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London: Saturday, June 25, 1864

The Illustrated London News, vol. 44, no. 1265, p. 610.

June 25, 1864

London: Saturday, June 25, 1864.

Both the Northern and Southern Americans lay so much stress upon their religious proclivities that it was a little remarkable that Captains Semmes and Winslow should select Sunday morning, in church time, for having a fight. Old World heathens, like Napoleon and Wellington, might do such things, but we scarcely expected such flagrant anti-Sabbatarianism from our Transatlantic friends. But we are reminded that the same day has been several times during the war devoted to the work least suited to it. And on Sunday morning last the Alabama came out of Cherbourg for her first and last battle. The details are well known. It was not a Shannon and Chesapeake affair, as the vanquished ship was not captured; but, after an hour's fierce firing from the starboard sides, the vessels describing large circles, the Alabama found she had enough, and a little more. The columbiads of the Kearsarge had done their work fatally, but the Confederate commander ceased firing only because his ship was sinking, A little later, and the Alabama was safe at the bottom of the sea, to trouble merchantmen no more; the captain, with nearly all his officers and several of his crew, was safe on board an English yacht, hurrying to Southampton; and the remainder of the crew, with a not very large deduction, considering the fierceness of the affray and the catastrophe, were wounded or prisoners on board the Kearsarge, who took them back to Cherbourg.

Nothing could be bolder than the way the Alabama met her fate, and yet we do not like to say too much about the bravery of her men because so many of them were Englishmen, and the gunners learned their work on board the Excellent. They fought as English sailors always do; and, had the Alabama been as well armed as her enemy, and had she been able to fortify her sides with extempore defences of iron, the result might have been different, and Captain Semmes might have had to burn the Kearsarge. This said, and due tribute added to the courage of Captain Semmes and his officers, and to the seamanlike way in which they handled their vessel, we may dismiss compliment. We never, of course, could kindle ourselves into the red-hot admiration which inflamed some of our contemporaries at the deeds of the Alabama. She was obtained by a trick which it is not now worth calling by a hard name, but here was the original blot on her flag. Then, a remarkably fast sailer, it was not very difficult for her to make prize of scores of merchantmen and to keep out of the way of the avengers. She never had a fight--we do not say that she ought to have had one, her business being to ruin Federal commerce--but she once lured a gun-boat near her by pretending to be English, and then sank her with a broadside. That was her only martial exploit until the day she came out to meet retribution. That she has destroyed great numbers of helpless vessels, and had a room full of their chronometers, kept as the Indian keeps his scalps, shows that she did her appointed work exceedingly well, but it is not work that Englishmen can regard with much enthusiasm. Captain Semmes, having now proved that he could fight nobly, at the fitting time, has acquired a far higher claim to the admiration of this country than he ever had while he was only racing about the ocean and destroying ships that could not resist him. Even now, though it is permitted to Southampton to make capital of every celebrity or notoriety, it will be in better taste to avoid any public demonstration of homage to the Confederate Captain.

We hope that when the journals of this day reach America, the delight which the Northerners will feel at the destruction of the Alabama will not be materially qualified by the news that her commander has escaped. At least we trust that no animosity will be felt against England because an Englishman rescued Captain Semmes from the sea. We are quite sure that the owner of the Deerhound did not intend to defy the Republic. He was asked by the Captain of the Kearsarge to go to the help of the sinking Confederates, and did so, and, having happened to pick up the Southern captain, could do nothing else than take him away to Southampton, No one will say that Mr. Lancaster ought to have brought the wounded and exhausted man to the Kearsarge and handed him over as a prisoner. We think that Mr. Lancaster showed tact and consideration for both the Republic and England by hastening away; for had the Federals, flushed with victory, overhauled the Deerhound and taken off Semmes, we should assuredly have acted as we did in the affair of the Trent. All embroilment was saved by the Deerhound being in good steaming order. Captain Semmes can do the North no harm while he remains here. England will not allow him to obtain another war-ship if she can help it; and the Federals have but to look to their blockade, if they wish to catch him or to prevent his being placed in command of a real Confederate vessel. We dare say, however, that he will run the blockade, and will be heard of again upon the sea; and therefore we hasten to mention that, if so, the fault will not be ours. The Deerhound could not leave him to be drowned, especially after having been asked to save him, and all the rest will be the natural sequence of an act of humanity.

But there is one incident of the fight that deserves graver mention. Who can withhold a tribute of admiration to the real hero of that Sunday morning. He was not fighting in despair, or as an avenger, he had no honour and glory to win or lose, he had not even the excitement of mere combat. He was at his post, however, doing his duty to the last, and then dying in doing more than his duty. This was Mr. Llewellyn, the brave surgeon of the Alabama, and, we are proud to write, an Englishman, the son, we believe, of a country clergyman. While the terrible shells were dashing the Alabama to pieces, Mr. Llewellen attended to the wounded; and, when the vessel was sinking, he might have been saved, had he chosen to accept a place in the boat in which the wounded were being removed. But he had kept back an unhurt man, who was pressing into that boat, with the words, "See, I am as desirous to be saved as you, but I will not go in a boat which I might endanger;" and when the men cried to the "doctor" to come in with them, he refused. We grieve to add that he went down. The noble profession to which he belonged may well be proud of such a man, though it is nothing new to find the "doctor" the bravest of the brave. When the tale of the fate of the Alabama is told, its story will be ill related if the hearers do not feel that the true hero of the day was Llewellyn, the surgeon.

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