Remembering the Confederate Raider CSS Alabama – in New Jersey?

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.

Comments

4 Responses to “Remembering the Confederate Raider CSS Alabama – in New Jersey?”

  1. Tom Burke says:

    What a discovery on the eve of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial! Maybe Freeman’s story will be included in our next book; Stay tuned!

  2. Joe Bilby says:

    Maybe. Although the next effort is not a bio book, strictly speaking, this discovery is indeed fascinating. The back story will be, I am guessing, even moreso.

  3. Jim Madden says:

    This is a great story, Finding a crew member of the CSS Alabama in NJ, who knew. How he got there will be more interesting to learn.

    With an unmarked pauper’s grave, I do hope the Civil War community will gather together and do something to remember this Confederate hero who helped write some of the more interesting chapters in the Civil War era.

    RIP

  4. Susan Rudman says:

    Hi All…thank you for your interest..my name is Sue Rudman (nee Lyons)..I am the great great grandaughter of Miles J. Freeman and I have to give my public thanks to Bob McAvoy for this amazing find. We have been working together to find GG Grandpa Miles..his expertise bought some closure to that search. I look forward to attending whatever memorial is set up for him as part of his legacy and will do my part to make sure that his grave is marked appropriately. From my side, Miles has 8 great, great great grandchildren…6 from my brother and two from me. I know there are others, but have not made enough contacts to determine how many. All of your efforts to bring honor to those fallen so long ago are not lost on we who are considered their progeny…our thanks in a mighty way. Sue

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