The little-known story of the clandestine British construction of a Confederate warship, Southern piracy, and the far-reaching impact these activities had on modern international law.
Naval historian deKay (Monitor, 1997, etc.) finds political intrigue, swashbuckling adventure, and the seeds of 20th-century diplomatic agreements in his new history of the Civil War high seas. According to deKay, the tight Union blockade of Confederate states forced the rebel government to seek novel ways to export cotton and thereby fund the war. To arrange for the construction of warships in England, Jefferson Davis decided to dispatch James Bulloch, a Southern sympathizer, successful New York sea captain, and maritime businessman. The author follows the efforts of Charles Adams, the American minister in London, to catch the British illegally providing vessels to the Confederacy. Adams hired a battalion of private detectives and agents to follow Bulloch, who managed to deliver the CSS Alabama to captain Raphael Semmes despite their best efforts. In addition to being fanatically committed to the rebellion, deKay notes, Semmes was a natural at piracy: as soon as he received the Alabama, he began a campaign of terror on commercial sea trade, single-handedly capturing and burning more than 60 American vessels and forcing the US navy to send 25 warships away from blockade duty to search for him. The author concludes by analyzing American attempts to attain a retribution settlement from the British, noting that while Semmes and the Alabama may be best remembered for their Civil War exploits, their real legacy lies in establishing a precedent for resolving international disputes. In this case, an international tribunal adjudicated in favor of the American complaints and successfully compelled Britain to pay some ten million dollars in damages to American shipping interests.
Good entertainment for fans of Civil War tales, naval history, or true stories of high-seas adventure.