“Roll, Alabama, Roll”


The Alabama is built in Birkenhead by Jonathan Laird. After a long career of commerce-raiding, the Kearsarge catches her off Cherbourg and sinks her


When the Civil War began, the Confederates had neither navy, nor merchant fleet, nor significant shipbuilding capability; all rested in the hands of the North. Facing economic strangulation, the South explored every avenue to build a fleet.

Early in the war, the British were willing to help the Confederates build a navy. One of the ships built for this purpose was the _Alabama_, a fast commerce-raider. Built by Jonathan Laird, Ltd. at Birkenhead near Liverpool, the Federals protested her building from first to last, but somehow the papers never quite came through in time.

After the completion of the hull in 1862, the _Alabama_ sailed for the Azores to pick up arms and her Captain, Raphael Semmes (brother of the Confederate General Paul Semmes, killed at Gettysburg).

Over the next two years, the _Alabama_ sank a total of 69 Union merchant vessels, formally valued at $6,547,609.

Although she once ran the blockade to enter the Confederate port at Galveston, the _Alabama_ was generally unable to stop at Confederate ports; when she needed repairs in 1864, she stopped at the French port of Cherbourg. An American got off word of her presence there, and the _Kearsarge_ was waiting when the _Alabama_ sailed. Soon after the _Alabama_ crossed the three mile limit, the _Kearsarge_ moved in; the Confederate ship sank some forty minutes later. Her crew was rescued by a British yacht.

According to Fletcher Pratt, _A Compact History of the United States Nacy_, pp. 151-152, there wasn't much difference in actual fighting power between the _Alabama_ and the _Kearsarge_. But the _Kearsarge_ was a well-drilled ship with properly-trained gunners. _Alabama_, which constantly had to change bases, could never lay in an adequate supply of powder and shot, so her gunners were much less accurate. And _Kearsarge_ had two very heavy 11-inch guns. As a result, Kearsarge was able to score many more damaging hits and destroy her opponent while taking very little damage.

The _Alabama_ was a great success, but few ships followed her. The Americans demands for reparation, known as the "Alabama Claims," caused the British to stop building ships for the Confederacy. (In fact the claims covered the damage done by eleven ships; the total bill was $19,021,000, largely due to the _Alabama_, the _Shenandoah_, $6,488,320; and the _Florida_, $3,698,609). The Americans were finally paid some $15.5 million in 1873.

According to James P. Delgado, _Lost Waships: An Archaeological Tour of War at Sea_, Checkmark, 2001, p. 122, the wreck of the _Alabama_ was found off Cherbourg in 1984, and some artifacts have been recovered.- RBW

For a broadside on the same subject see

LOCSinging, as112570, "The Sinking of the Pirate Alabama," J. Magee (Philadelphia), 1864; also hc00026b, "The Sinking of the Pirate Alabama"; cw103190, "Kearsarge and Alabama"

attributed to Silas S. Steele, "Tune: 'Teddy the Tiler,' or 'Cannibal Islands.'" - BS

Historical references

  • May 15, 1862 - Launching of the C.S.S. Alabama
  • June 19, 1864 - The Alabama sunk by the U.S.S. Kearsarge

Cross references


  1. Doerflinger, pp. 35-37, "The Alabama" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  2. Colcord, p. 65, "Roll, Alabama, Roll" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Hugill, p. 159, "Roll, Alabama, Roll!" (1 text, 1 tune) [AbEd, pp. 126-127]
  4. Scott-BoA, pp. 245-247, "Roll, Alabama, Roll" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Darling-NAS, pp. 350-351, "The Alabama" (1 text)
  6. Silber-CivWar, p. 70, "Roll, Alabama, Roll" (1 text, 1 tune)
  8. Roud #4710
  9. BI, Doe035


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1925
Found in: US(MA) New Zealand