William J. Bray, Jr.
THE CAREER OF THE CSS RAPPAHANNOCK.
(Under the direction of William N. Still, Jr.) Department of History, July 1975.
The purpose of this study is to give a comprehensive coverage of the multi-faceted career of the CSS Rappahannock. The Rappahannock has been either ignored or only given brief mention by most Civil War historians and this neglect is undeserved. Although playing a role that was more diplomatic than military, in her day she occupied a place of importance equal to the Alabama or the Shenandoah. She represented a real threat to Federal maritime mercantile interests, and the efforts to prevent her from leaving Calais, France, were as great as those to capture or sink any other commerce raider. Her value as a subject of study lies primarily in the field of diplomacy and her whole Confederate career is representative of the change of attitude within Great Britain and France towards the Confederate war effort.
Originally a British gun-vessel named the HRMS Victor, the Rappahannock was purchased secretly by the Confederacy through a British merchant firm. Shortly after her purchase, the Admiralty and the Federal government found sufficient evidence of her Confederate connections to have her detained. However, the vessel escaped in the middle of the night, before the writ of detention was served, and entered the French port of Calais, where she was allowed to be repaired. Upon completion of repairs, the vessel was detained on a technicality by the French government and remained in Calais for the remainder of the war, a subject of bitter diplomatic controversy between the two belligerents and the French government. Her only mi1itary value as a result of the detention was to serve as a floating personnel depot and to occupy several Federal cruisers which could have served other duties elsewhere.
With the end of the war, the controversy over the Rappahannock was far from over. The United States government brought suit for possession in British Admiralty Court against a British ship merchant who had brought the Rappahannock from Calais to Liverpool. When it looked like the United States was going to win the suit by default, the two men who originally purchased the ship for the Confederacy entered suits against the United States to prevent that government from gaining possession of the ship. After eighteen months of expensive and exhausting court battles the United States did gain possession of the Rappahannock. Shortly 'after this she was sold at a public auction and disappeared into obscurity, thus bringing to an end the controversial career of the CSS Rappahannock.