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W. S. Hoole Special Collections Library Manuscript Collections

Guide to the C.S.S. Tuscaloosa Log MSS.0251


Finding aid prepared by Martha Bace


University Libraries Division of Special Collections, The University of Alabama

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 35487-0266

October 2009


This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit 2009-10-28T10:12-0500

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Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Collection Title:

C.S.S. Tuscaloosa Log

Unit ID:



University Libraries Division of Special Collections, The University of Alabama


0.2 Linear feet




Portions of the logs for three vessels: the U.S. Barque Virginia; the C.S.S. Alabama; and the C.S.S. Tuscaloosa. The logs document the daily weather, longitude and latitude as well as information about engagements with enemy ships. There is also a list of ships captured by the Alabama from September 5, 1862, to June 20, 1863 and copies of the correspondence between Lieutenant John Low as captain of the C.S.S. Tuscaloosa and various authorities of the British colony of the Cape of Good Hope.

Preferred Citation:

C.S.S. Tuscaloosa Log, W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library, University Libraries Division of Special Collections, The University of Alabama.

Scope and Contents note

This volume actually contains portions of the logs for three vessels. First it is the log for the U.S. Barque Virginia, from 26 August 1862 to 17 September 1862 when it was captured by the C.S.S. Alabama. Next it is a copy of the Alabama's log from 28 July 1862 to 31 October 1862 and 18 November 1862 to 20 May 1863. Finally, it is the log of the C.S.S. Tuscaloosa (formerly the U.S.S. Conrad, captured by the Alabama on 20 July 1863) from 21 July 1863 to 31 July 1863 and 13-31 December 1863 when it was seized by the British authorities in Simms Bay, Cape of Good Hope.

The logs document the daily weather, longitude and latitude of the ships, as well as information about engagements with enemy ships. Also in the log, there is a list of ships captured by the Alabama from September 5, 1862, to June 20, 1863.

The volume also includes copies of the correspondence between Lieutenant John Low as captain of the C.S.S. Tuscaloosa and various authorities of the British colony of the Cape of Good Hope. The port authorities had seized the Tuscaloosa claiming Low had violated the British orders for the port in Simms Bay to maintain neutrality in the American conflict. They also argued that the ship then known as the Tuscaloosa had never been condemned as a prize when the C.S.S. Alabama captured it; therefore it was never legally a possession of the Confederate States. Low argued, to no avail, that the authorities said nothing about his violating the neutrality of the port or the legitimacy of the prize when he put in to the same port several months previously.

Acquisition Information:

gift of Miss Doreen Low, 1957(?)

Processing Information:

Processed by

Martha Bace, 2008; updated, 2009

Biographical/Historical note

John Low was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on January 24, 1836 and was raised by relatives in Aberdeen and Liverpool. He "went to sea" in 1852 at the age of sixteen and within two years he rose to ship's mate. But later, on the advice of an uncle Andrew Low(a well-to-do Liverpool-Savannah businessman), John Low sailed for Georgia. With the support of his affluent uncle, he soon established himself as a naval supply merchant in Savannah. Partnered with fellow Scotsman, Robert Hardy, under the firm name of Hardy and Low, Ship Chandlers, the two were quickly recognized for their business ethics as well as for their nautical expertise (Hardy had also served in the British Merchant Navy) and their business prospered.

With his uncle's recommendation, Low joined Savannah's Democratic Club, participated in local elections and in all ways identified himself with the financial, political and social affairs of area. In 1858, he married Eliza Green, the sister of Andrew's partner, Charles Green.

At the outbreak of the Civil War Low enlisted as a private in the Georgia Hussars. Although secretly longing for the sea, he did a short tour of guard duty with his company on Skidaway Island (near Savannah) and was preparing to leave with his company for the Army of Northern Virginia when he received orders from Confederate States Navy Secretary Stephen R. Mallory to join Captain James D. Bulloch in Liverpool. John and Eliza left for England with John's uncle and aunt - just two couples "on holiday" - to obfuscate any concerns about a "secret mission" of the Confederate States Navy to the British Isles.

Low sailed as a "civilian Second officer" aboard the Fingal, an iron-framed screw-steamer, Bulloch had purchased to use as a blockade runner. The Fingal succeeded in running the blockade into Savannah and up the river. However, having once gotten up the river, they were unable to come back down, being effectively stopped by alert Yankee blockaders. Low and Bulloch were then ordered to leave the Fingal and sail for England to oversee the completion of the two cruisers being secretly readied there for the Confederate Navy.

Bulloch and Low sailed from Wilmington, North Carolina on the Annie Childs on February 5, 1862, and arrived in Liverpool on March 10. Low later sailed on the maiden voyage of the Oreta (later recommissioned as the Florida) as a civilian passenger, but with secret orders from Bulloch to rendezvous in Nassau with the blockade runner Gordon. Once the rendezvous was made, Low was to make all speed back to England to assist with the sister ship of the Oreta, the Enrica, soon to be known as the C.S.S. Alabama.

Finally, on July 28, the Enrica was able to slip past the British and American watchdogs, and proceeded to Moelfre Bay in north west Wales with John Low aboard and on July 30, Bulloch boarded with 30 more sailors. Bulloch left the Enrica on July 31 as Low and Captain Matthew J. Butcher carried on to rendezvous with the Agrippina (with supplies and armaments for the Enrica) and the Bahama (bringing Captain Raphael Semmes and other officers) at Praya Bay on the island of Terceira in the Azores.

On August 25, 1862, the Enrica, escorted by the Bahama, sailed away from Terceira under the command of Captain Semmes. Early in the afternoon, the officers and crew of the Enrica gathered on deck to hear the Captain's secretary read Semmes's commission from Secretary Mallory as commander of the Confederate States Ship Alabama. After three hearty cheers, Semmes explained their true mission - to destroy the ocean commerce of the United States. The Alabama was a bona fide man-of-war, not a privateer, and as such was subject to the articles of war and engagement.

With that short ceremony, the Alabama began her historic cruise as a commerce raider, attacking Union merchant and naval ships over the course of her two-year career, during which she never laid anchor in a Southern port. Although Captain Semmes never hesitated to burn his Yankee victims and send them to the bottom of the sea, he nevertheless spared the U.S.S. Conrad, having decided to commission her as a cruiser, to arm her, man her, and send her against the enemy. Semmes chose Lieutenant John Low to captain the newest addition, renamed the C.S.S. Tuscaloosa, to the Confederate Navy.

After parting in July, Semmes and Low reunited in Cape Town, South Africa in August to confer and resupply. While the British officials "wined and dined" the two captains, the American Consul protested mightily. The Governor of South Africa, Sir Philip E. Wodehouse, after studying the arguments on both sides, informed the Consul that he was not aware of any international law which stated that a captured vessel, when entering a neutral port, immediately reverted to their real owners and that as far as Her Majesty's goverment was concerned, the Tuscaloosa was free to come and go.

Low and the Tuscaloosa left Cape Town, and over the course of the following seventeen months, proceeded to cross the southern Atlantic Ocean. But the efforts of the Alabama and other Confederate ships had virtually cleared the seas of the enemy's flag. From July to mid-September, the Tuscaloosa sighted and spoke to over one hundred ships, of which only two were of American registry and thereby lawful prizes. However, as the two, the Santee and the Living Age, both held British cargos of rice from the East Indies and bound for England, Low was forced to ransom the ships rather than sink them.

In mid-November, with the ship's stores virtually empty, Low dropped anchor at St. Catherine's Island, off the coast of Brazil. However, he was not allowed to resupply or rest, and was ordered to leave within 24 hours; that if he didn't leave port in the time alloted, the Tuscaloosa would be confiscated. Protesting that his ship, being in distress and disabled, was denied succor, Low returned to the Tuscaloosa and stood out for the open sea within the required time.

The officials at St. Catherine's, failing in their attempts to persuade Low to surrender there, advised him to make for Rio de Janeiro to resupply. However, having intelligence that the heavily-armed American sloop Mohican was cruising off the Brazillain coast near Rio, Low sailed on very short rations and finally making land at Tristan de Cunah, a small, British-owned island midway between Montevideo and Cape Town. Learning that there were hundreds of head of cattle, sheep and fowl, and only 30 or 40 men on the island, Low was able to resupply his food stores and turn immediately for a Christmas rendezvous with the Alabama at Cape Town where they had enjoyed the hospitality of the South African officials just four months before.

However, in those intervening four months, the British officials in Cape Town had been swayed that the Tuscaloosa was not a lawful prize (it had never been adjudicated by a Prize Court as such), and that if it ever returned to Cape Town it was to be detained and restored to her original owners. Low protested vigorously to any and all officials he thought might help, but to no avail. He and the men were held semi-captive on board the Tuscaloosa until January 9, 1864 when Low paid off the crew and turned the ship over to a British warrant officer. Low remained in Cape Town and continued his protests with the authorities.

On January 18, Captain Low sailed for England and in early March, Her Majesty's Law Officers, having studied and restudied the case, finally instructed then Secretary of State, the Duke of Newcastle to order Sir Philip to reverse his decision. He was ordered to hand over the ship to the Lieutenant of the Confederate States who had lately commanded her, or to retain the ship until she could be handed over to some other person authorized by Captain Semmes or the Confederate government. The authorities at the Cape had let her go when they should have detained her, and detained her when they should have let her go. The judgement rested solely on the fact that the Tuscaloosa having once been allowed to enter and depart Cape Town, Captain Low was therefore entitled to assume that he might bring her in to the same port again.

Since Low was already on his way from Plymouth to Liverpool, he advised James M. Mason, Confederate Commissioner to England, that the Tuscaloosa wait for Captain Semmes' arrival to be re-crewed. Unfortunately, the Duke of Newcastle's orders did not reach Sir Philip until after Semmes' arrival and subsequent departure from Cape Town. Upon his arrival, Semmes found the Tuscaloosa under armed guard with the crew paid off and Captain Low already gone. Semmes lodged a protest with Rear-Admiral Sir Baldwin Walker and sailed the Alabama from Cape Town on March 25, one week before Newcastle's orders arrived. It proved to be the Alabama's last voyage, in that she battled the U.S.S. Kearsage off Cherborg on June 19th and was lost.

The Tuscaloosa's end was sad and a long time coming. She lay at anchor in Cape Town until after the end of the Civil War. Admiral George King, Walker's replacement, ordered Commodore James H, Cockburn on June 15, 1864 (four days before the Alabama's fateful meeting with the Kearsage) to deliver the Tuscaloosa to Captain Semmes of the Alabama or to a proper agent of the Confederate States government. Finally, on July 3, 1865, since no one had come forward to accept the ship, Cockburn wrote the Admiralty Office asking what to do with the detained ship still in his custody, now that the Civil War was over and the Tuscaloosa's owners - the Cofederate States of America - were defunct.

It was two more months before the reply came and in November 1865 the Tuscaloosa was put up for auction. She was sold for 350 pounds to a South African shipping company. So ended her career as a Confederate cruiser, but the case of the Tuscaloosa had one unlooked for benefit. When the Duke of Newcastle was relieved of his post as Secretary of State, his successor immediately sent a circular of instruction to all colonial governors containing instructions for the precise treatment of prizes of war.

When Low reached Liverpool, in late February 1864, he learned that his wife, Eliza, had died in Savannah in the fall of 1863 giving birth to a son, John ("Jack") who was being cared for by relatives in Georgia. Low made one more voyage aboard the newly launched Confederate gunship Ajax. However, the Ajax was prevented from arming and putting herself on a war-footing by the end of the war and the defeat of the Confederacy.

Low returned to England and pursued several business adventures. He prospered and became an influential and affluent citizen of Liverpool. In September of 1867, Low married Catherine Morris of Paddington and between 1868 and 1877, the couple had six children, Henry Morris, William Joseph, Andrew H., LLouisa Kate, Herbert A., and Marian Elizabeth. Captain John Low died on September 6, 1906 at his home in Liverpool, after a two-month illness at the age of 70.

Sources: Hoole, William Stanley. Four Years in the Confederate Navy: The Career of Captain John Low on the C.S.S. Fingal, Florida, Alabama, Tuscaloosa and Ajax. University of Georgia Press, 1964.

"CSS Alabama." Wikipidea, The Free Encyclopedia. 26 Oct. 2009


Alabama (Screw sloop). (Library_of_Congress_Name_Authority_File)

Confederate States of America. Navy. (Library_of_Congress_Name_Authority_File)

Tuscaloosa (Bark). (Library_of_Congress_Name_Authority_File)

United States - History - Civil War, 1861-1865 - Naval operations (lcsh)

C.S.S. Tuscaloosa Log Box 1744

Box 1744 Folder 1

Log book of C. S. S. Tuscaloosa