Military Wiki
CSS Alabama
A painting of CSS Alabama
Career (Confederate States of America)
Name: CSS Alabama
Builder: John Laird Sons & Company
Laid down: 1862
Launched: July 29, 1862
Commissioned: August 24, 1862
Decommissioned: June 19, 1864
Motto: "Aide Toi, Et Dieu T'Aidera," (Help yourself and God will help you) [1]
Fate: Sunk in battle with USS Kearsarge
General characteristics
Displacement: 1050 tons
Length: 220 ft (67 m)[2]
Beam: 31 ft 8 in (9.65 m)
Draft: 17 ft 8 in (5.38 m)
Installed power: 2 × 300 HP horizontal steam engines, auxiliary sails
Propulsion: Single screw propeller
Speed: 13 knots (24 km/h)[2]
Complement: 145 officers and men
Armament: 6 x 32 lb (15 kg) cannons, 1 x 110 lb (50 kg) cannon, 1 x 68 lb (31 kg) cannon

CSS Alabama was a screw sloop-of-war built for the Confederate States Navy at Birkenhead, England, in 1862 by John Laird Sons and Company.[3] Alabama served as a successful commerce raider, attacking Union merchant and naval ships over the course of her two-year career, during which she never anchored in a Southern port. She was sunk in battle by the USS Kearsarge in June 1864 at the Battle of Cherbourg outside the port of Cherbourg, France.



Alabama was built in secrecy in 1862 by British shipbuilders John Laird Sons and Company in North West England at their shipyards at Birkenhead, Cheshire. This was arranged by the Confederate agent James Dunwoody Bulloch, who was leading the procurement of sorely needed ships for the fledgling Confederate States Navy. He arranged the contract through Fraser, Trenholm Company, a cotton broker in Liverpool with ties to the Confederacy. Initially known as hull number 290, the ship was launched as Enrica on 15 May 1862 and secretly slipped out of Liverpool on 29 July 1862.[4] Union Captain Tunis A. M. Craven of the USS Tuscarora, which was in Southampton at the time, was tasked with intercepting the new ship without success.[5] Agent Bulloch arranged for a civilian crew and captain to sail Enrica to Terceira Island in the Azores. With Bulloch at his side, the new ship's captain, Raphael Semmes, left Liverpool on 13 August 1862 aboard the steamer Bahama to take command of the new cruiser. Semmes arrived at Terceira Island on 20 August 1862 and began overseeing the refitting of the new vessel with various provisions, including armaments, and 350 tons of coal, brought there by Agrippina, his new ship's supply vessel. After three days of back-breaking work by the three ship's crews, Enrica was transformed into a naval cruiser, designated a commerce raider, for the Confederate States of America. Following her commissioning as CSS Alabama, Bulloch then returned to Liverpool to continue his secret work for the Confederate Navy.[6] Alabama's British-made ordnance was composed of six broadside, 32-pounder, naval smoothbores and two larger and more powerful pivot cannons. Both pivot cannons were positioned roughly amidships along the deck's centerline, fore and aft of the main mast. The fore pivot was a heavy, long-range 100-pounder 7-inch (178 mm) Blakely rifle, the aft pivot a heavy, 8-inch (203 mm) smoothbore. The new Confederate cruiser was powered by both sail and by two John Laird Sons and Company 300 horsepower (220 kW) horizontal steam engines,[7] driving a single, Griffiths-type, twin-bladed brass screw. With the screw retracted using the stern's brass lifting gear mechanism, Alabama could make up to ten knots under sail alone and 13.25 knots (24.54 km/h) when her sail and steam power were used together.

Commissioning and voyage

The ship was purposely commissioned about a mile off Terceira Island in international waters on 24 August 1862: All the men from Agripinna and Bahama had been transferred to the quarter deck of Enrica, where her 24 officers, some of them Southerners, stood in full dress uniform. Captain Raphael Semmes mounted a gun-carriage and read his commission from President Jefferson Davis, authorizing him to take command of the new cruiser. Upon completion of the reading, musicians that assembled from among the three ships' crews began to play the tune "Dixie" just as the quartermaster finished hauling down Enrica's British colors. A signal cannon boomed and the stops to the halliards at the peaks of the mizzen gaf and mainmast were broken and the ship's new battle ensign and commissioning pennant floated free on the breeze. With that the cruiser became Confederate States Steamer Alabama. The ships motto: "Aide-toi et Dieu t'aidera" (God helps those who help themselves) was engraved in the bronze of the great double ship's wheel.[8]

Captain Semmes then made a speech about the Southern cause to the assembled seamen, asking them to sign on for a voyage of unknown length and destiny. Semmes had only his 24 officers and no crew to man his new command. When this did not succeed, Semmes changed his tack. Semmes then offered signing money and double wages, paid in gold, and additional prize money to be paid by the Confederate congress for all destroyed Union ships. When the men began to shout "Hear! Hear!" Semmes knew he had closed the deal: 83 seamen, many of them British, signed on for service in the Confederate Navy. Confederate agent Bulloch and the remaining seamen then returned to their respective ships for their return voyage to England. Semmes still needed another 20 or so men for a full crew complement, but enough had signed on to at least handle the new commerce raider. The rest would be recruited from among captured crews of raided ships or from friendly ports-of-call. Of the original 83 crewmen that signed on that day, many completed the full voyage.

Deck scene Cruiser Alabama in August, 1863 - Lts Armstrong and Sinclair at Sinclair's 32 pounder station[9]

Captain Raphael Semmes, Alabama's commanding officer, standing aft of the mainsail by his ship's aft 8-inch smooth bore gun during her visit to Cape Town in August 1863. His executive officer, First Lieutenant John M. Kell, is in the background, standing by the ship's wheel.[10]

Under Captain Semmes, Alabama spent her first two months in the Eastern Atlantic, ranging southwest of the Azores and then redoubling east, capturing and burning northern merchant ships. After a difficult crossing, she then continued her path of destruction and devastation in the greater New England region. She then sailed south, arriving in the West Indies where she raised more havoc before finally cruising west into the Gulf of Mexico. There, in January 1863, Alabama had her first military engagement. She came upon and quickly sank the Union side-wheeler USS Hatteras just off the Texas coast, near Galveston, capturing that warship's crew. She then continued further south, eventually crossing the equator, where she took the most prizes of her raiding career while cruising off the coast of Brazil. After a second Atlantic crossing, Alabama sailed down the southwestern African coast where she continued her war against northern commerce. After stopping in Saldanha Bay on 29 July 1863 in order to verify that no enemy ships were in Table Bay,[11] she finally made a much-needed refitting and reprovisioning visit to Cape Town, South Africa. She then sailed for the East Indies, where she spent six months destroying seven more ships before finally redoubling the Cape of Good Hope en route to France. Union warships hunted frequently for the elusive and by now famous Confederate raider, but the few times Alabama was spotted, she quickly outwitted her pursuers and vanished beyond the horizon.

All together, she burned 65 Union vessels of various types, most of them merchant ships. During all of Alabama's raiding ventures, captured ships' crews and passengers were never harmed, only detained until they could be placed aboard a neutral ship or placed ashore in a friendly or neutral port.

Expeditionary raids of the CSS Alabama

All together, Alabama conducted a total of seven expeditionary raids, spanning the globe, before heading back to France for refit and repairs and a date with destiny:

  • The CSS Alabama's Eastern Atlantic Expeditionary Raid (August–September, 1862) commenced immediately after she was commissioned. She immediately set sail for the shipping lanes southwest and then east of the Azores, where she captured and burned ten prizes, mostly whalers.
  • The CSS Alabama's New England Expeditionary Raid (October–November, 1862) began after Captain Semmes and his crew departed for the northeastern seaboard of North America, along Newfoundland and New England, where she ranged as far south as Bermuda and the coast of Virginia, burning ten prizes while capturing and releasing three others.
  • The CSS Alabama's Gulf of Mexico Expeditionary Raid (December, 1862 – January, 1863) was centered around a needed rendezvous with her supply vessel, CSS Agrippina. After that, she rendered aid to Texas during Major General Banks' invasion near Galveston, Texas. There, she quickly sank the Union side-wheeler USS Hatteras.
  • The CSS Alabama's South Atlantic Expeditionary Raid (February–July, 1863) was her most successful raiding venture, taking 29 prizes while raiding off the coast of Brazil. Here she recommissioned the bark Conrad as the CSS Tuscaloosa.
  • The CSS Alabama's South African Expeditionary Raid (August–September, 1863) occurred primarily while ranging off the coast of South Africa, as she worked together with the CSS Tuscaloosa.
  • The CSS Alabama's Indian Ocean Expeditionary Raid (September–November, 1863) was composed of a long trek across the Indian Ocean. The few prizes she gathered were in the East Indies.
  • The CSS Alabama's South Pacific Expeditionary Raid (December, 1863) was her final raiding venture. She took a few prizes in the Strait of Malacca before finally turning back toward France for a much needed refit and long overdue repairs.

Upon the completion of her seven expeditionary raids, Alabama had been at sea for 534 days out of 657, never visiting a single Confederate port. She boarded nearly 450 vessels, captured or burned 65 Union merchant ships, and took more than 2,000 prisoners without a single loss of life from either prisoners or her own crew.

Final Cruise

"Kearsarge and the Alabama" by Édouard Manet

Sternpost of USS Kearsarge containing unexploded 100-pound shell fired by CSS Alabama

On 11 June 1864, Alabama arrived in port at Cherbourg, France. Captain Semmes soon requested permission to dry dock and overhaul his ship, much needed after so long a time at sea and so many naval actions. Pursuing the raider, the American sloop-of-war, USS Kearsarge, under the command of Captain John Ancrum Winslow, arrived three days later and took up station just outside the harbor. While at his previous port-of-call, Winslow had telegraphed Gibraltar to send the old sloop-of-war USS St. Louis with provisions and to provide blockading assistance. Kearsarge now had Alabama boxed-in with no place left to run. Having no desire to see his worn-out ship rot away at a French dock while quarantined by Union warships, and given his instinctive aggressiveness and a long-held desire once again to engage his enemy, Captain Semmes chose to fight. After preparing his ship and drilling the crew for the coming battle during the next several days, Semmes issued, through diplomatic channels, a bold challenge to the Kearsarge's commander,[12] "my intention is to fight the Kearsarge as soon as I can make the necessary arrangements. I hope these will not detain me more than until to-morrow or the morrow morning at farthest. I beg she will not depart until I am ready to go out. I have the honor to be Your obedient servant, R. Semmes, Captain."

On 19 June, Alabama sailed out to meet the Union cruiser. As Kearsarge turned to meet her opponent, Alabama opened fire. Kearsarge waited patiently until the range had closed to less than 1,000 yards (900 m). According to survivors, the two ships steamed on opposite courses in seven spiraling circles, moving southwesterly with the 3-knot current, each commander trying to cross the bow of his opponent to deliver a heavy raking fire. The battle quickly turned against Alabama due to the superior gunnery displayed by Kearsarge and the deteriorated state of Alabama's contaminated powder and fuses. Her most important shot, fired from the forward 7-inch (178 mm) Blakely pivot rifle, hit very near Kearsarge's vulnerable stern post, the impact binding the ship's rudder badly. That rifled shell, however, failed to explode. If it had done so, it would have seriously disabled Kearsarge's steering, possibly sinking the warship, and ending the contest. In addition, Alabama's too rapid rate-of-fire resulted in frequent poor gunnery, with many of her shots going too high, thus sealing the fate of the Confederate raider. As a result, Kearsarge benefited little that day from the protection of her outboard chain armor, whose presence Semmes later said was unknown to him at the time of his decision to issue the challenge to fight. In fact, in the years that followed, Semmes steadfastly claimed he would have never fought Kearsarge if he had known she was armor-clad.

The ironclad frigate French battleship La Gloire was in the English Channel, near Cherbourg, during the battle between Alabama and Kearsarge

This hull armor had been installed in just three days, more than a year before, while Kearsarge was in port at the Azores. It was made using 120 fathoms (720 feet) of 1.7-inch (43 mm) single link iron chain and covered hull spaces 49 feet (15 m), six-inches (152 mm) long by 6-feet, 2-inches deep. It was stopped up and down to eye-bolts with marlines and secured by iron dogs. It was concealed behind 1-inch deal-boards painted black to match the upper hull's color. This chaincladding was placed along Kearsarge's port and starboard midsection down to the waterline, for additional protection of her engines and boilers when the upper portion of her coal bunkers were empty. This armor belt was hit twice during the fight: First in the starboard gangway by one of Alabama's 32-pounder shells that cut the chain armor, denting the hull planking underneath, then again by a second 32-pounder shell that exploded and broke a link of the chain armor, tearing away a portion of the deal-board covering. If those rounds had come from Alabama's more powerful 100-pounder Blakely pivot rifle, the likely result would not have been too serious, as both struck the chain armor a little more than five feet above the waterline. Even if both shots had penetrated Kearsarge's side, they would have completely missed her vital machinery.

A little more than an hour after the first shot was fired, Alabama was reduced to a sinking wreck by Kearsarge's powerful 11-inch (280 mm) Dahlgrens, forcing Captain Semmes to strike his colors and to send one of his two surviving boats to Kearsarge to ask for assistance. According to witnesses, Alabama fired 370 rounds at her adversary, averaging one round per minute per gun, a very fast rate of fire, while Kearsarge's gun crews fired less than half that many, taking more careful aim. During the confusion of battle, five more rounds were fired at Alabama after her colors were struck. (Her gun ports had been left open and the broadside cannon were still run out, appearing to come to bear on Kearsarge.) Then a hand-held white flag came fluttering from Alabama's stern spanker boom, finally halting the engagement. Prior to this, she had her steering gear compromised by shell hits, but the fatal shot came later when one of Kearsarge's 11-inch (280 mm) shells tore open a midsection of Alabama's starboard waterline. Water quickly rushed through the defeated cruiser, eventually drowning her boilers and forcing her down by the stern to the bottom. As Alabama sank, the injured Semmes threw his sword into the sea, depriving Kearsage's commander Captain John Ancrum Winslow of the traditional surrender ceremony of having it handed over to him as victor. Kearsarge rescued the majority of the survivors, but 41 of Alabama's officers and crew, including Semmes, were rescued by the private British yacht Deerhound, while the Kearsarge stood off to recover her rescue boats as the Alabama sank.[13] Captain Winslow was forced to stand by helplessly and watch Deerhound spirit away to England his much sought after adversary, Captain Semmes and his surviving shipmates.

The sinking of the Alabama by the Kearsarge is honored by the United States Navy with a battle star on the Civil War campaign streamer.

CSS Alabama's officers

Officer Post
List of Officers Of The Confederate States Steamer Alabama

As They Signed Themselves.[14]

Raphael Semmes Commander
John Mclntosh Kell First Lieutenant And Executive Officer
Richard F. Armstrong Second Lieutenant
Joseph D. Wilson Third Lieutenant
John Low Fourth Lieutenant
Arthur Sinclair Fifth Lieutenant
Francis L. Galt Surgeon And Acting Paymaster
Miles J. Freeman Chief-Engineer
Wm. P. Brooks Assistant- Engineer
Mathew O Brien Assistant-Engineer
Simeon W. Cummings[A] Assistant-Engineer
John M. Pundt Assistant-Engineer
Wm. Robertson Assistant-Engineer
Becket K. Howell Lieutenant Marines
Irvine S. Bulloch Sailing-Master
D. Herbert Llewellyn Assistant-Surgeon
Wm. H. Sinclair Midshipman
E. Anderson Maffitt Midshipman
E. Maffitt Anderson Midshipman
Benjamin P. Mecaskey Boatswain
Henry Alcott Sailmaker
Thomas C. Cuddy Gunner
Wm. Robinson Carpenter
Jas. Evans Master’s Mate
Geo. T. Fullam Master’s Mate
Julius Schroeder Master’s Mate
Baron Max. Von Meulnier Master’s Mate
W. Breedlove Smith Captain S Secretary
A Died in Saldanha Bay from accidental gunshot on 3 August 1863.[11]

Southern Cross of Honor awarded for valor

Perhaps the most courageous and selfless act during the Alabama's last moments involved the ship's assistant surgeon, Dr. David Herbert Llewellyn.[15] Dr. Llewellyn, a Briton, was much loved and respected by the entire crew. During the battle, he steadfastly remained at his post in the wardroom tending the wounded until the order to abandon ship was finally given. As he helped wounded men into the Alabama's only two functional lifeboats, an able bodied sailor attempted to enter one, which was already full. Llewellyn, understanding that the man risked capsizing the craft, grabbed and pulled him back, saying "See, I want to save my life as much as you do; but let the wounded men be saved first." An officer in the boat, seeing that Llewellyn was about to be left aboard the stricken Alabama, shouted "Doctor, we can make room for you." Llewellyn shook his head and replied, "I will not peril the wounded." Unknown to the crew, Llewellyn had never learned to swim, and he drowned when the ship went down.

His sacrifice did not go unrecognized. The Confederacy awarded him posthumously the Southern Cross of Honor.[16] In his native Wiltshire, a memorial window and tablet were placed at Easton Royal Church. Another tablet was placed in Charing Cross Hospital, where he attended medical school.


During her two-year career as a commerce raider, Alabama caused disorder and devastation across the globe for Union merchant shipping. The Confederate cruiser claimed 65 prizes valued at nearly $6,000,000 (approximately $123,000,000 in today's dollars[citation needed]); in 1862 alone 28 were claimed.[17] In an important development in international law, the U. S. Government pursued the "Alabama Claims" against the British Government for the devastation caused, and following a court of arbitration, won heavy damages.

Ironically, a decade before the beginning of the Civil War, Captain Semmes had observed:

"(Commerce raiders) are little better than licensed pirates; and it behooves all civilized nations [...] to suppress the practice altogether."—Raphael Semmes, 1851[18]

The wreck

In November 1984, the French Navy mine hunter Circé discovered a wreck under nearly 200 ft (60 m) of water off Cherbourg[19] at 49°45′9″N 1°41′42″W / 49.7525°N 1.695°W / 49.7525; -1.695.[20] Captain Max Guerout later confirmed the wreck to be Alabama's remains.

In 1988, a non-profit organization the Association CSS Alabama was founded to conduct scientific exploration of the shipwreck. Although the wreck resides within French territorial waters, the U. S. government, as the successor to the former Confederate States of America, is the owner. On October 3, 1989, the United States and France signed an agreement recognizing this wreck as an important heritage resource of both nations and establishing a Joint French-American Scientific Committee for archaeological exploration. This agreement established a precedent for international cooperation in archaeological research and in the protection of a unique historic shipwreck. This agreement will be in effect for five years and is renewable by mutual consent.

The Association CSS Alabama and the U.S. Navy/Naval Historical Center signed on March 23, 1995 an official agreement accrediting Association CSS Alabama as operator of the archaeological investigation of the remains of the ship. Association CSS Alabama, which is funded solely from private donations, is continuing to make this an international project through its fund raising in France and in the United States, thanks to its sister organization, the CSS Alabama Association, incorporated in the State of Delaware.

Alabama was fitted with eight pieces of ordnance after she arrived at the Azores; six of those were 32-pounder smooth bores. Seven cannon were identified at the wreck site: Two were cast from a British Royal Navy pattern and three were of a later pattern produced by Fawcett, Preston, and Company in Liverpool.

One of the Blakely pattern 32-pounders was found lying across the starboard side of the hull, forward of the boilers. A second Blakely 32-pounder was identified outside the hull structure, immediately forward of the propeller and its lifting frame; the forward 32-pounder was recovered in 2000. Both of the British Royal Navy pattern 32-pounders were identified: One lies inside the starboard hull, forward of the boilers, adjacent to the forward Downton pump. The second was identified as laying on the iron deck structure, immediately aft of the smoke pipe; it was recovered in 2001. The sole remaining 32-pounder has not been positively identified, but it could be underneath hull debris forward of the starboard Trotman anchor.

Alabama's heavy ordnance were one Blakely Patent 7-inch 100-pounder shell rifle mounted on a pivot carriage forward and one 68-pounder smoothbore similarly mounted aft. The Blakely 7-inch 100-pounder was found beside its pivot carriage, atop the forward starboard boiler; this was the first cannon recovered from Alabama. The 68-pounder smoothbore was located aft, at the stern, immediately outside the starboard hull structure; it is possible that the remains of its truck and pivot carriage lie underneath the gun tube. Both heavy cannon were recovered in 1994.

In addition to the seven cannon, the wreck site contained shot, gun truck wheels, and brass tracks for the gun carriages; many of the brass tracks were recovered. Two shot were recovered, and one conical projectile was inside the barrel of the 7-inch Blakely rifle. A shell for a 32-pounder was recovered from the stern, forward of the propeller; that shot was attached to a wood sabot having been packed in a wood box for storage. Additional round shot were observed scattered forward of the boilers and in the vicinity of the aft pivot gun, one possibly having been fired from Kearsarge.

In 2002 a diving expedition raised the ship's bell along with more than 300 other artifacts, including more cannons, structural samples, tableware, ornate commodes, and numerous other items that reveal much about life aboard the Confederate warship. Many of the artifacts are now housed in the Underwater Archaeology Branch, Naval History & Heritage Command conservation lab.

CSS Alabama folklore

"Roll Alabama, roll!"

The Alabama is the subject of a sea shanty, '"Roll Alabama, roll'":[21]

When the Alabama's Keel was Laid, (Roll Alabama, roll!), 'Twas laid in the yard of Jonathan Laird (Roll, roll Alabama, roll!)
'Twas Laid in the yard of Jonathan Laird, 'twas laid in the town of Birkenhead.
Down the Mersey way she rolled then, and Liverpool fitted her with guns and men.
From the western isle she sailed forth, to destroy the commerce of the north.
To Cherbourg port she sailed one day, for to take her count of prize money.
Many a sailor laddie saw his doom, when the Kearsarge it hove in view.
When a ball from the forward pivot that day, shot the Alabama's stern away.
Off the three-mile limit in '64, the Alabama was seen no more.

"Daar kom die Alibama"

The Alabama's visit to Cape Town in 1863 has passed (with a slight spelling change) into South African folklore in the Afrikaans song, "Daar Kom die Alibama":[22]

Afrikaans language:

Daar kom die Alibama,
Die Alibama, die kom oor die see,
Daar kom die Alibama,
Die Alibama, die kom oor die see...
Nooi, nooi die rietkooi nooi,
Die rietkooi is gemaak,
Die rietkooi is vir my gemaak,
Om daarop te slaap...
O Alibama, die Alibama,
O Alibama, die kom oor die see,
O Alibama, die Alibama,
O Alibama, die kom oor die see...


There comes the Alabama,
The Alabama, it comes o'er the sea,
There comes the Alabama,
The Alabama, it comes o'er the sea...
Lass, lass, the reed bed calls,
The reed bed it is made,
The reed bed it is made for me,
To sleep upon...
Oh Alabama, the Alabama,
Oh Alabama, it comes o'er the sea,
Oh Alabama, the Alabama,
Oh Alabama, it comes o'er the sea...

CSS Alabama plaque in Simonstown.

CSS Alabama's battle ensigns & other naval flags

The practice of using primary and secondary naval flags after the British tradition was common practice for the Confederacy, linked as she was by both heritage and economy to the British Isles. The fledgling Confederate Navy therefore adopted and used jacks, commissioning pennants, battle ensigns, small boat ensigns, designating flags, and signal flags aboard its warships during the Civil War.

Jacks and commissioning pennants

Alabama's original 7-star naval jack (first illustration, above) would have flown atop her foremast while she was in port, well forward of her battle ensign. At some point, it would have displayed the same asymmetrical, 8-star configuration as seen on one of her three still surviving battle ensigns (see "Surviving stars and bars" section below). A medium-blue color, early Confederate jacks duplicated the star arrangements seen on their ensigns' cantons. They were rectangular in shape, rather than square, because the Confederate Navy emulated the overall designs being used by their U. S. Navy counterparts. There is surviving evidence, the captured 7-star jack of the ironclad CSS Atlanta, which strongly suggests all early Confederate naval jacks were actually a dark blue, matching the color of their battle ensigns' cantons. Whatever its blue color, later versions of Alabama's pre-1863 jack could have contained, like her ensign, 9, 11, 13, and up to 15 white, 5-pointed stars. Alabama's naval jack design changed (second and third illustrations, above) when the Confederacy adopted the Stainless Banner Second National Flag (see that section, below). While her specific jack's dimensions are unknown, the Confederate naval regulations adopted on 26/28 May 1863 required that all new jacks be a larger version of the battle ensign's new 13-star canton, the red, blue, and white Southern Cross. Instead of being square, all jacks were required to be rectangular in shape, their width being one-and-a-half times their height, a ratio of 2:3. Their white-bordered diagonal saltieres were a medium blue color rather than the dark blue seen on the Stainless Banner. However, virtually all surviving Confederate jacks show their proportions and specific details varied, despite the Confederate Navy regulation's precise requirements. Differences among both state and regional contractors' manufacturing methods and frequent materials shortages as the war progressed, likely account for the variations seen. Following the Civil War and up through today, the rectangular Southern Cross naval jack became the Confederate flag design most commonly associated with the post-war South, and racial controversy.

Both of Alabama's pre-1863 commissioning pennants would have been similar to the designs used by the U. S. Navy. They would have been long and narrow and one of five approved sizes, ranging from 25 feet (7.6 m) to 70 feet (21 m) in their overall lengths. Pennants would have flown atop her main mast in two forms: daylight or after sunset. Their medium or possibly dark blue cantons (hoists) would have been one-quarter of their overall "flys" (widths). Each could have displayed from 7 to 13 white, 5-pointed stars, as the number of states in the Confederacy grew: 7 to 13 on Alabama's daylight pennant but only 7 on her much shorter after-sunset pennant. Their star patterns could have been either staggered up and down or laid out in a single, horizontal row across their narrow blue cantons (accounts vary). The remaining three-quarters of these long, narrow streamers would have been divided with two equal, tapering stripes, red-over-white (some accounts say white-over-red), with both stripes terminating with twin-forked (swallow tail) points. A slightly modified third pennant variant was also used; it had three long, horizontal red-over-white-over-red stripes and also terminated with twin-forked (swallow tail) points. Both pennant types were in use by the Confederate Navy until 1863, when all pennants, jacks, and battle ensigns were redesigned.

The stars and bars

On 4 March 1861, the committee of the first Provisional Congress of the Confederate States of America established the general requirements for the First National Flag of the Confederacy. Many designs were submitted by the public, but the new flag's approved design came from Marion, Alabama, Prussian artist Nicola Marschall, who had married into a Montgomery, Alabama family. The new Confederate flag and naval ensign was loosely adapted from his homeland's Austrian flag (with a dark blue canton added), quickly becoming known in the South as the Stars and Bars. Its hoist-to-fly (width-to-height) was later established by the committee with a ratio of 2:3. The flag's dark blue canton was to be in a 1:1 (square) ratio and contain seven white, 5-pointed stars arranged in a circular layout. The flag's three horizontal stripes were to be red over white over red and be of equal height. The newly adopted Star and Bars made its first public appearance outside the Ben Johnson House in Bardstown, Kentucky. It was then raised over the dome of the first Confederate capitol in Montgomery, Alabama and aboard all Confederate Navy ships, where it flew until 26 May 1863, when it was replaced with a new Second National Flag design.

Typical First National Flag (Stars and Bars) 13-star battle ensign design, possibly flown aboard CSS Alabama. (28 November 1861 – May 1863)

During Alabama 's long commerce raiding cruises, several revised versions of her Stars and Bars could have flown aboard when the news of additional stars being added eventually reached the ship. Their dark blue cantons could have contained at various times 9, 11, 13 (as pictured, right) and up to 15 white stars.

In addition to her own, Alabama is known to have carried both British Union Jack and U. S. Stars and Stripes ensigns in her flags locker. Both were flown at various times, along with the ensigns of other nations, to conceal Alabama's true nationality as she overtook ships, looking for the North's commercial shipping.

Alabama's surviving stars and bars

At the beginning of Alabama's raiding ventures, the newly commissioned cruiser may have been forced, out of necessity, to fly the only battle ensign available to Captain Semmes: an early 1861, 7-star First National Flag, possibly the same battle ensign flown aboard his previous command, the smaller commerce raider CSS Sumter. Between 21 May and 28 November 1861, six more Southern states seceded and joined the Confederacy. Well before Alabama was launched as Enrica at Birkenhead, Merseyside in North West England, six more white, 5-pointed stars had been added to the Stars and Bars far away across the Atlantic on the Confederate mainland.

Typical First National Flag (Stars and Bars) 7-star battle ensign design. (4 May 1861 – 21 May 1861)

One such early Stars and Bars battle ensign was salvaged from Alabama's floating debris, following her sinking by the Kearsarge. It still survives and is held by the Alabama Department of Archives and History. It is listed there as "Auxiliary Flag of the C.S.S. Alabama, Catalogue No. 86.3766.1." According to their provenance reconstruction, DeCost Smith, an American from New England, discovered this Stars and Bars ensign in a Paris upholstery shop in 1884, where he purchased it for 15 francs. Smith's nephew, Clement Sawtell of Lincoln Square, Massachusetts, later inherited the ensign from his uncle. At the suggestion of retired Rear Admiral Beverly M. Coleman, Sawtell donated it to the State of Alabama on 3 June 1975. This battle ensign's overall dimensions are different from the Confederate regulations' required 2:3 ratio. It is 64-inches high (hoist) by 112-inches long (fly), a proportion of 5:9, and its dark blue canton contains eight white stars, 8-inches (203 mm) high, in an unusual arrangement: The stars are not organized in a circle but configured in three, centered, horizontal rows of two, then three, and finally two. The additional 8th star is tucked into the lower left corner (and in the lower right corner on the opposite side), giving the canton's layout a unique, asymmetrical appearance. It seems plausible this was Alabama's original 7-star battle ensign, possibly flown aboard CSS Sumter as noted earlier, and later altered at some point when the long-delayed news of an 8th state joining the Confederacy finally reached the far distant cruiser.

Two Star and Bars battle ensigns, labelled as having belonged to Alabama, also still exist. The first is a mounted and framed, 14-star ensign located at the Mariner's Museum in Virginia. (A small number of these unusual 14-star national flags have survived to the modern era and are held in several Civil War archives.) From the several color photo available on the Internet, this ensign appears to have an approximate hoist-to-fly aspect ratio of 1 : 2.5 (i.e, very rectangular). A second Stars and Bars battle ensign is on display at the Pensacola Historical Museum. It's canton contains a circle of 12 stars surrounding a centered, larger 13th star. While their provenance and specific details of these two Alabama ensigns are currently unavailable, such information will be added to this section when available.[citation needed]

The stainless banner

Typical 1:2 ratio Second National Flag (Stainless Banner) battle ensign design
(adopted 1 May 1863).

By late 1863, a new battle ensign, the Second National Flag of the Confederacy, also known as the Stainless Banner, was flying aboard Alabama. The specifications for this new ensign, established on 1 May 1863 by the Confederate Congress, gave it a hoist-to-fly proportion of 1:2, the white area being twice as wide as the height. A short time later, however, the Confederate Navy Department revised these regulations, changing the Navy's battle ensign proportions to a 2:3 ratio. Its square canton was the established thirteen-star red, blue, and white Southern Cross, already in-use by the Southern army as the Confederate Battle Flag. This design was originally proposed in 1861 by South Carolina Congressman William Porcher Miles to be used as the original First National Flag, but it was supposedly rejected as appearing too much like a pair of crossed pants' suspenders.

Whatever its proportion, the white expanse of the Stainless Banner proved to have poor visibility at a distance, especially when viewed through the haze sometimes seen over water and or in contrast against soft gray skies. Both types of Stainless Banner ensigns ultimately wound of being used aboard Confederate ships, their proportions and specific details varying a bit from both ship-to-ship and state-to-state.

Typical 2:3 ratio revised Second National Flag (Stainless Banner) battle ensign (likely flying aboard CSS Alabama just before her surrender).

Accounts state that the Stainless Banner Second National Flag was flying high on a line attached to Alabama's mizzen gaff until just before her sinking off Cherbourg, France, in 1864. At the close of her losing fight with the Kearsarge, Alabama's battle ensign was ordered struck for the last time. What happened to it following the battle is unknown. All other colors in her flags' locker, both old and new, foreign and Confederate, except for the ones noted, were lost with her destruction by the Kearsarge.

It is unknown which versions of all the above flags were flown at specific intervals during Alabama's seven raiding campaigns. Captain Semmes, while visiting friendly or neutral foreign ports-of-call, may have simply commissioned multiple new battle ensigns, naval jacks, and pennants, as needed, while refitting and reprovisioning his ship. Or he may have ordered them altered or new ones made aboard when captured newspaper articles or official dispatches containing the changes finally caught up to Alabama.

Alabama's surviving stainless banners

Four of Alabama's later-style ensigns have survived to the modern era. The first measures 67-inches x 114-inches (170-cms x 290-cms) and is located in South Africa at Cape Town's Bo-Kapp Museum. Its Southern Cross canton is oversize and rectangular, instead of square, and is roughly in a 1:2 aspect ratio. It was made without the usual white stripes outlining the diagonal blue bars. A central white star, located where the two blue saltieres' cross, is larger than the surrounding twelve stars. This ensign is believed to have been made aboard by her British crew sometime between Alabama's two visits to Cape Town. This ensign was given to Willam Anderson, whose ship chandler company made repairs on CSS Alabama, shortly before she made her fateful return voyage to Cherbourg, France. A second Stainless Banner ensign of South African origin was made and then presented to Alabama on one of her two port visits to Cape Town; it resides in the Tennessee State Museum according to their website. No further information on this ensign or how it survived is available at this time; those details will be added when available.

The third surviving Stainless Banner is one of Alabama's original small boat ensigns. This official-looking 25.5-inch x 41-inch ensign is marked in brown pigment on its hoist: "Alabama. 290. C.S.N. 1st Cutter." In 2007 it was offered for auction through Philip Weiss Auctions; multiple photos of both its sides are available at Weiss' website. This ensign was being sold by the grandson of its second owner, who had originally purchased it from the granddaughter of a USS Kearsarge sailor. A fourth surviving ensign appears, from various clues observed in on-line photos, to be roughly 36-inches x 54-inches. Because Alabama was forced to replace several of her original small boats lost at different times during her lengthy cruise, this is likely a larger replacement boat ensign. While it could have been made aboard, its somewhat more accurate details suggest it might have been commissioned ashore during a port-of-call visit. This ensign was rescued from the sinking Alabama by W. P. Brooks, the cruiser's assistant-engineer. It was last flown, along with other historic flags, during a ceremony held on the parade ground at Fort Pulaski, GA, sometime during 1937. This ensign has since been mounted and framed and continues to reside with the Brooks family; four modern photos of it can be found at the website for the "Alabama Crew," a British-based naval reinactor group. More detailed information on this Stainless Banner will be added when it becomes available. The Alabama Department of Archives and History has in its collection one more important Stainless Banner ensign listed as "Admiral Semmes' Flag, Catalogue No. 86.1893.1 (PN10149-10150)." Their provenance reconstruction shows that it was presented to Semmes after the sinking of the Alabama by "Lady Dehogton and other English ladies." Such presentations of ceremonial colors were uncommon to ships' captains of the Confederate Navy, but a few were known to have received such honors. This Second National Flag is huge and made of pure silk, giving it an elegant appearance. While this ensign is in a remarkable state of preservation, its large size and delicate condition have made its up-close details and measurements unavailable. When Semmes returned to the Confederacy from England, he brought this ceremonial Stainless Banner with him. It was inherited by his grandchildren, Raphael Semmes III and Mrs. Eunice Semmes Thorington. Following his sister's death, Raphael Semmes III donated the ensign to the state of Alabama on 19 September 1929.

See also


  1. "C.S.S. Alabama Artifacts Exhibit at U.S. Naval Museum opens with All-Star Franco-American Reception". The Confederate Naval Historical Society Newsletter Issue Number Nine. The Confederate Naval Historical Society. February 1992. Retrieved 27 January 2010. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Fletcher, R.A. (1910). Steam-ships : the story of their development to the present day. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. pp. 175–176. Retrieved 2009-10-29. 
  3. "The Alabama". Retrieved 2007-02-26. 
  4. Wilson, Walter E. and Gary L. McKay (2012). "James D. Bulloch; Secret Agent and Mastermind of the Confederate Navy". Jefferson, NC: McFarland, pp. 76, 80
  5. Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 381. 
  6. Wilson, Walter E. and Gary L. McKay (2012). "James D. Bulloch; Secret Agent and Mastermind of the Confederate Navy". Jefferson, NC: McFarland. pp. 90-92
  7. "English Accounts", The New York Times, 1864-07-06.
  8. Watts, Jr., Gordon P.. "Archaeological Investigation of the Confederate Commerce Raider CSS Alabama 2002". Historic Naval Ships Association. Retrieved 2008-08-20. 
  9. Sinclair, Arthur, Lt. CSN (1896). Two Years on the Alabama. Boston: Lee and Shepard Publishers. 
  10. "CSS Alabama (1862-1864) - Selected Views". U.S. Naval Historical Center. 12 July 2000. Retrieved 8 March 2011. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Green, Lawrence. "20 – Lloyed of the Lagoon". In the Land Of Afternoon. pp. 280–281. Retrieved 2009-08-13. 
  12. The Magazine of History with Notes ... – Google Book Search.'Aidera+Alabama+ships+wheel&source=web&ots=0Sgz9kAAsO&sig=g13bemOVqywG4h28NFsCOMjuWQk&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=4&ct=result#PPA13,M1. Retrieved 2008-08-25. 
  13. Crocker III, H. W. (2006). Don't Tread on Me. New York: Crown Forum. pp. 216. ISBN 978-1-4000-5363-6. 
  14. Sinclair, Arthur, Lt. CSN (1896). Two Years on the Alabama. Boston: Lee and Shepard Publishers. pp. 343. 
  15. "David Herbert Llewellyn". CSS Alabama Digital Collection. Retrieved 2008-04-04. 
  16. [1]
  17. Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 600. 
  18. Semmes, Raphael. Service Afloat and Ashore During the Mexican War. Cincinnati, OH: Wm. H. Moore & Co., 1851, pp. 80-82
  19. [2]
  20. More accurate location shown at: nautical chart
  22. "South African Scout Campfire songbook: South African songs". South African Scout Association. 2008. Retrieved 2008-07-31. 


  • This article contains public domain material from the Naval Historical Center.
  • Bowcock, Andrew. CSS Alabama, Anatomy of a Confederate Raider
    Chatham Publishing, London, 2002. ISBN 1-86176-189-9.
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    Winchester, MA, Flag Research Center, 1986. ISSN 0015-3370. (An 80-page special edition of "The Flag Bulletin" magazine, #115, devoted entirely to Confederate naval flags.)
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    University of North Carolina Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8078-2294-9.
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    Nautical Research Journal. ISSN 0738-7245.
  • Semmes, R., CSS, Commander. The Cruise of the Alabama and the Sumter,(Two Volumes In One)
    Carlton, Publisher, New York, 1864.
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    Lee and Shepard Publishers, Boston
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  • Still, Jr., William N.; Taylor, John M.; Delaney, Norman C.(1998). Raiders and Blockaders, the American Civil War Afloat
    Brassy's, Inc., ISBN 1-57488-164-7.
  • Secretary of the Navy. Sinking of the Alabama—Destruction of the Alabama by the Kearsarge. Washington, D.C., Navy Yard, 1864. (Annual report in the library of the Naval Historical Center.)
  • Uncredited reporter. Confederate Flag Flies At Pulaski, Savannah News-Press, Savannah, GA., printed around 1937. (Depression-era newspaper article about W. P. Brooks' rescued CSS Alabama ensign being flown as part of a ceremony held on the parade ground at Fort Pulaski, GA.)
  • Wilson, Walter E. and Gary L. Mckay. James D. Bulloch; Secret Agent and Mastermind of the Confederate Navy
    Mcfarland & Co. Inc., 2012. ISBN 978-0-7864-6659-7.

Further reading

  • Morgan, Murray Morgan (1948). Confederate raider in the north Pacific:the saga of the C.S.S. Shenandoah, 1864-65. pp. 336. ISBN 9780874221237.  Url
  • Robinson, Charles M. (1995). Shark of the confederacy: the story of the CSS Alabama. pp. 212.  Url

External links

Coordinates: 49°45′09″N 1°41′42″W / 49.7525°N 1.695°W / 49.7525; -1.695

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