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Roll, Alabama, Roll

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Roll, Alabama, Roll

This halyard shanty tells, although with much poetic licence, of the exploits and fate during the American Civil War of the Confederate sloop-of-war CSS Alabama. She was built to prey upon the merchant fleet of the Union side, and during her two year career she captured, burned, and sank 65 Union ships, though not one death was recorded, the passengers and crews of her victims being housed on the Alabama pending transfer to a neutral vessel or port.

As for the inaccuracies, she was actually built in the yard of John Laird Sons & Co, not Jonathan Laird, and Liverpool did not fit her with guns: in July 1862 she sailed under the name of Enrica as an unarmed merchant ship to Fayal in the Azores (the Western Islands) where her British-made ordnance was installed in the following month. After two years at sea she did indeed make her way to Cherbourg, but not to "collect her share of the prize money": quite simply the Alabama was in dire need of repair. Her boiler needed an overhaul; much of her powder and shells were damp; the rigging needed to be refitted and her copper plated hull was coming apart, causing drag in the water that drastically slowed her speed.

On June 19th 1864 she steamed out of Cherbourg to do battle with the American sloop-of-war, Kearsarge. In the battle Alabama's rate of fire was double that of her adversary, but much of it was inaccurate, and what did find its target often failed to explode: one 100 lb shell hit Kearsarge's vulnerable sternpost, and would have disabled her rudder if it had exploded, winning the day for the Confederates. But Kearsarge had better ammunition and more accurate gunnery: after little more than an hour, Alabama was sinking.

Most versions of the shanty get the last bit right: "Off the three-mile limit in '64, the Alabama sank to the ocean floor", but there are versions where the year is wrong (and the rhyme not too accurate either): "Off the three-mile limit in '65, the Alabama went to her grave"

Roud Number 4710
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Roll, Alabama, Roll
Roll, Alabama, Roll

When the Alabama's keel was laid

Roll, Alabama, Roll

It was laid in the yards of Jonathan Laird

Oh roll, Alabama, roll


It was laid in the yards of Jonathan Laird

Roll, Alabama, Roll

It was laid in the town of Birkenhead

Oh roll, Alabama, roll


Down
the Mersey way she sailed then

Roll, Alabama, Roll

Liverpool fitted her with guns and men

Oh roll, Alabama, roll


Down Mersey way she sailed forth

Roll, Alabama, Roll

To destroy the commerce of the North

Oh roll, Alabama, roll


To Cherbourg harbo
ur she sailed one day

Roll, Alabama, Roll

To collect her share of the prize money

Oh roll, Alabama, roll


And many a sailor saw his doom

Roll, Alabama, Roll

When the Yankee Kearsage hove into view

Oh roll, Alabama, roll


A shot from the forward pivot that day

Roll, Alabama, Roll

Took the Alabama's gear away

Oh roll, Alabama, roll


Off the three mile limit in sixty-four

Roll, Alabama, Roll

The Alabama sank to the ocean floor

Oh roll, Alabama, roll


Recorded by Sharp As Razors
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Roll, Alabama, Roll, sung by Sharp As Razors
Dr David Herbert Llewellyn

Dr. Llewellyn was the son of a clergyman, educated at Marlborough College, before studying medicine at Charing Cross Hospital. Alabama was his first ship.

As water slowly rose in the wardroom of
the stricken Alabama, which was his makeshift surgery, Dr. Llewellyn continued to tend the wounded until the order was given to abandon ship. Coming up on deck, he then helped the wounded into the two surviving lifeboats. These were so packed with wounded that he feared any additional weight must capsize them. He restrained one able-bodied sailor from climbing onboard saying, "See, I want to save my life as much as you do; but let the wounded men be saved first." Then an officer in one lifeboat shouted, "Doctor, we can make room for you," but he replied, "I will not peril the wounded men." As Alabama finally sank below the waves, Llewellyn jumped into the sea and drowned. It was later discovered that he could not swim, and had given up his own life to save those of his wounded comrades.

His sacrifice did not go unrecognized: the Confederacy awarded him posthumously the Southern Cross of Honor, while in England a memorial tablet was placed in Charing Cross Hospital, and a window and tablet were placed at Easton Royal church, near Marlborough. The tablet reads ‘The east window and this tablet are dedicated to the memory of David Herbert Llewellyn, youngest son of the Rev. David Llewellyn, Minister of this Parish. He was the surgeon of the Confederate War-Steamer, “Alabama”. And after her engagement with the Federal steamer, “Kearsarge,” off Cherbourg, nobly refusing to imperil the escape of the wounded, he sank with the ship, on the 19th of June, 1864, in the 26th year of his age. Erected by voluntary contribution, in admiration of his sacrificing courage.’ And 145 years later, on June 3, 2009,  in a ceremony held at Marlborough College, the Confederate Medal of Honor was presented posthumously to Dr. Llewellyn by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Every man for himself, save one
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