"". Old Photographs of Liverpool Liverpool Picturebook Liverpool - The Home of the Confederate Fleet | Liverpool Picturebook Google

Search Liverpool Picturebook

Liverpool - The Home of the Confederate Fleet

The Stainless Banner

During the American civil war, Liverpool was the unofficial home of the Confederate fleet. The first act of the war - the first shot of the civil war was fired by a cannon made at Lydia Anne Street.

The very last act of the war saw Captain Waddell of the CCS Shenandoah, walking up the steps of Liverpool Town Hall surrendering his vessel to the Lord Mayor, after sailing 'home' from Alaska. On the outbreak of war the Northern Union fleet blockaded Confederate ports to prevent trade and supply of munitions of war. The Confederacy had no navy and proceeded to build one from Liverpool.

The break-away Confederacy was not recognised by the United Kingdom, with cotton importers Frazer Trenholm in Rumford Place acting as the unofficial Confederate embassy. Commander Bulloch of the Confederate Navy was based in Liverpool. He never returned to America after the conflict remaining in Liverpool for the rest of his life now laying in Toxteth Cemetery. Liverpool provided ships, crews for the ships, armaments and provisions of war of all kinds for the Confederacy. The city also provided ships for the Northern Union. Britain stated that the country would not supply the means of war to the Confederacy however, Liverpool's involvement was so extensive, the Northern Union Consul to Liverpool, Thomas Dudley, set up an effective spy network in Liverpool, consisting of locally hired men of over 100 strong. Information from the network was relayed back to Washington.

Lancashire Reduced to Mass Poverty

The American Civil War caused great poverty in the hinterland of Lancashire where the prime industry was cotton processing and weaving. The cotton used was mainly American with little imported, reducing the whole region to starvation levels, affecting over half a million people. Cotton was eventually sourced elsewhere, however the lead time was lengthy and never closed the gap.

The UK government was officially neutral in the dispute and never recognised the breakaway Confederacy. This entailed not supplying the means of war to the breakaway state. Liverpool ignored officialdom supplying what the Confederacy wanted - even warships and the crews to man them. Forty two blockade runners, ships to outrun the Northern Union naval blockade on Confederate ports, were built on the Mersey for the Confederacy, including the Banshee, the first steel hulled ship to cross the Atlantic. Merchants were taking a gamble with many becoming bankrupt after the war not being paid for the goods they supplied.

Threat of War Between the Northern Union and Britain

Laird's shipyard was building clandestinely for the Confederacy two iron hulled rams - armoured, iron twin rotating turreted ships, the most advanced in the world at the time. These ships would have devastated the wooden Northern Union fleet. The spy network relayed the information back to Washington. Abraham Lincoln threatened to declare war on the UK if the ships were delivered to the Confederacy. 

The British government would seize ships if convinced ships were destined for the Confederacy. The Northern Union had to provide conclusive proof before seizure. The Alexandra was seized while being fitted out in Liverpool. She eventually was sold to a Liverpool Confederate sympathiser,a Liverpool merchant who named here Mary. When entering the Bahamas, with guns on board, the Northern Union managed to persuade the British authorities to again seize her.

Alabama Claims

Liverpool's involvement in the conflict was so deep, after the war the USA demanded vast reparations for the damage caused by the mainly Liverpool built Confederate ships, especially the Lairds built CSS Alabama. Known as the Alabama Claims, an arbitration panel in Geneva, awarded the U.S.A. $15,500,000. To put this into perspective, CSS Alabama cost £97,000 to build. That is the cost of 159 CCS Alabamas - a whole fleet. This was rather harsh as the British government did seize ships that were known to be destined for the Confederacy. Admitting no guilt the British government apologised for the loss caused by the ships.

The CSS Alabama built at Lairds

The CSS Alabama built at Lairds

CSS Alabama, was built at Lairds shipyard in secrecy masquerading as a merchant ship. She had a mainly Liverpool crew and was the most successful ship in the history of naval warfare with 55 ships claimed and 10 bonded.

She was built on the Mersey in 1862, crewed mainly by Liverpudlians, fought for America, was the most successful ship in the history of naval warfare and never once dropped anchor in an American port. In a close, fierce battle off Cherburg in France, in front of the assembled townspeople, CSS Alabama was sunk by USS Kearsarge in August 1864.

CSS Alabama was laid down as SS Enrica, a fast sleek steam/sailing merchant vessel. However, parts of the ship were reinforced to accommodate guns and she was built to British Admiralty standards. The Northern Union spy network in Liverpool informed the US Consul, even giving a full detailed description of the interior, resulting in Washington pressing the British government to seize the ship. Washington sent over a Northern Union ship to intercept Enrica if she left Liverpool. The Northern Union clearly pointed out the ship was built for speed far in excess of a merchant ship - which did not convince some as fast merchant clippers operating the Liverpool-Australia run were already common.

The British government was eventually convinced that the ship was a man-o-war and were ready to seize her as she was under trials in the river. Enrica had a party on board sailing up and down the river with bunting flying which - was common for new ships - guests, wives and families were on board. At New Brighton a steam tug approached the vessel and the guests taken off, including Commander Bulloch. Enrica bolted out of the river sheltering in an Anglesey bay. She entered the Atlantic between Ireland and Scotland to avoid any Northern Union ships sent to engage her. Enrica was British registered with a British crew and captain who worked for Cunard. If the Northern Union had sunk or seized her, international repercussions may have resulted.

Enrica rendezvoused off the Azores in international waters with supply ship Agrippina, which was loaded at London Docks to avoid suspicion. Agrippina was carrying the guns and war provisions. After fitting out, complete with a largely Liverpool crew, Confederate officers took command renaming Enrica CSS Alabama.

Sea Shanty - Roll Alabama, Roll

When the Alabama's Keel was Laid, (Roll Alabama, roll!),
'Twas laid in the yard of Jonathan Laird (Roll, roll Alabama, roll!)
'Twas Laid in the yard of Jonathan Laird, 'twas laid in the town of Birkenhead.
Down the Mersey way she rolled then, and Liverpool fitted her with guns and men.
From the western isle she sailed forth, to destroy the commerce of the north.
To Cherbourg port she sailed one day, for to take her count of prize money.
Many a sailor laddie saw his doom, when the Kearsarge it hove in view.
When a ball from the forward pivot that day, shot the Alabama's stern away.

Off the three-mile limit in '64, the Alabama was seen no more. 

CSS Shenandoah

CSS Shennandoah at Melbourne
flying the Stainless banner
CSS Shennandoah at Melbourne flying the Stainless banner

After the Confederacy had surrendered and the war was over, CSS Shenandoah continued to sink Northern Union ships in the Pacific and off Alaska, unaware of the war's end. She surrendered on 6th November 1865, to HMS Donegal in the River Mersey while at anchor between Toxteth and Tranmere, six months after the war had officially ended. Shenandoah lowered the stainless banner - striking her colours - for the second time. The last military act of the American Civil War. 

Surrender of the CSS Shenandoah

Originally built for the British government as Sea King, Shenandoah sailed from England to intercept commerce bound from the US West Coast to the Far East and Latin America. Shenandoah, decimated the Northern Union whaling fleet. On August 2 1865 Shenandoah while sailing for San Francisco to bombard the harbour, met a Liverpool ship, Barracouta, sailing out of San Francisco. Barracouta informed the crew of the Shenandoah of the war's end, some 4 months previous, presenting the crew newspapers as proof. Immediately Shenandoah struck her colours, a sign of surrender, and was decommissioned as a man-o-war after claiming 38 ships, many after the war was over. Her guns were stored in the hold and her hull repainted to resemble an ordinary merchant vessel. The ship then sailed to its unofficial home port, Liverpool, to surrender rather than surrender in a Northern Union port.

Liverpool Mercury 7th November 1865:

Considerable excitement was caused on "Change" yesterday morning by circulation of the report that the Confederate cruiser Shenandoah, of whose exploits amongst the American whalers in the North Pacific so much has been heard, was passed about 8 o'clock by the steamer Douglas at anchor at the bar, of Victoria Channel, apparently waiting for high water.

At anchor at the Mersey Bar, the pilot asked what nationality the ship was as they flew no flag. The pilot would not take the ship up the Mersey unless a flag was flying. The Confederate stainless banner was again raised and CCS Shenandoah sailed up the Mersey flying the flag. HMS Donegal took the last surrender of the American Civil War when the CSS Shenandoah under Captain Waddell surrendered in the River Mersey, between Toxteth and Tranmere, with Shenandoah striking her colours for the second time. A Royal Navy boarding party oversaw the last official lowering of the Confederate flag. The ship sailed 9,000 miles (14,500 km), via Cape Horn, to Liverpool to surrender, being hunted by Northern Union vessels along the way. She berthed in Herculaneum Dock after surrender. The British government turned her over to the United States government, after releasing the largely British and Australian crew - under protest from the USA who wanted to put them on trial.

Liverpool Mercury 9th November 1865:

Before leaving the vessel, however, they gave three lusty cheers, for Captain Waddell, their late commander. Captain Waddell acknowledged the compliment.

Shenandoah had circumnavigated the world with hardly a scratch, yet when the ship was being taken to the USA after being handed over to the US government, her top masts were wrecked in a storm just out of Liverpool. She limped back to Liverpool and never sailed to America.

HMS Wivern (Laird Ram) The ship is so advanced it looks modern.
Notice the wooden sailing ships being painted in the background
to give an idea of how advanced the turreted ships were.
The Laird Rams

Lincoln Threatens War on The UK

The Confederacy ordered from Lairds shipyard, two armoured iron hulled, twin rotating turret, rams powered by steam and sail. The warships were advanced designs with the ability to ram and destroy wooden ships, hence the title rams. The ships were clandestinely built under cover of being destined for the Egyptian navy. These were the most advanced ships in the world and would have torn through the Northern Union fleet if let loose. The rotating turrets were a new development equipped with advanced rapid firing Armstrong guns. The rotating turrets enabled great flexibility when attacking enemy ships. These deep sea operating ships are not to be confused with the iron clad turreted monitors which were dedicated vessels for operating primarily in estuaries. One of the monitors capsized in deep water being so unstable.

Northern Union spy ring relayed to Washington the construction of the ships and pressure was put on the British government to seize the ships from Lairds. The fear of these ships was so great a diplomatic row ensued with Abraham Lincoln threatening to declare war on the UK if they were delivered.

With the UK having a huge naval fleet and a number of the advanced iron Warrior class ships complimented by the Laird rams, declaring war on the UK would seem a foolish act when the Northern Union was already engaged in a war with the Confederacy. The UK had reinforced Canada with troops with the giant Great Eastern requisitioned as a troop ship sailing from Liverpool. Russia did give the Northern Union assurances that if the UK recognised the Confederacy they would declare war on Britain. Russia had ships based in San Francisco and New York. Delivering the rams to a French company may not be viewed as recognising the Confederacy, however it is how the Northern Union and Russia would interpret the transactions. Having the Russians potentially on his side may have been the reason why Lincoln was so aggressive to the United Kingdom.

The Most Advanced Ships in the World

The British designed and built the first full iron hull warship, HMS Warrior in 1860, which is now berthed in Portsmouth harbour. Napoleon referred to Warrior as "that long black snake in the English Channel". The Warrior was highly successful in preventing a war with France, which is probably a greater achievement than sinking ships in a war. However the iron Laird Rams ordered by the Confederacy put the Warrior into instant obsolescence. The configuration had heavy impenetrable armour, two revolving armoured turret guns, fore and aft, with quick firing Armstrong guns. The ship did not have to line up broadside against an enemy ship to fire, firing quickly at virtually any angle. The rams were a quantum leap in design and technology. They were vessels to be feared. The rams could steam into a wooden hulled blue water fleet and decimate it. British navy ships were primarily designed by the Admiralty, in Admiralty shipyards. The Laird Rams were designed by men who were supposed to only know merchant vessel design. The arrogant Admiralty designers were given a quick lesson in advanced warship design.

The Iron Rams Seized by the British Government

Via the Northern Union spy network in Liverpool, the US ambassador was constantly informing the British authorities of the ships. The ships were being built for a French company on behalf of the Egyptian government and given Egyptian names - the company was fake. A country like Egypt at the time ordering such advanced and expensive vessels was highly unlikely. The British government needed positive proof of the Northern Union allegations. Lairds would minimally cooperate with the British government - none of their business according to Lairds, as the orders were legitimate. The rams were clearly warships and not disguised as merchantmen as was the CSS Alabama. The British government seized the rams. The Royal Navy wanted the ships, however the Admiralty shunned them because it wasn't one of their designs. Initially the rams were not taken into the Royal Navy, however, Lairds put in a claim for the partially built,seized ships to the British government. Only then did the government pay up and take the ships into the Royal Navy.

The ships were clandestinely named, El Tousson and El Monassir. The names on commission were to be CSS Mississippi and CSS North Carolina. The rams were eventually incorporated into the Royal Navy as HMS Wivern and HMS Scorpion. The ships were so advanced HMS Wivern was used until well into the 20th century being scrapped in 1922. A part of the money Lairds received for the rams from the British government, went into the Confederate Treasury, and helped to pay for CSS Shenandoah.


Liverpool Central Library
Liverpool records Office
Liverpool Maritime Museum

Robert F Edwards

Pin It