Liverpool - The Home of the Confederate Fleet

Stainless Banner

The unofficial Confederate embassy at Frazer Trenholm in Rumford Place During the American civil war, Liverpool was the unofficial home of the Confederate fleet. Three significant acts of the war involved Liverpool:

The first act of the war - the first shot of the civil war was fired by a cannon made in Lydia Anne Street.

The very last act of the war - 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 to surrender. The last shot fired in the conflict was by CSS Shenandoah on  22 June 1865 at a Northern Union whaling ship in the North Pacific Ocean. 

The last official lowering of the Confederate flag - Was on CSS Shenandoah on the River Mersey at Liverpool overseen by the Royal Navy.

At 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 proceeding to build one from Liverpool. The British government was officially neutral in the dispute not recognising the Confederacy. Cotton importers Frazer Trenholm in Rumford Place acted as the unofficial Confederate embassy where operations were conducted.  The Northern Union consulate was a few minutes walk away in Tower Buildings, Water Street. Commander Bulloch of the Confederate Navy was based in Liverpool, whose prime task was to assemble and run a navy.  He never returned to America after the conflict remaining in Liverpool for the rest of his life, now laying in Toxteth Cemetery. 

Britain's official stance was that the country, or its empire, was not to supply the means of war to the breakaway Confederate state. Liverpool ignored officialdom supplying what the Confederacy wanted against the policy and direction of the British government. Liverpool provided armaments and provisions of war of all kinds, together with merchant ships and men of war, complete with crews. Forty two blockade runners, ships to outrun the Northern Union naval blockade placed on Confederate ports, were built on the River Mersey for the Confederacy, including the SS Banshee, the first steel hulled ship to cross the Atlantic.  The city also provided ships for the Northern Union. Liverpool merchants were taking a gamble supplying the Confederacy with many becoming bankrupt after the war not being paid for the goods they supplied.

Northern Union Spy Network Formed in Liverpool

The British government stated that the country would not supply the means of war to the Confederacy. Liverpool's involvement in supplying the Confederacy was so extensive the Northern Union established an effective spy network in Liverpool headed by the Northern Union consul to Liverpool, Thomas Dudley,  The network consisted of locally hired men of over 100 strong.  Information was relayed back to Washington. This was President Lincoln’s largest espionage network operating throughout the entire war. The network identified the construction of Confederate navy vessels, preventing construction or delivery when possible and identifying provisions of war destined for the south.

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 Lancashire mills used mainly southern American cotton. The whole region was reduced to starvation levels affecting over half a million people. Cotton was eventually sourced elsewhere in the world, however the lead time was lengthy and never closed the gap.

Threat of War Between the Northern Union and Britain

Laird's shipyard was clandestinely building for the Confederacy two iron hulled rams - armoured, iron, twin rotating turreted ships, the most advanced in the world at the time. The ships were a quantum leap in naval fighting ship design and construction.  The two ships would have decimated the wooden Northern Union fleet. The spy network relayed information of the ships back to Washington. Abraham Lincoln threatened to declare war on Britain if the ships were delivered to the Confederacy. Britain, being officially neutral, once convinced the ships were for the Confederacy, claimed the ships absorbing them into the Royal Navy.

The British government would seize ships if convinced they 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 Confederate sympathising Liverpool merchant who named her Mary. When entering the Bahamas with guns onboard, the Northern Union managed to persuade the British authorities to yet again seize her.

Alabama Claims

Liverpool's involvement in the conflict was so deep after the war the USA demanded extensive 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 was costed £97,000 to build. That is the cost of 159 CSS 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.

CSS Alabama

Built at Lairds CSS Alabama

The steam/sailer CSS Alabama, was built at Laird's shipyard in secrecy masquerading as a merchant ship. She was the most successful ship in world history of naval warfare with 55 ships claimed plus 10 bonded.

She was built on the River Mersey in 1862, crewed mainly by Liverpudlians, fought for America not once dropping anchor in an American port. In a close, fierce battle off Cherbourg 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, as a fast sleek steam/sailing merchant vessel. However the ship had reinforced sections to accommodate guns being 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 SS Enrica if she left Liverpool. The Northern Union clearly emphasised that 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 quite common.

The British government was eventually convinced that the ship was a disguised man-o-war being ready to seize her when under trials in the River Mersey. SS Enrica hosted a reception onboard, sailing up and down the river with buntings flying which was a common event for new ships - guests, wives and families were onboard. At New Brighton at the mouth of the river a steam tug approached the vessel taking off the guests, including Commander Bulloch. SS 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. SS Enrica was British registered with a British crew with a captain who was employed by the Cunard Line. The Northern Union sinking or seizing her would most certainly have resulted in international repercussions.

SS Enrica rendezvoused off the Azores in international waters with supply ship Agrippina.  Agrippina's load was sent by rail from Liverpool being loaded at London Docks to avoid suspicion. The cargo was cannons, guns and provisions. After fitting out, with a largely Liverpool crew, mainly Confederate officers took command renaming SS Enrica CSS Alabama. The British union flag was lowered with the Confederate stainless banner raised.

After roaming the oceans and sinking Northern Unions ships, CSS Alabama met her end in June 1864 off Cherbourg in France. USS Kearsarge was sent to hunt her down finally catching up with her at Cherbourg as CSS Alabama was in port having essential repairs. Sections of the hull were leaking water needing recaulking. USS Kearsarge had its hull armoured with chains as a retrofit, unknown to Captain Semmes of the CSS Alabama. Alabama was sleek, fast with the ability to out-turn and outrun the heavy USS Kearsarge. Alabama's guns were faster loading. The Alabama's captain could have turned the ship over to the French authorities releasing the crew to make their way back to England to man another Confederate vessel, however he decided to sail out to engage the waiting Yankee to the approval of the crew.

The French warship Couronne led CSS Alabama out of Cherbourg beyond the 3 mile French territorial limit. The town's people lined the cliffs waiting for the fight between the two American ships. A large fast British yacht, SS Deerhound, also built at Lairds being owned by John Lancaster a Confederate sympathiser, stood by. Both ships faced each other with sales furled using steam engines for power. For three hours the two warships circled each other on the edge of the three mile limit moving south westerly firing their guns at every opportunity. CSS Alabama fired off more shots which were more accurate with an exploding shell actually hitting the base of USS Kearsarge's mainmast. The shell did not  explode as the gunpowder was damp due to water leaks in the hull. USS Kearsarge escaped imminent destruction. A heavy gun on Kearsage eventually hit CSS Alabama below the waterline. CSS Alabama began to sink at the stern flagging a surrender. 

USS Kearsarge initially stood off not moving to assist the crew.  Some of the crew with injured men took to the lifeboats being eventually picked out of the water by USS Kearsarge. SS Deerhound seeing the USS Kearsarge stand off moved in to aid the sinking ship rescuing forty one crew members including Captain Semmes. The fast SS Deerhound turned speeding across the English Channel to England to the rage of the Kearsarge's crew, with some officers wanting to fire on SS Deerhound. Captain Winslow wisely resisted as it was against international law with Royal Navy ships in the English Channel who may hunt and attack USS Kersarge if she attacked a British vessel. Men went down with the ship due to USS Kearsarge standing off failing to fully assist the men on the stricken vessel. Captain Semmes stated that if he had known USS Kearsage was armoured he would never have fought her using his greater speed to escape.

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 Shenandoah at Melbourne flying the Stainless Banner

After the Confederacy had surrendered with war 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 at Liverpool 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, and the very last official lowering of the Confederate flag.

Surrender of the CSS Shenandoah

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

CCS Shenandoah dropped anchor at the Mersey Bar in Liverpool Bay. The Liverpool pilot approached the ship and asked what nationality the ship was as they flew no flag. The pilot would not take the ship up the River Mersey and into port unless a flag was flying. The Confederate stainless banner was again raised. CCS Shenandoah sailed up the River Mersey flying the flag to crowds assembled on the riverbanks welcoming the vessel. This was the only Confederate flag ever to circumnavigate the earth.  Captain Waddell saw the Royal Navy ship HMS Donegal anchored in mid-river and moved the ship to a nearby anchor. HMS Donegal took the last official surrender of the American Civil War when Captain Waddell surrendered his vessel in the River Mersey between Toxteth and Tranmere. A Royal Navy boarding party oversaw the last official lowering of the Confederate flag.  CSS Shenandoah had struck her colours for the second time. The ship sailed 9,000 miles (14,500 km), via Cape Horn, to Liverpool to surrender, being hunted by Northern Union vessels along the route. She berthed in Herculaneum Dock after surrender. The British government turned her over to the United States government, who officially owned the vessel, after releasing the largely British and Australian crew - under protest from the USA who insisted they be put 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, in feeling terms, 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.

The Laird Rams

HMS Wivern (Laird Ram) The ship is so advanced it looks 20th century. Notice the wooden three decked sailing ships being painted in the background indicating how advanced the turetted ships were. Lincoln Threatens War on The UK

The Confederacy ordered from Lairds shipyard two armoured iron hulled, twin rotating turret, rams powered by steam-sail. The warships were advanced designs with also 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 breach loading Armstrong guns. The rotating turrets enabled great flexibility when attacking enemy ships. These two deep sea operating ships are not to be confused with the iron clad turetted monitors used in the American civil war which were dedicated vessels for operating primarily in estuaries. One of the monitors capsized in deep water being so unstable.

The Northern Union spy ring relayed to Washington the status of the construction of the ships. Washington put pressure 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 the vessels were delivered.

With Britain having a huge naval fleet and a number of the advanced iron Warrier class ships complimented by the Laird rams, declaring war on the Britain would seem a foolish act when the Northern Union was already engaged in a war with the Confederacy. Britain 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 Britain 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 have interpreted 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 Warrier as "that long black snake in the English Channel". The Warrior was highly successful in preventing a war with France. HMS Warrior

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 breach loading Armstrong guns. The ships did not have to line up broadside against an enemy ship to fire, having the ability to fire its guns quickly at virtually any angle to an enemy ship. The rams were a quantum leap in design and technology and vessels to be feared. The rams could steam into a wooden hulled blue water fleet and decimate it. In harbours and rivers, they could just simply ram ironclad ships below the waterline. British navy ships were primarily designed by the Admiralty, in Admiralty shipyards. The Laird Rams were designed by men at Lairds 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, as the orders were legitimate. The rams were clearly warships and not disguised as merchantmen as was the CSS Alabama. The British government sent HMS Majestic to the River Mersey standing off the Lairds shipyard.  Later the Royal Navy 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. Lairds lodged a claim for the ships from the British government for the seized partially built ships. Only then did the government pay up and take the ships into the Royal Navy paying for the full completion of the ships. 

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.


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