A Student of History

December 8, 2006

Wirral Maritime Heritage Trail-UK

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 3:37 am

The Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT), America’s largest nonprofit battlefield preservation group, today announced the addition of the Wirral Maritime Heritage Trail to the 600-site Civil War Discovery Trail. The Wirral Maritime Heritage Trail becomes the first Civil War Discovery Trail site in the United Kingdom and the second to be designated outside the United States.

Edwin C. Bearss, CWPT Trustee and Chief Historian Emeritus of the U.S. National Park Service, will be the keynote speaker at the designation ceremonies. According to Bearss, the area along the River Mersey in northwestern England played a crucial role in equipping the fledgling Confederate Navy. He noted that the most famous Confederate raider of the entire war, C.S.S. Alabama, was built at the Laird Brothers Shipyard at Birkenhead on the Wirral peninsula, across the Mersey River from Liverpool.

“Adding the Wirral Maritime Heritage Trail to the Civil War Discovery Trail brings an important dimension to our understanding of the international partnerships that supported the Confederate war effort,” remarked Bearss. “This formal designation of the region’s role in the war will provide unique insights into the breadth and scope of what was an immensely far-reaching conflict. The Civil War did not just stop at the water’s edge.”

CWPT President Jim Lighthizer agreed, adding “The Civil War Discovery Trail tells the story of the American Civil War and its dramatic impact on the development of our nation. The Civil War Preservation Trust is proud to be the steward of such a unique resource and delighted that such an understanding of the importance of the Civil War exists overseas.”

The Wirral peninsula is bordered to the west by the River Dee, to the south by Cheshire, and to the east by the River Mersey. Facing the city of Liverpool and extending into the Irish Sea, it already had a long shipbuilding tradition when Confederate leaders sent James D. Bulloch to England in 1861 with $1 million and orders to commission ships for the Confederate Navy. The posting was fortuitous since, as Bearss stated, “Bulloch, like his nephew, future president Theodore Roosevelt, recognized the critical importance of sea power and the significance of the Wirral’s connection to the ocean.”

Working with other Confederate agents in the area, Bulloch was able smuggle millions of dollars worth of scarce naval and military materiel into the South. Bulloch also covertly commissioned the construction of C.S.S. Alabama, which masqueraded as Enrica until after she was launched.

Alabama served as a commerce raider, attacking U.S. merchant and naval ships for two years. Although she never set anchor in a Southern port, she wreaked enormous havoc on U.S. shipping, claiming more than 60 prizes valued at more than $6 million. For more than 20 months, Alabama cruised both the north and south Atlantic, crossed the Indian Ocean twice and navigated the waters off Indonesia. The damages were so heavy that after the war, the United States successfully pursued compensation from the British government.

“In 1864, Alabama was sunk in combat with U.S.S. Kearsarge off the coast of Cherbourg, France,” Bearss noted. “Alabama‘s captain, Raphael Semmes, rescued after the battle by the British yacht Deerhound, became a hero to millions of Southerners. But, at the same time, he was seen as a pirate by equal numbers of Northerners.”

Cité de la Mer, a French maritime museum in Cherbourg with extensive exhibits on the recently rediscovered Alabama wreck, was the first foreign site added to the Civil War Discovery Trail, joining the ranks in 2004.

In 2000, when the Civil War Discovery Trail was selected by the White House as a National Millennium Trail, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton called it a “visionary project that defines us as Americans.” According to Lighthizer, “We are especially proud to include another international Civil War site to the Civil War Discovery Trail.”

Each site on the Civil War Discovery Trail is operated independently. CWPT helps promote these sites through its website (http://www.civilwar.org), a comprehensive guide book entitled Civil War Sites, published by Globe Pequot Press, and an extensive collection of maps produced by the National Geographic’s MapMachine which are available online at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/maps/civilwar.

With more than 70,000 members, CWPT is the largest nonprofit battlefield preservation organization in the United States. Its mission is to preserve our nation’s remaining Civil War battlefields. Since 1987, the organization has saved more than 23,000 acres of hallowed ground. CWPT’s website is located at http://www.civilwar.org.

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