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28 October 2014
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The building of the CSS Alabama - part two

The Alabama
The CSS Alabama - this drawing is courtesy of Lindsey Jones

In August l861, James Bulloch commissioned another "merchant" ship, from the Birkenhead company of John Laird.

The Laird family had been building ships on the Mersey for many years. John’s father founded the Birkenhead Iron Works, and the company was already famous internationally when the Confederate Agent James Bulloch came to visit them.

The contract between Bulloch and Laird identified the vessel as No.290 - because it would be the 290th ship they had built.

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On Independence Day 1840 one of the greatest events of the 18th Century also took place in Liverpool - the first steamship transatlantic mail service was started.

She was built from finest English oak even though Lairds was famous for their iron ships. She slipped from the Birkenhead yard into the Mersey on May 14th, l862, and was named "Enrica".

During the building of the Enrica, the US Consul in Liverpool complained to the authorities that the purpose of the vessel was not peaceful. He employed private investigators to collection information; they questioned Laird’s workers, but the Consul, Thomas H. Dudley, failed to convince the British that the Enrica was anything other than a standard merchant vessel.

To keep up the pretence, Bulloch appointed a British captain - Mathew J. Butcher, a Cunard Officer who lived then at 112 Stanhope Street, Toxteth. To avoid further complaints, and because of a rumour that the US warship Tuscarora was heading for the Mersey to stop the Enrica "one way or another", Bulloch knew it was now or never.

CSS Alabama
The CSS Alabama
Image © Williamson Art Gallery & Wirral Museums.

The real purpose of the Enrica was an 'open secret' on Merseyside so it is fairly safe to assume that the seamen who signed up to crew her knew they would be sailing on a Confederate raider ship.

On July 29, 1862, the Enrica steamed up and down the Mersey, decked out with flags and bunting. It looked like a launch party, with local dignitaries in their finest, but after transferring the guests to a steam tug, she set course for Anglesey.

Two days later, the Skipper set a course north, around the coast of Ireland, and ran like the devil into the Atlantic. When the USS Tuscarora arrived in Moelfre Bay, there was no trace of the Enrica - No.290.

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The first steamship to make the transatlantic crossing was the Savannah in 1819, She left Savannah, Georgia on May 22nd and arrived in Liverpool on June 20th.

Bulloch’s next move was to equip his "merchant" vessel as a man of war.

The Enrica was instructed to wait in the Azores, and another vessel, the Agrippina, was loaded in London Docks, with coal, guns, ammunition, uniforms and supplies. Bulloch also sent Captain Raphael Semmes of the Confederate Navy, and other confederate officers.

The rendezvous took place on August 20th, and the transformation was complete. Semmes now commanded a confederate vessel to be used as a commerce raider to strike against Union shipping.

On August 24, 1862, the British Flag was pulled down, and the Confederate Flag was raised - the ALABAMA was born.

In the first month of her service, the Alabama took 10 vessels at a total value of 437,000 dollars. Over the next 20 months, she was called a pirate ship, her crew were referred to as both heroes, and villans. The USA and Great Britain exchanged insults and accusations, but the Alabama continued her reign of terror.

This Section
Alabama Introduction
Liverpool's Confederate connections

The building of the Alabama
Alabama timeline
James Dunwoody Bulloch

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