On Sunday, June 19, 1864 the storied career of the CSS Alabama ended as she sank in the English Channel after losing a naval battle with the USS Kearsarge. Alabama’s captain, Raphael Semmes, evaded capture when he was rescued by a private English yacht the Deerhound which was owned by John Lancaster. Under maritime rules Lancaster was only obligated to take Semmes and other sailors rescued from the Alabama to the nearest port, which he did, taking them to Southampton. CSS Alabama, the Confederacy’s most famous ship, was a commerce raider built in a private British shipyard under a contract dated August 1, 1861. Diplomatic and legal wrangling between Britain and the United States arose over this. By the time the government in London decided to act to seize the ship it had already sailed, on July 29, 1862. The ship was armed and crewed in the Azores and formally commissioned on August 14, 1862. The Alabama took her first prize on September 18, 1862 and over her brief career burned or bonded over 60 ships. American diplomats catalogued every capture and complaint with the British Foreign Office with a view to obtaining compensation. Anglo-American relations suffered as a direct consequence of the Alabama’s successes. Alabama’s success could be measured not only in prizes and monetary losses, but also in the impact on American shipping and northern opinion. During the two-year cruise of the Alabama, insurance rates increased to a debilitating ten percent, encouraging the bulk of northern commerce to flee to foreign hulls as Britain secured the position as America’s dominant carrier, a position she would hold for decades. Likewise, newspapers could not resist the temptation to report the pain inflicted on the Union by the scourge of the seas. News of Semmes’s firing of American ships began to arrive in October and with it disbelief that a single ship could terrorize Union ocean trade. As reports mounted, fear shifted from the ocean to the port cities themselves as Bostonians began to fear exposure should the Alabama descend on the Boston Bay. The increasing attention caused American diplomats to continue to remind the British Foreign Office of British culpability for the damage the Alabama was causing. After the war negotiations between the British and American governments over compensation were protracted. In May 1871 the Alabama claims joined a catalog of outstanding disputes between the two nations which were settled by the Treaty of Washington. The Alabama claims were settled under the treaty by a payment of $15.5 million from the British government.
Naval Engagement Between U.S.S. 'Kearsarge' and the 'Alabama' Cherbourg, 19th of June 1864
Image of this Civil War era lithograph is courtesy of: The U.S. Naval Historic Center, Photograph # NH 1157
The Lancaster family, on holiday in France from their home in Lancashire England, deliberated on Saturday, June 18, 1864 over the desirability of scuttling Sunday’s itinerary in favor of taking out their yacht, Deerhound, to watch the announced naval duel between the CSS Alabama and the USS Kearsarge. “As the juveniles were really all one way,” John Lancaster later reported, “the question was decided in the affirmative rather against the wishes of both myself and my wife.” Little could the Lancasters know that they were about to become a small part of the history of not only an epic naval battle but a long and fractious dispute between the United States and Great Britain that threatened to do irreparable harm to Anglo-American relations. Captain John Ancrum Winslow of the Kearsarge won the battle and watched the wounded Confederate cruiser vanish beneath the dark waters of the English Channel;  events, however, denied him his ultimate prize, the Alabama’s captain, Raphael Semmes. After abandoning the sinking vessel, Semmes and several of his officers signaled for sea rescue and were soon plucked from the water by Lancaster’s yacht. Winslow, after having directed the Deerhound to assist the foundering sailors, called for Lancaster to deliver them up; but under maritime rules, Lancaster was only obligated to take the rescued sailors to the nearest port. This he did, taking Semmes and company to Cowes on the Isle of Wight and shortly across to Southampton where they proceeded to slip away under cover of English neutrality—perhaps a fitting epilogue to the relationship between a captain and ship whose origin and life on the sea was so often characterized by stealth and intrigue. The controversy surrounding the Deerhound incident and the far greater controversy surrounding the doomed Confederate raider itself did not, however, slip away. The ship had been at the center of a brewing storm in Anglo-American relations since its design was contracted in Birkenhead in the summer of 1861 and would continue to be contentious until negotiators rendered judgment in the Treaty of Washington, 1871.
Much ink has been spent on the Alabama and its colorful and, for the Union, devastating exploits. Likewise, the diplomatic wrangle that surrounded the Confederacy’s most famous ship has received considerable attention. The problems in Anglo-American relations provoked by the Confederate cruiser pivoted on the question of British neutrality, the British law that enforced that neutrality, and whether the Lord Palmerston government had been complicit in the ship’s escape and, by extension, her subsequent success as a Confederate raider. Did the British failure to detain the vessel make Her Majesty’s Government liable for subsequent damages to American shipping and, perhaps, prolongation of the war? Was the construction of the ship by a British firm at a British shipyard merely a mistake arising from the lack of clarity in the law governing British neutrality? Or, did the successful construction and deployment of the ship, as historian Frank Merli has argued, result from the machinations of a clever Confederate agent, James Dunwoody Bulloch, who simply outfoxed his Union adversaries? Of course, many students of the Alabama would be quick to raise the specter of an alleged British mole at the Foreign Office who, perhaps, contributed to Bulloch’s genius by monitoring the government’s activity concerning the ship and alerting him to stage her escape from the Mersey River in the proverbial nick of time. In fact, the allure of conspiracy has caused more than one generation of scholars to mine the archives in search of this mysterious informant—Bulloch’s “private but most reliable source.”
The object of the pages that follow is three-fold: first, to concisely chronicle the efforts of James Bulloch to pursue his directive from Confederate Naval Secretary Stephen Russell Mallory to build a navy to harass northern commerce by contracting and commissioning the CSS Alabama; second, to trace the impact of his efforts on Anglo-American relations during and in the subsequent dispute following the war; and third, to draw upon recent scholarship and my own examination of the sources, hopefully, to temper the notion of British complicity.
Thirty-eight year old James Dunwoody Bulloch of Georgia—Uncle Jim to future president Theodore Roosevelt and veteran of both the US Navy and commercial shipping—was summoned by Confederate Naval Secretary Stephen Mallory in early May of 1861 for what has been described as a very brief meeting. Mallory abruptly followed a routine “glad to see you” with “I want you to go to Europe. When can you start?” Bulloch’s response matched Mallory’s brevity: “I can start as soon as you explain what I am to do.”  Bulloch’s assignment was clear: He was to serve in Liverpool, the hub of naval development, as special agent for the Confederacy to build ships for a Confederate fleet. In Mallory’s words, “The United States have a constructed Navy; we have a Navy to construct.” Mallory envisioned a fleet of small but fast commerce raiders powered by both sail and steam that could prey on northern shipping and draw the Union’s limited resources away from the blockade of the southern coast. 
Bulloch arrived in the bustling port of Liverpool on June 4 to a reception that could hardly have been warmer had it been in Savannah or Charleston. Liverpool was known for its pro-Confederate sentiments that were, in fact, visibly displayed by Confederate flags, a fairly common sight throughout the city. Owners of the local shipyards as well as the financial offices of Fraser-Trenholm and Company welcomed Bulloch and extended to him every courtesy expected of a buying agent representing a legitimate concern. The Liverpool financial firm was a collaboration of John Fraser’s offices in Charleston and Trenholm Brother’s New York City enterprise. The company would not only supply critical funding for Bulloch’s projects, but would provide him office space and the services of Charles Prioleau, the chief financial officer in Liverpool. Prioleau would become very important to Bulloch’s success and soon operated as a virtual partner in Bulloch’s mission.
Despite the generally receptive environment, Bulloch’s task would not be easy. While the Confederate agent made the crossing to Liverpool, Queen Victoria had formally pronounced the kingdom neutral in the American conflict with the Proclamation of Neutrality issued May 13, 1861. Now Bulloch was technically an agent of a belligerent seeking to build a fleet of warships in the port of a declared neutral. Bulloch’s first move then would be to determine what legal constraints now threatened his mission. To this end he hired Frederick S. Hull, a Liverpool solicitor. Hull knew that guidance for British neutrality was codified in the Foreign Enlistment Act (FEA) of 1819, an act that had yet to be tested in circumstances such as those soon to be posed by Bulloch. In fact, British Foreign Secretary Lord Russell readily admitted that no one in Lord Palmerston’s cabinet knew the law with any precision or practical understanding. Bulloch’s question to Hull was simple. Is there a way around, over, or through the FEA? In other words, Hull was to study the law and find a technical loophole large enough to steam warships through.
Since Bulloch’s planned shipbuilding was a unique challenge to the FEA, Hull constructed an anonymous test case to put before legal minds. Hull’s test yielded the consensus that the FEA, rigidly read, would not be violated by mere ship building. The FEA would be triggered only by the equipping of ships for malicious intent against a government friendly to the Crown. In the coming months, Bulloch would rely on this narrow interpretation of the FEA to guide his efforts to accomplish his mission without crossing British neutrality. The solution was now fairly clear—build ships of war without war-making equipment. To further camouflage the project, Bulloch’s associates would allege that the ships were destined not for the Confederacy but for some other customer, perhaps Italian or Spanish.
Committing to this approach, Bulloch met with officers of William C. Miller and Sons to build his first ship. This one (later commissioned as CSS Florida) would be based on an existing British design, built of wood, and, true to Mallory’s directive, propelled by both sail and steam. Miller could do the shipbuilding, but Bulloch contracted Fawcett, Preston and Company to provide the engines. The Confederate agent had wasted little time in advancing his part of the Confederate cause. He was not, however, satisfied to simply replicate British designs. While finalizing his negotiations with Miller, Bulloch crossed the Mersey River to Birkenhead to initiate plans for a sister ship based on his own design. For this effort, he would secure the services of Laird and Sons and would, on August 1, contract for the 290th hull from their Birkenhead shipyard, the hull destined to become the most feared of the Confederate cruisers, the CSS Alabama.
It was obvious to anyone who cared to offer an opinion that Bulloch was attempting to build a Confederate navy at the shipyards of a neutral. It was not, however, obvious that he was violating British law in so doing. Proving that Bulloch was in violation of the FEA fell to the new U.S. consul to Liverpool, Thomas Haines Dudley. Over the frustrating months from the time Dudley took his post in late November of 1861 until the Alabama was loosed on Union shipping the following July, the American consul hired a small army of detectives, investigators, his own solicitors (chief among them A. T. Squarey) and routinely communicated his findings to U.S. Minster Charles Francis Adams in London. Adams, in turn, forwarded these missives to British Foreign Secretary Lord Russell, who, when warranted, passed them along to the Law Officers of the Crown. This cycle of communication, once started, would continue to go round and round until Bulloch’s boat escaped British jurisdiction in July, 1862. As weeks turned into months, the level of anxiety in Dudley’s communications to Adams increased, as did the frequency with which the subject arose between Adams and Russell and the consequential level of correspondence between the U.S. Embassy and the Foreign Office.
Finally, on June 21 1862, Dudley indicated to Adams that he and his team stood ready to present a comprehensive case against No. 290 (the future Alabama’s designation while under construction) that clearly established, in his estimation, a violation of the FEA. The American consul then proposed that the Liverpool authorities be approached about the possibility of seizing the ship. Adams rejected the proposal, preferring to go directly to Lord Russell and the Foreign Office. Two days later, Adams sent a formal protest to the Foreign Office that included Dudley’s allegations and opened, in the words of historian Frank Merli, “a decade-long duel in Anglo-American diplomatic relations.”Adams asserted, as though evident, that Confederate operatives were violating British neutrality by staging in Liverpool expeditions to harm the United States. Although he clearly intimated a concern for the damage this would do to Anglo-American relations and the peace the two nations enjoyed, he did not add a forceful demonstration by alerting Russell to his decision to have the American warship Tuscarora redeploy from Gibraltar to Southampton, England to stand ready to intercept Bulloch’s vessel if necessary.
After receiving Adams’s complaint, Russell sent inquiries to all appropriate offices and, most importantly, sought the advice of the Queen’s law officers. Soon, conflicting opinions came to the desk of the foreign secretary. The law officers indicated on 30 June, that, if Dudley’s allegations were correct, the ship was definitely in violation of the FEA; procedures should, therefore, be pursued by Liverpool officials to ascertain the veracity of Dudley’s accusations. In other words, the government should take the lead in investigating Bulloch’s activities. Other opinions, such as those offered on July 1 by Customs and Treasury, contended that there was insufficient evidence to authorize detention; this they determined in spite of interviews with workers, yard owners, and the physical appearance of No. 290 that left no doubt that she was meant for war. Their excessive caution was encouraged by the solicitor for the Customs Board in London, Felix J. Hamel, who warned of “very serious consequences” for an unwarranted seizure. Treasury and Customs thus proposed the more passive approach of having the Americans rather than Her Majesty’s Government gather the evidence to substantiate the case against No. 290. Russell thus faced two options: instruct his own people to investigate No. 290 as the Crown’s lawyers proposed or, as Customs and Treasury argued, place the onus on Dudley to ferret out additional, and more importantly, admissible evidence. The foreign secretary chose the latter and adopted this as his response to Adams in a note dated July 4.
Meanwhile, Dudley continued to monitor Bulloch and, in the second week of July, offered additional testimony to Liverpool Collector of Customs Samuel Price Edwards, all of which continued to fall short, tainted by either implicit or explicit “were heard to state.” As Adams and Russell passed notes in London, Dudley, reticent to name his informants, continued to have his evidence dismissed by Edwards and Custom’s solicitor James O’Dowd as little more than hearsay. Finally, on July 21, Dudley and Squarey produced named affidavits—including the very convincing sworn testimony of William Passmore who had been recruited for service on No. 290 and who had been told by the interim captain of the ship, British Cunard line master Matthew J. Butcher,  that the vessel was built to sail under the Confederate ensign—and passed them to British authorities in Liverpool who, again, declined to act; they did, however, forward Dudley’s more comprehensive evidence to London for advice. The dossier was supplemented by the weighty opinion of Robert Collier, the Queen’s Counsel, who had been approached by Adams to consider (unofficially) the evidence against Bulloch’s project. On July 22, Adams passed Dudley’s evidence to Russell, including Collier’s conclusion that the vessel was destined for war and should be detained. In his accompanying note, the American minister stressed his concern that a ship more powerful than the Florida could soon be launched and admonished the Palmerston government to “carry into full effect the determination which I doubt not it ever entertains to prevent by all lawful means the filling out of hostile expeditions against the Government of a country with which it is at peace.” The Foreign Office had the American portfolio delivered on the following day to Queen’s Advocate Sir John Harding for review. As it happened, Sir John was in the midst of a mental breakdown brought on by a stroke, and the dossier, consequently, sat unaddressed on his desk until Attorney General William Atherton retrieved it on July 28. Although he and the solicitor general, Roundell Palmer, worked tirelessly through the evening to examine the documents, their recommendation to detain the ship did not reach Russell until the afternoon of July 29.
Meanwhile, Dudley and Squarey implored O’Dowd in Liverpool to seize the ship. From July 22 forward, Dudley and Squarey hounded the local customs office, heaping on additional depositions and stepping up their warning that No. 290 would break out before the end of the month. Their anxiety was more than justified. Laird had launched the ship as Enrica over two months before and she had already cleared the customary trials. On July 28, O’Dowd responded to the American consul that his office still awaited instructions from London, instructions that, as Bulloch’s good fortune would have it, could only come from evidence to which Atherton and Palmer had just that day gained access. By the time their advice had run up the topmast, been vetted by the Foreign Office, and a telegram sent to Liverpool to detain No. 290, Bulloch’s cruiser (now sailing under the name Enrica ) had been out of reach of Liverpool authorities for over fifty hours.  Squarey’s telegram announcing the ships departure arrived at Liverpool Customs on the 29th with the jaded message that “the vessel No. 290 came out of dock last night, and left the port this morning.” In London the following day, A. H. Layard at the Foreign Office sent to Treasury a copy of Palmer and Atherton’s opinion: Treasury’s detention order finally appeared at Liverpool Customs late in the evening on July 31. 
While sifting through the chronology of the back and forth between the various concerned parties in both Liverpool and London may seem tedious, it is essential to understanding how Bulloch managed to dispatch a vessel from a British yard with such obviously malicious intent to prey on the commerce of a nation friendly to Britain. First, Bulloch monitored Dudley’s activities, knew that his determination to sink No. 290 in legal waters was gaining momentum and the Confederate agent was alert, throughout July, to the ticking clock. Second, the timely completion of the ship and the availability of both a temporary captain (Butcher) to pilot the ship out of British waters and to the Azores and a permanent captain (Raphael Semmes) to steer the ship into Confederate service tied up all remaining ends in parallel with the legal machinations to stop it. Third, Bulloch benefited from the unfortunate Harding’s stroke and the jurist’s wife’s accompanying subterfuge (She not only failed to report her husband’s condition, but attempted to hide it.) to provide an extra few days for Bulloch to make his play. Fourth, the shrewd effort of the steamship Agrippina to take on arms and fittings for the Enrica while anchored in London and her successful journey to the rendezvous point in the Azores made the transformation of the unarmed “warship” into a state-of-the-art ship of prey possible.
Knowing that eyes were on Laird’s yards, Bulloch had insured Enrica’s escape with an almost comical diversion. On the morning of July 28, Bulloch announced that the ship would make an all-day trial and had Butcher anchor her out of dock off Seacombe. To add to the illusion that the ship would only be out for the day, Bulloch invited local dignitaries (ladies and gentlemen) to participate in the outing. The following morning, with plentiful champagne and appropriate cuisine, the colorful group steamed away accompanied by the steam tug Hercules. Before sunset, Bulloch apologized that the trial would take them into the night and so had his guests transferred to the tug for the return to Liverpool. The following day, Bulloch took the Hercules back out where he and around three dozen sailors rejoined the Enrica off the Welsh coast. Bulloch was to face one more task, however, before his ship could be safely away. At the rendezvous point of Moelfra Bay, the seamen still had their women in tow. The women would not release their men until Bulloch had provided them with the first month’s pay and a meal. This being arranged and the ladies fed, at half past two in the morning, Butcher steamed north into the Irish Sea. The following evening, Bulloch left the ship at County Antrim on the northeast coast of Ireland and from there made his way back to Liverpool on August 3 to complete his task of getting Semmes, fittings and guns connected to the Enrica.
Within the week, Semmes appeared in Liverpool with a number of officers from his former command and, on 12 August, left the British port with Bulloch for the Azores on the Bahama. The Agrippina had already made an unmolested exit from the London docks and was in route to the rendezvous point with fittings, guns and potential crewmen for the Enrica. Just over a week after clearing the Mersey, the Bahama joined the Agrippina and the Enrica at Terceira, Azores, completing Bulloch’s most consequential mission—captain, crew, ship, and arms were now united on, as Semmes romanticized, the “perfect symmetry” of the CSS Alabama. 
The Alabama, following negotiations to sign the crew, was now complete and her mission to assail Union commerce could begin; and begin it did, with devastating efficiency. During her brief life, she burned or bonded over five dozen prizes. The carnage is cataloged in the numerous complaints by Adams as he did not allow a single affidavit or letter of claim or complaint to escape the attention of the Foreign Office. The files associated with the Alabama in the British archives contain page after page of complaints and charges as each vessel assailed by the “piratical” ship, to use Adams’s descriptor, is added to Russell’s expanding file. Semmes took his first prize on September 5 when the Alabama snared the Ocmulgee, a Massachusetts whaler. With this capture Semmes inaugurated the Alabama’s practice of briefly incarcerating the officers and crew, relieving the ship of its valuables, and then burning the vessel. This initial success validated Bulloch’s investment of scarce Confederate funds, a validation that within the next two weeks saw the account completely balanced. With the capture of the Elisha Dunbar on September 18, the value of prizes accrued exceeded the Laird’s £47,500 contract. After taking its last prize, the Tycoon, in April of 1864, the Alabama could boast a profit of almost $5,000,000 over Bulloch’s contracted price with Laird. In addition to the Alabama’s commercial prizes the cruiser also sank a U.S. gunboat, the USS Hatteras, at the beginning of 1863. But this “creditable performance,” as Bulloch unenthusiastically described it, amounted to little more than a momentary distraction from Semme’s primary mission to destroy Union commerce.
Semmes’s success could be measured not only in prizes and monetary losses, but also in the impact on American shipping and northern opinion. During the two-year cruise of the Alabama, insurance rates increased to a debilitating ten percent, encouraging the bulk of northern commerce to flee to foreign hulls as Britain secured the position as America’s dominant carrier, a position she would hold for decades. Likewise, newspapers could not resist the temptation to report the pain inflicted on the Union by the scourge of the seas. News of Semmes’s firing of American ships began to arrive in October and with it disbelief that a single ship could terrorize Union ocean trade. As reports mounted, fear shifted from the ocean to the port cities themselves as Bostonians began to fear exposure should the Alabama descend on the Bay. When news of Semmes’s capture and firing of the Brilliant (the single costliest loss at the hands of the Alabama) in early October 1862, the New York Herald warned that the “ugly customer” would “destroy millions of property before she is caught, if she is caught at all.” The following month, the New York Times listed current victims of the Alabama under the heading “THE REBEL PIRATE ‘290’.” It did not help assuage anti-British sentiments when word circulated of the routine respect extended to the Alabama by British naval officers and officials. For example, when the Alabama put in for repairs in Jamaica in early 1862, several officers and crew of British ships at the harbor not only visited the Confederate cruiser, but HMS Greyhound offered a musical salute with the fifes and drums striking “Dixie Land.”
Again, all of this increasing agitation over the vessel pressed Adams to continue to remind the Foreign Office of British culpability. As the Alabama set the match to its prizes, Adams heaped more evidence of Bulloch’s machinations on Russell in the form of affidavits from Liverpool witnesses. One of the most potentially damning was that of Clarence Randolph Yonge, a cashiered assistant paymaster on the Alabama. Despite his unsavory history, Adams exploited Yonge’s knowledge of ship and crew to establish that, not only had British hands built the Alabama, British sailors now manned it. Yonge’s deposition listed all of the officers and crew of the ship by nationality. Of the more than eighty names, the estranged paymaster identified almost two thirds as English. Out of fifty common seamen, only two were identified as American and one was alleged to be in the British Naval Reserve. Although the ship was already on the loose, Adams had hopes that continued pressure such as this would make the British reticent to extend traditional courtesies in British ports and, perhaps more realistically, curtail Bulloch’s continued efforts to dispatch more ships from British yards. On the first hope, Adams would be disappointed. On the second, however, the wringing of hands over the blatant failure Her Majesty’s Government to abort No. 290/Enrica soon joined with Union successes on the battlefield to frustrate Confederate naval efforts in Britain.
In March of 1863, Members of Parliament called for an accounting from the Palmerston government on the issue of the Alabama and the tension it had raised in Anglo-American relations. Parliament’s concerns narrowed to two questions: “The first was, whether Her Majesty's Government had done all they could—had used every possible exertion—to prevent these breaches of the law; and the second, whether they were impressed with the necessity of the duty of doing their utmost to prevent them for the future?” It did not help matters that complaints had been lodged of the loss of British property on U.S. ships taken by Semmes. Adding irritation to irritation, the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce called on Russell to hold Washington accountable for the property lost, since the southerners responsible were technically U.S. “subjects in rebellion.” Parliament demanded clarification of the government’s role in a situation that escalated with each grievance registered.
Roundel Palmer offered the most significant and comprehensive response in defense of the government’s actions. After reminding the body of America’s long-standing defense of neutral trade with belligerent states—ironically recently reprised by Secretary of State William Seward in response to a Mexican complaint of American commercial engagement with the “invading” French—Palmer retraced the interaction between the American legation and British officials concerning the Alabama from the initial complaint to the issue of the detention order.  In a chiding tone, Palmer traced the cycle of complaint and response from the filing of Dudley’s allegations the third week of June to the issuance of the detention order at the end of July. At every turn, he argued, the government had been reasonably prompt and efficient. He contended that even the final series of complaint and response had occurred in good order. In his revisionist rendering of events, he omitted the fact that over a month before the detention order he had recommended that the ship be detained and that the government conduct an investigation. This, and his emphasis on July 26 as the date that the dossier had been submitted for consideration and that the order to detain the ship went out just three days later (the former date deceptive, the latter date wrong),  calls into question both Palmer’s motives and veracity. It seems obvious that he had realigned events to fit a narrative that would best serve the government and, thus, his account remains suspect. Lord Palmerston, on the other hand, did not join his counselor’s subterfuge, relying instead on piqued indignation at the idea of being held to account by a foreign nation’s interpretation of British law. The law was clear, and no allegation based on "I tell you this, and I tell you that; I'm sure of this, and I'm sure of that,” justified action under the FEA. This was British law and he would not be cowed about it by American criticism and he, in fact, chastised those in Parliament who would.  The Prime Minister left the chamber having clearly stated that British law was not subject to the scrutiny of anyone outside the realm. Despite the bluster, however, he was steadily moving toward the American position and would soon champion that very position in British court.
As Parliament discussed the growing fracture in British relations with the United States and the appropriate application of the FEA, Dudley and his agents stalked another ship, the Alexandra. This one, smaller than the Alabama, had been contracted with Miller and Son (the firm that built the Florida) by Prioleau not to harass northern commerce, but to run the Union blockade. When Dudley sniffed it out, however, he naturally assumed that another of Bulloch’s deadly cruisers would soon be unleashed. The following March, the consul presented his evidence to Edwards and asked that the ship be seized before it could follow in the wake of the Alabama to “cruise and commit hostilities against the Government and citizens of the United States of America.” When Adams joined Dudley’s compliant and pressed Russell once again to intervene, it appeared that the issue would soon enter the all-too-familiar bureaucratic loop. As before, conflicting advice came to the Foreign Office. Edwards at Customs felt the ship was, indeed, designed for mischief under the Confederate ensign, but Treasury found no violation of the law. This time, however, the Palmerston government deferred to the opinion of Palmer to have the vessel detained and to send the matter to the courts for adjudication. This apparent change in the government’s attitude was greeted with “lively satisfaction” by Adams and the American legation. The court, however, soon undermined Adams’s satisfaction, standing by the rigid letter of the law and finding in favor of the owners. The ship, according to the court, had not been fitted out for war, was not in violation of the FEA, and had been unlawfully detained. If this was seen by Bulloch and supporters as vindication, it was only such on paper. The matter had drawn out for so long and under such public scrutiny that the ship would never see service in the Confederate Navy. Government appeals kept her tied up until spring of 1864 and, when she finally made the crossing to engage in blockade running later in the year, British officials in Nassau seized her and held the Alexandra in port until the end of hostilities.
If the court ruling on the Alexandra signaled hopes that the Confederate shipbuilding program could go forward, the actual disposition of the vessel and Russell’s newfound willingness to stymy Bulloch’s efforts saw those hopes dashed. The law had not changed, but government policy had. Bulloch sought deeper cover for his ongoing project with Laird, hulls 294 and 295 (the so-called Laird Rams). Bulloch signed over the contract to an agent for an Egyptian pasha. The rams, it would be alleged, were for use on the Nile. Since this removed the project from any connection to either of the belligerent states in North America, it should invite no challenge to either the letter or the spirit of the FEA. Despite Bulloch’s efforts throughout the summer and early fall of 1863 to get the rams finished, manned, and out to sea, the Palmerston government’s shift from a policy of watchful waiting to one of cautious intervention would frustrate those efforts. Ironically, the American legation did not appreciate the full impact of the policy shift and unnecessarily hyped the danger to Anglo-American relations should the vessels join the Confederate effort. Benjamin Moran, legation secretary, noted in a July diary entry that it would mean war. In early September, after hearing from Russell that the government had found no justification for seizing the rams, Adams warned Russell that this would, indeed, result in a “collision” and that it should go without stating “to your lordship that this is war.” On October 23, Adams attempted to summarize American grievances and warned that this issue could not and would not be put to rest as long as the Alabama continued in this “piratical mode of warfare.” This raider had derived “all its powers to do mischief from British sources, manned by a crew of British subjects enlisted in and proceeding from a British port,” from which she now implemented “her work to burn and destroy.” Adams, as it happened, was pushing on an open door: Palmerston had already determined to put an end to Confederate staging in Britain. As Adams penned his sharp response to the Foreign Office, Russell had already telegraphed Austin Layard to monitor the activities of the rams and to “detain them until further orders,” at the first sign that they were set to leave British jurisdiction. This he did, and the Foreign Office put the issue to rest in the spring by arranging for the purchase of the ships for the Royal Navy. That the Foreign Office “bought ships” and informed the Admiralty after the fact, punctuates the government’s determination to implement the new proactive policy. Likewise, the government throttled the construction in Glasgow of a larger version of the Alabama, the Pampero that had been contracted in fall of 1862. The watchful eye of U.S. officials in Glasgow and the advice of the now-experienced Dudley left the ship languishing in the Clyde while the various legal opinions circulated. By November of 1863 the determination was made that the ship was, indeed, destined for Confederate service; and, by the end of the year the government had ordered it seized. The disposition of the ship remained in dispute throughout 1864, making it a nonfactor in the South’s prosecution of its naval strategy. By the time the Pampero had been sorted, the Kearsarge had sorted the Alabama off of Cherbourg, France. William Cushman, chief engineer of the Union warship, reported happily to his mother shortly after the battle that “we have met the celebrated ‘Pirate Alabama’ and sunk her.”  The problem for London’s relations with Washington, however, had not been “sunk,” but continued long after U.S. complaints lodged against Lancaster’s Deerhound had faded. In fact, the damages levied by both the cruisers contracted with British builders and those purchased and refitted for Confederate service such as the Georgia (bought as the Japan from a Dumbarton, Scotland firm) and the Shenandoah (purchased as the Sea King from a Clydebank firm in Glasgow) had been so great that the United States filed claims against the Crown in the postwar years that would not be fully settled until 1872. The actions of the Shenandoah had been particularly egregious since its harassment of American shipping in the North Pacific and the Arctic continued for over half a year after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. 
It became increasingly apparent in the ensuing two years after Adams first signaled Washington’s aim to seek compensation for the damages inflicted by the Confederate raiders, that Her Majesty’s Government would, indeed, be held to account. Russell, therefore, in late summer of 1865, proposed that the nature of the claims be determined and the issue submitted to a joint commission. By the time Seward and Adams had vetted the proposal, however, Russell had relinquished his desk to Lord Stanley and the American rejection of the commission proposal was thus conveyed to the new staff of the Foreign Office. The impasse centered on both the American skepticism of a joint-commission remedy and the British failure to admit to the “precise nature of the claims.”  On August 27, 1866, Seward informed Adams that the claims against the cruisers had rested for too long. Nevertheless, the claims’ issue did not advance until Adams had been replaced by Reverdy Johnson in spring of 1868. Engaged by a new foreign secretary, Lord Clarendon, the two produced, at the beginning of 1869, the so-called Johnson-Clarendon convention that called for a commission of four (two from each nation) to meet in Washington to sort out the claims. Under the spring assault by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Charles Sumner, who pressed for “indirect” claims that would expand British liability from around $15 million to $2.5 billion (or the transfer to the United States of British property in North America), the proposed commission died. Sumner charged the British with complicity in the pain suffered by Americans during the war and demanded restitution. In fact, the anger over Britain’s role was such that conventional “direct” costs (those that could be put to ledger) would not begin to satisfy. Accounting should also consider indirect claims such as heightened insurance rates, loss of commerce, and prolongation of the war. Fortunately, reason, a change in personnel (Hamilton Fish became secretary of state and replaced Johnson in London with John Lothrop Motley), calming of public agitation, Britain’s anxiety over the burgeoning power of a unifying Germany, and a growing interest in healing the fractured Anglo-American rapprochement prevailed and the Alabama claims joined a catalog of outstanding disputes between the two nations in treaty negotiations in Washington in 1871. In May, the ten-member Joint High Commission concluded the Treaty of Washington. The details associated with the Alabama claims could not be settled by the diplomats in Washington, however, and so were foisted on a tribunal in Geneva that found the following year in America’s favor. There was no transfer of massive bits of British North America, however, but the British government did concede culpability in the form of an award to the United States of $15.5 million in direct damages. When the award was announced the London Times congratulated the tribunal as having arrived at an “eminently satisfactory” settlement. 
The voyage of the Alabama crossed considerably more history than that reflected in its brief time under sail and steam. Semmes and crew had celebrated the formal commissioning of the Confederate cruiser on August 14, 1862 and Winslow unceremoniously decommissioned her on June 19, 1864. The ship’s impact on Anglo-American relations, however, could arguably draw parameters from August 1, 1861 (the date of Laird’s contract for No. 290) to September 14, 1872 (the date of the announcement of the tribunal’s agreement in Geneva). Her legacy went well beyond the charts that chronicled her time at sea and the physical damage to Union commerce that she left in her wake. No. 290 had threatened to sink a rapprochement in Anglo-American relations evolving in minor ways since Adams’s father, John Quincy, had planted the seeds with Lord Castlereagh in the second decade of the century and in major ways since Daniel Webster had advanced the theme with Lord Ashburton in the 1840s. It was thus in the broader context of Anglo-American relations that the Alabama’s final chapter was written, not by the broadside of an 11-inch Dahlgren, but by the ink of diplomats a full eight years after the dark waters of the English Channel had begun its slow but steady assault on Bulloch’s pride.
Merli, Frank J. The Alabama, British Neutrality, and the American Civil War. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 2004.
Cook, Adrian. The Alabama Claims: American Politics and Anglo-American Relations, 1865-1872. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975.
Cross II, Coy F. Lincoln’s Man in Liverpool: Consul Dudley and the Legal Battle to Stop Confederate Warships. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2007.
Fox, Stephen. Wolf of the Deep: Raphael Semmes and the Notorious Confederate Raider CSS Alabama. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.
Hearn, Chester G. Gray Raiders of the Sea: How Eight Confederate Warships Destroyed the Union’s High Seas Commerce. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
Jones, Howard. Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
McPherson, James M. War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012.
Merli, Frank J. Great Britain and the Confederate Navy, 1861-1865. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970.
Spencer, Warren F. The Confederate Navy in Europe. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1983.
Wilson, Walter E. and Gary L. McKay. James D. Bulloch: Secret Agent and Master Mind of the Confederate Navy. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2012.
No organizations listed.
The CSS Alabama Association is a non-profit organization and relies upon membership dues, grants and similar donations as means to finance the recovery and conservation of artifacts from the ship.
United States Navy Department, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, 31 vols. (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1894-1927), Series I, volumes 1-3.
Volumes 1-3 of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies cover the operations of the Confederate Cruisers. They can be accessed on line at: http://ebooks.library.cornell.edu/m/moawar/ofre.html
University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
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