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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.


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

A good story

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USCS Robert J. Walker

At the end of the last post a story was promised, and really it is too interesting not to share. Here at the Monitor Center we are fortunate enough to have our own x-ray machine. Normally we use this device to x-ray concretions to determine what the artifact inside looks like. On a Thursday morning a couple of weeks ago, we were examining something a little different. Will, Fred – the conservator for the museum collection, and I were x-raying a painting.

Now this particular painting depicts the USCS Robert J. Walker, a survey ship that served in the United States Coast Survey from 1848 until it sank in 1860 resulting in the death of 20 crew members. The United States Coast Survey was an ancestor organization of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). The Walker disaster was the greatest loss of life ever experienced by NOAA or any of its precursor organizations.  June 21, 2013 was the 153rd anniversary of the sinking; it was also World Hydrography Day. This year NOAA observed this day by honouring the men who lost their lives on the Robert J. Walker. They have also requested the painting as a loan from The Mariners’ Museum so that it can be displayed to commemorate these lost sailors.   Read more