Those of you who are naval enthusiasts have already recognized the meaning of No. 290. John Laird, Son and Company’s 290th vessel became better known as the CSS Alabama, the famed Confederate commerce raider. The most recent issue of The Civil War Monitor features “13 Minutes,” a fine article about the clash between the CSS Alabama and the USS Hatteras. Co-authored by Andrew W. Hall and Edward T. Cotham, Jr., the well-illustrated article details the fight and explains the significance of this brief sea battle that took place just thirty miles from Galveston, Texas. An article sidebar also discusses the discovery of the wreck of the USS Hatteras.
After reading the article, I pulled out my abridged copy of Memoirs Of Service Afloat During The War Between The States by Admiral Raphael Semmes, the commander of the CSS Alabama. Here is a portion of his description of the Hatteras-Alabama fight:
“The night was clear. There was no moon, but sufficient starlight to enable the two ships to see each other quite distinctly at the distance of half a mile or more, and a state of the atmosphere highly favorable to the conduct of sound. The wind besides, was blowing the direction of the enemy’s fleet. As a matter of course, our guns awakened the echoes of the coast, far and near, announcing very distinctly to the Federal Admiral—Bell, a Southern man who had gone over to the enemy—that the ship which he had sent out to chase the strange sail had a fight on her hands…Our broadside was returned instantly; the enemy, like ourselves, having been on his guard with his men standing at their guns. The two ships, when the action commenced, had swerved in such a way that they were now heading in the same direction—the Alabama fighting her starboard-broadside, and her antagonist her port-broadside. Each ship, as she delivered her broadside, put herself under steam, and the action became a running fight in parallel lines, or nearly so, the ships now nearing and now separating a little from each other. My men handled their pieces with great spirit and commendable coolness, and the action was sharp and exciting while it lasted; which, however, was not very long, for in just thirteen minutes after firing the first gun, the enemy hoisted a light and fired an off-gun as a signal that he had been beaten….When the captain of the beaten ship came on board to surrender his sword to me, I learned that I had been engaged with the United States steamer Hatteras, Captain Blake…” The Hatteras sank and the next day “one of the [enemy] steamers was returning to her anchorage off Galveston…[and] fell in with the sunken Hatteras, the tops of whose royal masts were just above water, and from the main of which, the pennant—the night pennant, for the action was fought at night…was observed to be flying.”