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Alabama


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A cruiser of the American Confederate States Navy built by the Laird Company of Birkenhead in 1862 under a contract with Commander James Bulloch of the Confederate Navy. She was a three-masted schooner with auxiliary steam propulsion. The British government, which had declared its neutrality in the American Civil War (1861–5), issued an order of detention on her. However, before the officers enforcing this order could reach Birkenhead the ship steamed down the Mersey without clearance but with a party of ladies and musicians on board, ostensibly to carry out steaming trials. In the open sea she headed for Holyhead, landed her passengers, and, easily eluding the pursuing Federal frigate Tuscaloosa, made for the Azores, where she picked up her armament which had been brought from Liverpool in two British ships. Under the command of Captain Raphael Semmes, she swept the seas of Federal shipping for two years until, on 19 June 1864, she was sunk in the English Channel off Cherbourg by the Federal warship USS Kearsage.

After a long period of arbitration, based on the lack of proper diligence in its duty as a neutral, Britain agreed to pay damages of $15.5 million to the USA in compensation for the direct losses attributed to the Alabama and two other Confederate cruisers built in Britain, the Florida and the Shenandoah.

In 1984 the remains of the Alabama were detected by the sonar of a French warship and in the following years the site was excavated by French and American marine archaeologists who recovered many artefacts, the most significant one being a gun which was still loaded with a shell. Swift-flowing currents made it difficult to work on, and the site is now being used to experiment with marine archaeology techniques in a hostile environment.

Subjects: Warfare and Defence — Maritime History.


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