CSS Sumter

Last updated

Css sumter gibraltar.jpg
CSS Sumter
Flag of the Confederate States of America (1861-1863).svg Confederate States of America
Laid down1859
AcquiredApril 1861
Commissioned3 June 1861 as CSS Sumter
FateSold 19 December 1862 (renamed Gibraltar). Foundered on the Dogger Bank 14 February 1867.
General characteristics
Displacement473 tons
Length184 ft (56 m)
Beam30 ft (9.1 m)
Draft12 ft (3.7 m)
PropulsionSteam, Sail
Speed10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
  • 1 × 8-inch shell gun
  • 4 × 32-pounder guns

CSS Sumter, converted from the 1859-built merchant steamer Habana, was the first steam cruiser of the Confederate States Navy during the American Civil War. She operated as a commerce raider in the Caribbean and in the Atlantic Ocean against Union merchant shipping between July and December 1861, taking eighteen prizes, but was trapped in Gibraltar by Union Navy warships. Decommissioned, she was sold in 1862 to the British office of a Confederate merchant and renamed Gibraltar, successfully running the Union blockade in 1863 and surviving the war.


Construction and merchant service before the American Civil War

The wood-hulled merchant steamship Habana was built in 1859 at the Philadelphia shipyard of Birely & Lynn for Captain James McConnell's New Orleans & Havana Steam Navigation Co. [1] [2] [Note 1] She was powered by a 400-horsepower steam engine made by Neafie, Levy & Co, also of Philadelphia, driving a single propeller and was also rigged for sail, generally described as bark rigged. She was variously reported to measure 499 or 520 gross registered tons, with a length overall of 184 ft (56 m), beam of 30 ft (9.1 m) and a draft of 12 ft (3.7 m). [2] [3] Habana was launched on 18 May 1859, performed well on trials and was considered a fast ship in subsequent mail service out of New Orleans. [2]

Confederate States Navy service

A drawing of Sumter running the blockade out of New Orleans in 1861. Css sumter.jpg
A drawing of Sumter running the blockade out of New Orleans in 1861.

Habana was purchased by the Confederate government at New Orleans in April 1861, converted to a cruiser and placed under the command of Raphael Semmes. Renamed Sumter, she was commissioned into the Confederate States Navy on 3 June 1861 and broke through the Federal blockade of the Mississippi River mouth later that month.

Eluding the pursuing sloop-of-war USS Brooklyn, the pioneering Confederate Navy commerce raider captured eight U.S.-flagged merchant ships in waters near Cuba early in July 1861, then moved south to the Brazilian coast off Maranhão, where she took two more ships. Two additional merchantman fell to Sumter in September and October 1861. While coaling at Martinique in mid-November, she was blockaded by the Union sloop of war Iroquois, but was able to escape to sea at night. Sumter captured another six ships from late November 1861 into January 1862 while cruising from the western hemisphere to European waters. Damaged during a severe Atlantic storm, she anchored at Cadiz, Spain on 4 January 1862, where she was allowed only to make necessary repairs without refueling, and was then forced to sail to British-held Gibraltar.

Unable to make more comprehensive repairs or purchase coal there, Sumter remained at anchor in Gibraltar watched by a succession of U.S. Navy warships, among them the sloop-of-war USS Kearsarge and the gunboat USS Chippewa. Semmes and many of his officers were reassigned to the new cruiser CSS Alabama, while most of the crew was paid off, leaving only a skeleton crew aboard her.

In October 1862, acting captain Midshipman William Andrews was shot dead in his quarters aboard the Sumter by acting master's mate Joseph Hester. Hester alleged that Andrews had planned to sail Sumter to Algeciras, Spain and surrender her to a U.S. Navy ship there. Hester was arrested by British authorities, and a coroner's jury returned a verdict of wilful murder. Hester's allegations of Andrews' supposed treachery was not corroborated by the rest of the crew. [4] [5]

Blockade runner Gibraltar

Sumter was disarmed and sold at auction on 19 December 1862 to the Liverpool office of Fraser, Trenholm and Company. Sumter's sail plan was changed to a ship rig and she continued her service to the Confederacy under British colors as the blockade runner Gibraltar.

Though her career as a warship had lasted barely six months, Sumter had taken eighteen prizes, of which she burned eight, and released or bonded nine; only one was recaptured. The diversion of Union warships to blockade her had been in itself of significant service to the Confederate cause.

As Gibraltar, she ran at least once into Wilmington, North Carolina, under Capt. E. C. Reid, a Southerner. He sailed from Liverpool on 3 July 1863 with a pair of 22-ton Blakely rifles and other valuable munitions, returning with a full load of cotton. The beginning of this voyage is recorded only because the United States Consul in Liverpool passionately protested Gibraltar's being allowed to sail (ostensibly for Nassau), days before formal customs clearance: "She is one of the privileged class and not held down like other vessels to strict rules and made to conform to regulations." The arrival at Wilmington is also a matter of record because of the accidental sinking of the Confederate transport steamer Sumter by Confederate gunners at Fort Moultrie near Charleston in late August 1863. [6] Until November 1863, U.S. naval intelligence understandably confused this ship with the former commerce raider.

The last official report of her appears to have been by the U.S. Consul at Liverpool on 10 July 1864: "The pirate Sumter (called Gibraltar) is laid up at Birkenhead."[ citation needed ]. Gibraltar was sold at auction at Liverpool on orders from the U.S. Consul on 14 June 1866. She was purchased for £1,150 [7] and based in Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, employed in the Baltic trade. On 10 February 1867 she sprang a leak whilst on a voyage from Helsingborg, Sweden to Grimsby, Lincolnshire, and foundered on the Dogger Bank on 14 February 1867, with her crew being rescued by a fishing smack. [8]

See also


  1. "Byerly" probably a mis-spelling

Related Research Articles

USS <i>Kearsarge</i> (1861)

USS Kearsarge, a Mohican-class sloop-of-war, is best known for her defeat of the Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama off Cherbourg, France during the American Civil War. Kearsarge was the only ship of the United States Navy named for Mount Kearsarge in New Hampshire. Subsequent ships were later named Kearsarge in honor of the ship.

USS <i>Brooklyn</i> (1858)

USS Brooklyn (1858) was a sloop-of-war authorized by the U.S. Congress and commissioned in 1859. Brooklyn was active in Caribbean operations until the start of the American Civil War at which time she became an active participant in the Union blockade of the Confederate States of America.

Confederate States Navy Military unit

The Confederate States Navy (CSN) was the naval branch of the Confederate States Armed Forces, established by an act of the Confederate States Congress on February 21, 1861. It was responsible for Confederate naval operations during the American Civil War against the United States's Union Navy.

Raphael Semmes Confederate naval officer

Raphael Semmes was an officer in the Confederate Navy during the American Civil War. Until then, he had been a serving officer in the US Navy from 1826 to 1860.

USS <i>Hatteras</i> (1861)

The very first USS Hatteras was a 1,126-ton iron-hulled steamer purchased by the Union Navy at the beginning of the American Civil War. She was outfitted as a gunboat and assigned to the Union blockade of the ports and waterways of the Confederate States of America. During an engagement with the disguised Confederate commerce raider, CSS Alabama, she was taken by surprise and was sunk off the coast of Galveston, Texas. The wreck site is one of the few listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its location away from destructive surf and because of the ship's side-wheel design, which marks the transition between wooden sailing ships and steam-powered ships.

CSS <i>Alabama</i>

CSS Alabama was a screw sloop-of-war built in 1862 for the Confederate States Navy at Birkenhead on the River Mersey opposite Liverpool, England by John Laird Sons and Company. Alabama served as a successful commerce raider, attacking Union merchant and naval ships over the course of her two-year career, during which she never docked at a Southern port. She was sunk in June 1864 by USS Kearsarge at the Battle of Cherbourg outside the port of Cherbourg, France.

USS <i>Monongahela</i> (1862)

USS Monongahela (1862) was a barkentine–rigged screw sloop-of-war that served in the Union Navy during the American Civil War. Her task was to participate in the Union blockade of the Confederate States of America. Post-war, she continued serving her country in various roles, such as that of a storeship and schoolship.

CSS <i>Nashville</i> (1853) Steamboat

CSS Nashville was a brig-rigged, side-paddle-wheel passenger steamer that served with the Confederate Navy during the Civil War.

John Newland Maffitt (privateer) Officer in the Confederate States Navy

John Newland Maffitt was an officer in the Confederate States Navy who was nicknamed the "Prince of Privateers" due to his success as a blockade runner and commerce raider in the U.S. Civil War.

USS Release was a bark-rigged sailing vessel in the United States Navy during the American Civil War.

USS Sumpter was a steamship in the United States Navy during the American Civil War.

USS <i>San Jacinto</i> (1850) Screw frigate in the US Navy famous for her role in the Trent Affair of 1861

The first USS San Jacinto was an early screw frigate in the United States Navy during the mid-19th century. She was named for the San Jacinto River, site of the Battle of San Jacinto during the Texas Revolution. She is perhaps best known for her role in the Trent Affair of 1861.

USS <i>Tuscarora</i> (1861)

The first USS Tuscarora was a sloop of war in the United States Navy during the American Civil War.

USS Ino was a clipper ship acquired by the Union Navy during the course of the American Civil War. She was capable of great speed and distance, and was a formidable warship with powerful guns.

USS <i>Lodona</i> (1862)

USS Lodona (1862) was a British steamship of the same name captured by the Union Navy during the American Civil War. She had been built in England for shipowner Zachariah Pearson and attempted to break the United States' blockade of Confederate ports. USS Lodona was used by the Navy to patrol waters off those ports. After the war she returned to commercial ownership.

USS <i>Adela</i>

USS Adela (1862) was a steamer captured by the Union Navy during the American Civil War. She was used by the Union Navy as a gunboat in support of the Union Navy blockade of Confederate waterways.

USS Shepherd Knapp (1861) was a large (838-ton) ship with eight guns, purchased by the Union Navy during the beginning of the American Civil War.

Blockade runners of the American Civil War Seagoing steam ships

The blockade runners of the American Civil War were seagoing steam ships that were used to get through the Union blockade that extended some 3,500 miles (5,600 km) along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coastlines and the lower Mississippi River. The Confederate states were largely without industrial capability and could not provide the quantity of arms and other supplies needed to fight against the industrial north. To meet this need blockade runners were built in Scotland and England and were used to import the guns, ordnance and other supplies that the Confederacy desperately needed, in exchange for cotton that the British textile industry likewise was in desperate need of. To get through the blockade, these relatively lightweight shallow draft ships, mostly built in British ship yards and specially designed for speed but incapable of carrying much cotton, had to cruise undetected, usually at night, through the Union blockade. The typical blockade runners were privately owned vessels often operating with a letter of marque issued by the Confederate States of America. If spotted, the blockade runners would attempt to outmaneuver or simply outrun any Union ships on blockade patrol, very often successfully.


  1. Bishop, J Leander (1868). A History of American Manufactures from 1608 to 1860: Vol III. Philadelphia: Edward Young & Co. p.  67 . Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  2. 1 2 3 "More about the Sumter". The New York Times. 3 September 1861. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  3. American Lloyd's Register of American and Foreign Shipping. New York, NY: E & W Blunt. 1861. pp. 546–547. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
  4. "The Bombay and Mediterranean Mails". Glasgow Herald (7112). Glasgow. 27 October 1862.
  5. https://civilwarthosesurnames.blogspot.com/2012/12/murder-on-board-sumter-1862.html?m=0
  6. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/217657382.pdf "The Archeology of Civil War Naval Operations at Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, 1861-1865"
  7. "Shipping News". Belfast News-Letter (33402). Belfast. 18 June 1866.
  8. "Loss of the ex-Confederate Cruiser Sumter". The Times (25738). London. 19 February 1867. col D, p. 7.


See The Cornhill Magazine, No6 (Jy-Dec 1862) pp187–205: "The Cruise of the Confederate Ship 'Sumter': [From the Private Journal of an Officer]". A swaggering account, unsigned.