by John Bennett
(This Article originally appeared in 'Crossfire - The Magazine of the American Civil War Round Table (UK)' Issue No. 61 - December 1999)
Liverpool during the American Civil War was probably the most pro-Confederate city in Britain. The birthplace of the commerce raider CSS Florida, a major port for blockade running, and the scene of frantic speculation in cotton brought out of the beleaguered Confederacy, the fortunes of its large and wealthy merchant class were closely bound up with those of the Southern States. 'Does anyone... who knows Liverpool doubt that the overwhelming balance of sympathy is on the side of the South?' asked the Liverpool Albion in May 1862 (1), while prominent Liverpool businessman James Spence, one of the Confederacy's most active sympathisers, described it as 'the headquarters of Southern sentiment.'
It is not surprising, then, that Liverpool should have been the location for a Bazaar held in October 1864 in aid of the Southern Prisoners' Relief Fund. The purpose of the Fund was to provide comforts such as extra food and clothing for Confederate prisoners of war held in Northern prisons - places like Elmira, Johnson's Island, Camp Douglas, and Point Lookout - and also 'to alleviate the sufferings of wounded men in the Southern States, either when lying in the hospitals or on their journeys from the field to the cities'. (2) The setting for the Bazaar was St George's Hall, the huge neo-classical building which is still one of the architectural glories of Liverpool. Described by the Liverpool Daily Post as 'the most splendid hall in the kingdom', it was then only ten years old, having been completed in 1854. Preparations for what contemporary accounts refer to as both the Liverpool Bazaar and the Southern Bazaar had been going on for six months when information about it first appeared in the press.
A letter to the Index, written from Liverpool, almost certainly by James Spence, and published on 6 October 1864, stated confidently that 'The Bazaar which is to be held in this town ... in aid of the Southern Relief Fund promises to be a great success'. Spence was a wealthy tin and iron merchant and cotton broker, who gave freely of his time, energy and money in support of the Confederate cause throughout the War. He was the author of The American Union (1861), regarded as a major instrument of Confederate propaganda, as well as a long series of articles in The Times giving a commentary on the War from a Southern viewpoint, and in 1862 he helped Henry Hotze establish the Index, to which he was an early contributor. For a while he was the Confederacy's financial agent in Europe, and is believed to have been a major investor in the Confederate Cotton Loan. Involved in Southern Independence Associations in Manchester and London, he also organised Southern Clubs in various towns and cities in support of Confederate independence, and in addition was honorary secretary of the Southern Prisoners' Relief Fund.
Notices about the Bazaar also began to appear in the Liverpool papers from 6 October 1864 onwards, the Liverpool Daily Courier, for example, announcing that it was 'intended to hold a BAZAAR in St George's Hall ... In aid of the Southern Prisoners Relief Fund'. 'Many ladies', it added, 'have promised their active aid'.
The Index never carried any by-lines, so we do not know for certain the identity of 'Our Special Correspondent' who wrote the accounts of the Bazaar which appeared in its issues of 20 and 27 October 1864, but it was probably John Reuben Thompson of Virginia, who had joined the paper that summer.
The Bazaar opened at 12 o'clock on Tuesday 18 October 1864 in bright weather, 'real Confederate sunshine supplementing the English autumn with something of the glory of the American fall, and inspiring us (by us I mean all who felt an interest in the Confederate cause) with the augury...of success'. (3) The good weather, needless to say, did not last, and the following day was dreary and wet. It was originally intended as a four-day event, and tickets, for which there was 'immense demand', cost 5s on the first day, 2s 6d on Wednesday and Thursday, and 1s on Friday, while season tickets could be had for 7s 6d 'from the principal tradesmen in the town'. It remained open till 9 o'clock each evening, the hall being lit by gas. Present on the first day were Lord Wharncliffe, Lord Campbell, and Alexander Beresford-Hope, who were well known in Confederate circles in London, James Murray Mason, the former Confederate Commissioner to Great Britain, and John Laird, the prominent local shipbuilder and MP for Birkenhead. Visitors on Wednesday included former officers from the CSS Alabama, which had been built across the Mersey at Laird's Birkenhead yard.
Inside the main hall there were twelve stalls, arranged five on each side, with two in the centre, representing the eleven states of the Confederacy and Kentucky. There was tricolour drapery on the stalls, which were alternatively square and octagonal in shape, with extensive use of Confederate, British and French flags throughout. The hall was decorated with portraits of Confederate statesmen and generals, a full-length of General Beauregard very near the entrance being considered the best. Some of the stalls were tended by ladies with recognisable names - Georgia, by Mrs Bulloch, wife of Commander James Bulloch, chief naval purchasing agent in Britain; Mississippi, by Mrs Slidell, wife of John Slidell, Confederate Commissioner in Paris; North Carolina, by Mrs Spence; South Carolina, by Lady Wharncliffe and Mrs Prioleau, wife of Charles Prioleau, treasurer of the Relief Fund, and senior partner in the Liverpool firm of Fraser, Trenholm, bankers to the Confederacy; and Tennessee, by Lady Beresford-Hope.
The stall representing Virginia, surrounded by pictures of Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson, offered visitors the opportunity to subscribe to a splendid sword intended for presentation to General Lee, while on the South Carolina stall were crosses made from the wood of Fort Sumter, as well as a collection of autographs of Lee, Davis and Beauregard. Contributions to the Bazaar had come from the Confederacy, from Canada, from various parts of Europe, and even from India, and not all the items on offer were directly inspired by the War. Nor was everything necessarily for sale: A large piece of silver work, representing a stretch of the Atlantic coastline, surmounted by pieces of artillery, with a Clyde-built steamer at anchor below, made for the Anglo-Confederate Trading Company, the owners of the blockade runner Banshee, as a present for Colonel William Lamb, the commandant of Fort Fisher, at the mouth of Cape Fear River, attracted much attention. So too did a model of the Florida on the Arkansas stall.
Many local tradesmen had donated food and drink, and two dining rooms served lunch and dinner to visitors, on a superior scale'. In addition, there were daily entertainments - recitals by William Best, the Liverpool Corporation organist, concerts by Mr and Mrs Henri Drayton, the American opera singers, and Master Willie Pape of Alabama, pianist to the Prince of Wales, while Mr Streather's band performed at intervals, giving renderings of Dixie, My Maryland, God Save the Queen, 'and other appropriate airs'. The comedian Frank Toole and the tenor Mr St Albyn had also been engaged for the week.
The numerous raffles held each day were a notable feature of the Bazaar. Most of the prizes were predictable items like vases, rugs or watches, but they also included Robert E Lee's pipe (won by James Spence), and a Shetland pony, donated by Peter Tait of Limerick, who manufactured uniforms for the Confederate Army. This was won by H. O. Brewer, a Mobile businessman now involved in blockade running, who gave it back to the Bazaar, and it was finally sold at auction on the last day.
On the evening of Friday 21 October the number of visitors to the Bazaar was so great, that the Index's own Special Correspondent was unable to get in, and 'after waiting fifteen or twenty minutes in the rain outside the building at the main entrance, and after vainly endeavouring to get in at a side door, was compelled to return to his hotel. (4) Some 2,000 had to be refused admission, and at one stage the doors had to be closed, the hall was so crowded.
With many items still unsold on Friday evening, in spite of four day's hectic trading, it was decided to re-open the Bazaar on Saturday at 2 o'clock to allow the remaining goods to be auctioned off. The auction was conducted by C. W. Kelloch and Joseph Cunard, the well-known local shipbuilders.
More than £20,000 was raised in sales receipts and subscriptions. (5) Visitor numbers are more difficult to ascertain, but some 2,400 people are reported to have been admitted on the first day, an hourly average of about 260. The Liverpool Daily Courier pronounced the Bazaar 'a triumphant success', and the Index left its readers in no doubt that the credit should go to James Spence, 'whose indefatigable exertions for weeks in advance wrought out such harmonious results in the arrangements, and whose energy during the week of its operations has been so conspicuous and so unfailing'. (6)
It was a triumph; but the triumph was short-lived. A committee formed to administer the proceeds of the Bazaar, chaired by Lord Wharncliffe, president of the Southern Independence Association of London, soon ran into difficulties. In November 1864 he wrote to Charles Francis Adams, the United States Minister in London, for permission for 'an accredited agent' to visit Federal prison camps, to alleviate the sufferings of Southern prisoners. His request was forwarded to William Henry Seward at the State Department in Washington, but permission was refused. (7)
What then happened to the money is not entirely clear, though a certain amount was apparently used to assist former Confederate prisoners of war and wounded soldiers who had come to Britain. (8) However within seven months of the Bazaar closing, the Civil War was over and paroled Confederate prisoners were starting to make their way home.
© ACWRT(UK) 1999 & 2001
1) Norman Longmate, The Hungry Mills, 1978, p.253-4
2) Index, 13 Oct 1864. The Fund appears to be founded by J. H. Ashbridge, a Liverpool dealer in bonds and securities, who also had offices in the City of London.