Thursday, June 19, 2014



Cherbourg, France (JFK+50) The most successful Confederate raider of the War Between the States, CSS Alabama*, was sunk by the USS Kearsarge after sailing out of Cherbourg harbor 150 years ago today, June 19, 1864.

Captain Raphael Semmes**, having been denied access to a French dry dock to overhaul his vessel, was in the process of moving out to sea when the CSS Alabama was confronted by the USS Kearsarge commanded by Captain John Ancrum Winslow.

Kearsarge v. Alabama
by Edoward Manet
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Semmes, who had been pursued by more than 20 Federal warships since the Alabama was launched on July 29, 1862, did not know that the Kearsarge was protected by a recently installed outboard chain of armor.

As his ship sank, Captain Semmes, who had been injured in the fight, threw his sword into the water and he did not wait around for the opportunity to surrender to his adversary as he and about 40 of his crew were rescued and spirited away by the British yacht Deerhound.

Raphael Semmes made his way back to Texas and eventually Richmond where he was promoted to Rear Admiral in February 1865.

Captain Semmes and 1st Lt John Kell
CSS Alabama (1863)
US Naval Historic Center Image

*CSS Alabama was built by John Laird Sons at Birkenhead, England.  She weighed 1050 tons, was 220 feet long and was powered by two 300 horsepower steam engines.  She could also be driven by sail.

The ship carried six broadside 32 pound cannons as well as 2 pivot cannons.

During its service, the commerce raider burned 65 Union vessels including the sinking of the USS Hatteras off the coast of Galveston, Texas.

CSS "Alabama" Plaque
Simonstown, South Africa
Photo by Kaihsu Tai

**Raphael Semmes (1809-1877) was born in Charles County, MD. and graduated from Charlotte Hall Military Academy.  He studied law and was admitted to the bar.

Semmes saw naval duty in the Mexican War as well as the Civil War. To raise a crew for the Alabama, Semmes offered a signing bonus and double wages paid in gold.

After the war, he was a professor of philosophy and literature at Louisiana State Seminary (LSU), a county judge and newspaper editor.