Thursday, January 10, 2013

January 10, 1863

January 10, 1863:

Sea Battle, 20 miles off Galveston, Texas

CSS Alabama v. USS Hatteras

Having come into the Gulf of Mexico to aid Galveston, and then having learned that the ramshackle Rebel river fleet had chased the USN squadron out, Capt. Rafael Semmes and the CSS Alabama determines to steam close to Galveston anyway, since the U.S. Navy’s blockading squadron is already engaged in trying to re-take the port city. Semmes has promised his men that they are "to have some sport off Galveston." He steams close enough to the Yankee blockaders to finally be noticed, and the USS Hatteras, under a Captain Blake gives chase. The Alabama turns to flee, and draws the Yankee further from the protection of the squadron, and then turns to engage in a running gun battle. The Rebels follow the time-honored ruse of claiming to be a Royal Navy ship, the Petrel, when the Hatteras asks her identity. Semmes writes of this engagement, and how his ship—smaller than the Hatteras and armed about equally—is able to best the Federal navy in the Alabama’s only classic ship-to-ship action of its career, before its last battle:

Things were now come to a crisis, and it being useless to delay our engagement with the enemy any longer, I turned to my first lieutenant, and said, "I suppose you are all ready for action?" "We are," he replied; "the men are eager to begin, and are only waiting for the word." I then said to him, "Tell the enemy who we are, for we must not strike him in disguise, and when you have done so, give him the broadside." Kell now sang out, in his powerful, clarion voice, through his trumpet, "This is the Confederate States steamer Alabama!" and turning to the crew, who were all standing at their guns—the gunners with their sights on the enemy, and lock-strings in hand—gave the order, fire! Away went the broadside in an instant, our little ship feeling, perceptibly, the recoil of her guns. The night was clear. There was no moon, but sufficient star-light to enable the two ships to see each other quite distinctly, at the distance of half a mile, or more, and a state of the atmosphere highly favorable to the conduct of sound. . . . As a matter of course, our guns awakened the echoes of the coast, far and near, announcing very distinctly to the Federal Admiral—Bell, a Southern man, who had gone over to the enemy—that the ship which he had sent out to chase the strange sail, had a fight on her hands. He immediately, as we afterward learned, got under way, with the Brooklyn, his flag-ship, and two others of his steamers, and came out to the rescue.

Our broadside was returned instantly; the enemy, like ourselves, having been on his guard, with his men standing at their guns. The two ships, when the action commenced, had swerved in such a way, that they were now heading in the same direction—the Alabama fighting her starboard-broadside, and her antagonist her port-broadside. Each ship, as she delivered her broadside, put herself under steam, and the action became a running fight, in parallel lines, or nearly so, the ships now nearing, and now separating a little from each other. My men handled their pieces with great spirit and commendable coolness, and the action was sharp and exciting while it lasted; which, however, was not very long, for in just thirteen minutes after firing the first gun, the enemy hoisted a light, and fired an off-gun, as a signal that he had been beaten. We at once withheld our fire, and such a cheer went up from the brazen throats of my fellows, as must have astonished even a Texan, if he had heard it. We now steamed up quite close to the beaten steamer, and asked her captain, formally, if he had surrendered. He replied that he had. I then inquired if he was in want of assistance, to which he responded promptly that he was, that his ship was sinking rapidly, and that he needed all our boats.

---Gen. Grant sends a telegram to Gen. McClernand asking him where he is, and what he is doing. McClernand responds that he is moving against Arkansas Post—which was not approved by Grant.

Battle of Arkansas PostPrelude – McClernand’s Federals advance toward the fortifications of this town, while Gen. Thomas Churchill, the commander of Fort Hindman, orders most of his 5,000 troops out of the fortifications and into the forward rifle pits. But then Admiral Porter’s gunboats open fire on the rifle pits, scattering the Rebels and sending them back into the fortress. Meanwhile, as the day closes, Federal troops are able to occupy some high ground north of the fort, so elevated that they can fire down into the fort.


—In the atmosphere of heated debate in American and British newspapers about the raids and destruction by the CSS Alabama, this cartoon appears, showing John Bull (England) roaring in fury as a sneaky Capt. Semmes runs off with booty from the prizes he has burned:

JOHN BULL ( furious.) "Hallo! there, SEMMES; that’s my Property. Fair play, you Rascal! If I’d suspected this, you’d never have got out of Liverpool!" ("Most of the property destroyed by the Pirate SEMMES on board the vessels he has seized was insured in England, and the loss will consequently fall on Englishmen."—Daily Paper

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