|Confederate States of America|
|Commissioned||3 June 1861 as CSS Sumter|
|Fate||Sold 19 December 1862 (renamed Gibraltar). Foundered on the Dogger Bank 14 February 1867.|
|Length||184 ft (56 m)|
|Beam||30 ft (9.1 m)|
|Draft||12 ft (3.7 m)|
|Speed||10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)|
CSS Sumter, converted from the 1859-built merchant steamer Habana, was the first steam cruiser of the Confederate States Navy during the American Civil War. She operated as a commerce raider in the Caribbean and in the Atlantic Ocean against Union merchant shipping between July and December 1861, taking eighteen prizes, but was trapped in Gibraltar by Union Navy warships. Decommissioned, she was sold in 1862 to the British office of a Confederate merchant and renamed Gibraltar, successfully running the Union blockade in 1863 and surviving the war.
Construction and merchant service before the American Civil War
The wood-hulled merchant steamship Habana was built in 1859 at the
Habana was purchased by the Confederate government at New Orleans in April 1861, converted to a cruiser and placed under the command of Raphael Semmes. Renamed Sumter, she was commissioned into the Confederate States Navy on 3 June 1861 and broke through the Federal blockade of the Mississippi River mouth later that month.
Eluding the pursuing sloop-of-war
Unable to make more comprehensive repairs or purchase coal there, Sumter remained at anchor in Gibraltar watched by a succession of U.S. Navy warships, among them the sloop-of-war USS Kearsarge and the gunboat USS Chippewa. Semmes and many of his officers were reassigned to the new cruiser CSS Alabama, while most of the crew was paid off, leaving only a skeleton crew aboard her.
In October 1862, acting captain Midshipman William Andrews was shot dead in his quarters aboard the Sumter by acting master's mate Joseph Hester. Hester alleged that Andrews had planned to sail Sumter to Algeciras, Spain and surrender her to a U.S. Navy ship there. Hester was arrested by British authorities, and a coroner's jury returned a verdict of wilful murder. Hester's allegations of Andrews' supposed treachery was not corroborated by the rest of the crew.
Blockade runner Gibraltar
Sumter was disarmed and sold at auction on 19 December 1862 to the Liverpool office of Fraser, Trenholm and Company. Sumter's sail plan was changed to a ship rig and she continued her service to the Confederacy under British colors as the blockade runner Gibraltar.
Though her career as a warship had lasted barely six months, Sumter had taken eighteen prizes, of which she burned eight, and released or bonded nine; only one was recaptured. The diversion of Union warships to blockade her had been in itself of significant service to the Confederate cause.
As Gibraltar, she ran at least once into Wilmington, North Carolina, under Capt. E. C. Reid, a Southerner. He sailed from Liverpool on 3 July 1863 with a pair of 22-ton Blakely rifles and other valuable munitions, returning with a full load of cotton. The beginning of this voyage is recorded only because the United States Consul in Liverpool passionately protested Gibraltar's being allowed to sail (ostensibly for Nassau), days before formal customs clearance: "She is one of the privileged class and not held down like other vessels to strict rules and made to conform to regulations." The arrival at Wilmington is also a matter of record because of the accidental sinking of the Confederate transport steamer Sumter by Confederate gunners at Fort Moultrie near Charleston in late August 1863. Until November 1863, U.S. naval intelligence understandably confused this ship with the former commerce raider.
The last official report of her appears to have been by the U.S. Consul at Liverpool on 10 July 1864: "The pirate Sumter (called Gibraltar) is laid up at
- Blockade runners of the American Civil War
- Confederate States Navy
- Union Navy
- Bibliography of American Civil War naval history
- "Byerly" probably a mis-spelling
- "More about the Sumter". The New York Times. 3 September 1861. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
- American Lloyd's Register of American and Foreign Shipping. New York, NY: E & W Blunt. 1861. pp. 546–547. Retrieved 20 November 2018.
- "The Bombay and Mediterranean Mails". Glasgow Herald. No. 7112. Glasgow. 27 October 1862.
- "Civil War Days & Those Surnames: Murder on Board the Sumter, 1862". 5 December 2012.
- https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/217657382.pdf "The Archeology of Civil War Naval Operations at Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, 1861-1865"
- Naval History and Heritage Command: Sumter.
- "Shipping News". Belfast News-Letter. No. 33402. Belfast. 18 June 1866.
- "Loss of the ex-Confederate Cruiser Sumter". The Times. No. 25738. London. 19 February 1867. col D, p. 7.
- Semmes, Raphael, The Cruise of the Alabama and the Sumter, Carleton, 1864, Digitized by Digital Scanning Incorporated, 2001, ISBN 1-58218-353-8.
See The Cornhill Magazine, No6 (Jy-Dec 1862) pp187–205: "The Cruise of the Confederate Ship 'Sumter': [From the Private Journal of an Officer]". A swaggering account, unsigned.