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The Alabama Sinks the Hatteras – This Day in History, Jan 11, 2023

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It was just 160 years ago today, January 11, 1863, when two warships were locked in a brief but desperate struggle of survival off the shores of Galveston, Texas, in the midst of the Civil War. The two ships were an unlikely pare. The U.S.S. Hatteras, a side-wheel steamship, was not built for war at all. When hostilities commenced, the Union Navy didn’t have enough warships to complete the blockade of the South, and so the war department went on a buying spree. Any ship capable of speed and carrying a sufficient armament was swept up, which was the case of the St. Mary, a civilian side-wheel that we now know as the U.S.S. Hatteras. On the other hand, the C.S.S. Alabama was a different bird altogether.

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Built by the British, who’s support for the Confederacy has never truly been acknowledged, nor explored by historians sufficiently, was a first rate of the line killing machine. She had heavy decks, and her magazines were below the waterline. The ships smooth-sleek figure made her a man eater, and she would earn the equal distain and admiration of the Union Navy, until like all, she too met her fate towards the end of the war off the coast of France, another foreigner that helped the South during the War.

The C.S.S. Alabama had already earned a reputation under her commander Captain Raphael Semmes for attacking, sinking or even capturing merchant men. However, it was on this date that she met up with a squadron of Union blockade ships, one of them being the Hatteras. Trying to escape, but really leading the Yankee into a trap, the Hatteras gavechase, blockading being the name of the game. Captain Semmes flew under a false flag, claiming to be an English Ship, all the while allowing the Hatteras, under the command of Homer Blake, to catch up. Now, the Yankees were no fools, and realized something was amiss, but political correctness caused just as much faint hearts back then as now, and Commander Blake stayed cautious, but not as prepared as his enemy was.

For more than four hours, the chase continued, until Blake was able to hail the ship, to which the Confederates replied that they were Her Britannic Majesty’s Ship Petrel, after all, they were flying the Union Jack. Still Blake decided to send a small boarding party, but just then, the trap was sprung, and Semmes’ called out we are the C.S.S. Alabama, and lowered the Union Jack, raised the Stars and Bars, and let loose a terrible broadside, racking the Hatteras. In just about 13 minutes, the battle was over, some of the crew of the Hatteras escaped, others were taken prisoner, and the Alabama made off to terrorize the seas for more than a year to come.

What was happening yesterday, January 10th?

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