It would be nice to know the source of the lyrics in the first post. Are they historic, or are they the work of a recent songwriter? here's what the Traditional Ballad Index has to say about this song:
Roll, Alabama, RollDESCRIPTION: The Alabama is built in Birkenhead by Jonathan Laird. After a long career of commerce-raiding, the Kearsarge catches her off Cherbourg and sinks her
EARLIEST DATE: 1925
KEYWORDS: shanty battle navy Civilwar
May 15, 1862 - Launching of the C.S.S. Alabama
June 19, 1864 - The Alabama sunk by the U.S.S. Kearsarge
FOUND IN: US(MA) New Zealand
REFERENCES (7 citations):
Doerflinger, pp. 35-37, "The Alabama" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Colcord, p. 65, "Roll, Alabama, Roll" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hugill, p. 159, "Roll, Alabama, Roll!" (1 text, 1 tune) [AbEd, pp. 126-127]
Scott-BoA, pp. 245-247, "Roll, Alabama, Roll" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NAS, pp. 350-351, "The Alabama" (1 text)
Silber-CivWar, p. 70, "Roll, Alabama, Roll" (1 text, 1 tune)
cf. "Roll the Cotton Down" (tune)
Notes: When the Civil War began, the Confederates had neither navy, nor merchant fleet, nor significant shipbuilding capability; all rested in the hands of the North. Facing economic strangulation, the South explored every avenue to build a fleet.
Early in the war, the British were willing to help the Confederates build a navy. One of the ships built for this purpose was the Alabama, a fast commerce-raider. Built by Jonathan Laird, Ltd. at Birkenhead near Liverpool, the Federals protested her building from first to last, but somehow the papers never quite came through in time. (Allan Nevins, The War for the Union: War Becomes Revolution 1862-1863, Scribners, 1960, pp. 266-267, describes how American Minister to Britain Charles Francis Adams kept bringing new details to the British government about the Alabama. The British government theoretically agreed to try to stop work on the ship, but the local customs inspectors ignored their instructions.)
After the completion of the hull in 1862, the Alabama sailed for the Azores to pick up arms and her Captain, Raphael Semmes (brother of the Confederate General Paul Semmes, killed at Gettysburg).
Over the next two years, the Alabama sank a total of 69 Union merchant vessels, formally valued at $6,547,609.
Although she once ran the blockade to enter the Confederate port at Galveston, the Alabama was generally unable to stop at Confederate ports; when she needed repairs in 1864, she stopped at the French port of Cherbourg. An American got off word of her presence there, and the Kearsarge was waiting when the Alabama sailed. Soon after the Alabama crossed the three mile limit, the Kearsarge moved in; the Confederate ship sank some forty minutes later. Her crew was rescued by a British yacht.
According to Fletcher Pratt, A Compact History of the United States Nacy, pp. 151-152, there wasn't much difference in actual fighting power between the Alabama and the Kearsarge. But the Kearsarge was a well-drilled ship with properly-trained gunners. Alabama, which constantly had to change bases, could never lay in an adequate supply of powder and shot, so her gunners were much less accurate. And Kearsarge had two very heavy 11-inch guns. As a result, Kearsarge was able to score many more damaging hits and destroy her opponent while taking very little damage.
The Alabama was a great success, but few ships followed her. The Americans demands for reparation, known as the "Alabama Claims," caused the British to stop building ships for the Confederacy. (In fact the claims covered the damage done by eleven ships; the total bill was $19,021,000, largely due to the Alabama, the Shenandoah, $6,488,320; and the Florida, $3,698,609). The Americans were finally paid some $15.5 million in 1873.
According to James P. Delgado, Lost Waships: An Archaeological Tour of War at Sea, Checkmark, 2001, p. 122, the wreck of the Alabama was found off Cherbourg in 1984, and some artifacts have been recovered.- RBW
For a broadside on the same subject see
LOCSinging, as112570, "The Sinking of the Pirate Alabama," J. Magee (Philadelphia), 1864; also hc00026b, "The Sinking of the Pirate Alabama"; cw103190, "Kearsarge and Alabama"
attributed to Silas S. Steele, "Tune: 'Teddy the Tiler,' or 'Cannibal Islands.'" - BS
The Ballad Index Copyright 2009 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.