Our September talk - reviewed by Mike Chitty

Michael Lawson came to talk to us on 30th September. He introduced himself as a retired Liverpool police officer, born in the Lake District but with a great-great-grandfather from Liverpool who was said to have 'drowned at sea while blockade running' during the American Civil War. This meant nothing to Michael as a child, but as he grew older he decided to investigate. He travelled to North Carolina, where he got involved in Civil War re-enactments and was given the story of the war as told by the defeated South rather than the victorious North.

Michael emphasised that, whereas Manchester and the Lancashire cotton towns had sided with Lincoln and the Union during the Civil War, Liverpool's sympathies lay with the Southern states. 'Everything the Confederacy fought with was smuggled out of Liverpool'. The items had to be smuggled, rather than exported openly, because Queen Victoria had ordered that no ships or weapons were to be supplied to either side. And Lincoln had a network of spies in Britain, looking for evidence of breaches of that neutrality.

One of the key individuals was James Dunwoody Bulloch, a sea captain sent to Liverpool by Jefferson Davis at the start of the war. He set up an office in Rumford Place, where the cotton importers Fraser Trenholm acted as 'bankers' for the Confederacy. Bulloch lived with his wife and children in Wellington Street, Waterloo, which had a railway connection to Liverpool but was remote enough to allow him to test guns on the beach without arousing suspicion! It was Bulloch who arranged for ships to be built on the Mersey, officially 'cruise ships' for wealthy Italians, which were sent to the Azores for fitting out. He also arranged for guns, manufactured in Birmingham and elsewhere, to be exported there, so the ships could be equipped for battle. One of the most famous ships was the Alabama, which was built by Lairds at Birkenhead. 180 of its crew members came from Liverpool, and Michael read out some of their names. Its captain, Raphael Semmes, had drunk with Bulloch at the Liver Hotel in Crosby and the Washington Hotel in Lime Street, Liverpool.

Michael mentioned many other Liverpool links. St George's Hall was the venue for a three-day bazaar held on behalf of the Confederacy in 1864 - nominally to raise money for 'the casualties of war' - which raised £30,000 (equivalent to about £1.5 million today). The bazaar was organised by Mary Prioleau (née Wright, originally of Allerton Hall) who lived with her husband Charles K Prioleau at 19 Abercromby Square, a building decorated with the blue star of North Carolina, the palmetto tree of South Carolina, and other features copied from the Prioleau house in Charleston. Nearby at No.6 (now demolished) was a boarding house where many Confederate sea captains were accommodated.

The American Civil War ended in April 1865. In November a Confederate ship called the Shenandoah - which had not heard that the war was over - sailed into the Mersey and surrendered to the Royal Navy. A re-enactment of this event is planned for November 2015. James Dunwoody Bulloch remained in Liverpool, living in Canning Street until his death in 1901, and is buried in Smithdown Road Cemetery.

Those who attended Michael's talk were very grateful to him for giving us the benefit of his researches in such an informative and entertaining way.

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