Ships trying to break through in either direction came to be known as blockade runners. During the 5 years of hostilities there would be about 3,000 attempts to come or go undetected. Since most were at night, some suggest they enjoyed a success rate of about 80%. The Union did however claim capture of about 1,000 vessels and either grounded or destroyed some 350 more.
Having cost the Union over 6 million in losses, it was a most dreaded enemy. But the Union finally had a plan to deal with it. The North would build a massive vessel with a primary job. Capture or destroy the Alabama.
A messeage was sent in to invite the Alabama out to do battle. It would take a few days but when the Alabama had finally cleared port, and started to head offshore a few miles to meet her challenge, there were a few witnesses gathered. Actually a few thousand would line the shorelines and hundreds on smaller vessels would drop anchor a few miles away and at a safe distance to take in the action. It has been said that the sea battle about to start was one of the most witnessed sea battles in all history. Many hundreds even arrived by special trains from Paris. A few famous painters arrived to capture on canvass the history about to be made.
The Alabama had discipline problems. Its sailors were were not well trained and their powder was old and had been in storage for a long time. But the Kearsarge crew was hand picked for the job. They were highly trained and regularly exercised on their duties and had top notch weaponry skills and tools.
Also to be factored into the equasion is the fact that while the Confederates had lots of experience attacking those mostly unarmed and untrained, the Union sailors experience was at battle with those who actually fought back.
The battle painted here, nearing its end, consisted of each ship sailing in the opposite direction but on an inwards course... and thus the two would be going aroung in a circle... keeping their heaviest guns facing each other. They would do this for about an hour and complete 7 circles before the disciplined fire of the Kearsarge destroyed the undisciplined firing of the Alabama. It was said that for every 2 shots the Confederate ship fired, the Union chose to take a good aim and only fire once.
A close look at the above painting shows that the Kearsarge had launched rescue boats for the survivors struggling in the water and that the Alabama, begining to sink, had her colours finally pulled down.
There were Canadians on both vessels that were trying to kill each other. This was true also during the famous battle 2 years earlier involving the Monitor and the Merrimack, and true also at many battles throughout the war.
A small grave at a cliff's edge on the Cherbourg Harbour contains the remains of 3 Confederate sailors. One of them was born in New Brunswick. One of the officers on the Alabama was a fellow names Armstrong, (not related) who after the war would live many years as a most influential citizen at Halifax. John Hayes served on the Kearsarge as did Joachim Pease, a coloured sailor and at least a dozen other non-American born men. Hayes was from Newfoundland. Pease originally thought to be from the US, then thought to be from Newfoundland, probably came from South Africa.
Hayes came from a small farming family in Brogus, just a few miles from the colony's capital at St John's. In youth he took up the trade of a cooper but soon found more interest in serving with the Merachant Marines and so off he went to serve with a British marine outfit. He would also served with American marine outfits on both the east and west coast and serve about 7 years in the US Navy. After this he took up mariner duties on the Great Lakes for a short period then retuned to land to take a wife and start to raise a family. He would set up home in Boston, them later at Wisconsin and still later at Iowa.
During all these moves about, it may have been the cause for his address being lost to Navy officials. Thus possibly the cause of his having to wait FORTY YEARS before his Medal of Honor finally caught up with him. He was reading an old naval document... possibly the General Order of today's date... but back in 1864, and therein he stumbled onto his name in a list of sailors awarded the Medal of Honor. He immedaitely wrote the government, gave them a piece of his mind, and in the process said that.... "That Medal is Mine and I Want it. He soon received it in the mail and you can see him just a few years before he passed away proudly wearing his MOH and on its right, as you look at the picture, is a gold medal the folks of Boston raised money to buy for all of the ship's company after learning they destroyed the Alabama.
His medals are now prized keepsakes of descendants who have provided me with a lot of material and photos including the one above. This Medal of Honor and the 16 others from that battle were the first in US history to be awarded for action outside of the US.
Yet another story of Canadians playing roles in events of historic US significance, and yet few Canadians know about it.
Thus this website and my reasearch!