Sunday, November 18, 2007

The War At Sea--CSA Pirate of the World's Oceans

Raphael Semmes and the Alabama, Spencer C. Tucker, McWhiney Foundation Press,photographs, illustrations, maps, appendix, bibliography, index, 1998,110 pp., $11.95

With an introduction to Confederate commerce raiding, a brief biographical sketch of Raphael Semmes, and a quick look at the voyages of the C.S.S. Sumter, Spencer C. Tucker begins the story of the C.S.S. Alabama. The story is told in about 100 pages and is not over dramatized nor hagiographic. The story includes overviews of Confederate and U.S. diplomacy, English ship construction techniques, and significant details on how to maintain sanity and security on a ship that has a crew of essentially pirates captained by a patriot.

Launched in May 11862 from Liverpool, England, the C.S.S. Alabama has a shake down cruise to the Azore Islands where it receives its guns and its commission as a Confederate States of America ship. It is not a privateer and it does not carry a letter of marque. From Newfoundland to Galveston, Texas, the ship loots, burns maritime trade and challenges the U.S. Navy. Sailingthrough the Carribbean, the South Atlantic, and the Indian Seas and Oceans, Semmes will tally 75,000 miles and 66conquests.

By August 1864, the ship's superstructure and masts are stressed to the point acquiring leaks and losing speed. During a necessary stop at the French port of Cherbourg, the Alabama is trapped by the U.S.S. Kearsarge and it resolute commander. The battle is described in suspenseful detail by Tucker and the conditions of the Kearsarge's victory include a considerable degree of luck which it made for itself and lost by the worn out Alabama.

Tucker covers the after the battle story also: the escape of the crew and Semmes aided by a British vessel, Monet's painting of the fight, Semmes escape from France, his later career and conludes with the British payout for damages to the U.S. maritime industry and the French discovery of the Alabama's remains that are located at 200 feet below the surface and six miles from the coast. The wreckage of the Alabama is on the Frence navy's test for it's sonar operators.

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