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American Civil War Trail

Posted on Friday 8th April 2011

Merseyside Maritime Museum and International Slavery Museum

Visitors follow the fascinating Liverpool and the American Civil War Gallery Trail around Merseyside Maritime Museum and the International Slavery Museum marking the 150th anniversary of the conflict.

The war began on 12 April 1861 and ended in Liverpool on 6 November 1865 when the last Confederate warship Shenandoah surrendered in the River Mersey.

The trail around Merseyside Maritime Museum and the International Slavery Museum (in the same building) reveals many exhibits relating to Liverpool’s role in the fight between North and South.

Attractions include changing displays from the museum’s archives highlighting different aspects of the part Liverpool played.

Dawn Littler, curator of archives, says:

“ Liverpool played a significant part in the American Civil War, and the 150th anniversary gives us a great opportunity to showcase the many records held at the Merseyside Maritime Museum Archives and Library relating to Liverpool’s part in the war.
“These include the business records of Fraser, Trenholm & Co, Liverpool-based cotton merchants who were bankers to the Confederacy, and records of shipbuilding and engineering firms who supplied ships, arms and munitions”.
“There will be a series of American Civil War themed archive displays over the next five years from now until 2015.”

Britain was officially neutral in the civil war but Liverpool and much of North West England had strong political and financial connections with the slave-owning Confederacy through the hugely profitable cotton trade.                                                    

Many thousands of people were thrown out of work in Lancashire and neighbouring districts when cotton supplies were disrupted.                               

The trail starts at the Merseyside Maritime Museum entrance emphasising the role of the Albert Dock warehouses in welcoming American ships carrying cargoes of cotton and sugar. Raw cotton, produced by slave labour in the South plantations, was Liverpool’s most important cargo in the 19th century.

In the Life at Sea gallery there is a new display about the re-capture of the Liverpool ship Emily St Pierre by her captain, William Wilson. Earlier the Emily St Pierre had been captured by the US cruiser James Adger off Charleston on 21 March 1862.

Helped by just his cook and steward, Captain Wilson overpowered the prize crew and sailed her back to Liverpool to a heroes’ welcome. On display is a razor box presented to Captain Wilson and a silver medal awarded to his steward Matthew Montgomery.

Other new exhibits include stunning contemporary builders’ models of three blockade runners secretly constructed on the Mersey for the Confederacy – the sleek paddle steamers Banshee, Hope and Colonel Lamb.

These new items complement existing Civil War- related exhibits including a model of the infamous Birkenhead-built Confederate warship Alabama and panels about Confederate shipbuilders Jones, Quiggin & Co and Lairds.

The International Slavery Museum has many Civil War items including. The huge picture The Hunted Slaves was painted by Richard Ansdell in 1861. The artist donated it to the Lancashire Cotton Relief Committee who raised the then substantial sum of £700 for mill workers through a lottery for the painting.

There is Samuel Walters’ celebrated painting of the Alabama next to a ring worn by her quartermaster Robert Hobbs. A remarkable photo of the crew was taken on board the Alabama at Cape Town in 1863. Another painting shows the USS Saratoga capturing a slave ship in 1861 while one by L Burke is called Boarding a Slaver: Nightingale (1864).

The success of the Union resulted in the abolition of slavery in the United States although it meant with opposition from groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, originally founded in the late 1860s by former Confederate soldiers. The Ku Klux Klan outfit on display is from the second, later movement.    

The trail leaflet can be downloaded from the museum website http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/maritime/collections/americancivilwar/|

The website also has lots of information about Liverpool's role in the American Civil War and our related collections.