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The Sinking of the CSS Alabama

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Paper Prints approximate image size is: 14x21

The CSS Alabama and its Captain, Rafael Semmes, were a source of inspiration to the people and soldiers of the Confederacy.

Primarily a raider, the Alabama sank, burned or captured more than sixty Union merchants’ ships from 1862 to 1864. Semmes had managed to elude Federal warships sent to sink her.

In June 1864 the USS Kearsarge, under the command of John Winslow trapped the Alabama in the harbor of Cherbourg, France. With the dash and flare befitting an icon of the South, Semmes sent a message to Winslow stating that should he want for the Alabama to load its coal, they would sail out to engage the Kearsarge.

In the battle that followed, the nearly evenly matched ships circled and fired on each other. The gunners of the Kearsarge, however, fired with greater accuracy... this was the type of battle for which they were trained. The able and experienced crew of the Alabama had spent two years preying on merchant ships and rarely engaged warships.

The Alabama suffered fatal hits and began sinking. The Kearsarge sailed nearby as the sailors of the Alabama jumped into the water and were picked up by the Kearsarge’s boats or private boats of English and French spectators. Semmes, in his last moments on board, seemed to make a show of throwing his sword into the sea... a sword that might have been surrendered gracefully to the victorious Winslow. Winslow witnessed the defiant gesture and later his men searched the lifeboats for Semmes.

Semmes and others, however, managed to escape to England and eventually received a hero’s welcome back in the Confederate States.

June 2001


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