Four hours into the chase there was an accident aboard the GREEN LEAF, a fire which started in the galley and quickly spread out of control, flames spread by wood and oil. There was panic. The ship was being pursued and now a fire, the captain was forced to shorten sail, slowing the clipper enough to be lost.
When the ALABAMA was within range, the GREEN LEAF heaved to. There was no point in running anymore.
Semmes watched the ship carefully, looking for any signs of a trap. Convinced that the emergency aboard the Yankee clipper was real, he had half his men stand down from quarters and assist with the evacuation of the stricken vessel. He saw no reason to put the fire out it saved him the trouble of burning it himself. After all he had seen the Stars and Stripes flying from the masthead. There was a war and he knew his duty.
With the officers and crew of the GREEN LEAF safely aboard the raider, they watched as the magnificent trader burned while Semmes calmly went over the log and manifest the boarding party had retrieved from the now flaming vessel.
“Your cargo Captain,” said Semmes addressing the GREEN LEAF’s Master, “spice and silk, not exactly necessary for the war effort.”
Collier shook his head, “No, but it pays well in San Francisco.”
Semmes nodded his head, “Of that, I have no doubt sir. It’s a shame your ship caught fire Captain, but the fortunes of war.”
“Weren’t you planning on burning it?” asked Collier, “That’s what you do isn’t it?” the sarcasm in his voice easily detectable.
Semmes shrugged his shoulders, “You had the lead Captain, you had a chance for awhile and who knows, even if we had captured you otherwise, I might have bonded your ship. As it is you and your crew are my guests.”
Kiddler glared at the Confederate naval officer, “Don’t you mean prisoners?” he asked.
“Guests,” repeated Semmes, “unless you give reason otherwise sir.”
The new arrivals were treated well aboard the ALABAMA. The officers shared cabins and the wardroom with those of the raider while the crew shared quarters with their Confederate counterpoints, which numbered 110 strong. All “guests” were under parole.
Robert was put to work in the ship’s galley doing the type of work he was familiar with. It gave him a chance to observe his new surroundings and learn a little bit more about the ship that he found himself on.
The ALABAMA carried nine guns which included six 32 pounders and a seven inch 100 pounder rifle, fire power impressive enough. She had been built by the Birkenhead Iron Works in England in 1861, by the firm John Laird and Sons under the commission of James Bulloch of the Confederate States of America.
At first the ship was simply designated as hull number 290 with specifications similar to the ORETO, a ship that was officially to go to the Italian government, though contracted to Bulloch.
As time went on the construction of ship number 290 fell behind schedule and began to attract unwanted attention. Charles Francis Adams, the United States Minister to Great Britain was convinced the British shipyard was building a cruiser for the southern states of America and though he made his thoughts known and protested to the English authorities, nothing came of it. The government of Great Britain was not totally adverse to the idea of a dissolved United States and did little to help the American Minister, compounding his problems as it were, causing a number of headaches and sleepless nights for Mr. Adams.
Ship number 290 was launched May 15, 1862 and went by the name ENRICA. After she was fitted out, Semmes was ordered to assume command of the ENRICA, now called the ALABAMA. Under his command the ship would become a terror and a legend, leaving in her wake frustrated insurance agents, angry ship’s masters and businessmen losing money.