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The C. S. S. Alabama's Duel with the U.S.S Kearsarge Official Records

Letter from the C. S. commissioner to Franco to Captain Semmes, C. S. Navy, commanding C. S. S. Alabama, regarding permission to enter the port of Cherbourg for repairs to that vessel.

19 RUE DE MARIGNAN,
Paris, June 12, 1864.

Captain R. SEMMES, C. S. Navy,
Cherbourg.

        MY DEAR SIR: I wrote you a few lines last evening in reply to your dispatch announcing arrival of the Alabama.
        I have received to day from Mr. Bonfils a dispatch requesting me to apply to the Government for authority to enter the port of Cherbourg for repairs I have consulted a friend at the ministry of foreign affairs on this subject, and he agrees with me that it is not necessary, for the present at least, that I should make the application, and that to do so would imply a doubt of the same facilities being afforded to the Alabama as were extended to the Georgia and Florida. I did so apply in the case of the Florida, and on the first arrival of the Georgia, but did not when the Georgia returned to Bordeaux, where she was very cordially received without any intervention of mine. I do not expect any difficulty in your case, but should any arise I will then act. I at this moment have an unpleasant correspondence about the Rappahannock, detained at Calais, but I hope to see the matter satisfactorily arranged in a few days. This is an additional reason why I do not wish to take any superfluous action in your case.
        I have informed Flag-Officer S. Barron of your arrival at Cherbourg. He is the senior officer of our Navy in Europe, to whom I suppose that it will be proper for you to report, His address is No. 30 Rue Drouot, Paris.
        Be pleased to inform Mr. Bonfils of the substance of this letter.

Very truly, yours,
JOHN SLIDELL.


Letter from Captain Semmes, C. S. Navy, commanding C. S. S. Alabama, to the C. S. commissioner to France, regarding person for repairs to that vessel in the port of Cherbourg.

C. S. S. ALABAMA,
Cherbourg, June 13, 1864.

[Hon. JOHN SLIDELL.]

        DEAR SIR: I have had the honor to receive your two notes of the 11th and 12th instant. I think you are quite right in taking no steps in regard to the repairs of the Alabama, unless objection be first made by the Government, which I do not anticipate. Mr. Bonfils telegraphed you on his own responsibility, without my knowing anything of the matter.
        Though our right to the use of docks and other facilities for necessary repairs (that is, for putting a ship in statu quo, without strengthening or otherwise putting her in a better condition for the purposes of war than she was originally) is unquestionable under the rules of neutrality, yet I think there is some disposition on the part of the authorities to object to the marked preference which our ships have shown of late [for] the ports of France. Indeed, the admiral expressed as much to me this morning in an interview I had with him. He laid some stress, too, upon the fact that Cherbourg was exclusively a naval station, all the docks of which belonged to the Government, intimating that it would have been better if I had gone to Havre or Bordeaux. I combated these objections by telling him that, so far at least as the Alabama was concerned, no unpleasant preference had been shown for French ports, as this was the first one at which I had asked for repairs, having almost constantly frequented English ports; and that the uniform practice of nations was to admit ships of war into public docks where there were no private docks available. I was received very courteously, however, and our conversation was of a very friendly nature. He ended by informing me that the matter had been referred to the minister of marine, who just now was out of Paris, and hence the delay. I do not apprehend any difficulty. I think the case too plain.
        I was gratified to learn that Flag-Officer Barron was in Paris, and I have officially reported to him my arrival. I hope that Mrs. Slidell and the young ladies are well, and that your sojourn in Paris is at least personally agreeable to you. But you have no doubt long since learned, like myself, that there is a great deal of wisdom in the lesson taught us in the Good Book, "Put not your trust in princes."

I am, very truly and respectfully, yours,
R. SEMMES.


Letter from Captain Semmes, C. S. Navy, commanding C. S. S. Alabama, to Ad. Bonfils, esq., conveying challenge to U. S. S. Kearsarge.

C. S. S. ALABAMA,
Cherbourg, June 14, 1864.

Ad. BONFILS, Esq.,
Cherbourg.

        SIR: I hear that you were informed by the U. S. consul that the Kearsarge was to come to this port solely for the prisoners landed by me, and that he was to depart in twenty-four hours. I desire to say to the U. S. consul that 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 evening, or after the morrow morning at furthest. I beg she will not depart before I am ready to go out.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. SEMMES,
Captain.


Report of Flag-Officer Barron, C. S. Navy, transmitting official report of Captain Semmes, C. S. Navy, commanding C. S. S. Alabama, of the engagement of that vessel with U. S. S. Kearsarge, off Cherbourg, June 19, 1864.

PARIS, June 27, 1864.

Hon. S. R. MALLORY,
Secretary of the Navy, Richmond, Va.

        SIR: I have the honor to forward herewith a copy of Captain Semmess official report of the fight between the Alabama and the U. S. S. Kearsarge. I also enclose copies of letters received by me from Captain Semmes since his arrival in Cherbourg, which may not be uninteresting in this connection. It is true that we have lost our ship; the ubiquitous, gallant Alabama is no more, but we have lost no honor, and have gained many friends and admirers. The ship's going down in full sight of the thousands of spectators in Cherbourg, who had assembled for the purpose of witnessing this naval engagement, has lifted up the proverbial spirit of enthusiastic devotion in the French nation to chivalrous conduct to a high pitch of excitement, and Semmes is far more a hero now than before his gallant resolve to meet his heavier opponent.
        He saw and calmly and intelligently considered and weighed all the elements of superiority in the enemy, within his knowledge and belief, before going out, and it is proper for me to say that I entirely acquiesced in his determination to meet the Kearsarge, believing as I then did that the general greater force of the enemy in number of men and weight of metal was not sufficient to discourage the confident expectation of victory entertained by the officers and crew of the Alabama. Until after the battle neither he nor I knew anything of the complete protection given to her vital sections by the chain armor which she wore. I had heard of an iron sheathing of 1 inches thickness about her machinery. The wounded who were landed in Cherbourg are in the naval hospital, well cared for and kindly treated. The rest of the men were paroled, and have since been paid off and discharged. Captain Semmes is now in Southampton with the remainder of the crew, who are to be paid off and discharged as soon as the paymaster shall have reached that place. Dr. Llewellyn was drowned, and Carpenter William Robinson died of his wounds on board the Kearsarge. The rest of the officers are safe.
        Lieutenant J. D. Wilson, First Assistant Engineer M. J. Freeman, Third Assistant Engineer J. Pundt, and Boatswain Benjamin P. McCaskey are on the Kearsarge, not paroled, and are to be taken to the United States in the Kearsarge, as I hear.
        I send a complete list of the officers, and also the names of the crew who were killed or drowned.
        Whenever Semmes and his officers are sufficiently recruited to return to the Confederacy I shall direct them to report to you.
        I have just received the letters from the crew of the Rappahannock and Lieutenant Commanding Fauntleroy, copies of which I send, as they so handsomely express the sympathy and zeal felt for our holy cause by all those who engaged in it.
        I shall write again next week, via Bermuda. All the officers who belonged to the Georgia will return by that route.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S. BARRON,
Flag-Officer.

[Enclosures.]

SOUTHAMPTON, June 21, 1864.

Flag-Officer SAMUEL BARRON, C. S. S. Navy,
Paris.

        SIR: I have the honor to inform you, in accordance with my intention as previously announced to you, I steamed out of the harbor of Cherbourg between 9 and 10 o'clock on the morning of June 19 for the purpose of engaging the enemy's steamer Kearsarge, which had been lying off and on the port for several days previously. After clearing the harbor we descried the enemy, with his head offshore, at a distance of about 9 miles. We were three-quarters of an hour in coming up with him. I had previously pivoted my guns to starboard, and made all my preparations for engaging the enemy on that side. When within about a mile and a quarter of the enemy he suddenly wheeled, and bringing his head inshore presented his starboard battery to me. By this time we were distant about I mile from each other, when I opened on him with solid shot, to which he replied in a few minutes, and the engagement became active on both sides. The enemy now pressed his ship under a full head of steam, and to prevent our passing each other too speedily, and to keep our respective broadsides bearing, it became necessary to fight in a circle, the two ships steaming around a common center and preserving a distance from each other of from a quarter to half a mile. When we got within good shell range, we opened upon him with shell. Some ten or fifteen minutes after the commencement of the action our spanker gaff was shot away and our ensign came down by the run. This was immediately replaced by another at the mizzenmast, head. The firing now became very hot, and the enemy's shot and shell soon began to tell upon our hull, knocking down, killing, and disabling a number of men in different parts of the ship. Perceiving that our shell, though apparently exploding against the enemy's sides, were doing but little damage, I returned to solid shot firing, and from this time onward alternated with shot and shell. After the lapse of about one hour and ten minutes our ship was ascertained to be in a sinking condition, the enemy's shell having exploded in our sides and between decks, opening large apertures, through which the water rushed with great rapidity. For some few minutes I had hopes of being able to reach the French coast, for which purpose I gave the ship all steam and set such of the fore-and-aft sails as were available. The ship filled so rapidly, however, that before we had made much progress the fires were extinguished in the furnaces, and we were evidently on the point of sinking. I now hauled down my colors to prevent the further destruction of life, and dispatched a boat to inform the enemy of our condition. Although we were now but 400 yards from each other, the enemy fired upon me five times after my colors had been struck, dangerously wounding several of my men. It is charitable to suppose that a ship of war of a Christian nation could not have done this intentionally. We now turned all our exertions toward the wounded and such of the boys as were unable to swim. These were dispatched in my quarter boats, the only boats remaining to me, the waist boats having been torn to pieces.
        Some twenty minutes after my furnace fires had been extinguished, and the ship being on the point of settling, every man, in obedience to a previous order which had been given to the crew, jumped overboard and endeavored to save himself. There was no appearance of any boat coming to me from the enemy until after the ship went down. Fortunately, however, the steam yacht Deerhound, owned by a gentleman of Lancashire, England (Mr. John Lancaster), who was himself on board, steamed up in the midst of my drowning men and rescued a number of both officers and men from the water. I was fortunate enough myself thus to escape to the shelter of the neutral flag, together with about forty others, all told. About this time the Kearsarge sent one and then, tardily, another boat.
        Accompanying you will find lists of the killed and wounded, and of those who were picked up by the Deerhound. The remainder there is reason to hope were picked up by the enemy and by a couple of French pilot boats, which were also fortunately near the scene of action. At the end of the engagement it was discovered by those of our officers who went alongside the enemy's ship with the wounded that her midship section on both sides was thoroughly iron-coated, this having been done with chains constructed for the purpose, placed perpendicularly from the rail to the water's edge, the whole covered over by a thin outer planking, which gave no indication of the armor beneath. This planking had been ripped off in every direction by our shot and shell, the chain broken and indented in many places, and forced partly into the ship's side. She was most effectually guarded, however, in this section from penetration. The enemy was much damaged in other parts, but to what extent it is now impossible to tell. It is believed he was badly crippled.
        My officers and men behaved steadily and gallantly, and though they have lost their ship they have not lost honor. W here all behaved so well it would be invidious to particularize; but I can not deny myself the pleasure of saying that Mr. Kell, my first lieutenant, deserves great credit for the fine condition in which the ship went into action, with regard to her battery, magazine, and shell rooms; also that he rendered me great assistance by his coolness and judgment as the fight proceeded.
        The enemy was heavier than myself, both in ship, battery, and crew; but I did not know until the action was over that she was also ironclad Our total loss in killed and wounded is 30, to wit, 9 killed and 21 wounded.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. SEMMES,
Captain.

--------------------

C. S. S. ALABAMA,
Cherbourg, June 13, 1864.

Flag-Officer SAMUEL BARRON, C. S. Navy,
Paris.

        SIR: I have just been informed by the Hon. Mr. Slidell of your presence in Paris. I have the honor to report to you the arrival of this ship at this place in want of repairs. She will require to be recoppered, refastened in some places, and to have her boilers pretty extensively repaired, all of which will probably detain her a couple of months. I shall have sufficient funds at my command to pay off officers and crew, but will require money for repairs. As soon as I receive permission from the admiral here to go into dock I propose to give my men leave for an extended run on shore, many of them being in indifferent health, in consequence of their long detention on shipboard and on salt diet. The officers also will expect a similar indulgence.
        As for myself, my health has suffered so much from a constant and harassing service of three years, almost continuously at sea, that I shall have to ask for relief.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. SEMMES,
Captain.

--------------------

C. S. S. ALABAMA,
Cherbourg, June 14, 1864.

Flag-Officer S. BARRON.

        DEAR BARRON: The Kearsarge is off the port, which I understand, of course, as a challenge. As we are about equally matched, I shall go out to engage her as soon as I can make the necessary preparations, which will probably be to-morrow. As the issue of combats is always uncertain, I have deposited 4 sacks of sovereigns, containing about 4,700, and the paymaster's last pay roll with Mr. Ad. Bonfils, of Cherbourg, a gentleman known to Mr. Slidell.
        I have also deposited a package of ransom bonds (sealed), all of which please bear in mind in case of accident.

Yours, truly, etc.,
R. SEMMES.

--------------------

C S. S. ALABAMA,
Cherbourg, June 14, 1864.

Flag-Officer S. BARRON,
Paris.

        DEAR BARRON: I have received your note of the 12th instant and am much obliged to you for the kind expressions it contains. I was truly glad to learn that you were in Paris, as we have long felt the want of some superior officer to give direction to naval affairs on this side of the water. I was glad to hear, too, that you had a good supply of officers with you, as the Alabama's are pretty well fagged out. I should of course have reported to you in the first instance if I had known you were in Europe. I wrote to you officially yesterday. Up to this moment I have received no intelligence from the authorities here as to my being permitted to go into dock. I saw the admiral yesterday. He received me very courteously, and was kind enough to say some agreeable things; but I suppose this is French. He seemed to think, however, that our cruisers were beginning to show rather too much partiality for French ports and French docks, while they avoided the ports of England and other nations. I told him that I had almost uniformly frequented English ports heretofore (in several of which I had effected repairs) and that this was the first French port in which the Alabama, at least, had asked for repairs. He then spoke of Cherbourg being exclusively a naval station, all the docks of which belonged to the Government, and that we would seem to be making use of the public docks and arsenals of France to refit our ships to continue their war upon the enemy. In reply to this last remark I stated that it was the uniform practice of nations, in war as well as in peace, to give the use of public docks where there were no private ones available. He finally informed me that the matter had been referred to the Government at Paris, and as all the Latin races are proverbially slow in their movements, I suppose we must have a little patience. I apprehend no difficulty; but should the Emperor make the objection urged by the admiral, of the public dock question, I am ready at any moment to proceed elsewhere, say to Havre.
        I hope you find Paris an agreeable change from Fort Warren, where the Yankees incarcerated you so long.

Yours, truly, etc.,
R. SEMMES.

-------------------

C. S. S. ALABAMA,
Cherbourg, June 16, 1864.

Flag-Officer SAML. BARRON, C. S. Navy,
Paris.

        SIR: I have received your letter of the 14th instant, in reply to mine of the 13th. The position of the Alabama here has been somewhat changed since I wrote you. The enemy's steamer, the Kearsarge, having appeared off this port, and being but very little heavier, if any, in her armament than myself, I have deemed it my duty to go out and engage her. I have therefore withdrawn for the present my application to go into dock, and am engaged in coaling ship. I hope to be ready to go out to-morrow or the next day.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. SEMMES,
Captain.

--------------------

SOUTHAMPTON, June 21, 1864.

Flag-Officer SAMUEL BARRON, C. S. Navy.

        SIR: Paymaster Galt was captured by the enemy. I think it likely he will be released on parole. If so, do me the favor to order him immediately to Cherbourg, to regain possession of his money, pay roll, and ransom bonds, and dispatch him to this place to pay off the officers and crew. Should Paymaster Galt not be released, please detail as promptly as convenient another paymaster to perform this duty. The funds having been deposited to the order of Dr. Galt, some difficulty may be experienced in getting the money out of the banker's hands without the doctor's draft. But I presume that this can be easily arranged by yourself and Mr. Slidell by explaining the matter to the banker, and by giving him a bond, if necessary, to save him harmless from any future claim on the part of Dr. Galt.
        I have billeted the men about the town, and expedition in the matter will save expense.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. SEMMES,
Captain.


Report of Lieutenant Armstrong, C. S. Navy, late C. S. S. Alabama, of his rescue from drowning after the engagement off Cherbourg.

CHERBOURG, June 21, 1864.

Flag-Officer SAML. BARRON, C. S. Navy,
Paris.

        SIR: I have the honor to report for your information the circumstances attending my rescue from drowning by a French pilot boat after the Alabama went down. I was wounded in the side by a part of a shell early in the action, and suffered so much pain in the water that had it not been for the exertions of the Alabama's crew I would certainly have gone down. One of the Kearsarge's boats was very near me, but laid on its oars and made no exertion whatever that I could see to save me, the officer apparently looking for some particular person. I made great exertions to reach the French boat, and was finally pulled into her so benumbed by cold and suffering so much from my bruised side that I could not stand, and for two hours was as helpless as a child. I had on, while near the Kearsarge's boat, my uniform cap, which the Federal officer could certainly have seen.
        The officers who were saved with me were Second Assistant Engineer William P. Brooks and Acting Sailmaker Henry Alcott. What time they got on board of the boat I can not say. I found when my faculties returned the following men on board with me:
        Charles Godwin, captain after guard; James Welsh, captain top; George Edgerton, ordinary seaman; Thomas Murphy, fireman; William Robinson, seaman, and Morris Britt, boy.
        As I got on board of the pilot boat I saw Michael Mars (seaman) plunge from the Kearsarge's boat and swim to the boat which I was in. The Federal officer said nothing, attempted nothing, appearing perfectly stupefied by the bold action of this brave man.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
R. F. ARMSTRONG,
Second Lieutenant, C. S. Navy.

This Page last updated 01/26/02

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