Destruction of the Rebel Pirate Alabama


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, July 23, 1864

Welcome to our online collection of original Harper's Weekly newspapers. We have put this collection together over the last 20 years, and now make them available for your study and research online. We hope you find this resource useful, and hope you will check back often as we add new material each day.

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Alabama Sinking

Destruction of the "Alabama"


Capture of Kenesaw Mountain

Port Walthall

Port Walthall


General Meade and Staff


Train Crash



Semmes Cartoon

Semmes Cartoon

Pennsylvania Map

Pennsylvania Map

Scenes Around Petersburg


Battle Marietta Georgia






[JULY 23, 1864.



IT was the morn of a Sabbath day,

The air was calm and the sky was clear;

Blue were the waters in Cherbourg bay, Where, in the shade of the frowning fort Which guards the port,

Lay the rebel privateer.


Outside, clearing her decks for the fight,

Floated the Yankee ship on the seas, When the pirate vessel hovered in sight,

Saucily flaunting her bastard rag,

The rebel flag,

Defiantly in the breeze.


Then the drums on the Kearsarge beat,

Calling to quarters her gallant crew; Every man of them sprang to his feet,

Eager and anxious for the fray

On that Sabbath day,

As the corsair nearer drew.


Soon a column of dense white smoke

Was seen to curl from the pirate's side,
And the booming sound of her cannon broke

The Sabbath stillness upon the deep,

And out of sleep

Woke the echoes near and wide.


Closer together the two ships came;

An ominous silence the Yankee kept, When on a sudden a sheet of flame,

Lurid and hot as the fires of hell,

With hissing shell,

From each open port-hole swept.


So for a little more than an hour

Over the calm, still waters flew, Howling and screeching, the iron shower;

While ever resonant, loud and clear

Sounded each cheer

Of the valiant Yankee crew.


Then the rebel captain, beaten at last,

Headed his vessel for Cherbourg town, But the gallant Kearsarge, following fast,

Lodged her shell in the pirate's hull

Without a lull

Till he hauled his colors down.


Up went a white flag to the breeze,

But scarce had it floated a moment there When down went the ship into the seas,

Leaving her crew to find watery graves,

Or fight the waves-

So sank the bold corsair!


FULLER details than were at hand at our last issue enable us this week to give a more extended account of the destruction of the Alabama, which is illustrated on our first page. The Alabama arrived off Cherbourg June 14, taking shelter under the guns of Fort Du Romet, and the next day Captain SEMMES, understanding that he would not be aIlowed to remain at anchor in the French port, and that he must soon measure the strength of his vessel with that of the Kearsarge, which was vigilantly watching to prevent his escape seaward, impudently petitioned Captain WINSLOW not to depart from his post, as he intended to come out and offer battle. The chances of the conflict, estimated from the relative strength and speed of the two vessels, were nearly equally balanced. The tonnage of both was the same ; they were equal in match; and as to armament, if there was any advantage it was with the Alabama, the latter carrying a 100-pound rifled gun, a heavy 68-pounder, and six broadside 32-pounders, while the Kearsarge carried one gun less, viz. : four broadside 32-pounders, two 11-inch Dahlgren, and one 28-pound rifle. The crew of the Alabama, as stated by her officers, consisted of about 150 ; that of the Kearsarge of about the same number. The Deerhound, an English yacht, having on board its owner Mr. LANCASTER—a member of the Royal Yacht Club—together with his wife and family, had come out to witness the action. A French pilot-boat was near at hand for the same purpose. In order to protect the more vital parts of his vessel, Captain WLNSLOW had suspended a double row of chains from the sides to the water's edge, covering them over with wooden planks. This proved a very valuable defense in the action ; it was one, however, equally in the power of SEMMES to have adopted it he had chosen.

At twenty minutes past 10 A.M. Of the 19th the Alabama was discovered by the Kearsarge making her way out of the Western Pass of the harbor. Captain WINSLOW steamed off to the northeast to a distance of seven miles from Cherbourg until it was certain that all the manoeuvres of battle could be executed outside of French jurisdiction. At ten minutes to eleven he wheeled about and steered for the Alabama. The few first broadsides were delivered by SEMMES, the Kearsarge slowly returning his fire at first, sending one shot to the Alabama's three. Both vessels used their starboard batteries; and during the whole action the ships, in order to keep their broadsides bearing, manoeuvred in circles, gyrating continually westward at a distance from each other of from five hundred to one thousand yards. The Alabama delivered her fire not only more rapidly than the Kearsarge, but frequently at random. Every shot from the Kearsarge told upon the rebel corsair. In less than fifteen minutes from

the commencement of the action the spanker gaff of the Alabama was shot away, and with it dropped the rebel ensign, which was replaced by another at the mizzen mast-head. Soon her hull began to feel the well-directed blows of the Kearsarge, which meanwhile dealt fearful havoc among the rebel crew, knocking them down, killing and disabling them in all parts of the vessel. SEMMES seeing all this, yet observed to his amazement that his most powerful shells fell harmless from the sides of the Kearsarge. After an hour and ten minutes, the two ships meanwhile keeping up their fire, and in their movement westward gradually nearing the shore, though still clear of French waters, the Alabama, perforated in its sides and between decks by the fiery rain of shells from the Kearsarge, began to show signs of sinking. Seven circles had been completed by the two combatants, and it was now noon : there was a lull in the conflict, and the Alabama with all her steam on headed for the French coast. Aware of her intention, Captain WINSLOW-his vessel not seriously disabled, although a dozen of the enemy's shots had taken effect on her hull, and with only three men severely wounded, none killed—by a rapid movement steamed to the inside of the Alabama, and delivered a broadside in her weak side, making a fresh opening for the water into the sinking vessel.

The battle was now decided. One hundred and seventy-three shots had been fired by the Kearsarge and perhaps double that number by the Alabama. Captain SEMMES, the fires of his vessel being put out by the rapid influx of water, hauled down his colors, tore out the rebel insignia and hoisted them again in token of surrender. His three waist boats had been torn to shreds in the fight, and he had left only two quarter-boats, which were filled with the wounded and with boys unable to swim. A boat was sent alongside of the Kearsarge to give notice of the surrender of the Alabama, and to ask assistance for the sinking crew. This assistance was promptly granted, and how efficiently rendered may be inferred from the number picked up by the boats of the Kearsarge. At precisely twenty-four minutes past twelve, twenty minutes after her furnace-fires went out, the Alabama being on the point of making her final plunge, every man leaped overboard. Nine who had been killed were left to sink ; of the twenty wounded, some were in the quarter-boats with the boys and others on board the Kearserge ; the rest of the crew were all afloat, and some of them drowning. Every available boat of both vessels was now employed in their rescue ; and besides these the Deerhound and the French pilot-boat were requested to share in this humane service. In this way one hundred and nineteen were saved, seventy of them by the boats of the Kearsarge, forty by the Deerhound, and nine by the French boat. Among those rescued by the Deerhound were Captain SEMMES and thirteen other officers. In the most dishonorable manner both the Deerhound and the French boat, instead of surrendering the prisoners to the Kearsarge, conveyed them away to port.


SATURDAY, JULY 23, 1864.


THE late efforts, strenuously advised by the Richmond rebel papers and exultingly hailed by their allies the Copperhead journals, to bring the National and State authorities into collision, should be pondered by every loyal citizen. The friends of the rebellion at the North do not hope to produce civil war for their allies directly, but indirectly. They do not expect to raise the people in the loyal States to help with arms the secession of the rebel section ; but they do not despair of giving relief and success to the rebels by inciting even an armed stand for State Sovereignty against the National Government.

Let every man remember, then, that no "sovereignty" in a State is essential to the welfare of a citizen of the United States. All the chief attributes of sovereignty were surrendered in the Constitution for the security of the whole people, and whatever further surrender is necessary the same people will willingly make. Both State and Union exist by and for the people ; and whatever the existence of the Union may require can never properly be thwarted by a State. MADISON asks, in the 45th Number of the Federalist, " Was the precious blood of thousands spilt, and the hard earned substance of millions lavished, not that the people of America should enjoy peace, liberty, and safety, but that the governments of the individual States, that particlar municipal establishments, might enjoy a certain extent of power, and be arrayed with certain dignities and attributes of sovereignty?
......As far as the sovereignty of the States can not be reconciled to the happiness of the people, the voice of every good citizen must be, Let the former be sacrificed to the latter." And why not, since State and Union exist solely for the happiness of the people?

Now the Constitution amply provides for waging foreign war and for suppressing rebellion. But the powers are generally granted, because particular cases could not be foreseen. Yet that every necessary step whatever might be considered lawful, the Constitution expressly provides for the suspension of the habeas corpus--thus permitting the temporary and arbitrary over-throw of the most sacred and fundamental right of all, that of personal liberty. In a state of war, therefore, the National authority is of necessity every where supreme for the purposes of the war. If any local authority could interpose the national existence would become im

possible, because, in that case, there might be as many conflicting authorities as there are States—a situation incompatible with national existence or a condition of war. To say that martial law must be declared before the National authority can intervene is a fallacy, for martial law of itself suspends all other. But the Constitution declares that the habeas corpus may be disregarded, in case of rebellion, when—and, of course, where—the public safety may require. That is to say, the extremest measures may be taken whenever and wherever they are necessary. It may not be necessary to declare martial law in Maine, but it may be essential to seize summarily a man in Portland. The Constitution provides for the emergency, and no loyal citizen would be more troubled by the act than by any other necessitated by war.

The Attorney for this district, in his late argument against the National sovereignty, repeats the fallacy of Governor SEYMOUR in regard to coercing States. The National Government has no right to coerce States, was the shallow cry of the abettors of rebellion three years ago. But has not the National Government, existing by the will of the people, quite as good a right to enforce its laws against rebellious citizens as the State of New York or the city of Rochester. The District Attorney says that the State of New York is not at war. Of course not, and it never could be, for the Constitution of the United States forbids it. But the people of the United States living in the State of New York are at war. They are engaged indeed in a very serious war ; and they, in common with all other people of the United States, have concurred in giving their authorities supreme powers for the purposes of the war, subject, of course, to impeachment and to the consequences of popular discontent.

Under the plea of State sovereignty to ovethrow the National sovereignty is the secret hope of all such proceedings as the arrest of General Dix. JEFFERSON DAVIS has no other object, no other excuse. But what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Suppose we save the State and lose the nation ? Which is our first and rightful interest and care, the Union or the State ? What is the State without the Union ? What do either and both exist for but for the security of our liberties ? And for what purpose is the question of conflict raised at this time but to imperil those liberties ? It is the device of the rebels, and is fostered by those who would gladly see the rebels triumph. Read its character and intent in those of the men and the papers which support it. If you find a paper which in every way thwarts the Government, disheartens the loyal, excuses the rebellion, and justifies the draft riots, you find a paper which is alarmed lest State sovereignty should be overthrown. And as for men, does any sane man believe that the SEYMOURS, the WOODS, and their followers, are more solicitous for the honor and dignity of New York than General Dix and his friends ? " The whole doctrine of State sovereignty might be swept away tomorrow ; the very remembrance that the States ever were sovereign might be wiped out, and our liberties would still be safe : for it is on our love of them, and not on our theories of the origin and nature of our Government, nor yet on the precise form of the Government itself, that our possession of them depends." Such are the words of an admirable paper in the July number of the North American Review, which we heartily commend to our readers.


IN the Presidential election of 1860, in which it took part, the influence known as the Slave power legally lost the control of the government of the United States, and immediately attempted to destroy it. Since the beginning of the war and the accession of the new Administration the blows at Slavery, the source and strength of the rebellion, have naturally been incessant and vigorous. Slavery has been prohibited in the national Territories. It has been abolished in the District of Columbia. A more strenuous treaty with England for the suppression of the Slave-trade has been negotiated. The Fugitive Slave law has been repealed. Colored men have been allowed to carry the mails, and their right to give testimony in courts of law has been established. Slaves have been enrolled as free soldiers of the United States, receiving equal wages with all others. The President has emancipated by proclamation the slaves in all the rebel section. The Convention of loyal Union men have declared with the utmost enthusiasm for an amendment of the Constitution making Slavery impossible. The President hails the proposition with all his heart, having long ago declared that the Union could not endure half slave and half free, and having lately expressed the faith of his life that if any thing is wrong, it is Slavery.

These things have been done under the administration of ABRAHAM LINCOLN. This policy succeeds the universal and unhesitating subserviency to the Slave power of FILLMORE'S, PIERCE'S, and BUCHANAN'S administrations. It has been cordially supported by the country ; the last three State elections showing every where a

regularly increasing majority for the policy of the Administration. It is the anchor of hope for peace and union, Yet at this moment, and in view of these facts, Mr. FREMONT gravely says that Mr. LINCOLN has betrayed his principles, and Mr. WENDELL PHILLIPS speaks of the President's "indecision, heartlessness, and infamous pandering to negrophobia and the Slave power." He could say nothing worse of PIERCE or BUCHANAN, and words cease to have any meaning when they are so grossly and recklessly perverted.

That among the supporters of the Cleveland nominations there are men who honestly believe that the Administration is culpably slow in dealing with the cause of the rebellion can not be doubted. They will gladly accept Mr. PHILLIPS as their spokesman, for whoever knows him knows what sincerity and purity of purpose are. These gentlemen would doubtless regret to serve the rebels and their cause, and yet, with Mr. PHILLIPS, they declare that they are proud to support the Cleveland action. Will they, then, reflect a moment to see if their course at this juncture, and under the present circumstances, is one which helps the cause which they chiefly honor? Mr. PHILLIPS says that he does not expect the Cleveland movement as such to succeed, but is wilting to unite with any body who will be more radical than Mr. LINCOLN. Dr. BROWNSON and Mr. JOHN COCHRANE invite the radical Democrats to join the party which wishes to defeat Mr. LINCOLN. To what does all this inevitably tend ?

These gentlemen will agree probably that Mr. VALLANDIGHAM is almost as base a sycophant of the Slave power as Mr. LINCOLN. They have not forgotten VALLANDIGHAM'S eager crawling from Wastrington to Charlestown in Virginia with JAMES M. MASON, now the rebel emissary in London, to see if he could not extort from old JOHN BROWN some word, or hint, or shrug which should implicate the Republican leaders in the affair at Harper's Ferry. They know what VALLANDIGHAM was and is. They know that he is going to the Chicago Convention, and why he goes there, and whether or not that Convention will spew him out. They know, also—or do they doubt ?—that the main inspiration of that " Democratic" assembly is negrophobia. They know, also—or do they doubt? —that "the friends" of the rebellion, who last year resisted the reinforcement of the army, and hung and burned negroes in New York, will be represented in that Convention. They know, also—or do they doubt ?—that the great body of men who mean war and liberty as the hope of Union and peace will not be represented at Chicago. And do they not know—or do they doubt ?—that, of necessity, Cleveland is a tender to Chicago—the mere Deerhound to that Alabama? If they doubt, we refer them to the organ of Mr. FREMONT, and of Mr. JOHN COCHRANE'S "Radical Democracy." That paper says: " There is so little difference between this party [the Radical Democracy] and the Democratic party that it would be easy to adopt a common ticket." The same paper cries : " Down with Lincoln ! Such be our battle-cry ! Let there be but two parties : let all be for or against Lincoln." Bearing this in mind, let them hear the Atlanta Register, a rebel journal which heartily agrees with the FREMONT organ in malignant hate of the President and General GRANT. Speaking of the Copperheads, it says: " If they will use the ballot-box against Mr. LINCOLN while we use the cartridge-box, each side will be a helper to the other, and both co-operate in accomplishing the greatest work which this country and the continent have witnessed." Mr. PHILLIPS and his friends know whether that work is emancipation. One of the chief New York Copperhead papers says that " it is the duty of the country to rally at the next election and put down LINCOLN as well as his confederate, JEFF DAVIS." Mr. PHILLIPS and his friends virtually say, " Certainly, the slave-hunter and the slave-hound." Another of the New York Copperhead journals declares that they can certainly poll more votes by uniting upon FREMONT ''to defeat the Administration." Do Mr. PHILLIPS and his friends think that these papers have become Abolitionists ? that they are going to support Mr. FREMONT, if at all, upon a platform of negro equality?

It is in vain that Mr. PHILLIPS repeats a resolution of the Cleveland Convention calling it the highest tide - mark of American politics. The Cleveland keynote was, "Down with LINCOLN !" Chicago had already shouted it in advance. The cry of rebel rage comes hissing up from the South, " Down with LINCOLN !" VALLANDIGHAM and his friends catch and prolong it--"Down with LINCOLN!" Every Copper-head in the land rings with the refrain, "Down with LINCOLN!" PIERCE, the SEYMOURS, REED, the WOODS, all their organs, their orators, and their resolutions join the chorus which JEFFERSON DAVIS hears and cheers, "Down with LINCOLN !" " Down with LINCOLN !" is the battle-cry of every rebel in the field; of every Copperhead and apologist or devotee of slavery in the land, on the stump, and at the ballot-box ; and of every enemy of the American idea and system in Europe. It is not love of liberty ; it is not equality before the law ; it is not national honor, and peace, and Union through justice; it is not humanity and the country which in (Next Page)




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