumter, having taken refuge at Gibraltar, was closely watched by the Federal steamer Tuscarora, and, being unable to procure coal, was finally abandoned.
The successes of the Sumter and her colleague had, however, encouraged the rebels to undertake the formation of a more regular navy, and several large steamers were contracted for in England. The first of these was called the Oreto, and was in process of construction in Liverpool in February, 1862. When Mr. Adams, the American Minister, called the attention of Earl Russell to the fact that an armed steamer was being built to cruise against the United States, Earl Russell replied that it was alleged that she was being built for the Italian Government, and he had no evidence to the contrary. On the 25th of the same month, Mr. Adams again addressed Earl Russell upon the same subject. Earl Russell replied :--
" With reference to your observations with regard to the infringement of the enlistment law, I have to remark that it is true the foreign enlistment act, or any other act for the same purpose, can be evaded by very subtle contrivances; but her Majesty's Government cannot, on that account, go beyond the letter of the existing law."
Mr. Adams, having failed to secure her detention, she sailed, on the 22d of March, with a crew of fifty-two British seamen, for Palermo and Jamaica, in ballast, which was alleged to be one hundred and seventy tons of arms. The Oreto arrived at Nassau, where, on the representation of the American consul, she was seized by the authorities, but was released on the arrival of Captain Semmes, formerly of
the Sumter. She was soon after again seized, and again released. On the 4th of September, she suddenly appeared off Mobile harbor, into which she succeeded by a skilful ruse in entering. The Oreto, once in port, was fully armed and equipped for a cruise, and received as commander John Newland Maffit, who had entered the United States naval service in 1832, as a citizen of Georgia, although born in Ireland, and was a son of the celebrated preacher of the same name. Maffit bore the reputation of a very bold and skilful officer. In January, 1863, the Oreto, thenceforth known as the Florida, left Mobile Bay on a cruise, in which she did great damage to the American shipping.
The most active and formidable of the cruisers of the enemy during the year 1862 was the “ 290," or the Alabama, as she was subsequently called. She was constructed at Birkenhead works, Liverpool, and it was commonly asserted that the funds were supplied by the subscriptions of two hundred and ninety merchants having business relations with the Southern States. Captain Raphael Semmes, formerly of the Sumter, was appointed to command her. The ship was eleven hundred and fifty tons burden, fourteen feet draught, with engines built by Laird & Sons, the senior of the firm being a member of Parliament. She was a wooden vessel, propelled by a screw, copper-bottomed, about two hundred and ten feet long, and carried three long thirty-two-pounders on a side, a one-hundred-pounder pivot forward of the bridge, a sixty-eight-pounder pivot on the main deck, and a twenty-four-pounder rifle pivot stern-chaser-all of the Blakely pattern. She was bark-rigged, with long, black lower masts, and wire rigging, and was represented to go thirteen knots under canvas, and fifteen under steam.
When this vessel was near her completion, it became known that she was destined for the Southern service, notwithstanding that rumors were spread that she was built for an Eastern Government. In Au. gust she was nearly ready for sea, and the Federal man-of-war Tuscarora cruised in St. George's Channel to intercept her passage. Before she sailed, however, a large bark left the Thames for Demarara, loaded with guns, stores, and munitions. The Alabama then left the Mersey, under Captain Bullock, with a set of English papers, and a crew of ninety-three old man-of-war's men, many of whom were expe rienced gunners, and to avoid the Tuscarora, took the north channel out. She had on board no guns or warlike stores. After a run of eight days, she reached Tarissa, one of the western islands. On her arrival, she gave the Portuguese authorities the plea of damaged engines as a reason for making port there. In the course of a week, the bark which had left the Thames for Demarara put in on pretence of having sprung aleak, and was quarantined three days. The Alabama immediately hauled alongside, and cranes were rigged by order of Captain Bullock. When in readiness, he began to transfer the cargo. This operation drew a protest from the Portuguese authorities against the infringe ment of the quarantine laws. But it was alleged that the bark was sinking, and it was necessary to save the cargo. On the following day there arrived in port the British steamer Bahama, having op
board Captain Semmes and other late officers of the Sumter, twenty of the crew, and the remainder of the Alabama's armament, all of which was immediately transferred to that vessel. The patience of the Portuguese authorities, before sorely tried, was now exhausted, and they ordered all three vessels to leave port. They went a few miles to Angra Bay, and remained twenty-four hours, and were again ordered off. They took their departure at once, the Alabama towing the bark, which made sail for Cardiff for coals for the Alabama. Captain Semmes then mustered the crew of the steamer, and read to them his commission as a post-captain in the Confederate navy. The document was signed, “ Jefferson Davis, President Confederate States of America." He then opened and read his sealed orders, directing him to assume command of the Alabama, hitherto known as the “ 290," on which he was to hoist the Confederate flag, and “sink, burn, and destroy every thing which flew the ensign of the so-called United States of America." The Confederate flag was next raised and saluted, and the crew addressed by the captain, and informed if any of them were dissatisfied or disinclined to enter the Confederate service, they had an opportunity to go on board the English steamer Bahama, about to leave for England. The offer was declined, and the vessels parted company.
The officers of the Alabama were: Captain Raphael Semmes ; first lieutenant, J. M. Kell; second lieutenant, R. J. Armstrong; third lieutenant, J. D. Wilson; fourth lieutenant, J. Low. On parting company with the Bahama, the Alabama gave chase to a whaler, and, on the 6th of September, burned the ship Ocmulgee, of Edgartown. In the same month she burned eleven others, and before the close of the year, she had destroyed thirty-seven vessels, of a value, with cargo, of some millions of dollars. Inasmuch as the Alabama had no port where she might send vessels for adjudication and condemnation, she had no scruples against destroying whatever she might capture. The prize-money, or half the value of the vessels destroyed, was, it is stated, regularly paid in money to the crew, and the good pay and easy condition enabled Captain Semmes to keep a crew of picked men from the vessels captured. The prisoners captured by the Alabama were, in some cases, landed, and in others placed on board of captured vessels which were bonded. The bonds taken by the Alabama were generally payable six months after the recognition of the Southern Confederacy. These depredations upon the high seas produced the greatest excitement at the North. The Navy Department dispatched many cruisers to capture the enemy, but without success. The effect upon the United States commerce was very disastrous, not only in the actual destruction caused, but in the loss of trade occasioned to American bottoms. Numbers of vessels were transferred to foreign ownerships, and foreign vessels commanded the freights. In England there was also much excitement, in consequence of the destruction of British property in the seized vessels.
On June 23d, Mr. Adams addressed Earl Russell on the subject of the “ 290,"remarking: “This vessel has been built and launched from the dock-yard of persons, one of whom is now sitting as a member of
the House of Commons, and is fitting out for the especial and manifest object of carrying on hostilities by sea. It is about to be commanded by one of the insurgent agents, the same who sailed in the Oreto. The parties engaged in the enterprise are persons well known at Liverpool to be agents and officers of the insurgents in the United States.”
The note was accompanied by a letter from the United States consul at Liverpool, containing evidence as to the designs of the “ 290," with other evidence to show the character of her intentions. On the 31st of July, Mr. Adams wrote to Mr. Seward : “In spite of all my efforts and remonstrances, which as yet wait the opinion of the law officers of the crown, I received, on the 29th inst., from Mr. Dudley, the consul at Liverpool, the news that she sailed without register or clearance from that port on that day. I immediately communicated the intelligence by telegraph to Captain Craven, of the Tuscarora, at Southampton. I learn from the consul at that place that the Tuscarora sailed thence at eight P. M. on the 29th instant.”
Earl Russell subsequently remarked in relation to the “ 290," that a delay in determining upon it had most unexpectedly been caused by the sudden development of a malady of the Queen's advocate, Sir John D. Harding, totally incapacitating him for the transaction of business. This had made it necessary to call in other parties, whose opinion had been at last given for the detention of the gunboat; but before the order got down to Liverpool, the vessel was gone. He should, however, send directions to have her stopped, if she went, as was probable, to Nassau. “I said,” he writes Mr. Adams, “I was aware that the gunboat was off; but I did not say, what I myself have little doubt of, that her sudden departure was occasioned by a notion, obtained somehow or other, that such a proceeding was impending. I added an expression of satisfaction that the law officers of the crown had seen their way to such an opinion, and that it was the disposition of her Majesty's Government to do something to check this outrageous abuse."
Under date of September 26th, Mr. Adams wrote: “I have not been quite satisfied with the way in which my remonstrances respecting the outfit of the gunboat No. 290' had been left. In conse quence, I seized the first opportunity in my power to remind Lord Russell that no written answer had been given me. This has had the desired effect. I have the honor to transmit copies of the two notes which have passed between us. In former days, it was a favorite object of Great Britain to obtain from the United States an admission of the validity of claims for damage done by vessels fitted out in their ports against her commerce. This was finally conceded to her in the seventh article of the treaty of 1794. The reasoning which led to that agreement may not be without its value at some future time, should the escape of the gunboat “ 290," and of her companion, the Oreto, prove to be of any serious injury to our commerce."
Subsequently, Mr. Seward wrote to Mr. Adams: “The telegraph announces the destruction of another half-dozen American vessels on the high seas by the steamer 290.' The President is obliged to re
gard these destructions as being made by British subjects in violation of the law of nations, after repeated and ample notice, warning, and remonstrances had been given by me to the British Government. It is presumed that you have already brought the subject in that light to the notice of her Majesty's Government. The legal proofs in support of a claim for indemnity will be collected and transmitted to you as speedily as possible.”
The most daring movement of the enemy's cruisers was made in January, 1863. While a United States squadron, composed of the Brooklyn, Hatteras, and five smaller vessels, was cruising off Galveston, a steamer, just after dark, appeared, in the judgment of the officers of the Hatteras, endeavoring to escape. The crew of the Hatteras being at quarters, Captain Blake gave chase, when the steamer lay-to under steam. When within hail, she replied to Captain Blake :“ Her Britannic Majesty's ship Spitfire." Immediately thereafter the Alabama ranged a little ahead; her commander hailed, declaring her the Confederate steamer Alabama, and delivered her fire. The two vessels then, under full head of steam, exchanged broadsides as rapidly as possible. The Hatteras, a much inferior vessel in size and armament to her antagonist, in a few minutes was in a sinking condition, and was compelled to surrender. The officers and crew were taken to Kingston, Jamaica, and paroled. In the action, the Alabama was hulled fourteen times without much damage.
The two vessels continued their depredations on the coast with complete impunity until the month of June, 1863, when the Florida, having captured the bark Tacony, put a crew on board, under Lieutenant Reed, to cruise on his own account. He made an excursion among the fishermen of the Grand Banks, capturing and destroying a great number, and threatening to break up the season's business. A number of vessels were sent out in search of her, and Lieutenant Reed formed the daring plan of capturing the United States revenue cutter Caleb Cushing, then lying in Portland Harbor, her captain being sick on shore. The crew of the Tacony, who had previously burned their vessel to avoid recognition, and transferred themselves to a schooner, boarded the Caleb Cushing on the night of June 24th, and, taking possession, made sail. The wind died away, however, and they could not gain the offing. As soon as it was discovered that she was gone, two steam-vessels were sent in pursuit, with the intention of running her down. She was, however, blown up and abandoned by the crew, who escaped in a boat, but were subsequently captured with their commander.
In the early part of 1863, a third privateer, the Georgia, was built on the Clyde, received her armament on the coast of France, and joined in the work of destruction against American commerce.
The operations of these Confederate cruisers were in the greatest degree injurious to the American commerce. They sailed without the authority of any recognized power, and although admitted to belligerent rights by neutral nations, were not permitted to send in prizes for adjudication, and had no ports of their own to which they could gain access. Their work, therefore, was one of destruction; and to