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The Fight Between the Alabama and the Kearsarge

The Illustrated London News, vol. 45, no. 1266, p. 2.

July 2, 1864


We published last week an Engraving from the sketch which was sent us by Mr. James Bryant, owner of the yacht Hornet, representing the final scene of the combat between the Alabama and the Kearsarge, a few miles off Cherbourg, on the morning of Sunday, the 19th ult. 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. Whilst we may congratulate this gentleman upon the service to humanity which he was thus enabled to perform, we are bound no less to thank him for aiding us, by the work of his pencil, in producing a graphic record of the extraordinary spectacle that he witnessed. 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."

We have also engraved on another page of this Number a drawing which has been made from the plan and information which have been supplied to our Artist by Mr. George T. Fullam, an officer of the Alabama. It was he who conveyed the wounded from that vessel to the Kearsarge, and then came on board the Deerhound, which brought him to Southampton. He has remarked to our Artist that it is an incident worth noting, with regard to the damage done to the spars of the Alabama, that the throat-blocks of both the main and mizen gaffs were shot away. As we published last week the official report of Captain Semmes to the agent of the Confederate Government in London, we here subjoin a letter from the Federal commander, Captain Winslow, who writes from Cherbourg as follows:--

Sir,--There have been so many nonsensical publications on the engagement which took place between the Alabama and the Kearsarge that it is my wish that a correction should be made.

In the first place, no challenge was sent by Captain Winslow; to have done so would have been to have violated the order of the Navy Department. On the contrary, Captain Winslow received a request from Captain Semmes not to leave, as he would fight the Kearsarge, and would only occupy a day or two in his preparations. Five days, however, elapsed before they were completed. The Kearsarge's battery consists of seven guns, two 11-inch Dahlgren's, four 32-pounders, one light rifle 28-pounder. The battery of the Alabama consisted of one 100-pounder rifle, one heavy 68 ditto, six 32-pounders, that is, one more gun than the Kearsarge. In the wake of the engines on the outside the Kearsarge had stopped up and down her sheet chains. These were stopped by marline to eye bolts, which extended some twenty feet, and was done by the hands of the Kearsarge; the whole was covered by light plank, to prevent dirt collecting. It was for the purpose of protecting the engines when there was no coal in the upper part of the bunkers, as was the case when the action took place. The Alabama had her bunkers full, and was equally protected. The Kearsarge went into action with a crew of 162 officers and men. The Alabama, by report of the Deerhound's officers, had 150.

The Kearsarge steamed to sea in order that no questions of neutrality jurisdiction should be raised; when far enough, she turned short round and steered immediately for the Alabama for close action. The Alabama fired, as she was coming down on her, two broadsides and part of another; no one shot came on board of the Kearsarge. The Kearsarge then sheered and opened on the Alabama, trying to get nearer. The action lasted one hour and two minutes from the first to the last shot. The Kearsarge received twenty-eight shots above and below, thirteen about her hull; the best shots were abaft the mainmast, two shots which cut the chain stops, the shell of which broke the casing of wood covering. They were too high to have damaged the boilers had they penetrated. The Kearsarge was only slightly damaged, and I supposed the action for hot work had just commenced when it ended. Such stuff as the Alabama firing when she was going down, and all such talk, is twaddle. The Alabama towards the last hoisted sail to get away, when the Kearsarge was laid across her bows, and would have raked had she not surrendered, which she had done, and was trying to get her flags down and showing a white flag over the stern. The officers of the Alabama on board the Kearsarge say that she was a complete slaughter-house, and was completely torn to pieces. This is all I know of the Alabama. Yours, &c.,

John A. Winslow, Captain.

It may be observed that Captain Winslow does not mention the way in which the officers and crew of the Alabama were saved upon the sinking of their ship. It is clear, however, that he made no such attempt to rescue them as a generous enemy would have done; but the log kept on board the Deerhound records that, when the yacht was passing the Kearsarge, it was "requested to assist in saving the Alabama's crew." Both Captain Semmes and Mr. Lancaster have testified that the boats of the Kearsarge were not sent for that purpose until after the Alabama had disappeared, though the Alabama had not only surrendered but had sent her wounded to be received on board the Kearsarge as prisoners of war. It is therefore probable that, if it had not been for Mr. Lancaster's prompt interference, Captain Semmes and his brave comrades would have shared the fate of Mr. Herbert Llewellyn, the surgeon (an Englishman, the son of a clergyman in Wiltshire), who perished with their sinking vessel. The Deerhound has therefore earned, in our opinion, the fairest honours of the day. She was the object of much curiosity and admiration during her stay at Southhampton from the Sunday to the Wednesday, when she left that port for Hull. As we have given her a conspicuous place in the Engraving on our front page, it may be stated that she is entered on the lists of the Royal Yacht Squadron of Cowes, the Royal Mersey Yacht Club of Liverpool, and the (Irish) Royal Western Yacht Club stationed at Queenstown. She was built, as it happens, upon the same model as the Alabama, in the same shipyard at Birkenhead, by Messrs. Laird and Co. She is a three-masted vessel, built of steel, with a screw-propeller, with a tonnage (builders' measurement) of about 190, and engines of a nominal power of seventy horse. When in her usual trim she steams twenty knots, being about two knots beyond the speed of the Alabama. She carries a crew of thirteen men. The Deerhound now proceeds from Hull to Norway. Mr. Lancaster and his captain indignantly deny the statement that an arrangement was made with the Deerhound by Captain Semmes, before the engagement, that the yacht should hover about the combatants and render assistance to the Alabama. They knew that Captain Semmes had determined to engage the Kearsarge, but no arrangement of any kind was thought of.

The famous Alabama herself, which was originally called "No. 290," came from Messrs. Laird's building-yard in July, 1862, and received her armament and crew at Terceira, in the Azores, whence she started upon a career most destructive to the maritime commerce of the United States. She is said to have captured and burnt, in less than two years, one hundred American vessels. She was a barque-rigged wooden propeller, of 1040 ton's register. Length of keel, 210 ft.; length over all, 220 ft.; beam, 32 ft.; depth, 17 ft. Her engines, built by the same firm, were two horizontal ones, each of 300-horse power, with stowage for 350 tons of coals. Her sails, carried at all times, were as follows:--Fore, fore topmast, staysail jib, two large trysails; the usual square sails on fore and main, with the exception of the mainsail, which was a flying one; spanker and gaff-topsails; all standing rigging wire. Double wheel, with motto engraved thereon, "Aide toi, et Dieu t'aidera," placed just before the mizenmast. Bridge in the centre, just before the funnel. She carried five boats--viz., cutter and launch amidships, gig and whaleboat between the main and mizen masts, and dingy astern. The main deck was pierced for twelve guns, elliptic stern, billet head, high bulwarks; cabin accommodation first class; ward-room furnished with a handsome suite of state-rooms; steerage--starboard for midshipmen, port for engineers; next came engine-room, and coal-bunkers; then the berth deck, capable of accommodating 120 men; under the wardroom were store-rooms; and under the steerage were shell-rooms; just forward of the firearms came the hold; next the magazines, and forward of all the boatswains' and sailmakers' store-rooms; the hold being under the berth deck.

The Kearsarge, named after a range of hills in Vermont, is a recent acquisition to the navy of the United States; in fact, she is one of the nine gun-boats completed within three months from the date of the order given. She is the sister ship of the Tuscarora, whose presence in the Solent, during the visit of the Confederate cruiser Nashville (since destroyed), occasioned considerable excitement some time since.

A correspondence is published between Captain Winslow and Mr. Bonfils, the French Confederate agent. Captain Winslow claims as his prisoners those of the Alabama's crew rescued by pilot-boats, and brought into Cherbourg. He allowed the pilot-boats to save the prisoners, from motives of humanity, but if the prisoners endeavour to free themselves from the obligation they must expect to meet no mercy another time. Mr. Bonfils replies that there is nothing to hinder even a surrendered prisoner from escaping if he can, and he declines to act as a go-between between Captain Winslow and persons he does not even name; nor can he understand how Captain Winslow can claim to hold prisoners within the territory of the French empire.

Previous: The Deerhound Rescuing a Portion of the Crew of the Alabama.--From a Sketch by Mr. Robert Lancaster.--See Next Page.IllustrationVolume 45, no.1266, p. 1 (1 paragraph)
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