Ships during the Civil War

CSS Alabama

The CSS Alabama was called the ‘Wolf of the Deep’. This Confederate raider was responsible for so much damage and destruction during the Civil War. One of the more interesting developments of the war was how the Alabama came to become such a pirate of the sea. In July 1862 Captain Semmes, of the Confederate navy, was ordered to the shores of England and pick up a ship.

The English, who were Confederate sympathizers, throughout the entire war, built the ship. The goal of the south was to lay waste to the immense commercial capability of the north, and secure a wider passage for their own naval and commercial vessels. The plan went well and on August 24, 1862, the CSS Alabama was met at sea to be outfitted as a war ship.

Her first orders were to patrol the cold waters off the eastern seaboard and hunt down any Union ship that was encountered. For the rest of the year, the Alabama would sink or burn 29 Union commercial ships. These ships were the lifeblood of the Union supply system.

Although the Union had under their belt, a gigantic industrial backbone that could absorb an immense amount of lost ships, this was inflicting the war. After destroying another 40 Union merchant ships, the Alabama started to display the ravages of all those raids. The Alabama was in need of repair and re-tooling in the summer of 1864.

The south chose another friendly ally to help their cause and that was France. The French, long time Confederate sympathizers, were more than willing to help and opened the Port of Cherbourg to accept the ailing Confederate war ship. On June 11, 1864 the CSS Alabama was docked at the French port and readied for a face-lift.

Little did Captain Semmes know, but the Union had sent a tag-along to follow the Alabama overseas. That ship was the Kearsarge. The northern ship was patiently waiting just outside of the port and her Captain had only one thing on his mind, to destroy The CSS Alabama.

The Alabama was done with her repairs and steamed out to meet the Kearsarge on June 19, 1863. The Alabama immediately opened fire on the Kearsarge and the battle had commenced. The Alabama was not a very good war ship nor was it designed to be. It was created as a raiding vessel, one that would be light and fast.

No heavy guns that were the standard for warships of the Civil War on the Alabama, and this was to be her downfall. When the Alabama had closed to within 1,000 yards, the Kearsarge returned fire and hit the Alabama hard. After numerous volleys the two ships circled each other like two angry dogs awaiting the chance to attack. According to survivors, both ships fired volleys at each other until one was damaged and ceased it’s firing.

The CSS Alabama was heading to a watery grave; the ‘Wolf of the Deep’ was to be no more.

The battle took little more than an hour and the victor, The Kearsarge, would also be the rescuer of the Confederates that had either been forced into the water or jumped. The rest of the crew of the Alabama escaped with the assistance of a French yacht, The Deerhound. The fleeing sailors would find a safe refuge in England and miss the rest of the war.


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Confederate Navy

The Confederate Navy had a few warships yet could never confront the Union on the open sea. Although there were numerous sea battles between the North and the South, none were to involve more than two ships at a time. The Rebel navy was, non-existent.

The Confederate Navy would be forced to rely on their harassment of Union mercantile ships that were transporting supplies from the lower Northern states to the upper states.

Their method of destruction would come in the form of ironclads and slick seamanship. They knew all too well the consequences if they were to amass all of the ships of the Confederacy and stand against the Union navy. It would have been a turkey shoot.

The Union Navy had over 100 slopes and a few dozen cruisers and frigates. The South had a few ships that could, in a stretch, be fitted to resemble a warship. Naval superiority was never in question.

The Confederates relied on stealth and merchant ship piracy. The South had some friends though, overseas, supposedly, neutral, that would supply the Rebels with a few warships.

The Confederate ironclad the CSS Virginia

The Confederate ironclad the CSS Virginia

The French and the English supplied the bulk of the warships that the South had at its’ disposal. One in particular, The CSS “Florida”, was built in Liverpool in 1862. The Union had set up a blockade that was seemingly impervious to any shipping activities from Europe. The South got the CSS Florida through and after retrofitting guns and armor, the battle ship created havoc on Union vessels. Commercial or military, the ships supplied from Europe were spruced up by the Rebels, and were some of the best destroyers of the war. The combination of French and English sea-building skills, coupled with a great sense of ingenuity, helped make the Southern navy a minor force at sea.

The blockades that were set out to intercept any ships coming from the supposedly neutral countries and presented to the South were ineffective at best. The Atlantic Ocean is a huge expanse of territory, which was indefensible during the 19th century. Even today the surveillance that is required to monitor the Eastern seaboard takes a monumental-technological effort.

The CSS Florida, and others like it such as the CSS Alabama were successful in sinking many Union vessels. The numerical superiority of the Union Navy however was too much for the south to ever overcome and in the end the Confederacy could never win against the Union Navy.

Confederate Navy2019-06-25T20:17:23-04:00

Blockade Runner

A blockade runner was a ship that attempted to get through the Union blockade of Southern waters during the Civil War. One of the main goals of the North against the South was to starve them and cut off supplies and transports to and from the South. A blockade is used for closing off ports, channels, creeks, waterways, and anything else that can transport weapons and supplies.

The success of the blockade is not arguable, as it did what it was supposed to do, stop supplies from getting into the Confederacy.

The Confederate Navy was never in any position to challenge the Union Navy in a full out battle. They simply lacked any real fighting ships and would be easily defeated.

Their only alternative was to come up with innovative ways to deal with the Union Navy. They employed the use of a submarine the CSS Hunley to try and break up the blockade.

This proved partly successful sinking one Union warship however the Hunley was also lost in the same attack. Ending the South’s submarine ambitions.

CSS Banshee

CSS Banshee

The South also employed the ironclad Virginia to attack the blockading ships, this however proved somewhat ineffective when the Union sent their own ironclad, the Monitor to intercept and stop the Virginia. The South did have one way that proved to be successful. This was simply running the blockade and not trying to fight it.

The blockade was an effective barrier against goods, weapons, and troops being transferred out of the city ports of Charleston and New Orleans. The Union set up two blockades. The first was called the Atlantic Blockading Squadron, which was based in Virginia. The second was the Gulf Blockading Squadron, which was based in Key West, Florida. Most of the action of the two blockading squadrons was in the state of Louisiana and along the east coast.

The goal of many of the successful blockade runners of the Confederate navy was to slip in and out without conflict or contact with the blockading Union ships. About seven out of ten of the Rebel blockade-runners would make successful runs each time they tried.

This was a very dangerous job but the rewards for a successful run were immense. The profit to be gained was more than worth the danger these crews faced with each run against the blockade. Blockade-runners were the Confederacy’s only lifeline to the outside world. Without them the South could not trade with Europe and they would not receive the precious weapons and materials they could not produce themselves. England even went as far as to secretly build blockade-runners for the South, threatening war with the Union in doing so.

Despite the effort and success of southern ships running the gauntlet of the Union Navy it was not enough for the South. In the end the South was simply squeezed into submission by both land and sea.

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