Mersyside played a huge part in the war which united America. As the 150th anniversary approaches, Peter Elson reports on the local tourism potential
MANY stories and myths surround the American Civil War. But firmly rooted in fact is the premier part that Liverpool and Birkenhead played in the conflict, dubbed America’s darkest hour.
Such was the important impact of the two towns’ role that a leading Civil War historian believes they prolonged the war by several years.
Historian and lecturer Tom Sebrell, from Virginia, who is about to receive his doctorate from Queen Mary, London University, is working with Liverpool City Council to commem-orate the War for its 150th anniversary on April 15, 2011.
Not only that, but events could roll on for four years until 2015, says Tom.
Because it was in Liverpool that the Confederate flag was lowered for the last time.
This was when the Southern raider, CSS Shenandoah, surrendered in the port, on November 6, 1855.
“An influx of entirely new American tourists to Liverpool will have enormous benefits for Merseyside,” says Tom.
Both sides of the Mersey are bristling with American Civil War historic sites.
So much so that the Wirral waterfront is only the second place outside the US to be accorded American Civil War Heritage Site Status, by the Civil War Preservation Trust.
Charles Kuhn Prioleau, Confederate paymaster general, and by far the most important Southern representative in Liverpool, if not the UK, lived in the palatial 19 Abercromby Square, now owned by Liverpool University.
His office, at Fraser, Trenholm & Co in Rumford Place, now a handsomely restored late Georgian courtyard, was really the Confederate naval HQ.
“Meantime, round the corner, US Consul Thomas H Dudley’s Unionist spy network was operating out of the Consulate at 22 Water Street,” says Tom.
“Dudley’s main concern was to monitor the South’s ship-building activity on the Mersey.
“We’re discussing linking all these sites with walks and bus tours to connect sites in the city centre, Birkenhead, Toxteth, Wavertree and Edge Hill.”
Along with CSS Shenandoah, other Mersey-built raiders like Alabama and Florida wrought havoc among the Northern US states’ shipping.
Alabama, built by Laird’s at Birkenhead and crewed by 30 Liverpudlians, burned or sank 65 Union ships before being destroyed off Cherbourg in 1864.
Such Southern warships severely undermined Britain’s claim of neutrality during the Civil War.
What incensed Dudley and his Northern masters was that it was illegal for British shipyards to build warships for either side. But Mersey ship-builders overcame this by constructing so-called merchant ships which, once they left UK waters, were renamed and armed as raiders.
However, this dubious connection makes the UK the most important place in the Civil War outside the US, and therefore Merseyside its naval epicentre.
The South’s warships were commissioned by the Liverpool-based Confederate naval officer James Dunwoody Bulloch and paid for by Prioleau.
After the Civil War, unable to get a pardon from the US, Dunwoody made Liverpool his home and became a successful cotton merchant and broker. He was buried in Smithdown Road Cemetery in 1901.