THE CONFEDERATE CRUISERS
Their Status in War
THE cruisers of the Confederate navy were the Sumter, the Alabama, the Florida, the Shenandoah, the Nashville, the Georgia, the Tallahassee, the Chickamauga, the Clarence, the Tacony, the Stonewall and the Olustee. These vessels were regular men-of-war and must not be confounded with privateers. Professor Soley says:
It is common to speak of the Alabama and the other Confederate cruisers as privateers. It is hard to find a suitable designation for them, but privateers they certainly were not. The essence of a privateer lies in its private ownership. Its officers are persons in private employment; and the authority under which it acts is a letter-of-marque. To call the cruisers privateers is merely to make use of invective. Most of them answered all the legal requirements of ships-of-war. They were owned by the government, and they were commanded by naval officers acting under a genuine commission ....
A great deal of uncalled-for abuse has been heaped upon the South for the work of the Confederate cruisers, and their mode of warfare has been repeatedly denounced as barbarous and piratical in official and unofficial publications. But neither the privateers, like the Petrel and the Savannah, nor the commissioned cruisers, like the Alabama and the Florida, were guilty of any practices which, as against their enemies, were contrary to the rules of war.
The first man-of-war to get to sea under the Confederate flag was the Sumter. She was a screw steamer of 500 tons, and had formerly been the Spanish steamer Marquis de Habana. She was strengthened, a berth deck was put in, the spar deck cabins removed, and she was armed with an 8-inch shell gun, pivoted amidships, and four light 32-pounders in broadside. On April 18, 1861, Commander Raphael Semmes was ordered to the command of her, with the following officers: Lieuts. John M. Kell, Robert T. Chapman, John M. Stribling, and William E. Evans; Paymaster Henry Myers; Surg. Francis L. Galt; Midshipmen William A. Hicks, Richard F. Armstrong, Albert G. Hudgins, John F. Holden, and Joseph D. Wilson; Lieut. of Marines B. K. Howell; Engineers Miles J. Freeman, William P. Brooks, Matthew O'Brien, and Simeon W. Cummings; Boatswain Benjamin P. Mc-Caskey; Gunner J. O. Cuddy; Sailmaker W. P. Beaufort, Carpenter William Robinson, and Captain's Clerk W. Breedlove Smith.
On the 30th of June the Sumter sailed from the mouth of the Mississippi, and although chased by the United States steamer Brooklyn, got fairly to sea. Captain Semmes cruised along the south side of the island of Cuba, taking eight prizes, and thence went to Cienfuegos. From there he cruised down the Spanish main, and on the 13th of November anchored at St. Pierre, Martinique. Here he was blockaded by the United States ship Iroquois for nine days, but on the night of the 23d he adroitly made his escape, and crossed the Atlantic to Cadiz, where he arrived January 4, 1862, taking several prizes on the way. Not being permitted to coal, he proceeded to Gibraltar, which port he reached on the 19th of January. Here he was blockaded by the United States vessels Tuscarora, Kearsarge and Chippewa, and it was decided to lay the ship up. The Sumter captured 7 vessels, of which 2 were ransomed, 7 were released in Cuban ports, 2 were recaptured, and 6 were burned.
The second cruiser built in England for the Confederates was the "290" or Alabama. The 290 was sent by Capt. James D. Bulloch, the accomplished agent of the Confederate government in England, to the Western islands. The bark Agrippina took her armament and stores there, and on August 24, 1862, she was commissioned by Capt. Raphael Semmes, C. S. N., with the following officers: Lieuts. John M. Kell, Richard F. Armstrong, Joseph D. Wilson, Arthur Sinclair, and John Low; Surg. Francis L. Galt; Asst. Surg. David H. Llewellyn; Paymaster Clarence R. Yonge; Lieut. of Marines B. K. Howell; Engineers M. J. Freeman, William P. Brooks, S. W. Cummings, Matthew O'Brien, and John W. Pundt; Midshipmen William H. Sinclair, Irvine S. Bulloch, Eugene Maffitt, and Edwin M. Anderson; Master's Mates George T. Fulham and James Evans; Boatswain B. P. McCaskey; Gunner J. O. Cuddy; Carpenter William Robinson; Sailmaker Henry Alcott, and Captain's Clerk William B. Smith.
Captain Semmes first cruised off the Western islands and the banks of Newfoundland, taking many prizes; next off the coast of the United States, and on November 18th he anchored at Port of France, Martinique. From Martinique he went to the Gulf of Mexico, capturing the Pacific Mail company's steamer Ariel on the way. Arriving off Galveston he decoyed the United States steamer Hatteras from the fleet, engaged and sunk her in fifteen minutes, and proceeded to Port Royal, Jamaica, with his prisoners. Sailing from Port Royal, Semmes cruised down the Brazilian coast, and on July 28, 1863, anchored at Saldanha bay. For the remainder of the year he cruised in the straits of Sunda, the China sea, and the Bay of Bengal. From the time of leaving Port Royal to April 27, 1864, the Alabama took some thirty prizes.
On the 11th of June, 1864, she anchored at Cherbourg, France, and on the 19th she went out and engaged the United States steamer Kearsarge, a vessel slightly her superior. After an engagement of about one hour, the Alabama was reduced to a sinking condition. Her loss in killed, wounded and drowned was 40; the loss of the Kearsarge was but 1 killed and 2 wounded. The survivors of the Alabama were saved by her own boats and those of the Kearsarge and the English yacht Deerhound.
Thus ended the career of this historic vessel. The name of Semmes has become immortal. In two short years he captured some seventy vessels, and swept the seas of American commerce. Space precludes further mention of the Alabama. The reader will find in Captain Semmes' "Service Afloat" a detailed and very valuable account of his proceedings.
The Florida was the first of the commerce destroyers of English origin. She was built at Liverpool in the fall of 1861. On the 22d of March, 1862, she cleared from Liverpool under the name of the Oreto. She arrived at Nassau April 28th, and was there delivered to Capt. John N. Maffitt, C. S. N., who commissioned her under the name of the Florida and fitted her out. Maffitt first went to Cuba. Here the yellow fever broke out, and finding himself without the necessary officers, men, and ordnance stores, he determined to go to Mobile. He ran by the blockading vessels under English colors, and anchored under the guns of Fort Morgan, September 4, 1862.
The Florida was here refitted, and on the night of January 15, 1863, she successfully ran the blockade again, and proceeded on a cruise. The following is a list of her officers: Capt. John N. Maffitt; Lieuts. S. W. Averett, J. L. Hoole, C. W. Read, and S. G. Stone; Midshipmen R. S. Floyd, G. D. Bryan, J. H. Dyke, G. T. Sinclair, W. B. Sinclair, and Robert Scott; Engineers John Spidell, Charles W. Quinn, Thomas A. Jackson, and E. H. Brown; Surg. Frederick Garretson, and Paymaster Lynch. Maffitt first cruised in the West Indies and then made his way to the coast of Brazil, commissioning one of his prizes, the brig Clarence, Lieut. C. W. Read, by the way. On the 16th of July, Maffitt anchored at Bermuda, having made 17 prizes, 14 of which he burned. From Bermuda he went to Brest; and there, his health being broken, relinquished the command to Lieut. Charles M. Morris, C. S. N. Morris got to sea in January, 1864, and went first to the West Indies and the coast of the United States, capturing many prizes. In the summer of that year he crossed the ocean to Teneriffe, and then to Bahia, Brazil, where he anchored October 4th. He found here the U. S. S. Wachusett; but confiding in the neutrality of the port, he permitted his officers and men liberty to visit the shore. On the night of October 6th the Florida was treacherously captured by the Wachusett; and so ended her cruise. She had made 37 prizes.
The Shenandoah was the last of the Confederate cruisers. She was bought by Captain Bulloch and sent to the Desertas, an uninhabited island near Madeira. The officers and stores were sent to the same place in the steamer Laurel, and on October 20, 1864, the Shenandoah was commissioned by Capt. James Iredell Waddell, with the following officers: Lieuts. William C. Whittle, John Grimball, S. Smith Lee, Francis T. Chew, and Dabney M. Scales; Acting Master I. S. Bulloch; Engineers Matthew O'Brien, W. H. Codd, John Hutchinson, and Ernest Mugguffeney; Surg. C. E. Lining; Paymaster Breedlove Smith; Passed Midshipmen O. A. Browne and John T. Mason; Asst. Surg. F. J. McNulty; Master's Mates C. E. Hunt, J. T. Minor, and Lodge Colton; Boatswain George Harwood; Carpenter J. O'Shea; Gunner J. L. Guy, and Sailmaker Henry Alcott.
Waddell first went to Australia, and there, in pursuance of the plan projected by Com. John Mercer Brooke, C. S. N., proceeded to destroy the United States whaling fleet in the North Pacific. On the 2d of August, 1865, Waddell learned of the collapse of the Confederacy, and returned to England, where he delivered the ship to the British naval authorities. The Shenandoah took 36 prizes.
The Nashville was commissioned as a man-of-war in the fall of 1861 with Robert B. Pegram, C. S. N., as captain; Lieuts. Charles M. Fauntleroy, John W. Bennett, and William C. Whittle; Master John H. Ingraham; Surg. John L. Auchrim; Paymaster Richard Taylor; Engineer James Hood, and Midshipmen Dalton, Sinclair, Cary, Pegram, Hamilton, Thomas, and McClintoc. She made a short voyage to England and back, in the course of which she burned the ship Harvey Birch and the schooner Robert Gilfillan. She was afterward engaged as a blockade runner, and was eventually destroyed by the United States monitor Montauk.
The Georgia was bought at Dumbarton, Scotland, for the Confederate government. She was commissioned off Ushant in April, 1863, by Corn. William L. Maury, with the following list of officers: Lieuts. R. T. Chapman, Evans, Smith, and J. H. Ingraham; Passed Midshipman Walker; Midshipman Morgan; Paymaster Curtis, Surgeon Wheeden, and Chief Engineer Pearson. She cruised in the Atlantic, ran over to the coast of Brazil, and thence to the Cape of Good Hope. On the 28th of October she anchored at Cherbourg, having taken 9 prizes. Here Captain Maury turned over the command to Lieutenant Evans, but she made no other cruise.
The Tallahassee was the blockade runner Atlanta. She was converted into a man-of-war, and on August 6, 1864, sailed from Wilmington, N. C., for a cruise off the coast. Her officers were: Capt. John Taylor Wood; Lieuts. W. H. Ward, M. M. Benton, and J. M. Gardner; Master Alex Curtis; Engineers J. W. Tynan, C. H. Leroy, E. G. Hall, J. F. Green, J. J. Lyell, H. H. Roberts, and R. M. Koss; Paymaster C. L. Jones; Asst. Surg. W. L. Sheppardson; Boatswain Cassidy; Gunner Stewart; Master's Mate C. Russell, and Lieut. of Marines Crenshaw. She cruised along the northern coast as far as Maine. On the 18th of August, Wood anchored at Halifax, but could only obtain coal enough to take the vessel back to Wilmington. On the 25th she arrived at that port, having in her short cruise burned 16 vessels, scuttled 10, bonded 5, and released 2--a remarkable record.
The Chickamauga was the small blockade runner Edith. She sailed for a cruise on the coast in the fall of 1864 under Capt. John Wilkinson, C. S. N. She made a short cruise, during which she captured 7 vessels.
The brig Clarence was captured by the Florida and commissioned under Lieut. C. W. Read, C. S. N., on May 6, 1863. Read proceeded to the coast of the United States, and made his first prize off Cape Hatteras, the bark Whistling Wind. He next took and burned the Kate Stewart, Mary Alvina and Mary Schindler, and bonded the Alfred H. Partridge. He then took the Tacony and transferred his flag to her, burning the Clarence. In the Tacony he sailed along the coast of New England, capturing and burning 15 vessels. On June 25, 1863, he transferred to the prize schooner Archer, burning the Tacony. On the 27th he entered the harbor of Portland, Me., and cut out the revenue cutter Caleb Cushing. He got out with his prize, but the enemy sent out an overwhelming force and recaptured her, making prisoners of Read and his companions, who were sent to Fort Warren. Read, whose name occurs so frequently in these pages, was soon after exchanged. He was unquestionably one of the greatest naval officers the country has ever produced.
The Olustee was the steamer Chickamauga. She sailed from Wilmington, October 29, 1864, under the command of Lieut. William H. Ward, C. S.N. Ward made a short cruise on the coast, capturing some seven prizes, and returned to Wilmington about November 7th.
The Stonewall was the ironclad ram Sphynx. She was built in France, sold to Denmark, and transferred by that country to Capt. Thomas Jefferson Page, C. S. N. Page took her to the appointed rendezvous off Quiberon, where she was met by the steamer City of Richmond with stores. She was commissioned January 24, 1865, with the following list of officers: Capt. T. J. Page; Lieuts. Robert R. Carter, George S. Shryock, George A. Borchert, E. G. Read, and Samuel Barron, Jr.; Surg. B. W. Green; Asst. Surg. J. W. Herty; Paymaster R. W. Curtis; Engineers W. P. Brooks, W. H. Jack. son, and J. C. Klosh; Master W. W. Wilkinson; Boatswain J. M. Dukehart; Gunner J. B. King; Master's Mate W. H. Savage, and Paymaster's Clerk William Boynton. The Stonewall went to Corunna, and thence to Ferrol, Spain, for repairs. She was blockaded by the United States vessels Niagara and Sacramento. On the 24th of March Page steamed out of Ferrol, and defied the two vessels to battle, which they ingloriously declined. Page then crossed the ocean to Nassau and Havana. At the latter port he learned of the end of the war, and delivered his ship to the Spanish authorities.
This closes this short sketch of the Confederate cruisers. As the Confederate government had no regular men-of-war, its naval officers were restricted to commerce destroying, a mode of carrying on hostilities neither chivalrous nor romantic. As Professor Soley says: "Nor is it that which a naval officer of the highest type would perhaps most desire to engage in." But the work was necessary; and that it was well done, the pages of history will testify.
Source: "Confederate Military History" Volume 12
This Page last updated 01/02/04