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Raphael Semmes

Raphael Semmes

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For other uses, see Semmes (disambiguation)
Semmes
Semmes may refer to:*Semmes, Alabama, a community in southwest AlabamaIn military history:*Alexander Alderman Semmes , American Civil War Union Navy commodore....

.

Raphael Semmes (September 27, 1809 – August 30, 1877) was an officer in the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 from 1826 - 1860 and the Confederate States Navy
Confederate States Navy
The Confederate States Navy was the naval branch of the Confederate States armed forces established by an act of the Confederate Congress on February 21, 1861. It was responsible for Confederate naval operations during the American Civil War...

 from 1860 - 1865. During the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 he was captain of the famous commerce raider CSS Alabama
CSS Alabama
CSS Alabama was a screw sloop-of-war built for the Confederate States Navy at Birkenhead, United Kingdom, in 1862 by John Laird Sons and Company. Alabama served as a commerce raider, attacking Union merchant and naval ships over the course of her two-year career, during which she never anchored in...

, taking a record sixty-nine prizes
Prize (law)
Prize is a term used in admiralty law to refer to equipment, vehicles, vessels, and cargo captured during armed conflict. The most common use of prize in this sense is the capture of an enemy ship and its cargo as a prize of war. In the past, it was common that the capturing force would be allotted...

. Late in the war he was promoted to rear admiral
Rear Admiral
Rear admiral is a naval commissioned officer rank above that of a commodore and captain, and below that of a vice admiral. It is generally regarded as the lowest of the "admiral" ranks, which are also sometimes referred to as "flag officers" or "flag ranks"...

 and also served briefly as a brigadier general
Brigadier general (United States)
A brigadier general in the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, is a one-star general officer, with the pay grade of O-7. Brigadier general ranks above a colonel and below major general. Brigadier general is equivalent to the rank of rear admiral in the other uniformed...

 in the Confederate States Army
Confederate States Army
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...

. Admiral/General Semmes is the only North American to have the distinction of holding both ranks simultaneously.

Biography


Semmes was born in Charles County, Maryland
Charles County, Maryland
Charles County is a county in the south central portion of the U.S. state of Maryland.As of 2010, the population was 146,551. Its county seat is La Plata. This county was named for Charles Calvert , third Baron Baltimore....

, a cousin of future Confederate general Paul Jones Semmes
Paul Jones Semmes
Paul Jones Semmes was a banker, businessman, and a Confederate general in the American Civil War, mortally wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg.-Early life:...

 and Union Navy Captain Alexander Alderman Semmes
Alexander Alderman Semmes
Alexander Alderman Semmes was a career United States Navy officer, who served with distinction in the American Civil War. He was a cousin of Confederate naval hero Raphael Semmes, and also of Confederate general Paul Jones Semmes....

. He graduated from Charlotte Hall Military Academy
Charlotte Hall Military Academy
Charlotte Hall Military Academy, located at Charlotte Hall, Maryland, was established as Charlotte Hall School in 1774 by Queen Charlotte to provide for the liberal and pious education of youth to better fit them for the discharge of their duties for the United States...

. He entered the Navy as a midshipman
Midshipman
A midshipman is an officer cadet, or a commissioned officer of the lowest rank, in the Royal Navy, United States Navy, and many Commonwealth navies. Commonwealth countries which use the rank include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Kenya...

 in 1826. After serving in the navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

, he studied law
Law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 and was admitted to the bar
Bar (law)
Bar in a legal context has three possible meanings: the division of a courtroom between its working and public areas; the process of qualifying to practice law; and the legal profession.-Courtroom division:...

.

During the Mexican-American War, he commanded the brig
Brig
A brig is a sailing vessel with two square-rigged masts. During the Age of Sail, brigs were seen as fast and manoeuvrable and were used as both naval warships and merchant vessels. They were especially popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries...

 USS Somers
USS Somers (1842)
The second USS Somers was a brig in the United States Navy during the Mexican-American War, infamous for being the only U.S. Navy ship to undergo a mutiny which led to executions....

 in the Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

. The ship was lost in a storm off Veracruz, Mexico
Veracruz, Veracruz
Veracruz, officially known as Heroica Veracruz, is a major port city and municipality on the Gulf of Mexico in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The city is located in the central part of the state. It is located along Federal Highway 140 from the state capital Xalapa, and is the state's most...

, in December 1846. Semmes was commended for his actions during the loss of the Somers.

Following the war, Semmes went on extended leave at Mobile, Alabama
Mobile, Alabama
Mobile is the third most populous city in the Southern US state of Alabama and is the county seat of Mobile County. It is located on the Mobile River and the central Gulf Coast of the United States. The population within the city limits was 195,111 during the 2010 census. It is the largest...

, where he practiced law. He was extremely popular there, and the town of Semmes, Alabama
Semmes, Alabama
For other uses, see Semmes .Semmes is a city in western Mobile County, Alabama, in the Mobile metropolitan statistical area. Formerly an unincorporated community, voters in Semmes approved incorporation of a part of the community as the city of Semmes on August 17, 2010...

 was named after him. He was promoted to the rank of commander
Commander
Commander is a naval rank which is also sometimes used as a military title depending on the individual customs of a given military service. Commander is also used as a rank or title in some organizations outside of the armed forces, particularly in police and law enforcement.-Commander as a naval...

 in 1855 and was assigned to lighthouse
Lighthouse
A lighthouse is a tower, building, or other type of structure designed to emit light from a system of lamps and lenses or, in older times, from a fire, and used as an aid to navigation for maritime pilots at sea or on inland waterways....

 duties until 1860. When Alabama
Alabama
Alabama is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. It is bordered by Tennessee to the north, Georgia to the east, Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to the south, and Mississippi to the west. Alabama ranks 30th in total land area and ranks second in the size of its inland...

 seceded from the Union
Union (American Civil War)
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...

 in January 1861, Semmes resigned from the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 and sought an appointment in the Confederate States Navy
Confederate States Navy
The Confederate States Navy was the naval branch of the Confederate States armed forces established by an act of the Confederate Congress on February 21, 1861. It was responsible for Confederate naval operations during the American Civil War...

.

Confederate States service



In April 1861, Semmes was accepted into the Confederate navy as a commander and was sent to New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is a major United States port and the largest city and metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana. The New Orleans metropolitan area has a population of 1,235,650 as of 2009, the 46th largest in the USA. The New Orleans – Metairie – Bogalusa combined statistical area has a population...

, to convert the Habana into the cruiser
Cruiser
A cruiser is a type of warship. The term has been in use for several hundreds of years, and has had different meanings throughout this period...

/commerce raider CSS Sumter
CSS Sumter
CSS Sumter, a 473-ton bark-rigged screw steam cruiser, was built as the merchant steamship Habana at Philadelphia in 1859 for McConnell's New Orleans & Havana Line. Purchased by the Confederate Government at New Orleans in April 1861, she was converted to a cruiser and placed under the command of...

. In June 1861, Semmes, in the Sumter, outran the Union vessel Brooklyn, breached the Federal blockade, and hence launched a career as one of the greatest commerce raiders in naval history.

Semmes's command of CSS Sumter would last only six months. He raided U. S. commercial shipping in the Caribbean Sea
Caribbean Sea
The Caribbean Sea is a sea of the Atlantic Ocean located in the tropics of the Western hemisphere. It is bounded by Mexico and Central America to the west and southwest, to the north by the Greater Antilles, and to the east by the Lesser Antilles....

 and Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

, accounting for 18 merchant
Cargo ship
A cargo ship or freighter is any sort of ship or vessel that carries cargo, goods, and materials from one port to another. Thousands of cargo carriers ply the world's seas and oceans each year; they handle the bulk of international trade...

 vessels while eluding Union warships. By January 1862, the Sumter required a major overhaul. Semmes attempted to have her repaired at Gibraltar
Gibraltar
Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the entrance of the Mediterranean. A peninsula with an area of , it has a northern border with Andalusia, Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region...

, but the arrival of pursuing Union warships ended her career when they took up blockading stations.

Semmes sold his ship, and he and his crew traveled to England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

, where he was promoted to captain. He then was ordered to the Azores
Azores
The Archipelago of the Azores is composed of nine volcanic islands situated in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, and is located about west from Lisbon and about east from the east coast of North America. The islands, and their economic exclusion zone, form the Autonomous Region of the...

 to take command and oversee the transformation of the newly-built British steamer Enrica into a Confederate warship, which thereafter became world-famous as CSS Alabama
CSS Alabama
CSS Alabama was a screw sloop-of-war built for the Confederate States Navy at Birkenhead, United Kingdom, in 1862 by John Laird Sons and Company. Alabama served as a commerce raider, attacking Union merchant and naval ships over the course of her two-year career, during which she never anchored in...

. Semmes sailed on Alabama from August 1862 to June 1864. His operations carried him from the Atlantic, to the Gulf of Mexico
Gulf of Mexico
The Gulf of Mexico is a partially landlocked ocean basin largely surrounded by the North American continent and the island of Cuba. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, on the southwest and south by Mexico, and on the southeast by Cuba. In...

, around the Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland on the Atlantic coast of the Cape Peninsula, South Africa.There is a misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa, because it was once believed to be the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In fact, the...

, and into the East Indies
East Indies
East Indies is a term used by Europeans from the 16th century onwards to identify what is now known as Indian subcontinent or South Asia, Southeastern Asia, and the islands of Oceania, including the Malay Archipelago and the Philippines...

. During this cruise, Alabama captured 65 U. S. merchantmen and quickly destroyed the Union warship the USS Hatteras
USS Hatteras (1861)
The first USS Hatteras was a heavy 1,126-ton steamer purchased by the Union Navy at the beginning of the American Civil War. She was outfitted as a gunboat and assigned to the Union blockade of the ports and waterways of the Confederate States of America...

 off Galveston, TX.
The Alabama returned to the Atlantic and made port in Cherbourg, France for much-needed repairs; she was soon blockaded by the pursuing Union steam sloop-of-war, USS Kearsarge
USS Kearsarge (1861)
USS Kearsarge, a Mohican-class sloop-of-war, is best known for her defeat of the Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama during the American Civil War. The Kearsarge was the only ship of the United States Navy named for Mount Kearsarge in New Hampshire...

. Captain Semmes took Alabama out on June 19, 1864 and met the Kearsarge in one of the most famous naval engagements of the Civil War. The commander of the Kearsarge had, while in port at the Azores
Azores
The Archipelago of the Azores is composed of nine volcanic islands situated in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, and is located about west from Lisbon and about east from the east coast of North America. The islands, and their economic exclusion zone, form the Autonomous Region of the...

 the year before, turned his warship into a makeshift partial ironclad; the ship's port
Port
A port is a location on a coast or shore containing one or more harbors where ships can dock and transfer people or cargo to or from land....

 and starboard midsection were stepped-up-and-down to the waterline
Waterline
The term "waterline" generally refers to the line where the hull of a ship meets the water surface. It is also the name of a special marking, also known as the national Load Line or Plimsoll Line, to be positioned amidships, that indicates the draft of the ship and the legal limit to which a ship...

 with overlapping rows of heavy chain armor. But the poor quality of the Alabamas much-too-rapid gunnery and the deteriorated state of her gunpowder and canon fuses ensured a victory for both of Kearsarges heavy 11-inch Dahlgren
Dahlgren gun
Dahlgren guns were muzzle loading naval artillery designed by Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren USN, mostly used in the period of the American Civil War. Dahlgren's design philosophy evolved from an accidental explosion in 1849 of a 32-pounder being tested for accuracy, killing a gunner...

 cannons. As Alabama was going down by the stern, after receiving a fatal cannon shot to her waterline
Waterline
The term "waterline" generally refers to the line where the hull of a ship meets the water surface. It is also the name of a special marking, also known as the national Load Line or Plimsoll Line, to be positioned amidships, that indicates the draft of the ship and the legal limit to which a ship...

, which tore open a portion of her starboard hull, Semmes struck his ship's colors and threw his sword into the sea, depriving Kearsage's Captain John Ancrum Winslow
John Ancrum Winslow
Rear Admiral John Ancrum Winslow was an officer in the United States Navy during the Mexican-American War and the American Civil War...

 the traditional ceremony of having it handed to him as the victor. Semmes was wounded in the battle but was rescued, along with forty-one of his crewmen, by the British yacht Deerhound. Semmes was taken to England where he recovered. While there, he and his surviving crew mates were hailed as naval heroes, despite the loss of Alabama .

Semmes made his way back to the Confederacy, where he was promoted to rear admiral
Rear admiral (United States)
Rear admiral is a naval commissioned officer rank above that of a commodore and captain, and below that of a vice admiral. The uniformed services of the United States are unique in having two grades of rear admirals.- Rear admiral :...

 in February 1865, and during the last months of the war he commanded the James River Squadron
James River Squadron
The James River Squadron was formed shortly after the secession of the State of Virginia as part of the Virginia State Navy. The squadron is most notable for its role in patrolling the James River, which was the main water approach to the Confederate capital, Richmond...

 from his flagship, the heavily armored ironclad CSS Virginia II. With the fall of Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

, in April 1865, Semmes supervised the destruction of all the squadron's warships and was then appointed a brigadier general in the Confederate States Army
Confederate States Army
The Confederate States Army was the army of the Confederate States of America while the Confederacy existed during the American Civil War. On February 8, 1861, delegates from the seven Deep South states which had already declared their secession from the United States of America adopted the...

. His sailors were turned into an infantry unit and dubbed the "Naval Brigade." Their intention was to join Lee's army 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 Joseph E. Johnston
Joseph E. Johnston
Joseph Eggleston Johnston was a career U.S. Army officer, serving with distinction in the Mexican-American War and Seminole Wars, and was also one of the most senior general officers in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War...

's army in North Carolina. A few men of the Naval Brigade were able to join with Lee's rear guard and fought at Sayler's Creek
Battle of Sayler's Creek
-External links:* * : Maps, histories, photos, and preservation news...

. Semmes and the Naval Brigade surrendered to William T. Sherman and were paroled at Durham Station, N.C.
Durham, North Carolina
Durham is a city in the U.S. state of North Carolina. It is the county seat of Durham County and also extends into Wake County. It is the fifth-largest city in the state, and the 85th-largest in the United States by population, with 228,330 residents as of the 2010 United States census...

 Semmes' parole notes that he held commissions as both a brigadier general and rear admiral in the Confederate service when he surrendered with Gen. Johnston's army. He insisted on his parole being written this way in anticipation of being charged with piracy by the U. S. government.

After the war



Semmes was briefly held as a prisoner after the war; he was arrested for treason
Treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

 on December 15, 1865, but was released on April 7, 1866. After his release, he worked as a professor of philosophy and literature at Louisiana State Seminary (now Louisiana State University
Louisiana State University
Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, most often referred to as Louisiana State University, or LSU, is a public coeducational university located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The University was founded in 1853 in what is now known as Pineville, Louisiana, under the name...

), a judge, and a newspaper editor; he 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."

The citizens of Mobile presented Semmes with what became known as the Raphael Semmes House
Raphael Semmes House
The Raphael Semmes House, also known as the Horta-Semmes House, is a historic residence in Mobile, Alabama. It is best known for having been the home of Admiral Raphael Semmes, captain of the Confederate sloop-of-war CSS Alabama...

 in 1871, and it remained his residence until his death; he died in 1877 and was interred in Mobile's Old Catholic Cemetery
Old Catholic Cemetery (Mobile, Alabama)
Catholic Cemetery, formerly known as the Stone Street Cemetery, is a historic cemetery located in Mobile, Alabama, United States. It was established in 1848 by Michael Portier, a native of Montbrison, France and the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Mobile...

.

Raphael Semmes is a member of the Alabama Hall of Fame
Alabama Hall of Fame
The Alabama Hall of Fame was established by Act of Alabama No. 646 to recognize "worthy citizens of the state who rendered outstanding service or who won fame on account of their achievements as to make them exceptional in the history of Alabama"...

. One of the streets on the current Louisiana State University campus is named in his honor, as is Semmes Avenue in Richmond, Virginia
Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United States. It is an independent city and not part of any county. Richmond is the center of the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Greater Richmond area...

.

Admiral Semmes' battle ensign


The Alabama Department of Archives and History has among its collection an important Confederate naval battle ensign listed as "Admiral Semmes' Flag, Catalogue No. 86.1893.1 (PN10149-10150)." Their provenance reconstruction shows that it was presented to Semmes in England sometime after the sinking of the Alabama by "Lady Dehogton and other English ladies." Such presentations of ceremonial colors were uncommon to ship's captains of the Confederate Navy, but a few are known to have received such honors.

This Stainless Banner Second National Flag of the Confederacy is huge and made of pure silk, giving it an elegant appearance. Although this battle ensign is in a remarkable state of preservation, its very large size and delicate condition has precluded any up-close measurements, so its various details and dimensions are unavailable. When Semmes returned to the South from England, he brought this ceremonial Stainless Banner with him. It was inherited by his grandchildren, Raphael Semmes III and Mrs. Eunice Semmes Thorington. After his sister's death, Raphael Semmes III donated the ensign to the state of Alabama on 19 September 1929.

See also


  • List of American Civil War generals


Further reading

  • Semmes, Raphael, The Cruise of the Alabama and the Sumter, Carleton, 1864, Digitized by Digital Scanning Incorporated, 2001, ISBN 1-58218-353-8.
  • Confederate Raider, Raphel Semmes of the Alabama, John M. Taylor, 1994, ISBN 0-02-881086-4.

External links