ROLL, ALABAMA, ROLL! – SINKING OF CSS ALABAMA

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CSS Alabama, ca. 1961. Rear Admiral J. W. Schmidt, artist. Courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command # NH 85593-KN.
Larry Beldt, “Roll, Alabama, Roll!” June 22, 2012. Educational video, 2:00. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ydhI1G9rYk.

The CSS Alabama, commanded by Captain Raphael Semmes, had spent nearly two years capturing and destroying 65 Northern merchant ships and whalers. There were seven different expeditionary raids from the Eastern Atlantic to the Java Sea and back near where the vessel had been built. The commerce raider had become legendary and captured the imagination of most of the world. Many, however, considered Semmes and his ship piratical and it had to be destroyed.

GOD HELPS THOSE THAT HELP THEMSELVES

The Alabama arrived off Cape Town, South Africa, in late July 1863 in a dramatic fashion. The cruiser captured the bark Sea Bride within sight of Cape Town. Semmes sold that merchantman and it’s cargo to a South African citizen. By September 24, 1863,  Semmes set a course across the Indian Ocean, sinking several ships, reaching Singapore on December 21, 1863. There he viewed more than 20 Northern merchant ships rotting unemployed at anchor. He knew that his ship and the other Confederate commerce raiders had been very successful in disrupting US shipping.[1]   Read more

RAPHAEL SEMMES AND CSS SUMTER

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Raphael Semmes. The Mariners’ Museum P0005—UPP434

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.

EARLY DAYS

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. [1]   Read more

USS Hatteras: The First Warship Sunk by CSS Alabama

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CSS Alabama, Confederate States Steam Auxiliary Sloop-of-War, 1862. Builder’s Model. The Mariners’ Museum 1985.0024.000001A

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