Major General John Bankhead Magruder arrived in Texas in late October 1862 and immediately sought to regain the laurels he had earned on the Virginia Peninsula. Galveston, Texas’s major port, had been conquered by Union naval forces earlier the same month. Consequently, Magruder decided to organize a land sea operation to break the Union grip on Galveston thereby reopening this port to Confederate blockade runners. Galveston would remain in Confederate hands until the war’s conclusion.
The CSS Sumter was fitted out as a cruiser by the CS Navy at New Orleans, Louisiana. Commander Raphael Semmes, a former US naval officer who had served with distinction during the Mexican War, had resigned his commission and joined the Confederate navy. Immediately, he sought an active command. He met with Confederate Secretary of the Navy Stephen Russell Mallory seeking the command of a cruiser that could harass Union shipping. Consequently, Mallory gave Semmes command of a ship in the making, CSS Sumter. The Sumter’s cruise launched the career of one of the greatest commerce raider commanders in history.
Raphael Semmes was born in Charles County, Maryland, on September 27, 1809. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised by his uncle, Raphael Semmes. The young Raphael was a cousin of Brigadier General Paul Semmes and Union Captain Alexander Alderman Semmes. He attended Charlotte Hall Military Academy and at age 17, thanks to the influence of another uncle, Benedict Semmes, he was appointed to the US Navy as a midshipman. He took a leave of absence to study law and was later admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1834. Continuing on shore duty he was able to expand his law practice. Semmes was promoted lieutenant in February 1837. During the same year he married Anne Elizabeth Spencer of Ohio. The happy union produced six children. Read more
The USS Roanoke was a Merrimack-class steam screw frigate built at the Gosport Navy Yard. The frigate was commissioned in 1857 and became the flagship of the Home Squadron. When the Civil War erupted, Roanoke captured several blockade runners and fought during the March 1862 Battle of Hampton Roads. Noting how the Confederates had transformed Merrimack into the ironclad CSS Virginia, the wooden Roanoke was converted into an ironclad at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The new Roanoke featured three turrets; however, the extra weight of the iron made the vessel unstable and it spent the rest of the war in Hampton Roads, Virginia, and was scrapped in 1883.
When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a blockade of the entire southern coastline, the US Navy only had 93 warships, and almost half of these were outdated or unusable. So, the US Navy went on a buying spree purchasing every steamer that could mount cannons. One of these vessels was the St. Mary which was soon commissioned as USS Hatteras. In turn, the Confederacy did not have a navy and sought to obtain ships overseas to attack Northern merchant ships. The most successful of these commerce raiders was CSS Alabama. These two warships would have a fatal encounter on January 11, 1863, off Galveston, Texas, resulting in the sinking of USS Hatteras.
From the Steamer St. Mary to USS Hatteras Read more
On June 28, 1861, the Union’s first charge of Confederate piracy since the Civil War erupted took place in the Potomac River when the passenger steamer St. Nicholas was captured. Captain George Hollins developed a daring scheme to capture the ship. Using the flamboyant Lt. Colonel Richard Thomas Zarvona masquerading as Madame La Force, the ship was taken over by the Confederates and used to capture three other Union merchant ships. Hollins and Zarvona were proclaimed vicious pirates in the North and treated like heroes throughout the South.
THE DARING VETERAN: CAPTAIN GEORGE HOLLINS, CSNRead more