Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Confederate History Remembered in England

Liverpool could play a central role in America's marking of Civil War
Aug 7 2009
Catherine Jones
Liverpool Echo

How Liverpool could play a central role in America’s marking of her darkest hour

Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Fredericksburg, Fort Sumter, Atlanta... Liverpool. In the great roll call of American Civil War sites, the Mersey may seem like a bit of an odd man out.

But Liverpool, and the shipbuilders across the water in Wirral, played an integral role in the bloody conflict which has its 150th anniversary in 2011.

Now city chiefs are looking at ideas for a new American Civil War tour and trail which they believe could act as a magnet to thousands of visitors from across the Atlantic.

“It would attract a lot of American tourists which would be really good for Liverpool economically,” says Virginian Tom Sebrell, who lectures in American history at London University.

“They’d be coming over for the whole four years from 2011-15 which mark the 150th anniversary.

“And a lot of people in the north of the United States are interested in the naval part of the war.

“I think it would also attract a lot of school groups from the north of England.”

Liverpool’s American Civil War credentials are already documented on the web, and Tom has also been researching the subject for some time.

Many people will know about the building in Rumford Place, just around the corner from the former cotton exchange in Old Hall Street, where cotton traders Fraser, Trenholm & Co plotted support for the southern Confederate cause.

Not surprising when you consider that in April 1861 around 60% of the southern states’ cotton was shipped in to Britain via Liverpool.

But, says Tom, the city was also teeming with Unionist spies.

“There’s a building around the corner from Rumford Place, at 22 Water Street, that was the old US consulate office,” he explains.

“Thomas Dudley worked from there and he was in charge of the Unionist spy network in Liverpool. He was there to monitor ship-building activity.”

Under the law of the time, it was illegal for British firms to supply armed vessels to either side, but that didn’t stop Liverpool shipyards turning out some of the war’s most famous Confederate ships – and Liverpool sailors crewing them.

They got round the rules by changing ships’ names and arming them after they left the Mersey.

The CSS Alabama, build at Lairds in Birkenhead and with 30 Liverpudlians on board, wreaked havoc up and down America’s eastern seaboard burning or seizing more than 60 Union ships until it was sunk in 1864.

The Alabama and its fellow raiders were commissioned by Confederate naval officer James Dunwoody Bulloch who is buried in Toxteth Cemetery in Smithdown Road.

And Wirral waterfront is only the second place outside the US to achieve a designation of American Civil War Heritage Site Status, awarded by the US Civil War Preservation Trust.

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