Old South Military Antiques

CSS Alabama Related Group
Item #: OS-7522












John Low was born in Scotland in 1836. Orphaned early, he was raised by relatives in Liverpool, England. He began a seagoing life at sixteen when he joined the British Merchant Service. Having seen much of the world by the time he was twenty years old he emigrated to America in 1856, and settled in Savannah, Georgia. Here, by the War Between the States, he had his own merchant supply business.

With War looming, he enlisted as a private in the Georgia Hussars on January 19th, 1861, but soon resigned from the cavalry unit and took an appointment in the Confederate Navy as Acting Master. Shortly afterwards however, the Confederate Secretary of the Navy, Stephen Mallory sent John to Liverpool to assist purchasing agents in England acquire ships and ordinance for the Confederacy.

From Liverpool, John Low accompanied James Bulloch to Greenock, Scotland, where he arranged to purchase the Fingal. This was the first vessel purchased by the Confederacy, and which vessel brought in thousands of arms to the Confederacy through the blockade. On November 12th, 1861, the Fingalarrived at Savannah with the largest armament shipment ever run through the Federal blockade.

Promoted to Lieutenant, John Low returned to Liverpool in March of 1862, to find new orders from Bulloch. Bulloch’s ship the SS Oreto, was ready to embark on a secret mission and Bulloch knew that vessel was in danger of being seized by local customs officials. Low was Lieutenant Low was tasked with delivering the Oretoto Captain John Newlands Maffitt at Nassau in the Bahamas. Low also carried orders for Maffitt and a letter detailing the requirements for the newly commissioned CSS Florida’s coming cruise.

Low was again back in Liverpool in July of 1862, and shortly thereafter sailed with Bulloch and several other officers for the Azores aboard the Bahama on August 5th. Once at sea Bulloch revealed to the officers travelling them hat they would command the mightyAlabama. After arriving at Terciera, Captain Raphael Semmes appointed John Low as 4th Lieutenant on the newly commissioned CSS Alabama. For ten months the Alabama cruised and shipping lanes used by Federal merchantmen. On 20th June 1863, the Alabama captured the American bark, Conradon June 20th, 1863 while it was enroute to New York with a cargo of wool and animal skins for tanning. Taking the Conrad as a war prize, Semmes commissioned the Conrad as the CSS Tuscaloosa, and armed her with a crew, small arms and two 12-pound cannon. Giving John Low command of the ship, Semmes gave Low instructions to patrol the African coast as far as the Cape of Good Hope.

His first prize came just off the coast at Cape Town, when Low seized the American owned vessel Santee. Afterward, the Tuscaloosa stopped in Simon`s Bay, South Africa on December 26th, 1863, when she was suddenly seized by overreaching British personnel, who refused to accept that she was a commissioned Confederate cruiser, thus violating their neutrality. Low left theTuscaloosa at Simon`s Bay, and sailed back to Liverpool to find Bulloch had recommended his promotion to 1st Lieutenant, effective 6th January 1864. For the remainder of 1864, Lieutenant Low was given the task of overseeing the construction of four new Confederate ships. Only one of these four vessels ever put to sea however. This was the Ajax; the Ajax was designed as a light-draft gunboat destined for the river fleet of the Mississippi. With Low as temporary commander, she cleared Nassau in January of 1865, arriving at St. George, Bermuda on May 4th.

Local British officials there served writs preventing Low and the Ajax any onward departure until they received confirmation the Confederacy had fallen. With no country left to him on the American continent, he sailed the Ajaxto Liverpool, where he surrendered her on June 9th, 1865.

Confederate Naval officers who had served outside the borders of the United States were not offered amnesty, so Low never returned to his home in Savannah, instead he sent for his son who was resided with his Uncle, Andrew Low in Savanah and settled once in Liverpool. Low's first wife Mary, had heard of the sinking of the CSS Alabama and left her two year old son John with his uncle before running the blockade herself and sailing to Liverpool. John passed away in in 1906, and is buried in Liverpool.

The group includes John Low's sword without scabbard. His sword is a Confederate purchase Naval Officer's sword from Isaac & Campbell & Company and is so marked. The hilt is completely tight and the shagreen grip remains complete. The Confederate importers mark is very bold. The etched blade has scattered staining. There is also a framed CDV of Low in his Confederate Naval Uniform. The CDV has a rare Liverpool back mark. And last it includes Low's antique, hand drawn family crest and lineage. The framed document measures nearly sixteen inches square.
This group originally came to light twenty some years ago. At that time it included Low's uniform frock, cap, and CSN sword belt. These items are now in the Fort Worth, Texas, Civil War Museum.


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