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 Posted: Sun Jun 30th, 2013 10:24 am
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Texas Defender
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  For much of June of 1861, a small screw steam ship of less than 500 tons had been in the waters near the Pass a la 'Outre, some 40 miles southeast of New Orleans. Her captain, who had recently been commissioned a commander in the Confederate Navy, was waiting for his chance to run past several blockading Union ships and escape to the high seas.

  This small ship was no longer the merchantman HABANA. She had been converted into a warship and re-named the CSS SUMTER. Her captain was determined to make her a success as a commerce raider. But before that could happen, she would have to elude some of the most powerful ships of the US Navy.

  His chance came on this date in 1861. He got his ship up to full speed and burst out of the pass. He was spotted by the USS BROOKLYN and a long chase ensued. The captain of the SUMTER showed great skill in outsailing his opponent, who gave up the chase.

  The SUMTER was the first ship to fly the Confederate flag on the high seas. Her captain turned her south, and on 03 July 1861, she captured her first prize. There would soon be many more, and the name of the ship would become well known, as would the name of her captain. He was Raphael Semmes.

  By the end of 1861, the SUMTER had captured 18 ships. This caused great consternation in the north. Not only were the ships lost, but insurance rates for the rest shot up, and some owners reflagged their ships to neutral countries.

  By this time, however, things were not going well for the SUMTER. She was badly damaged by a storm near the end of the year, and was desperately in need of repairs. She made the port of Cadiz in Spain, but could not make repairs there. The ship was then able to reach Gibraltar, but once again was unable to make repairs. Meanwhile, the US Navy covered the area with warships, waiting for the SUMTER to come out. She would not and indeed could not. But her mere existence occupied several Union ships for a considerable part of 1862.

  Commander Semmes abandoned the ship, which remained in port throughout the year. In December she was sold to a British merchant. Her career as a combatant was over, but that of her captain was not.

C.S.S. Sumter - 290 Foundation

  Raphael Semmes was promoted to captain and was sent to England to take command of a new ship that was under construction. She was then known as: "Hull 290." Upon completion, she was christened the ENRICA. But this ship wasn't the harmless merchant that she appeared to be. Escaping to the high seas, she was armed and re-named the CSS ALABAMA.

  In her less than two year career, this most famous of CSN commerce raiders took 64 ships. Her career ended on 19 June 1864 off Cherbourg, France. The badly worn out ALABAMA fought a losing battle against the USS KEARSARGE.

  His ship was sunk, but Captain Semmes was able to escape to England, and then back to the CSA. He was promoted to rear admiral and in early 1865, he was given command of a small squadron of ships in the James River. Jefferson Davis also commissioned him a brigadier general of artillery, thus making him both an admiral and a general.

  After the war, Admiral Semmes was charged with treason and piracy. But after a review of his actions was made, he was released and never brought to trial. He returned to Alabama.

  Admiral Semmes was treated shabbily by the occupying authorities who kept him from taking any public office, and made life difficult for any entity that would employ him. So, he resumed his law career and wrote his memoirs. He remained a heroic figure to southerners for the rest of his days, and is still so regarded today.

Encyclopedia of Alabama: Raphael Semmes

Last edited on Sun Jun 30th, 2013 03:52 pm by Texas Defender

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