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The Alabama at Port Royal, Jamaica

The Illustrated London News, vol. 42, no. 1198, p. 420.

April 11, 1863


Our Engraving represents the Alabama as she put into Port Royal, Jamaica, for repairs after her sharp and decisive engagement with the United States' gun-boat Hatteras. Our Correspondent, a young officer of her Majesty's ship Challenger, to whom we are indebted for the sketch from which our Engraving is taken, has also forwarded us a spirited account of the engagement as narrated to him by one of Captain Semmes' officers. "The Alabama," writes our Correspondent, "was trying to break the blockade off Port Galveston, and came suddenly upon the Yankee fleet at anchor. She immediately put about, but not before she was espied and a large gun-boat was after her; but, being a good sailer, she kept her position without any material distance being gained or lost on either side. However, when Captain Semmes thought he was sufficiently clear of the Yankee fleet, be determined to shorten sail and fight his pursuer. So, 'easing his sheets a little,' to use their own words, up comes this gun-boat, only a vessel of 1200 tons, with eleven guns, with a hail, 'Ship-ahoy! What's your name, and where bound?' Of course, the Alabama was all ready prepared, and Captain Semmes answered the hail with 'Alabama, and bound to the ----!' and a broadside. The action lasted seventeen minutes, at the expiration of which time the captain of the Yankee vessel, the Hatteras--for that was her name--hailed for quarter, saying that she was sinking, and that he wanted assistance. They saved 101 men and 17 officers; but there is every reason to believe that some must have perished, but how many Captain Semmes never could find out, as a strict silence was kept by the Federals on the subject. The Alabama came in here under French colours; but at eight next morning she displayed the Secessionist flag. She came in on the evening of the 20th of January, and started again on the 25th of same month, after having coaled, revictualled, and repaired damages. She was struck in five places; three may be seen in the Sketch I send you. They present a jagged appearance. One little incident speaks greatly against the efficiency of the Yankee shells, one of which was found in the Alabama's stokehole, after the action, with the fuse burnt down; but instead of there being powder in the shell it was full of black sand. The action was fought at seventy yards' distance, the Alabama being under sail, while the Yankee was under steam. They landed all their prisoners on the afternoon or the 22nd."

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