Monday, November 24, 2008

Eye-witness to final battle helps sketch the action

During the battle between the CSS Alabama and the USS Kearsarge off the coast of Cherbourg, France on June 19, 1864, John Lancaster and family witnessed the event from their steam yacht The Deerhound. Like the Alabama, the Deerhound was built by Laird shipbuilders of Liverpool.

Immediately following the sinking of the Alabama, the Deerhound picked up Raphael Semmes and many other Alabama officers and crew. There were allegations that Deerhound’s presence had been pre-arranged, especially after the yacht dropped the Alabama survivors off in England instead of handing them over to The USS Kearsarge. These allegation were denied by Semmes, Lancaster, and others.

In recent correspondence with John M. Lancaster in Great Britain, a descendant of John Lancaster of The Deerhound, we were apprised that among the passengers on-board the steam yacht that day were John Lancaster’s 22-year-old son Robert, a lawyer. Soon after the battle, Robert sketched the action of the Deerhound picking up survivors. He sent his sketch to The London Illustrated News, which employed a professional artist to render a version based on Robert’s sketch. This illustration with accompanying article, including a letter from Robert, was published July 2, 1864, less than two weeks after the battle. An excerpt is below.

The newspaper report erroneously listed Robert, instead of his father, John, as the owner of The Deerhound.
The Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1266, p. 2.
July 2, 1864
We are now enabled, by the courtesy of Mr. Robert Lancaster, of Hindley Hall, Wigan, to present our readers with another Illustration of the same subject, which appears on our front page. Mr. Lancaster is the owner of the yacht Deerhound, which was present during the whole of the battle, and which was happily instrumental in saving the lives of Captain Semmes, thirteen officers, and twenty-six men of the Alabama, when they had leaped into the water as their ship went down. Mr. Lancaster says in his letter, which accompanied this drawing:--

"I have endeavoured to take the sketch just at the moment the Alabama was going down. We were then about one hundred yards from the sinking vessel, and about twice that distance from the Federal ship, and between the two.

Our two boats were a little ahead of us and pulling towards the wreck and the crew, most of whom had jumped overboard and were floating about on loose spars and other things.

One of the Alabama's boats, after having taken the wounded on board the Kearsarge, returned and picked up another boatfull, and then came alongside the Deerhound, where, to prevent her falling into the hands of the Federals, she was sunk by some of the Alabama's men.

The sides of the Kearsarge were very much cut up, nearly all the chain-plating being exposed on the starboard side.

Just as the Alabama went down, the mainmast, which had been struck by a shot, fell. The Kearsarge's boats were not lowered until after the Alabama had disappeared altogether.

I shall be most happy if this sketch will be of any use to you. It is the most correct you will be able to get as to the position of the vessels and boats."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should have a look at the article the fight between Kearsarge and Alabama in the blog "". The conclusions may not please everybody in America, but they are based on Mr. Lancaster's documents, as well as other supporters of Captain Semmes.