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January 11, 1863 - Capt. Raphael Semmes (right) and CSS Alabama sink USS Hatteras off Galveston Light.  Born in Maryland, Semmes entered the US Navy in 1826.  Seeing extensive service during the Mexican-American War, he survived the loss of USS Somers and took part in Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott's campaign against Mexico City.  With the Civil War approaching, Semmes resigned from the US Navy in February 1861 and accepted a commission as a commander in the Confederate Navy two months later.  Refitting the steamer Habana as the cruiser CSS Sumter, he embarked on a successful commerce raiding mission that June.  Capturing 18 Union merchant ships, Semmes was ultimately cornered at Gibraltar.  Ordered to lay his ship up, he learned of his promotion to captain while en route home.  In August 1862, Semmes took command of the new commerce raider CSS Alabama in the Azores.  Taking the ship's first prize on September 5, he commenced an immensely successful cruise which saw Alabama capture 65 Union ships including USS Hatteras.  Operating until August 1864, Alabama ranged from the Gulf of Mexico to the East Indies and was pursued by numerous Union warships.  Finally trapped at Cherbourg, France in June 1864, Alabama steamed out and was defeated by USS Kearsarge.  Escaping as his ship sank, Semmes reached Britain and ultimately returned to the Confederacy where he was promoted to rear admiral in February 1865.  Briefly commanding the James River Squadron, he led the Naval Brigade with the rank of brigadier general in the conflict's final days.  Settling in Mobile, AL after the war, Semmes died in 1877.

Civil War at Sea:

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval History & Heritage Command


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