The Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama, built in the English shipyard of John Laird and Sons in 1862, quickly became the scourge of the United States merchant fleet during the Civil War. A heavily armed, fast running ship equipped with both sail and steam propulsion, CSS Alabama was commanded by Confederate navy officer Raphael Semmes, who led a crew mostly composed of British mercenaries who signed on to the Rebel cause with promises of double wages paid in gold and prize money for every federal ship they destroyed. The CSS Alabama never anchored in a Southern port during her entire term of service, during which she sank 65 US vessels. Her career ended on June 19, 1864, when she was sunk by the USS Kearsarge off the coast of France. In the postwar period the British government paid a large amount of claim money to Americans who had lost property to this British-built Confederate ship.
How, one may legitimately ask, did a footnote to the Alabama saga end up in New Jersey? Bob MacAvoy, coauthor with Chuck Eckhardt of Our Brothers Gone Before (http://ourbrothersgonebefore.wetpaint.com), member of New Jersey 150 Civil War Committee (www.NJCivilWar150.org) and a contributor to the New Jersey Sesquicentennial Committee’s groundbreaking new book New Jersey Goes to War, is the man to ask. In his quest to identify all Civil War veteran burials in New Jersey, and after more than 10 years of searching, MacAvoy came across the grave of Alabama’s chief engineer Miles J. Freeman in a seeming unlikely location – the pauper’s patch of Evergreen Cemetery in Morristown, reserved for those who died during the 19th century at Greystone Asylum.
Freeman, born in Wales and educated in Scotland, was a crewman on a British ship docked in New Orleans when he joined the Confederate navy in 1861, was captured when Alabama was sunk by Kearsarge, and held as a prisoner of war until June, 1865. After his release he was employed as an engineer on merchant ships, a career that apparently eventually brought him to America.
Miles J. Freeman is buried in grave #114 of section 16 at Evergreen, in a gully covered with brambles, fallen trees, garbage, leaves, detritus, and, the cemetery caretakers believe, the occasional poisonous snake. Assisted by Evergreen cemetery historian Kemper Chambers, MacAvoy managed to find the area of Freeman’s burial but not the exact gravesite. He is determined to do so on his next visit, and eventually get it properly marked. In the meantime, he is researching how Freeman, a Confederate sailor by happenstance, ended up in a New Jersey pauper’s grave. It should prove a fascinating tale; stay tuned to www.njcivilwar150.org for more updates.