Ships built in Liverpool for the American Civil War

When the American Civil War broke out the Confederacy had no navy or ships to beat the Northern blockade of Southern ports and looked to Liverpool shipyards to secretly build a fleet of blockade-runners and naval cruisers. 2012 was the 150th anniversary of the construction of CSS 'Alabama', which launched on the Mersey on 29 July 1862.

To mark this anniversary there was a small display of archive material in the museum. This online exhibition accompanies the display, featuring images of items which are too large or fragile to be displayed in the museum - such as the plans of the guns made for the CSS 'Alabama' by Fawcett, Preston and Company which have never been available online before.

Online exhibition

Plan of the deck sweeps for pivot guns 144 and 145 made for the 'Alabama', by Fawcett, Preston & Co, Liverpool, c1862. This drawing is annotated 'Original (Drawing) of this, sent to I.D.B. (James Dunwoody Bulloch) 8 August 1862'. The deck sweeps allowed the pivot guns to be moved to either the port or starboard side of the ship as required. It was usually lashed down in a central position on deck, as illustrated in the archive photograph taken on board with First Lieutenant John McIntosh Kell leaning on the gun which is also in our collection. (Reference: B/FP/5/3/214) Drawing of 8 inch smooth bore pivot gun No 144 stock, made for the 'Alabama' by Fawcett, Preston & Co, Liverpool, 4 April 1862. One of these guns can be seen on board the 'Alabama' in photographs taken on board at Cape Town in August 1863, which are also in the collection. Alongside this 8-inch smooth-bore pivot gun, the 'Alabama' also carried one 7 inch Blakely rifled gun and six 32-pounders. (Reference: B/FP/5/3/208) Drawing of limber ammunition box for 18lb guns made by Fawcett, Preston & Co, Liverpool, 18 April 1862. The date of this drawing suggests they were made for the 'Alabama', which was launched on the 22 July 1862.  When the 'Alabama' left the Mersey in secret she had no guns or ammunitions on board, and everything had to be secretly taken out to meet her at the Azores by two ships, the 'Agrippina' from London and the 'Bahama' from Liverpool which also carried out Captain Semmes and his officers. (Reference: B/FP/5/3/209.1) Drawing of an 8 inch shell. Full size. April 1862, produced by Fawcett, Preston & Co, Liverpool, for use on the 'Alabama'. This drawing is annotated 'total no. 70 for 68 pr. (pounder) gun. No.144-Or 61. Stock'. This ammunition was supplied for the 8 inch smooth bore pivot gun No 144 stock, made for the 'Alabama' by Fawcett, Preston & Co, 4 April 1862, the drawing of which is also featured in this online exhibition. (Reference: B/FP/5/3/208A) Copy of, and extracts from, correspondence between the Commissioners of Customs at Liverpool relating to the building of the Confederate cruiser 'Alabama' published by order of The House of Commons, 20 March 1863. This report features letters from Thomas H Dudley, US Consul, Liverpool detailing his suspicions during the construction of the ship, and replies from the Collector of Customs, Liverpool detailing the investigations they had made prior to her departing the Mersey in July 1862. (Reference: B/FT/6/30) Specification for the 'Banshee', Jones, Quiggin & Co, shipbuilders, Liverpool, 1862. Jones, Quiggin and Co, built many ships for the Confederacy including five blockade runners, the first one being the 'Banshee', a 533-ton side-wheel steamship which was specially built to run the Federal blockade of the Confederate coast. (Reference: DX/154) Invoice for 'extras' for the paddle steamer 'Banshee', 15 April 1863. The engines for the Confederate blockade runner 'Banshee' were built by HN Lawrence & Company, Sandon Iron Ship and Engine Works, Liverpool. (Reference: DB/115/S) Specification for the iron paddle steamer 'Hope', built by Jones, Quiggin & Co, shipbuilders, Liverpool. Built for Fraser, Trenholm & Co, the 'Hope' was regarded as one of the finest blockade runners built by the Liverpool ship yards. The turtleback or hurricane foredeck mentioned in the specification was a common feature of blockade runners, they aided water run-off on vessels that were designed to lie low in the water to avoid detection. Unfortunately, the 'Hope' made only one successful run before being captured after a chase of 65 miles by the USS 'Eolus' in October 1864. (Reference: DX/154) Drawing of improvements made to the 'Colonel Lamb', built by Jones, Quiggin & Co, Liverpool 1864. Built for Fraser, Trenholm & Co, the 'Colonel Lamb' was captained by Thomas J Lockwood, a legendary blockade-running captain. He played an active role in designing the 'Colonel Lamb', improving her to such an extent that she cost 30% more to build than her sister ship the 'Hope'. The ship sailed out of the Mersey in October 1864 but ran the blockade only twice from November 1864 until the fall of Fort Fisher in January 1865, which cut off the Confederate supply line, and contributed to the end of the war. (Reference: B/FT/4-2b) Engine book for Fawcett, Preston & Company, who supplied engines for several Confederate blockade runners as well as arms and munitions from Phoenix Foundry, York Street, Liverpool.  The order (number 2127) for the engines for the 'Oreto' later renamed 'Florida', can be seen near the bottom of the page. 'CSS Florida', the first foreign built commerce raider was built by William C Miller and Sons of Toxteth Dock, Liverpool. She sank 36 Union ships before being illegally captured in the neutral Brazilian port of Bahia by the Union warship 'Wachusett' in October 1864. She sank in the Hampton Roads, Virginia, in suspicious circumstances the same year. (Reference: B/FP/5/1/2) Curve book, Laird's Shipyard, Birkenhead showing keel drawings for the blockade runners 'Lark' and 'Wren', both built by Lairds for the Confederacy. Laird's built a number of ships for Fraser, Trenhom and the Confederate government, including 'Lark', 'Wren', 'Albatross' and 'Penguin'. The 'Lark' and the 'Wren' both left the Mersey in December 1865 and worked in the Gulf of Mexico, running the blockade to ports in Florida and Galveston carrying supplies of clothing, shoes and small arms. On 25 May 1865 the 'Lark' was the last steam blockade runner to enter and leave a Confederate port. (Reference: SAS/25G/1/7) Specification letter for engines supplied by Fawcett, Preston & Company, Liverpool for the steel screw steamer 'Phantom', 6 September 1862. The 'Phantom' was built by W C Miller and Sons, Toxteth for Fraser, Trenholm & Company on behalf of the Confederacy, and was one of the first Confederate steamers, operating between Wilmington NC and Bermuda. She made two successful trips before she was lost on her third run into Cape Fear, 23 September 1863, when after being chased ashore by the USS 'Connecticut', she was fired by her crew who escaped in lifeboats. (Reference: B/FTBOX4-1a)


Former display in the museum

The museum display, which has now closed, included a letter from Captain Semmes and other archive material relating to some of the ships built on the Mersey such as the blockade runner 'Banshee', and the famous raider CSS 'Alabama'. 

For a limited period only, 20 July-3 August 2012, the original photographs taken on board CSS 'Alabama' were also displayed. Find out more about these rare photographs of CSS 'Alabama' in this feature from 2005, when they were purchased.

Find out more about Liverpool and the American Civil War

You can read more about the history of the Alabama on this website and see the following documents from our collections relating to the Alabama:

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