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Rear-Admiral Raphael Semmes, C.S.N.

Rear-Admiral Raphael Semmes, C.S.N.



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Rear-Admiral Raphael Semmes, C.S.N.

Rear-Admiral Raphael Semmes, C.S.N., Captain of the "Alabama". From a photograph taken in England after the loss of his ship.

Map taken from Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: IV: The Way to Appomattox, p.601

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Page 602

our Acting Master, I. D. Bulloch, of Georgia, was a younger brother of Captain James D. Bulloch. A few months' active service gave confidence to the watch-officers of the ward-room, and it may safely be affirmed that older heads could not have filled their places with greater efficiency. The remainder of our ward-room mess was made up of our surgeon, Dr . F. L. Galt, of Virginia, also of the old service Dr. D. H. Llewellyn, of Wiltshire, England, who, as surgeon, came out in the ship when under English colors, and joined us as assistant surgeon. First Lieutenant B. K. Howell of , the Marine Corps, brother-in-law of President Davis, was from Mississippi,

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Rear-Admiral Raphael Semmes, C.S.N. - History

This page features views of Raphael Semmes on board ship and with other people, plus miscellaneous images of him.

If you want higher resolution reproductions than the "Online Library's" digital images, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."

Click on the small photograph to prompt a larger view of the same image .

Ship's officers on deck.
They are Seated, left to right :
First Lieutenant William E. Evans
Commander Raphael Semmes, Commanding Officer and
First Assistant Engineer Miles J. Freeman.
Standing, left to right :
Surgeon Francis L. Galt
Lieutenant John M. Stribling
First Lieutenant John M. Kell, Executive Officer
Lieutenant Robert T. Chapman and
First Lieutenant Becket K. Howell (Marine Corps).

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 134KB 740 x 590 pixels

Captain Raphael Semmes, Alabama 's commanding officer, standing by his ship's 110-pounder rifled gun during her visit to Capetown in August 1863. His executive officer, First Lieutenant John M. Kell, is in the background, standing by the ship's wheel.
The original photograph is lightly color-tinted and mounted on a carte de visite bearing, on its reverse, the mark of E. Burmester, of Cape Town. See photo numbers NH 57256-KN for the colored image and NH 57256-A for a reproduction of the carte de visite 's reverse.

Collection of Rear Admiral Ammen C. Farenholt, USN(MC), 1931.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 127KB 740 x 520 pixels

Painting by Creative Arts Studio, prepared for use in an official film on Naval history, circa the early 1960s.
It depicts an imaginary meeting of some of the Confederacy's naval leaders, including (seated, left to right): Captain Franklin Buchanan, Captain Josiah Tattnall, and Commander Matthew F. Maury.
Shown standing (from left to right) are Captain George N. Hollins, Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes, and Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory.

Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 76KB 740 x 350 pixels

Commander Matthew F. Maury, CSN (left), and Captain Raphael Semmes, CSN

Photograph taken possibly after the end of the Civil War.

Courtesy of Commander D.M. Wood, 1938.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 138KB 515 x 765 pixels

Action between USS Kearsarge and CSS Alabama , 19 June 1864

Print depicting the Alabama sinking at the close of the battle, with small portraits of the two ships' commanders, John A. Winslow (left) and Raphael Semmes.


Admiral Raphael Semmes MOST Successful Commerce Raider in Maritime History

Raphael Semmes (September 27, 1809 – August 30, 1877) was an officer in the Confederate Navy during the American War between the States. Semmes was captain of the cruiser CSS Alabama, the most successful commerce raider in maritime history, taking 65 prizes.

Late in the war, he was promoted to rear admiral and also acted briefly as a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army. During the Mexican–American War, he commanded the USS Somers in the Gulf of Mexico. In December 1846 a squall hit the ship while under full sail in pursuit of a vessel off Veracruz. Somers capsized and was lost along with 37 sailors
Semmes then served as the first lieutenant on the USS Raritan, accompanied the landing force at Veracruz, and was dispatched inland to catch up with the army proceeding to Mexico City.

1After appointment to the Confederate Navy as a commander and a futile assignment to purchase arms in the North, Semmes was sent to New Orleans to convert the steamer Habana into the cruiser/commerce raider CSS Sumter. In June 1861, Semmes, in Sumter, outran the USS Brooklyn,
breaching the Union blockade of New Orleans, and then launched a brilliant career as one of the greatest commerce raider captains in naval history.

Semmes and several of his officers traveled to England where he was promoted to captain. He then was ordered to the Azores to take up command and oversee the coating and outfitting with cannon of the newly built British steamer Enrica as a sloop-of-war, which thereafter became the Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama.

Semmes sailed on Alabama from August 1862 to June 1864 His operations carried him from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico, around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, and into the Pacific to the East Indies.

During this cruise, Alabama captured 65 U.S. merchantmen and quickly destroyed the USS Hatteras, off Galveston he destroyed twenty-nine Yankee merchant vessels throughout the summer months of 1863. In February 1864 Raphael Semmes and his crew made their sixty-fifth and final capture.

After the war, He carried out the remainder of his life working as a professor at the Louisiana State University and in 1877 released a memoir of his life entitled “Memoirs of Service Afloat During the War Between the States”.


Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes, Confederate States Navy, (1809-1877)

Raphael Semmes was born in Charles County, Maryland, on 27 September 1809. Entering the Navy as a Midshipman in 1826, he subsequently studied law and was admitted to the bar while remaining in the service. During the Mexican War, he commanded the brig USS Somers in the Gulf of Mexico. She was lost in a storm off Vera Cruz in December 1846, but Semmes was commended for his actions in that incident. While on extended leave after the war, he practiced law in Mobile, Alabama. Promoted to the rank of Commander in 1855, Semmes was assigned to Lighthouse duties until 1861, when Alabama's secession from the Union prompted him to resign from the U.S. Navy and adhere to the Confederacy.

Appointed a Commander in the Confederate Navy in April 1861, Raphael Semmes was sent to New Orleans to convert a steamer into the cruiser CSS Sumter. He ran her through the Federal blockade in June 1861 and began a career of commerce raiding that is without equal in American naval history. During Sumter's six months' operations in the West Indies and the Atlantic, he captured eighteen merchant vessels and skillfully eluded pursuing Union warships. With his ship badly in need of overhaul, he brought her to Gibraltar in January 1862 and laid her up when the arrival of Federal cruisers made a return to sea impossible.

After taking himself and many of his officers to England, Semmes was promoted to the rank of Captain and given command of the newly-built cruiser CSS Alabama. From August 1862 until June 1864, Semmes took his ship through the Atlantic, into the Gulf of Mexico, around the Cape of Good Hope and into the East Indies, capturing some sixty merchantmen and sinking one Federal warship, USS Hatteras. At the end of her long cruise, Alabama was blockaded at Cherbourg, France, while seeking repairs. On 19 June 1864, Semmes took her to sea to fight the Union cruiser USS Kearsarge and was wounded when she was sunk in action. Rescued by the British yacht Dearhound, he went to England, recovered and made his way back to the Confederacy.

Semmes was promoted to Rear Admiral in February 1865 and commanded the James River Squadron during the last months of the Civil War. When the fall of Richmond, Virginia, forced the destruction of his ships, he was made a Brigadier General and led his sailors as an infantry force. Briefly imprisoned after the conflict, he worked as a teacher and newspaper editor until returning to Mobile, where he pursued a legal career. Raphael Semmes died on 30 August 1877.

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During the Mexican-American War, he commanded the brig USS Somers in the Gulf of Mexico. In December 1846 a squall hit the ship while under full sail in pursuit of a vessel off Veracruz, Mexico. Somers capsized and was lost along with 37 sailors. Semmes then served as first lieutenant on the Raritan, accompanied the landing force at Veracruz, and was dispatched inland to catch up with the army proceeding to Mexico City. [4]

Following the war, Semmes went on extended leave at Mobile, Alabama, where he practiced law and wrote Service Afloat and Ashore During the Mexican War. [5] He became extremely popular, and the nearby town of Semmes, Alabama was named after him. He was promoted to the rank of commander in 1855 and was assigned to lighthouse duties until 1860. Following Alabama's secession from the Union, Semmes was offered a Confederate naval appointment by the provisional government he resigned from the United States Navy the next day, February 15, 1861. [6]

Confederate service

After appointment to the Confederate Navy as a commander and a futile assignment to purchase arms in the North, Semmes was sent to New Orleans, Louisiana to convert the steamer Habana into the cruiser/commerce raider CSS Sumter. [7] In June 1861, Semmes, in Sumter, outran the Union sloop-of-war USS Brooklyn breaching the Union blockade of New Orleans, and then launched a brilliant career as one of the greatest commerce raider captains in naval history. [8]

Semmes' command of CSS Sumter lasted only six months, but during that time he ranged wide, raiding U. S. commercial shipping in both the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean his actions accounted for the loss of 18 merchant vessels, while always eluding pursuit by Union warships. By January 1862 Sumter required a major overhaul. Semmes' crew surveyed the vessel while in neutral Gibraltar and determined that the repairs to her boilers were too extensive to be completed there. Semmes paid off the crew and laid up the vessel. [9] U. S. Navy vessels maintained a vigil outside the harbor until she was disarmed and sold at auction in December 1862, eventually being renamed and converted to a blockade runner. [10]

Semmes and several of his officers traveled to England where he was promoted to captain. He then was ordered to the Azores to take up command and oversee the coaling and outfitting with cannon of the newly built British steamer Enrica as a sloop-of-war, which thereafter became world-famous as the Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama. Semmes sailed on Alabama from August 1862 to June 1864. His operations carried him from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico, around Africa's Cape of Good Hope, and into the Pacific to the East Indies. During this cruise, Alabama captured 65 U. S. merchantmen and quickly destroyed the Union warship USS Hatteras off Galveston, TX. [11]

Alabama finally sailed back to the Atlantic and made port in Cherbourg, France for a much-needed overhaul she was soon blockaded by the pursuing Union steam sloop-of-war, USS Kearsarge. Captain Semmes took Alabama out on June 19, 1864 and met the similar Kearsarge in one of the most famous naval engagements of the Civil War.

The commander of Kearsarge had, while in port at the Azores the year before, turned his warship into a makeshift partial ironclad 30 feet of the ship's port and starboard midsection were stepped-up-and-down to the waterline with overlapping rows of heavy chain armor, hidden behind black wooden deal-board covers. [12] Alabama‍ '​s much-too-rapid gunnery and misplaced aim, combined with the deteriorated state of her gunpowder and shell fuses, enabled a victory for both of Kearsarge‍ '​s 11-inch Dahlgren smoothbore cannon. While Alabama opened fire at long range, Kearsarge steamed straight at her, exposing the Union sloop-of-war to potentially devastating raking fire. The Alabama's gunners, however, fired high. At 1,000 yards Kearsarge turned broadside to engage with deliberate fire. Soon the heavy 11-inch cannon began to find their mark. [12] After receiving a fatal Dahlgren shell to the starboard waterline, which tore open a portion of Alabama‍ '​s hull, causing her steam engine to explode from the shell's impact, Semmes was forced to order the striking of his ship's Stainless Banner battle ensign and later to display a hand-held white flag of surrender to finally halt the combat.

As the commerce raider was going down by the stern, Kearsage stood off at a distance and observed at the orders of her Captain John Ancrum Winslow Winslow eventually sent rescue boats for survivors after taking aboard Alabama survivors from one of the raider's two surviving longboats. As his command sank, the wounded Semmes threw his sword into the sea, depriving Kearsage‍ '​s Captain Winslow of the traditional surrender ceremony of having it handed over to him as victor. Semmes was eventually rescued, along with forty-one of his crewmen, [13] by the British yacht Deerhound and three French pilot boats. He and the forty-one were then taken to England where all but one recovered while there they were hailed as naval heroes, despite the loss of Alabama [14]

From England, Semmes made his way back to America via Cuba and from there a safe shore landing on the Texas gulf coast it took his small party many weeks of journeying through the war-devastated South before he was finally able to make his way to the Confederate capital. He was promoted to rear admiral in February 1865, and during the last months of the war he commanded the James River Squadron from his flagship, the heavily armored ironclad CSS Virginia II.

With the fall of Richmond, Virginia, in April 1865, Semmes supervised the destruction of all the squadron's nearby warships and was then appointed a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army. His sailors were turned into an infantry unit and dubbed the "Naval Brigade." General Semmes was then placed in command Semmes intention for the brigade was to join Lee's Army of Northern Virginia after burning their vessels. Lee's army, however, was already cut off from Richmond, so most of Semmes' men boarded a train and escaped to join General Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina. [15] A few men of the Naval Brigade were able to join with Lee's rear guard and fought at Sayler's Creek.

Semmes and the Naval Brigade surrendered to Union Major General William T. Sherman and were paroled at Durham Station, N.C. Semmes' parole notes that he held commissions as both a brigadier general and rear admiral in the Confederate service when he surrendered with General Johnston's army. [1] He insisted on his parole being written this way in anticipation of being charged with piracy by the U. S. government. [16]

After the war

Semmes was briefly held as a prisoner by the U.S. after the war but was released on parole he was later arrested for treason on December 15, 1865. After a good deal of behind-the-scenes political machinations, all charges were eventually dropped, and he was finally released on April 7, 1866. After Semmes' release, he worked as a professor of philosophy and literature at Louisiana State Seminary (now Louisiana State University), as a county judge, and then as a newspaper editor his controversial military service was always a factor in forcing his job changes. Semmes later returned to Mobile and resumed his legal career.

He defended both his actions at sea and the political actions of the southern states in his 1869 Memoirs of Service Afloat During The War Between the States. The book was viewed as one of the most cogent but bitter defenses written about the South's "Lost Cause." [17]

In 1871 the citizens of Mobile presented Semmes with what became known as the Raphael Semmes House, and it remained his residence until his untimely death in 1877 from complications that followed food poisoning from eating contaminated shrimp Semmes was then interred in Mobile's Old Catholic Cemetery.


Rear-Admiral Raphael Semmes, C.S.N. - History

Raphael Semmes was born in Charles County, Maryland, on 27 September 1809. Entering the Navy as a Midshipman in 1826, he subsequently studied law and was admitted to the bar while remaining in the service. During the Mexican War, he commanded the brig USS Somers in the Gulf of Mexico. She was lost in a storm off Vera Cruz in December 1846, but Semmes was commended for his actions in that incident. While on extended leave after the war, he practiced law in Mobile, Alabama. Promoted to the rank of Commander in 1855, Semmes was assigned to Lighthouse duties until 1861, when Alabama's secession from the Union prompted him to resign from the U.S. Navy and adhere to the Confederacy.

Appointed a Commander in the Confederate Navy in April 1861, Raphael Semmes was sent to New Orleans to convert a steamer into the cruiser CSS Sumter . He ran her through the Federal blockade in June 1861 and began a career of commerce raiding that is without equal in American naval history. During Sumter 's six months' operations in the West Indies and the Atlantic, he captured eighteen merchant vessels and skillfully eluded pursuing Union warships. With his ship badly in need of overhaul, he brought her to Gibraltar in January 1862 and laid her up when the arrival of Federal cruisers made a return to sea impossible.

After taking himself and many of his officers to England, Semmes was promoted to the rank of Captain and given command of the newly-built cruiser CSS Alabama . From August 1862 until June 1864, Semmes took his ship through the Atlantic, into the Gulf of Mexico, around the Cape of Good Hope and into the East Indies, capturing some sixty merchantmen and sinking one Federal warship, USS Hatteras . At the end of her long cruise, Alabama was blockaded at Cherbourg, France, while seeking repairs. On 19 June 1864, Semmes took her to sea to fight the Union cruiser USS Kearsarge and was wounded when she was sunk in action. Rescued by the British yacht Dearhound , he went to England, recovered and made his way back to the Confederacy.

Semmes was promoted to Rear Admiral in February 1865 and commanded the James River Squadron during the last months of the Civil War. When the fall of Richmond, Virginia, forced the destruction of his ships, he was made a Brigadier General and led his sailors as an infantry force. Briefly imprisoned after the conflict, he worked as a teacher and newspaper editor until returning to Mobile, where he pursued a legal career. Raphael Semmes died on 30 August 1877.

This page features, or provides links to, all our pictures of Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes, CSN.

If you want higher resolution reproductions than the "Online Library's" digital images, see: "How to Obtain Photographic Reproductions."

Click on the small photograph to prompt a larger view of the same image .

Halftone of a photograph taken in 1861, just before he entered the Confederate States Navy.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

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Commander Raphael Semmes, CSN

Photograph taken circa 1861-62, at the time he served as Commanding Officer of CSS Sumter .

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

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Captain Raphael Semmes, CSN

Line engraving published in the "Soldier in Our Civil War", Volume I, page 397.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 128KB 600 x 765 pixels

Captain Raphael Semmes, CSN

Engraved portrait, published during the later 19th Century.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

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Captain Raphael Semmes, CSN

Photograph, mounted on a carte de visite , by S.J. Wiseman's Art Repository, Southampton, England. It was probably taken in June 1864, soon after the action between CSS Alabama , Semme's command, and USS Kearsarge .
See Photo # NH 91649-A for a photograph of the reverse of the original carte de visite .

Donation of Mrs. Kathleen Wilson, Southampton, England, 1974. It had been in the collection of her father, a professional photographer.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

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Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes, CSN

Photographed with the Confederate flag.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 79KB 405 x 765 pixels

Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes, CSN

Engraving by Henry Bryan Hall, Jr., New York, published in Semmes' book "Memoirs of Services Afloat".
The print features a facsimile of Semmes' signature.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 92KB 520 x 765 pixels

Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes, CSN

Portrait by Maliby Sykes.
Semmes is depicted wearing the belt buckle of a Confederate States Navy Admiral.


Rear-Admiral Raphael Semmes, C.S.N. - History

As a young man, Uncle Raphael had sailed to many ports around the world, working for a maritime trading company. Settling down in Georgetown, he became a successful businessman, operating a wholesale grocery business, Semmes and Company. In addition, he was a bank director, an insurance commissioner and a tavern-keeper. Uncle Alexander Semmes on the other hand, owned a fleet of merchant ships but was lost at sea sometime in 1826 or 1827. Another uncle, Benedict Joseph Semmes, was a medical doctor who served in the Maryland state legislature and in 1825 presided as speaker in the House of Delegates. In 1828, he was elected to the U.S. Congress and served from 1829 to 1833. It was he who enabled the young Raphael to gain an appointment as a midshipman in the Navy.

During his naval career, Raphael Semmes would study law and became an accomplished lawyer in the states of Alabama and Florida, where he spent much of his service. Despite being an accomplished lawyer, he proved himself to be an extremely capable, naval officer and recognition of his abilities was quick in coming when assigned command of the USS Somers during the US-Mexican War of the 1840's.

When a storm sank his ship in December of 1846 off the coast of Veracruz, Mexico, Semmes himself requested a court of enquiry, no doubt to attest to the good discipline and running of his command? It is interesting to note the sometime coments of Commodore O'Connor remarking on the 'Somer' under Semmes command to effect - 'the Somer was always in position, sails trimmed and dilligent. ' The enquiry judged Semmes to have conducted himself gallantly and found no actions of his led to the loss of the vessel. It was also revealed, that during the sinking of the USS Somers (Photo), Semmes had taken great personal risks on several occasions to save numerous crew members. This would not be the last time false charges would threaten his career.

As a result of his gallantry in Mexico, Semmes was appointed a surveyor for the US Lighthouse Board. He worked in that capacity along the Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida coasts with the naval rank of Commander until the late 1850's when he was sent to Washington, DC as a member of the Lighthouse Board. He would hold this position until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

In March 1861, the State of Alabama decided to leave the Union and join the new Confederate States. Commander Semmes, finding himself torn between career and duty, decided to follow many of his colleagues and resigned his position in the United States Navy, returning immediately south to Alabama. A month later, in April of 1861, Semmes travelled to New Orleans and joined the Confederate Navy with the appointed rank of Commander.

Whilst in New Orleans, ‘Commander Semmes’ purchased a steamer for the Confederate Navy and had it refitted at the Confederate Naval Arsenal in New Orleans, converting the merchant vessel with bark-rigged sails and 473 tons displacement. He installed additional coal carrying capacity and five large cannon. in New Orleans. Renamed the CSS Sumter and under Semmes’ command, between June of 1861 and January of the following year the Sumter captured or sank eighteen US merchant ships until Semmes found himself and his ship trapped by a US Navy blockade at Gibraltar. With the Sumter in need of serious repairs and the likelihood of a long blockade keeping his ship and crew in port for an indefinate period, Semmes and his fellow officers (Photo) decided to abandon their vessel and travel seperately to Great Britain.

Arriving in England and now without a command, Commander Semmes proceeded to Liverpool and met with a fellow, former US Naval officer, Commander James Dunwoody Bulloch, now the Confederate’s Navy Purchasing Agent in Europe. Bulloch already knew of Semmes’ prowess and maritime experience and requested that he travel to the Azores to ‘commission’ and take command of the Confederate’s newest cruiser, the CSS Alabama with a promotion to the rank of Captain. As the new commander of the CSS Alabama took his ship to sea few realized, the twenty two month voyage that followed would see Raphael Semmes hailed as a hero and damned as a pirate.

In August 1862, Captain Semmes (Photo) sailed the Alabama on her epic voyage that would see them cross the Atlantic more than twice and take Semmes and his crewmen as far as the East Indies. In the course of the career of the CSS Alabama, Semmes captured or destroyed more than fifty US merchant ships, securing both ship and captain as one of the most successful, commerce raiders in the history of naval warfare. Semmes captained the CSS Alabama until her final encounter and fateful sinking at the hands of the USS Kearsarge on June 19, 1864. Following that battle Captain Semmes and most of his crew were rescued by the British yacht SS Deerhound and transported safely to England.

Once again Semmes was without a ship to command. With the tide of war changing and no further ships being built in Europe, Captain Semmes boarded the first vessel he could find that was destined for the Confederate States. Successfully running the US Navy's blockade, Captain Semmes finally arrived home to a hero's welcome. In the span of three years he had stolen the hearts of the South, won the fear and respect of the seafaring nations of the world and inflicted over $6,000,000 in losses to Federal shipping. On the recommendation of Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Navy, Confederate President Jefferson Davis promoted Raphael Semmes to the rank of Rear Admiral (Photo).

In February of 1865, Rear Admiral Semmes was given command of the James River Squadron and the responsibility of defending the approaches to the Confederate positions at Richmond in Virginia. Despite shortages of supplies, Semmes once more excelled in his given tasks but these successes were to be short-lived. In April of 1865 the Confederate Army was forced to abandon Richmond compelling Semmes to scuttle his fleet and prevent it falling into the hands of the enemy. Then, in command of a force without any ships, Semmes organized the former crews and marines into a naval brigade to fight alongside the battered Army of Northern Virginia in which he received the rank of Brigadier General. The end of the war came later that month and found Semmes and his remaining command near Durham, North Carolina where they surrendered alongside the army of Confederate General, Joseph E. Johnston.

In December of 1865, Raphael Semmes was brought as a prisoner of war to Washington, D. C. on charges of treason and piracy. The US Government investigated these charges, taking testimonial oaths and statements from witnesses to Semmes actions from both sides of the conflict. In the end, the investigating authority found they were baseless and ordered Semmes’ immediate release after thirteen weeks of incarceration.

Following the war, Semmes held several posts from college professor at Louisiana State Seminary to judge and newspaper editor. Such was his reputation his notoriety caused him trouble from those now occupying the former Confederate States. His destruction of the mercantile marine during his captaincy of the Sumter and Alabama embittered northern public opinion against him that. The unjust and false accusation of ‘Pirate’ was often used against him, even after his eventual pardon under the amnesty proclamation of President Johnson.

It became impossible to lead the quiet life he craved so he once more took up the legal profession as a self-employed lawyer in Mobile, Alabama. Here he thrived, immersing himself in legal argument and helping other former Confederate soldiers and sailors whilst running a successful law firm until his death on August 30, 1877. During his later years he became a published author with ‘Service Afloat and Ashore During the Mexican War’ (1851) ‘The Campaign of General Scott in the Valley of Mexico’ (1852) ‘The Cruise of the Alabama and Sumter’ (1864) and ‘Memoirs of Services Afloat during the War between the States’ (1869). The body of Raphael Semmes is interred in the Old Catholic Cemetery, Mobile in Alabama.

The enduring legacy of Rear Admiral Raphael Semmes is that his actions of the American Civil War are still studied around the world to this present day. Several books have been written about his exploits. The many voyages he undertook as a Confederate naval officer and the successes he enjoyed, have directly influenced naval warfare. During the early part of World War Two, Captain Hans Langsdorff of the Graf Spee, a German pocket battleship and successful commerce raider, spoke of Semmes during his final days in Montevideo saying, ‘Captain Semmes of the Confederate ship Alabama was and remains my inspiration!’


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Raphael Semmes

Raphael Semmes was born on September 27, 1809 in Charles County, Maryland. He was born into a family of servicemen as he was cousins with Confederate general Paul Jones Semmes and Union Navy captain Alexander Alderman Semmes. Raphael Semmes began his military career in 1826 when he entered the United States Navy as a midshipman upon graduating from the Charlotte Hall Military Academy. Semmes served during the Mexican-American war as the commander of the USS Somers in the Gulf of Mexico. Semmes continued to serve in the United States Navy until Alabama seceded in January, 1861 at which time he resigned from the Union Navy and sought a position within the Confederate States Navy.

In April, 1861, Raphael Semmes was accepted into the Confederate Navy and was initially assigned to serve as the head of the Lighthouse Board. Semmes was very disappointed with this assignment and was able to convince the Confederate Navy to allow him to convert a merchant vessel into a commerce raider, and was named the commander of the newly converted CSS Sumter. Using his new ship, Semmes successfully breached the blockade of New Orleans and was able to outrun the USS Brooklyn, a Union steam sloop, and head for open waters. After reaching open waters, Semmes began to hunt down Union merchant vessels. The CSS Sumter, under the command of Semmes, managed to capture eight Union merchant vessels off the shores of Cuba before heading further south towards Brazil where they captured four additional Union vessels. Semmes and his ship were eventually trapped in port by Union forces in January of 1862, and in April of that year he received orders to retire the CSS Sumter and return to the Confederacy.

Having made a name for himself during his commerce raids, Semmes was assigned to oversee the construction of a British steam sloop named Enrica. Following the completion of the sloop, Semmes commissioned the ship as the CSS Alabama. Semmes began his career aboard the Alabama operating around the Azores, a chain of Islands located in the North Atlantic Ocean. Semmes continued his successes in commerce raiding and in the first two weeks of September 1862, Semmes damaged ten Union merchant vessels, including the whaling ship the Ocumglee, and inflicted 270,000 dollars’ worth of damage to the United States.

Semmes continued his cruise along the coasts of South America, where he destroyed twenty-nine Union merchant vessels throughout the summer months of 1863. In February, 1864 Raphael Semmes and his crew made their sixty-fifth and final capture. In June of 1864, Semmes docked his ship in a harbor in Cherbourg, France. Unable to use the French controlled dry-docks, Semmes’ position in the harbor left him vulnerable to a Union blockade. The Union forces were informed of the Alabama’s position, and shortly after Semmes settled in Cherbourg the Union ship USS Kearsarge arrived. Faced with a difficult decision, Semmes challenged the USS Kearsarge to avoid a full Union blockade, despite preexisting damages to the Alabama. Semmes and his crew struggled to pierce the chain armor of the Kearsarge, and the Alabama began sinking only an hour after the battle began. While the Union forces were able to capture many members of Semmes’ crew, Semmes was able to escape aboard a British vessel.

Semmes remained abroad in both England and Cuba before returning to Mobile, Alabama on November 27, 1864. Semmes returned to the Confederate states a war hero and was promoted to the position of Rear Admiral in February, 1865. Following the Civil War, Semmes was held as Prisoner of War and eventually charged with treason on December 15, 1865. He was released from his imprisonment in the New York Navy yard three months later. He carried out the remainder of his life working as a professor at the Louisiana State University and released a memoir of his life entitled “Memoirs of Service Afloat During the War Between the States” in 1877.


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