Of all the ships commissioned into the Confederacy's service, Alabama is the only one to have assumed the status of legend in her own lifetime as well as in the years that followed the bitter defeat of the Southern States of America.
Built in secret by Laird's at Birkenhead, she was launched in July 1862 at a cost of £51,000. Designed for speed and lightly armed with 6-32pdrs. and one enormous 100pdr. Blakely rifled gun, she was classed as a wooden corvette of 1,050 tons and measured 220 feet in length with a 32 foot beam. Originally named Enrica in order to mislead both the Union Secret Service and the British Foreign Office, she only assumed the name Alabama once she was at sea even though, as she approached completion, it became "a close run thing" to prevent discovery of her true purpose. At the end of July 1862 - with the British Government about to seize her - she left Liverpool on what was supposed to be her final trial when in fact she was heading for the open sea. So began her two year reign of terror, 1862-64, during which she captured or sank sixty-seven Union ships valued at nearly $6 million. During these two years, Alabama eluded her pursuers many times and, rather than put into port for repairs or provisions, she preferred to rely instead on whatever she could confiscate on the high seas. The one exception to this modus operandi was her celebrated call at Capetown where, in early August 1863, she was given a tumultuous welcome and received with considerable hospitality by the local inhabitants. Just before she made port, she sighted and captured the 450 ton Boston barque Sea Bride laden with trade goods and whilst Alabama was in Capetown, Sea Bride herself stood out to sea with a prize crew aboard her. Soon after making Luderitz Bay, Alabama's captain sold Sea Bride to a British merchant for $17,000, the payment consisting of 3,500 gold sovereigns.
Eventually returning to European waters and by now leaking and fouled, she put into Cherbourg for repairs on 16th June 1864 where, at last, she was cornered by the U.S.S. Kearsage, a Federal sloop-of-War under the command of Captain Winslow. On 19th June he forced Alabama out into the English Channel and, once free of the 3-mile limit, engaged her in a fierce circling action which could have only one outcome. Kearsage's superior fire-power soon gave her the advantage and after a protracted duel during which Alabama suffered fearful damage, the raider struck her colours but sank before she could be taken.
In this portrait Alabama is shown in port profile view, under sail and steam as seen from the windward aspect. Another version in the Maritime Museum at Liverpool, signed and dated 1862, is almost identical except for the background which indicates Alabama outward bound off Cork. As a matter of historical fact, Alabama never ever passed Cork. In order to escape the English authorities, by now driven to take action, she put to sea on the pretext of further trials on 28 July 1862. After transferring her guest passengers, Alabama then left the Irish Sea by the North Channel, for a rendezvous in the Azores to install armaments and receive ammunition.
Here it would seem that the artist is complying with the contemporary cloak of pseudo-secrecy by depicting Alabama as though returning to Liverpool after an earlier sea trial. Holyhead Mountain and the South stack are visible astern near the right margin and the Skerries reef and lighthouse towards the left.
In both paintings the ensign at the after peak is the 'Stars and Bars', the later version of the Confederate flag, the earlier version being the 'Southern Cross'. In true man-of-war fashion the crew's hammocks are seen stowed in netting on top of the bulwarks. An interesting and significant feature is the large gap between the rudder and sternpost. This is to accommodate a 'lifting screw' whereby the propeller could be disengaged from the shaft and then raised vertically into a watertight well. By removing the 'drag' of a stationary propeller, normal cruising performance under sail was unimpaired, it being essential to conserve fuel for emergency or special use.
Christies's are grateful to Sam Davidson for his help in cataloguing this lot.