Roll Alabama Roll

When the American Civil War began, the Confederates had no ships or significant shipbuilding capability – it was all in the North – and so faced economic strangulation. The British were willing to help the Confederates build a navy and one such ship built for this purpose was the Alabama, a fast commerce-raider. She was built by Jonathan Laird, Ltd. at Birkenhead much to the annoyance of the Federals. After the completion in 1862, the Alabama sailed for the Azores to pick up arms and over the next two years, she sank a total of 69 Union merchant vessels, formally valued at $6,547,609. Needing repairs in 1864, the Alabama stopped at Cherbourg. An American got off word of her presence there, and the Kearsarge was waiting when the Alabama sailed. Soon after she crossed the three mile limit, the Kearsarge moved in, sinking the Alabama forty minutes later. Her crew was rescued by a British yacht. Hugill heard this halyard shanty from an elderly New Zealand lady whose husband had been a seaman in the Alabama. He met her in Gisborne, New Zealand, in 1925. The wreck of the Alabama was found off Cherbourg in 1984, and some artefacts have been recovered.

Roll, Alabama, roll!

When the Alabama's keel was laid,
Roll, Alabama, roll!
It was laid in the yard of Jonathan Laird.
Oh, roll, Alabama, roll!

Down the Mersey she rolled then;
On board were Liverpool guns and men.
From the Western Isles she sailed forth,
To destroy the commerce of the North.
The Alabama sailed for two whole years,
Took sixty-five ships in her career.

To Cherbourg port she sailed one day
To take her count of prize money.
But off Cherbourg the Kearsarge lay tight,
With Cap'n Winslow spoilin' for a fight.
Many a sailor lad foresaw his doom,
When the Kearsarge, it hove in view.
'Twas a ball from the forward pivot that day,
Shot the Alabama's steerin' gear away.
On June nineteenth, eighteen sixty-four,
They sent the Alabama to the cold ocean floor.