Confederate cruisers, in U.S. history, warships constituting the South's seagoing navy. At the outbreak of the Civil War the United States ranked next to Great Britain in merchant marine. Since almost all of the tonnage belonged to the North, the Confederacy set out to destroy it. Privateering flourished only briefly because the increased effectiveness of the Union blockade forestalled attempts to bring prizes into Southern ports for adjudication. But in the course of the war some 18 cruisers, known as Confederate cruisers, were engaged in this activity. Only eight achieved results of any consequences. Of these, the Florida, the Alabama, and the Shenandoah were outstanding. The Florida, built in Liverpool in 1861–62, began her active career in Jan., 1863. Commanded by John N. Maffitt and later by Charles M. Morris, the Florida, along with several of her captures that were in turn commissioned Confederate cruisers, took about 60 prizes. She was captured by the U.S.S. Wachusett in the harbor of Bahia, Brazil in Oct., 1864. The most famous of the cruisers was the Alabama, also built at Liverpool in 1861–62. Under the command of Raphael Semmes she took almost 70 prizes. Her damage to U.S. shipping was valued at more than $6 million in the settlement of the Alabama claims. In a famous naval action off Cherbourg, France, on June 19, 1864, the Alabama was sunk by the U.S.S. Kearsarge. The Shenandoah, bought at London in 1864, was commanded by James I. Waddell. Many of her 38 prizes, principally Pacific whalers, were taken after the fall of the Confederacy, of which Waddell was not apprised until Aug., 1865. On returning to England the Shenandoah reverted to the United States. The indirect damage inflicted on the U.S. carrying trade by the cruisers had far more effect than the direct losses they caused. Insurance rates rose, and hundreds of ships transferred to foreign flags, especially to Great Britain's. Some historians have attributed the decline of the nation's merchant marine to the raiders.
See G. W. Dalzell, The Flight from the Flag (1940); M. Morgan, Dixie Raider (1948); E. Boykin, Ghost Ship of the Confederacy (1957); W. N. Still, Jr., Iron Afloat (1971).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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