Liverpool-built ships in the Civil War

illustration of a large ship facing several others
'Her Majesty's ship 'Majestic' keeping watch over the Steam-Rams in the Mersey', Illustrated London News, 28 November 1863. Archive reference DX/287/5

In July 1862 James Dunwoody Bulloch, agent for the Confederate Navy in Britain, secretly arranged for Laird's shipyard to construct two ironclad warships. The two ships, later named 'El Tousson' and 'El Monassir', were reportedly being built for the Khedive of Egypt. The American government minister in Britain, Charles Francis Adams, lobbied the British foreign minister, Lord Russell, to intervene and the Royal Navy vessel 'Majestic' arrived in the Mersey to prevent the ships sailing to join the Confederate Navy.

The construction of vessels for the Confederates by British, especially Mersey based shipyards, was a grave threat to the Union and to the British government's stated policy of neutrality. The British government did not wish to disturb the interests of commerce and required legal proof that the intended destination of the vessels would be contrary to the policy of neutrality. This resulted in much spying and lobbying from both sides. After the embarrassment of the escape of the 'Alabama', the British authorities were more alert and closely monitored the construction of new vessels.

newspaper illustration of a ship under construction

'One of the Steam-Rams in course of construction in Messrs Laird's shipbuilding yard, Birkenhead', Illustrated London News, 26 September 1863. Archive reference DX/287/4

Find out more about Liverpool and the American Civil War

This Maritime Archives and Library display is part of National Museums Liverpool's programme to mark the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. From 2011-2015 there is a series of displays and a gallery trail highlighting Liverpool's involvement in the war; through the collections of Merseyside Maritime MuseumMaritime Archives and Library and the International Slavery Museum.

Liverpool and the American Civil War