- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2006

In July 1861, James Dunwoody Bulloch ordered a ship to be built by Laird brothers of Birkenhead, England. Birkenhead lies on the River Mersey, on the bank opposite Liverpool. The vessel ordered by Bulloch was later to find fame as the Alabama. Its original designation was the 290, being the 290th keel laid in the yard.

The ship was launched on May 15, 1862, and named the Enrica by a lady whose name has not been recorded. What follows is the story of this ship’s escape from both the River Mersey and the people who would detain it.

Thomas Haines Dudley, the U.S. consul in Liverpool, and his spies had not been idle during the building of the Enrica and had brought great pressure on British officials to make a firm stand against allowing the ship to fall into Confederate hands. In June, at the insistence of the U.S. consul, British customs officials examined the Enrica but could find no trace of any armaments or weapons. Not even a signal pistol was onboard.

Then, in July, both Dudley and Charles Frances Adams, the U.S. ambassador, submitted what they considered to be documentary proof that the vessel was to be a ship of war for the Confederacy.

Late on the afternoon of Friday, July 27, 1862, Bulloch received word from a private but very reliable source that it would not be safe to keep the ship in Liverpool for another 48 hours. (Bulloch never revealed the source of this information, taking the secret to his grave.) He was warned that the USS Tuscarora was prowling English waters looking for the Confederate cruiser.

The customs officers in Liverpool received the same information on that Friday, and they were ordered to detain the Enrica, but it was late in the day, and they decided to wait until Monday. Without that decision, the story of the Alabama no doubt would have been vastly different.

Much has been written about this warning that Bulloch received. Some writers have speculated that members of her majesty’s government, with financial interests in the Confederacy, or its cotton, gave the warning. Bulloch was later to defend the collector of customs in Liverpool, S. Price Edwards, against charges that Edwards had aided the cruiser’s escape.

Bulloch knew he would have to move fast if he were going to get the vessel away from Liverpool and into the relative safety of the open sea. He quickly contacted the Lairds and Matthew J. Butcher, chosen to captain the ship during its escape.

Around 10:30 a.m. Sunday, July 29, the Enrica left its berth, festooned with flags and bunting, ostensibly for a “trial” sail up and down the River Mersey. A party was in progress onboard, with several well-dressed men and five or six ladies present, including the Laird brothers and two daughters. Lts. James North and Arthur Sinclair of the Confederate Navy accompanied Bulloch. Butcher was in command, and at this point, he was aware of Bulloch’s escape plan and the fact that the Enrica was never to return to Liverpool.

At a prearranged point in midriver, Bulloch stated that the vessel needed to go out for overnight sea trials. He and the accompanying dignitaries left the Enrica and boarded the steam tug Hercules, which had come alongside. Once the Hercules had cleared the Enrica, Butcher set sail for the prearranged hiding place for the vessel, Moelfre Bay on the Isle of Anglesey, North Wales.

The next morning, Monday, July 30, at around 3, Bulloch went to a dock on the Mersey to meet with his agent, S.G. Porter, and 30 or so crewmen, all destined for the Enrica. Bulloch was surprised to discover that many of the seamen had their wives and girlfriends with them. The practice at that time on Merseyside was that the men, while on shore leave, would stay in the local drinking/lodging houses free of charge on the understanding that their first month’s pay would be collected in advance. The womenfolk would hand the money over to the landlord.

Bulloch was somewhat taken aback at this turn of events, but he allowed them all to board the steam tug Hercules and set sail for Moelfre Bay. They arrived in midafternoon, and Bulloch was again unhappy that the women insisted on boarding his ship, but he relented and instructed that they and the new crew be fed and given drinks. Having been “fed and watered” and having received the money that they required, the women returned to the Hercules for the return journey to Liverpool, and more than one was heard to comment on what a fine ship the Enrica was.

Bulloch seems to have had a confidence in Butcher that he had not shown for any other “outsider” and to have felt secure in imparting to him the true purpose of the Enrica’s voyage. Bulloch already had ordered Lt. John Low to join Butcher as his first officer. Low had just returned from delivering the first British-built Confederate cruiser, the Florida, to its Confederate commander in Nassau.

The second officer was George Townley Fullam. The other three officers aboard the vessel were surgeon David H. Llewellyn, paymaster Clarence R. Yonge and chief engineer J. McNair. Not only were the officers and crew British, with the single exception of Yonge, but everything about the vessel was British, too.

Butcher sailed the Enrica north from Moelfre Bay at 3 a.m. His passage was to be around the north coast of Ireland to keep clear of the USS Tuscarora, which was searching British waters. Off the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland, Butcher hailed a fishing boat, and Bulloch and his agent left the Enrica to its destiny.

The USS Tuscarora eventually arrived at Moelfre Bay, but its quarry was long gone. That was the first of many such occurrences for the U.S. warships.

Bulloch returned to Liverpool on Aug. 3 to await the arrival of Raphael Semmes, who was to commission the Alabama into the service of the Confederate navy. Semmes finally arrived in Liverpool on Aug. 8 with Lt. John McIntosh Kell and other officers after their passage from Nassau. Spending a few days in Liverpool, Semmes reassembled some of his crew from the Sumter, the Confederacy’s first commerce raider, which Semmes had been forced to abandon after it had become blockaded by Union warships earlier that year in Spain. Semmes and Bulloch then made financial arrangements for the cruise to come.

On Aug. 13, Bulloch, Semmes and his officers departed Liverpool aboard the steamer Bahama, joining it downriver from a tug. The tug crew cheered the Southern naval men on their way; this was more than likely the tug Hercules, which already had assisted Bulloch immensely.

The master of the Bahama was Capt. Eugene Tessier, a Savannah blockade runner with whom Semmes already had traveled from Nassau to Liverpool. The Enrica had left Liverpool as an unarmed vessel to satisfy British legal requirements. Its officers now were being sent to a prearranged meeting in the Azores, the armament traveling separately on the Agrippina.

The Alabama was commissioned into the Confederate navy on Aug. 24, 1862.

Roy Rawlinson operates a Web site called When Liverpool Was Dixie (https://www.csa-dixie.com/liverpool_dixie/). He lives in Southport, 17 miles from Liverpool.

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