Friday, December 7, 2012
CSS Alabama Searches for California Gold, December 1862
After seeing Semmes' Confederate flag, the American steamer, a Vanderbilt-owned vessel called Ariel, tried to make a break for it. Semmes ordered the forward pivot weapon--which Semmes referred to as his "persuader"--to fire a blank round. The steamer stopped and he heard women screaming from the other ship. The screaming turned out to be a precursor to his disappointment. Hoping for gold, Semmes instead found 500 women and children. His boarding team also found 150 U.S. Marines bound for the Pacific Squadron. The Marines' weapons were confiscated and they surrendered without a fight. It was not one of the prouder moments in the Corps' history.
Normally, Semmes would take the civilians on board and burn the enemy vessel. But Alabama had no room for 650 people. Thus, forty-eight hours later, he released the ship. Before he released Ariel, one of Semmes' junior officers asked to speak to the ladies as a group. In his speech, he attempted to persuade the ladies that Alabama's sailors were not cutthroat pirates. Apparently, one of the ladies was so moved by the speech that she asked the lieutenant if she could cut a button from his jacket. The boarding officer agreed.