The CSS Alabama was a screw-driven warship commissioned by the Confederate States of America (the South) for use during the American Civil War. The Alabama was built in secrecy by John Laird Sons in their Birkenhead shipyards and launched in July, 1862. It is worth remembering that there was heavy sympathy in Britain for the Condeferate south during the American Civil War.
The Alabama was very successful initially, and inflicted heavy damage on Federal (the North) shipping, attacking both merchant and warships with great success. Over the course of her service, the Alabama captured and burned 65 Union ships. That success was shortlived, however, and the Alabama was eventually sunk by the Northern vessel, USS Kearsarge in June, 1864 off Cherbourg, France. During the two years of her active service, the CSS Alabama did not once lay anchor in a southern port. In 1984 the wreck of the CSS Alabama was discovered and some relics were later brought back to the surface by divers.
The real relevance of the Alabama to British history comes with what happened next. At the conclusion of the American Civil War the victorious Federal government (the North) sued the British government for compensation for the damage inflicted by the Alabama during the war. An international board of arbitration sided with the US government, and awarded $15,500,00 in compensation, which the British government paid in 1872. This was a groundbreaking case, one of the first where an act of war was considered grounds for later compensation.
Note: Do not confuse the CSS Alabama with the 6 different ships designated as USS Alabama!
Time period(s): Victorian