Happy Birthday to the most successful American ships Captain - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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Happy Birthday to Raphael Semmes.

His record of capturing enemy ships still stands today.

Raphael Semmes born in Maryland, September 27th 1809.

January 1861...
Semmes Resigned his Commission as a Commander in the US Navy and took the position of Commander in the Confederate States Navy.



"Commerce raiding has always been a recognized and accepted method of sea warfare. It is probable that no individual naval commander nor any single ship in our long history has recorded a more spectacular success in that field than Captain Raphael Semmes of the Confederate Navy and his CSS Alabama."

When the Civil War started, the US had the largest Merchant Marine fleet in the world...By wars end, it had nearly ceased to exist thanks to the actions of one man and his crew: Raphael Semmes.

Semmes was given command of the South's first commerce raider, the CSS Sumter.

30 June 1861, He bravely eluded the blockade fleet at the mouth of the Mississippi and outran the USS Brooklyn.

The CSS Sumter was loose somewhere on the high seas...

That was bad news for Union shipping.

During 6 months at sea he captured 18 American merchant ships while eluding the several pursuing Union warships.

By this time the CSS Sumter was in need of major repairs. Semmes took the ship to Gibraltar, but the arrival of US warships ended the CSS Sumters career. Semmes sold the Ship and he and his crew went to England.

That was even more bad news for Union shipping...

A Confederate agent, James Bulloch, purchased a newly built fast unarmed ship from England, hull number '290' named the 'Enrica'.

The Enrica and crew went to the Azores where they met up with Semmes.

Here Semmes personally supervised the ships conversion to a warship outfitting it with guns and various provisions.

They renamed the ship the CSS Alabama, raised the Confederate flag and took to the high seas.

Thus began a nightmare for Union shipping...

During the next 22 months, spending 534 of 657 days of her life at sea, without ever stopping at a home port, with over 20 Union warships searching for them all over the world, The CSS Alabama cruised the Eastern seaboard of the U.S., the Gulf of Mexico, the Carribean, the Brazilian coast, the Azores, along South Africa, the Indian Ocean, South China Sea, and the Bay of Bengal, a 75,000 mile journey overtaking 447 vessels and capturing, sinking or burning 65 Union merchant ships at cost of over $6 million to the US. Semmes boarded at least 386 different ships and took over 2,000 prisoners.

As word of his success spread most US merchant ships were so scared they didn't leave port. Many of them were sold to other countries so they did not have to fly the US flag and be a target for Semmes and the CSS Alabama.

Northern newspapers called Semmes a "Pirate". He would become the most famous and notorious "Pirate" in American history.

Actually Semmes was a commerce raider. The greatest American commerce raider ever...

December 7th 1862; off the coast of Cuba, the famous Vanderbilt US California steamer 'Ariel' meets up with the mighty CSS Alabama.

At very close range, the Alabama raises the Confederate flag for everyone on the Ariel to see. They realize it is the famed Alabama. Some of the passengers faint, some of them mess their pants. There are 140 armed US Marines on board. The Captain of the Ariel turns the ship and runs for their life.

The Alabama which is faster than this very modern expensive US ship, runs them down and fires a shot that breaks the foremast on the Ariel.

The Ariel is captured and 700 passengers are taken prisoner including the contingent of US Marines and their Commander Louis C. Sartori, USN, who give up their weapons. 'Semper Fi'.

The operations of the Alabama were of such concern to the Union as indicated by a letter written by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy Fox to Edward G. Flynn, on 30 October 1862, regarding that man's expressed desire to attempt capture or destruction of the Alabama. Fox wrote: "The [Navy] Department has published that it will give $500,000 for the capture and delivery to it of that vessel, or $300,000 if she is destroyed; the latter however is to be contingent upon the approval of Congress." Secretary Fox also wrote a letter to Rear Admiral Farragut about the same time in which he said, "The raid of '290' [Alabama] has forced us to send out a dozen vessels in pursuit."

Jan 11, 1863. With multiple Union warships hunting for them, the brave and fearless Captain Semmes brings the Mighty CSS Alabama right into the Gulf of Mexico.

Off the coast of Texas, there are several Union warships in blockade position.

Late in the afternoon, Semmes barely shows his ship to the Union fleet just over the Horizon. They spot him and at this distance think it may be a Confederate blockade runner. The USS Hatteras takes off after the distant ship. But the other warships stay in position.

The trap was set, the bait was taken...

This would be the last cruise of the Warship USS Hatteras.

Once the pursuing Hatteras was "allowed" to catch up to the faster Alabama, out of site of the other Union warships, in a great display of cunning and bravery the Hatteras was quickly sunk and her entire crew captured by the Alabama.

Finally the Alabama was in desperate need of repair and resupply so they made port at Cherbourg, France. The warship USS Kearsarge found the Alabama. Semmes came out to fight on June 19, 1864. The two ships fired hundreds of rounds at each other but the Kearsarge was draped in chain armor and the Alabama had damp fuses from being at sea for so long. Many of the hits by Alabama's gunners failed to explode, including a documented hit to the stern post of Kearsarge that would have left her crippled. The Alabama was sunk.

But Semmes escaped.

Semmes was promoted to Admiral when he finally made it back to the South after being at sea for almost 2 years.

Then he was given command of a land force and was promoted to Brigadier General.

He became the only American ever to be a General and an Admiral at the same time...

During the Union Witch-Hunt after the war, the Union was very upset. They had 300,000 soldiers dead. Their beloved Tyrant President was also dead.

The Union wanted vengeance...

Semmes was one of the several Confederate leaders who was arrested for treason. He was also arrested for Piracy.

Can you imagine that?

Since secession of states was not prohibited by the US Constitution, the best lawyers the US could come up with could not make treason charges stick to these Confederate leaders.

As for Piracy charges... Commerce raiding was a perfectly legal form of Naval Warfare, so after a jail term of 4 months Semmes was released.

After the war, the US claimed damages against the Government of Great Britain for selling the unarmed ships that the Confederate Navy converted into commerce raiders. Since these commerce raiders, mainly the CSS Alabama and others, decimated Union merchant marine shipping, an international arbitration agreed with the American claims.

This series of claims was known as the 'Alabama Claims'.

Britain actually paid the US $15.5 million for these damages.

Fair Winds and Following Seas, Captain Semmes.

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