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Revolver from Confederate Warship Alabama

on June 20, 2010 – 3:06 am

An historic Colt 1862 Revolver that belonged to Lieutenant A. Sinclair of the Confederate States Navy, who served aboard the Alabama, the famous Civil War raider, is estimated to sell for £10,000 to £15,000 at Bonhams sale of Antique Arms and Armour on July 28th.

CSS Alabama (1862-1864), a 1050-ton screw steam sloop of war, was built at Birkenhead, England, for the Confederate Navy. After leaving England in the guise of a merchant ship, she rendezvoused at sea with supply ships, was outfitted as a combatant and placed in commission on 24 August 1862. Commanded by Captain Raphael Semmes, Alabama cruised in the North Atlantic and West Indies during the rest of 1862, capturing over two-dozen Union merchant ships, of which all but a few were burned. During its two years in action the Alabama caused almost $6,000,000 worth of damage and disruption, prompting the United States to sue the British government for damages, which it eventually won.

First Lieutenant Arthur Sinclair, IV (1837-1925) was born in Norfolk, Virginia, the descendant of a naval family. Arthur first saw service from the age of thirteen, spending four years under his father in the US Navy. During that time he served on both the Mediterranean and Brazilian stations, as well as on Commodore Perry’s expedition to Japan between 1852 and 1855.

He entered the service of the Confederacy with the rank of master’s mate, assigned to duty on the gunboat Winslow, where he saw service under Commodore Lynch in the North Carolina sounds and in the defence of Fort Hatteras.

After serving with gallantry aboard a number of fighting ships over the course of the next few years he joined the brand new Alabama which then proceeded to cruise as a commerce raider, attacking northern merchantmen throughout the Atlantic, and eventually sailing south to Cape Town for a refit in July 1863. From there she sailed for the East Indies, destroying seven more ships over the next six months, before returning round the Cape of Good Hope en route to dry-dock in France, arriving at Cherbourg on the 11th June 1864.

However, the USS Kearsage was in pursuit, arriving three days later and taking up station outside the harbour, where she was joined by the USS St. Louis. Captain Semmes chose to fight, issuing a challenge to the captain of the Kearsage via diplomatic channels. On the 19th of June Semmes sailed out of port, and locked with his opponent in a series of circular turns in an attempt to deliver a full broadside. In just over an hour the Alabama was reduced to a sinking wreck, and Semmes was forced to surrender.

The majority of the crew were picked up by the Kearsage but forty-one, including Semmes and Sinclair, who had been one of the last to leave the ship, were picked up by the private yacht Deerhound of the Royal Yacht Squadron, who had been stood off watching the battle and whose owner and family had taken a tour of the Alabama only the day before.

The Union ships were only able to watch helplessly as the remainder of the crew escaped to England. At this time Sinclair, who had held the post of Fifth Lieutenant, was granted leave of absence to recuperate, and just before the Confederate surrender was posted to the CSS Texas, which was being completed on the Clyde, but never saw action.

It has been suggested that this revolver was given to John Lancaster, owner of the Deerhound, by Sinclair after the battle in thanks for his rescue, but no reference to confirm this has been found.

After the end of the war, Sinclair returned to America, becoming a merchant in Baltimore. He published a book about his experiences, entitled Two Years on the Alabama, in 1895, and died in Baltimore in 1925.