Here Comes The Alabama (Daar Kom Die Alabama)…


Daar Kom Die Alabama
Here Comes the Alabama, The Alabama comes o’er the sea,
Here comes the Alabama, The Albama comes o’er the sea,
Girl, girl, the reed-bed girl, the reed-bed is made up for me,
On which I can sleep.

– 1863-present, Still sung today by the Cape Malays

The American Wolf Of The Deep

The song above was written shortly after an American confederate war trader captured a yankee ship in broad daylight a few miles off shore from Cape Town under the transfixed eyes of the local populace in the Summer of 1863. The song, translated from Afrikaans, is a permanent oral record of this slightly forgotten event in both South African and American history.

Even today, many South Africans are unaware of the song’s historical significance.

The Alabama was skippered by Raphael Semmes, a growing Civil War legend, who symbolized the independent spirit and cavalier attitude of the American South as he took up the role of a pirate of the seas. Thousands of Capetonians lined Signal Hill and other high points beneath the dramatic shadow of Table Mountain as Semmes masterfully toyed with the Yankee commerce ship, Sea Bride. After some strategic maneuvers and shots fired off the brow, the captain steered his prize into Cape Town harbor where he was given a hero’s welcome.

Up till this point he was a skeleton of a man, having to contend with the rigors of sea, an unruly crew, the constant anxiety of war and meeting expectations of command. He had just sailed from Saldanha Bay on the west coast of Africa and before that Brazil. He was jaded and fatigued. It was thus a welcome respite for this sea-weary captain to experience the open hospitality of Cape Town as applause, well wishes, female admirers and a throng of local reporters swarmed his decks and declared him a bonified hero.

This reception marked the high point of his command, “Though he did not make the claim, his ship was already the most effective commerce raider in the history of naval warfare,” according to Stephen Fox in his recent book entitled “Wolf of the Deep: Raphael Semmes and the Notorious Confederate Raider CSS Alabama”.

He had now captured 54 Yankee ships outside of the United States, including one off the tip of Africa. This sea battle appeared in print the next day in the Cape Town daily, The Argus. According to Fox, Semmes cut out the story to accompany a letter back to his wife who had previously decided to support the North but had recently switched allegience back to her husband and the South.

The Only Civil War Soldier To Die On African Shores *

It is also worth nothing that the Alabama’s earlier stop over in Saldanha to replenish supplies and make repairs led to another strange twist of fate relating to the American Civil War.

As the ship’s crew enjoyed some precious leave ashore, one of them was killed accidently during a hunting trip. It was until recently considered to have been the first Civll War soldier to have died on foreign shores.

His small grave survived into the 20th century attended by a humble family in Saldanha Bay until the America Navy instituted a request to have his body returned to his home town.

Here is a exert from the Cleveland Civil War Round Table:

Lt. Cummings’ name would probably be little noted nor long remembered if it were not for that fateful hunting trip in the Cape Colony on August 3, 1863. Cummings, Arthur Sinclair, Irvine Bulloch and one other officer determined to go duck-hunting ashore. Late in the evening, while embarking the launch to return to the Alabama, Lt. Cummings grabbed his gun by the muzzle and pulled it toward himself.

The hammer of the gun caught on the thwart which effectively cocked it and then released it again as Cummings tugged. He shot himself directly in and through the chest at point-blank range.

And thus it was that for 131 years Lt. Simeon W. Cummings quietly held a unique record – that of the only known Confederate serviceman to be killed during the War of Southern Independence and buried outside the United States.

Lt Cummings is returned home in style to the United States

In May of 1994, the remains of Lt. Cummings were disinterred from the farm where descendants of Paul Johannes Pienaar had tended the gravesite faithfully for over a century.

Watched over by members of the Pienaar family, an honor guard from the South African navy and a representative from the Military Order of the Stars and Bars, Lt. Cummings mortal remains and artifacts buried with him, including some of the lead pellets that had killed him, were carefully placed in a new pine coffin of period design and transported to Columbia, Tennessee for reburial at Elm Springs, the general headquarters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the MOSB which organized the repatriation.

Vanderbilt Battleship Stalks The Alabama

News of the Alabama’s exploits in Cape Town filtered back to the United States and Europe where his fame grew and became a thorny public relations issue for the Yankee navy. They had several months earlier dispatched their top battleship, The Vanderbilt, to seek and out destroy the confederate raider.

“The biggest, fastest, most coal-hungry vessel in the Union Navy, the only enemy that Semmes feared, was finally getting closer to the Alabama,” said Stephen Fox.

A book worth reading

Purely by chance, The Vanderbilt happened to be some miles north of St Helena bay when Semmes sailed into Cape Town. For the following two weeks a cat-and-mouse game was played out off the waters of the Cape of Good Hope as the hunter become the hunted. At one point, during bad weather, it is believed the Alabama caught sight of the Vanderbilt. However, the two ships would never clash off Cape Town waters and Semmes escaped, moving his aging ship to Singaporean waters.

Semmes and the Alabama would eventually run out of luck off the waters of France, but the echoes of his exploits still refrain in the songs of the Cape Malays today in Cape Town, South Africa.


There comes the Alabama,
The Alabama comes over the sea,
There comes the Alabama,
The Alabama comes over the sea.

Girl, girl, the reed bed is made,
The reed bed is made,
The reed bed is made
For me to sleep on.
Girl, girl, the reed bed is made,
The reed bed is made,
The reed bed is made

Oh, Alabama come over the
Oh, Alabama, the Alabama,
Oh Alabama come over the sea


Daar kom die Alibama,
Die Alibama kom oor die see
Daar kom die Alibama,
Die Alibama kom oor die see.

Nooi Nooi die rietkooi nooi,
Die rietkooi is gemaak
Die rietkooi is vir my gemaak,
Om daar op te slaap
Nooi Nooi die rietkooi nooi,
Die rietkooi is gemaak
Die rietkooi is vir my gemaak,
Om dar op te slaap

O Alibama, die Alibama,
O Alibama kom oor die see
A Alibama, die Alibama,
O Alibama kom oor die see



2 Responses to “Here Comes The Alabama (Daar Kom Die Alabama)…”
  1. chip87 15 July 2010 at 7:06 pm #

    it was very interesting to read.
    I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
    And you et an account on Twitter?

  2. chris ross 17 February 2017 at 12:51 pm #

    This ship is not the Alabama that is being referred to in the song. This actual Alabama was a small cutter that was used in the early days of Dutch occupation to sail up to Robben Island, and later, Langebaan lagoon, to provide seal meat and penguin eggs for the garrison who were often at deep risk of food insecurity due to the lack of goodwill from the Khoi, who were reluctant to trade their cattle.

    Later, this yacht would travel up as far as the Berg River, and cross the bar into the river itself, to collect a sought – after soft reed which was used on the night of a Cape Malay bride’s wedding, as the filling for her bridal bed which had been decorated with an especially elaborate covering for the occasion. Hence the verse, ‘nooi, nooi, die rietkooi nooi’ ..

    Roggebaai was the harbour which lay at the foot of Adderley Street? Table Bay, and the Cape Malay fisherman would obviously be the ones to sight ‘Die Alabama’ on it’s arrival.

    Hope this helps.

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