Saturday, April 12, 2003

Denbigh Day-by-Day

The following chronology is adapted from Stephen R. Wise’s Lifeline of the Confederacy (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1988), Robert E. Denney’s The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Grammercy, 1992), and U.S. Navy's Civil War Naval Chronology, 1861-1865 (Washington: Navy Department, 1971). Note that some dates of Denbigh’s arrivals and departures are unknown, and so have been left out of this chronology.

Date Denbigh Elsewhere
September 10, 1863 Denbigh is written up in a Liverpool area newspaper as being fitted out "to go to China." This attempt at what a later generation would call "disinformation" fools almost no one, least of all U.S. Consul Thomas Dudley, who's been keeping a close eye on this particular vessel.

October 19, 1863 Denbigh sails from Liverpool for Havana.

December 7, 1863 Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gustavus V. Fox forwards to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron intelligence reports on Denbigh and other suspected blockade runners.

January 10, 1864 Denbigh arrives at Mobile on her first blockade-running voyage. Confederate officers in Mobile are discussing the previous day’s message from President Jefferson Davis, warning that Mobile will soon be attacked by Admiral Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron.

March 14, 1864 Denbigh arrives at Mobile on her second blockade-running voyage.

March 16, 1864 Denbigh clears Mobile for Havana.

April 14, 1864 Denbigh arrives at Mobile on her third blockade-running voyage, carrying (among other things) a large lot of cobbler’s tools.

April 16, 1864 Denbigh clears Mobile for Havana.

April 30, 1864 Denbigh arrives at Mobile on her fourth blockade-running voyage.

May 7, 1864 Denbigh clears Mobile for Havana.

May 18, 1864 Denbigh arrives at Mobile on her fifth blockade-running voyage.
Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan, "Old Buck," manages to get the new ironclad ram Tennessee over Dog River Bar and into Mobile Bay. C.S.S. Tennessee greatly increases the strength of Confederate forces on the bay, and sets the stage for one of the most dramatic naval actions of the war.

May 26, 1864 Denbigh clears Mobile for Havana.
Union Rear Admiral Farragut, watching Confederate boats setting out mines at the entrance to Mobile Bay, writes that he has "come to the conclusion to fight the devil with fire, and therefore shall attach a torpedo to the bow of each ship, and see how it will work on the rebels -- if they can stand blowing up any better than we can."

June 7, 1864 Denbigh arrives at Mobile on her sixth blockade-running voyage.

June 14, 1864 Denbigh clears Mobile for Havana. At Cherbourg, France, Captain Semmes of the Confederate raider Alabama concludes that he will have to fight the U.S. Navy's steamer Kearsarge, which is waiting for him outside the harbor. Semmes judges that the ships are about evenly matched, and that he has a good chance of defeating the Union ship. He will be proven wrong five days later.

July 26, 1864 Denbigh clears Mobile for Havana. Mobile is now cut off from the sea – Denbigh is the last blockade runner to safely escape Mobile. In just over a week’s time, Admiral Farragut will lead his ships into Mobile Bay.

Abner M. Godfrey: Denbigh's First Master

Abner M. Godfrey was born in 1825 or 1826 in Maine. Sometime prior to 1859 he relocated to Mobile, Alabama , for in that year's City Directory he is listed as a stevedore, with lodgings at the Battle House Hotel. In the 1861 edition of that same work, he is again listed as a stevedore, at that lodging at the boarding house of one Silas Bower, on Center Street. His listing as a stevedore seems odd, however, for that same summer, shortly after the Union blockade was declared, he sailed for England to serve as a Confederate agent there.
By mid-1863, Godfrey and his wife were living in Cardiff, where he served as a coal agent for the Confederacy, purchasing good Welsh coal for blockade runners. In the fall of 1863 he was appointed to command the new runner Denbigh. Captain and Mrs. Godfrey sailed in her on October 19 for HAVANA.

Masters of ship attempting to run the blockade faced considerable risks, but THE REWARDS WERE VERY HIGH The salary of a successful captain might amount to several thousand dollars in gold for a successful round trip through the Federal fleet. It seems a safe assumption that Captain Grodfrey amassed a small fortune during his command of Denbigh, for after the war he purchased the Battle House Hotel in Mobile (left), the same hotel were he'd rented lodgings as a stevedore just a few years before.

Godfrey died on October 14, 1869 of natural causes, and was buried in Lot 12, Square 19 of the Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile .


The news of the hijackers deaths by firing squad has sunken in and ,unfortunately, these men will probably not be the last to lose their lives to Fidel.
Found a HUGE website dedicated to the Mobile-Havana blockade-runner,Denbigh. This schooner rigged, sidewheel steamer slipped past Fort Morgan on July 26,1864, and achieved the distinction of being the last blockade-runner to escape the Port of Mobile. The Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5 closed the Port of Mobile to Confederate shipping. The archaeology of the Denbigh wreck is the subject of the Texas A&M's Institute of Nautical Archaeology website. She was a beautiful ship. Click on

Friday, April 11, 2003

Thursday, April 10, 2003

The University's Alabama-Cuba Week in November has really plunged me into the history of the filibuster movements of the 1850's to take over Cuba. A lot of my research is posted on my weblog at My major interest is the activity of a Masonic spinoff organization called the Knights of the Golden Circle. The rituals and rules of this organization later became the idealogical foundation for the Ku Klux Klan. This week I checked two biographies out of the U of A library: John Quitman and Albert Pike.
Two things I want to share with you from the 1985 biography of Quitman by Robert E. May.
In May of 1852, the National Democratic Convention nominated Pierce-King as their ticket. In September, the Southern Rights Party held their convention in Montgomery and nominated a third party slate headed by George M. Troup for President and John A. Quitman for Vice-President. In November, this ticket only made it on the ballot in Alabama and Georgia. They received 126 votes in Georgia and about 2,000 votes in Alabama. I believe most of those votes came from the Black Belt, William Rufus King's home territory.
Quitman and his followers advocated the invasion and conquest of Cuba to produce an independent republic. They were AGAINST the Ostend Manifesto which advocated the U.S. purchase of Cuba after the Black Warrior Affair in February of 1854.This is what May says in his Quitman biography on page 278:

Quitman and his followers, moreover, feared that northerners might use their congressional power to hold Cuba in a territorial status until free-soil emigrants could shape the island into a nonslave state. The filibusters hoped to conquer Cuba so swiftly as to preempt Pezuela's final emancipation coup[Penzuela was the new abolitionist Captain General of Cuba who wanted to free the slaves of Cuba]. Then, like Texas, Cuba could proclaim itself an independent republic, annul the offensive decrees, and insist on de facto slave status as a condition of its annexation to the Union.

May cites what may be an interesting article: C. Stanley Urban, "The Africanization of Cuba Scare, 1853-1855," Hispanic American Historical Review XXXVIII, 1957, 29-37.

Feel free to forward this email to anyone who may be interested in this stuff.
Best wishes,
Robert Register

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Dissidents Were U.S. Mercenaries
Wed April 9, 2003 12:47 PM ET

By Anthony Boadle
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's communist government confirmed on Wednesday that dozens of dissidents have been jailed for up to 28 years for being "mercenaries" of the United States.

In the first official statement on the trials of 78 opponents of President Fidel Castro rounded up since March 18, the Justice Ministry said the sentences ranged from six to 28 years.

The dissidents were jailed for "mercenary activities and other acts against the independence and territorial integrity of the Cuban state," said a ministry statement published on the front page of Granma, the ruling Communist Party daily.

After the largest wave of arrests in decades in Cuba three weeks ago, authorities charged the dissidents with plotting with U.S. diplomats to subvert Cuba's one-party state.

Leading dissidents, democracy and rights activists and opposition journalists were arrested in their homes across the country. The houses were searched by police who seized computers, typewriters, fax machines and books.

Many of the dissidents had attended meetings at the residence of the top U.S. diplomat in Havana, James Cason, who had increased support for the island's small but growing opposition movement, in line with the Bush administration's harder push for political change in Cuba.

A White House spokesman denounced the crackdown on Wednesday.

"The president remains deeply troubled by the wave of repression and the long prison sentences handed down to Cuba's pro-democracy and human rights activists," said U.S. National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton.

"The Castro regime's arrest, prosecution and sentencing of these brave and peaceful activists are repugnant reminders that the Castro regime remains a totalitarian blight in an otherwise peaceful and democratic hemisphere."


The toughest sentences were for independent journalists -- 28 were arrested -- and organizers of the Varela Project, a petition for democratic reforms that gathered more than 11,000 signatures last year.

The initiative's leader, Oswaldo Paya, who won the European Union's top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize, in December, was not arrested, but his organization, the first nationwide opposition network, was dismembered in the roundup.

Luis Enrique Ferrer, a local coordinator in the city of LasTunas for the Varela Project, was sentenced to 28 years in prison, the stiffest sentence, the Cuban Human Rights Commission said.

Cuba's best-known dissident poet, writer and journalist, Raul Rivero, 57, and economist Martha Beatriz Roque -- the only woman put on trial -- got 20 year sentences.

International rights groups said the draconian sentences given after one-day trials by improvised courts, where undercover agents that infiltrated the dissident groups were produced as witnesses, was a throwback to Stalinism.

Amnesty International called the jailings appalling and "a giant step backwards for human rights" in Cuba.

The Castro government was undeterred by an outpouring of criticism from foreign governments and rights groups and insisted that the dissidents were a tool of its longtime ideological foe, the United States.

The wives of jailed dissidents said they had three days to appeal, but were not hopeful the sentences could be changed.

"These terms were dictated by President Castro. In Cuba there is only one voice." said Rivero's wife, Blanca Reyes said after hearing his sentence on Monday. "This is like a Roman circus

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Cuban Dissidents Reel Under 'Wave of Repression'
Activists Say Crackdown Is Worst in Decades

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, April 6, 2003; Page A15

MEXICO CITY, April 5 -- Cuban President Fidel Castro's decision to arrest and try nearly 80 human rights activists, independent journalists and other dissidents is being condemned by governments and activists around the world as a chilling spree of political repression.

Two leading Cuban dissidents who remain free said in telephone interviews Friday from Havana that they had not seen such a widespread crackdown by Castro since the 1960s.

"This is a war against peace and against pacifists," said Oswaldo Paya, the leader of the Varela Project, which has gathered more than 20,000 signatures on petitions that seek a referendum calling for free elections and other democratic openings in Cuba.

"This wave of repression is the worst in the history of Cuba, including during the colonial era," said Elizardo Sanchez, another dissident leader. "Never before have so many people been so severely punished for crimes of thought. They are truly prisoners of conscience."

Human rights activists said Castro was using the Iraq war as a smoke screen to conduct a crackdown and sham trials that Paya said reminded him of tactics used by the Gestapo and the KGB.

"The Cuban government is putting on an extremely ugly show," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, an official with Human Rights Watch in New York.

Cuban officials have called the dissidents traitors who have conspired with the United States to subvert Castro's government. They have said the dissidents can be tried under a law that prohibits assisting the long-standing U.S. economic embargo. But the government has said little else about the trials or the specific charges against the defendants.

Trials continued today for the dissidents, at least a dozen of whom face life in prison. The proceedings, in a Havana courtroom ringed by security forces and closed to international diplomats and foreign journalists, have been criticized by the State Department as "kangaroo courts" and part of the "most despicable act of political repression in the Americas in a decade."

Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Roman Catholic Church and lawmakers and intellectuals from Latin America and Europe have condemned the crackdown. A group of U.S. senators who favor normalized relations with Cuba also sent a letter of protest. Citing deteriorating U.S.-Cuban relations, the Cuban government canceled a major conference on immigration that was expected to draw hundreds of Cuban emigrants to Havana next week.

Castro's crackdown has taken many analysts by surprise because he has been largely tolerant of the growing number of dissidents in Cuba.

Earlier this year, the Cuban government granted Paya unprecedented permission to travel to Europe, where he met Pope John Paul II and received a major human rights award from the European Union, and to the United States, where he met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

It is unclear why Castro has decided to change his tactics.

Sanchez and Paya said the shift started late last year, when police began arresting people in what the government described as a crackdown on drug dealing. The dissident leaders said Castro's forces also quietly arrested scores of people who were challenging the government's control. Most of them were illegally running small businesses and selling food or other goods, a means of survival that the government has tolerated for years in Cuba's dismal economic climate.

Then when the Iraq crisis started heating up, the summary arrests of dissidents began -- Paya said 42 of those arrested are his collaborators in the Varela Project. Several analysts said Castro calculated that the United States was too concerned with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to worry about Cuba. Or, they said, Castro might have been spooked by the U.S. launch of a preemptive war in Iraq.

"The U.S. is riding high. It thinks it can dictate to or run over anyone and ignore international law," said Wayne Smith, a former top U.S. diplomat in Cuba who is now at the Center for International Policy in Washington. "I'm sure the United States has no intention of having a go at Cuba. But I'm not sure the Cubans are convinced of that."

Smith also said that Castro may be trying to tighten his control ahead of worsening economic times, which have historically led to unrest and attempts to flee the island. Cuba's sugar industry is barely surviving, and tourism is expected to drop significantly as the war continues. "There's a greater sense of uncertainty: Where is the money coming from?" Smith said. "So they are cracking down."

The sense of chaos has been heightened by the armed hijackings of two airliners and a ferry since mid-March. In the most recent incident, Cuban officials on Friday arrested several men who had hijacked a ferry with 50 passengers aboard and tried to make it to Key West before running out of fuel.

Sanchez said the hijackings were "an expression of the discontent and desperation of the people of Cuba -- economic conditions are getting worse every day."

The Cuban government has charged the dissidents with conspiring with the United States, citing their frequent meetings with James Cason, the top U.S. diplomat in Havana. Castro charges that the dissidents are funded by the U.S. government, which the State Department and the dissidents deny.

Paya and Sanchez said Castro is worried that the dissident community has grown from a few people to thousands willing to sign pro-democracy petitions. "Nothing they have done has been enough to paralyze this movement, and that's why they are scared," Paya said.

Paya said he has gone daily to the courtroom where the trials are being held, but security forces have shouted obscenities at him and forced him to leave. Sanchez said he has tried to send observers to the trials but that security police stopped them before they could get within 100 yards of the building.

The extent of Castro's security network came into view Friday, when two reporters who spent years working alongside the country's best-known independent journalist, Raul Rivero, admitted at his trial that they were actually government agents. And in another trial, the secretary of dissident economist Marta Beatriz Roque also acknowledged spying for Castro.

Sanchez and Paya said they did not know why they had not been arrested.

"I am in the hands of God," said Paya, who has become Cuba's most internationally recognized dissident. "If I am not here tomorrow, we need the solidarity of people all over the world. We don't have oil, but we have 11 million people. We need the hearts and voices of people everywhere demanding freedom for the prisoners and peaceful change in Cuba."