Monday, December 29, 2008

Holiday Reading

I've been using some of my holiday "downtime" to locate, buy, and read additional books related to the project. Added to the collection: Norman Delayney's John McIntosh Kell of the Raider Alabama (Thanks to John Taylor for the recommendation!); Shark of the Confederacy by Charles Robinson III, and Spencer C. Tucker's Raphael Semmes and the Alabama. While each taught me something new, Robinson's volume was especially valuable because it includes information I had read elsewhere without attribution. especially in Boykin's Ghost Ship of The Confederacy , while Robinson's work is thoroughly notated. Boykin tells a good story, but he attributes nothing, perhaps exhibiting his background in advertising.
I've also purchased a new engraving:

It was originally published in The Soldier in Our Civil War, 1885. I'm aware of the controversy over the desecration of books by folks who take volumes apart and sell the individual pages, but this illustration had already been removed, the damage already done. And for what it is worth, the illustration will likely be more appreciated and loved in its new home than hidden away where it was. Or is that just me trying to justify my purchase?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Comet Connection

We're certainly not the first to note it, but the appearance of a comet the same day both of Raphael Semmes raiders went to sea is another part of the marvelous lore about the man and his vessels.
The Sumter escaped from the mouth of the Mississippi on Sunday June 30th, 1861 and on that first night at sea, Semmes sees what becomes known as The Great Comet of 1861 (C/1861 j1) It had been "discovered" the previous month. Then, on August 24, 1862 at Midnight, Bullock leaves the Alabama on the Bahama for Liverpool. As he leaves, “Swift’s Comet” blazes across the star-filled sky…the first appearance of that comet since 1739.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Day 1862, CSS Alabama

(From the log book of Capt. Raphael Semmes, Thurs., Dec. 25.)

The second Christmas since we left our homes in the Sumter. Last year we were buffeting the storms of the North Atlantic, near the Azores; now we are snugly anchored in the Arcas; and how many eventful periods have passed in the interval! Our poor people have been terribly pressed in this wicked and ruthless war, and they have borne privations and sufferings which nothing but an intense patriotism could have sustained...

Our crew is keeping Christmas by a run on shore, which they all seem to enjoy exceedingly. It is, indeed, very grateful to the senses to ramble freely over even so confined a space as the Arcas, after tossing about at sea in a continued state of excitement for months... Yesterday was the first time I touched the shore since I left Liverpool on the 18th of August last.

My thoughts naturally turn on this quiet Christmas-day, in this lonely island, to my dear family. I can only hope, and trust them to the protection of a merciful Providence. The only sign of a holiday on board tonight is the usual “splicing of the main-brace”, giving Jack* an extra allowance of grog."

(*Ordinary seamen on the ship.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Books Etc.

As this photo shows, the archival materials we've been collecting continue to accumulate...the "thumbs-up" bookends are intended to inspire a positive frame of mind about the project, despite the economy! The Confederate money (top left) is a .25 bill issued in Montgomery on January 1, 1863 (it somehow cost more than a quarter now...inflation I suppose.) The postcard of the 1901 Semmes statue in Mobile (top right) was mailed to an address in a Berlin suburb on September 16, 1905.
In addition to these physical objects, both of our computer hard drives have big segments devoted to our favorite Civil War ship and her Captain.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Humor? Political Commentary? None of The Above?

During our day-at-The-Archives in Montgomery, Bob and I noticed at the bottom of one particular bond the signature of the Captain....with a hand drawn flourish around the end of his signature with the word "Seal" added.

It was Captain Joseph J. Brown of the steamer Montmorenci, boarded by The Alabama on November 25, 1861, who added that little unofficial "seal". Was the Captain making a statement, and not a complimentary one, about The Alabama and/or Semmes? Was he making a joke? Or am I reading too much into what may have been a common occurrence?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

This month in CSS Alabama History

Dec 2, 1863 Alabama arrives at the French Island of Pulo Condore. Lt. Kell builds a partly submersible compartment. Ship’s pumps keep the compartment clear of water as the careened hull is scraped.

Dec 3, 1861 Sumter captures and burns The Vigilant.

Dec 5, 1862 Alabama captures and bonds The Union.

Dec. 5, 1864 President Lincoln requests the sternpost of Kearsarge, with an unexploded shell from the Alabama imbedded in its timbers, be cut out and transported to Washington, D.C., where it can be seen today in the Naval Historical Center.

Dec 7, 1862 Alabama captures and bonds the California steamer The Ariel off Cuba with 700 passengers on board including 150 Marines.

Dec 10, 1846 While chasing a blockage runner during the Mexican War, Semmes loses the USS Somers in a storm. Forty-six crewmen are lost. Semmes is later cleared of any wrongdoing and assigned to The Raritan, where he shares quarters with Lt. John Winslow, who had also just lost a ship, the brig Morris, on a reef off Vera Cruz, Mexico. The two hard-luck officers would later meet under much different circumstances off the coast of Cherbourg, France.

Dec 11, 1860 Semmes writes from his position at the Lighthouse Board in Washington, D.C., “The great government under which we have lived so long, and prospered so greatly, is probably destroyed.”

Dec 11, 1861 Sumter is crippled by a cyclone.

Dec 1864 Semmes, returning from England by way of Mexico after the sinking of Alabama, meets son Oliver in Louisiana. They travel together to Mobile.

Dec. 15-21, 1865 Semmes arrested at his home in Mobile, taken to New Orleans, and then shipped to New York on board the steamer Costa Rica, exiting the mouth of the Mississippi River by the same route he used in 1861 to run the Union blockade in the Sumter.

Dec. 21, 1863 Alabama sails into Singapore.

Dec. 24, 1863 Alabama captures and burns The Martaban, which is actually The Texas Star attempting to avoid capture with an ownership and name change.

Dec. 25, 1863 Alabama spends Christmas Day at Malacca.

Dec. 26, 1863 Alabama captures and burns The Sonora.

Dec. 26, 1863 Alabama captures and burns The Highlander, by some accounts displaying the new flag of the Confederacy for the first time.

Dec. 27, 1865 Semmes arrives in New York City under arrest, staying at the Astor House, the same place he stayed in 1861 while shopping for ships for the Confederacy.

Dec. 29, 1865 Semmes, under arrest, is taken by train to Washington, D.C. and kept in the dispensary of the Navy Yard for five days, after which he is moved to the attic. During confinement he pens a diary which now resides at the Alabama Dept. of Archives and History. The Dahlgren gun, reportedly the weapon that eventually destroyed the Alabama in her battle with the Kearsarge, was invented at the Navy Yard where Semmes is held captive.

Dec. 31, 1864 Kearsarge crewmember Joachim Please, an African-American sailor, is awarded the CMO for his actions during the battle with Alabama.