American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

ALABAMA. A Confederate cruiser under the command of Raphael Semmes,* the C.S.S. Alabama (built 1862) traveled the major shipping lanes, capturing sixty-six Northern vessels and destroying fifty-two. Almost all of the Alabama's conquests were merchantmen. She engaged the Union navy only twice: the first time she sank the Hatteras; the second she was sunk by the Kearsarge in a spectacular engagement off the coast of Cherbourg, France.

As a famous privateer, the Alabama's story is told by Confederate and Union naval officers in written reminiscences as well as by naval historians. The most complete and compelling account of the cruiser’s adventures is given by her captain, Raphael Semmes, in his Memoirs of Service Afloat during the War between the States (1869). Semmes’ Memoirs relates not only the encounters of a Confederate privateer but also exciting experiences of storms at sea, as well as clear explanations of the effect of weather and ocean currents upon seamanship. Because Semmes was the only captain of the Alabama, his Memoirs remains one of the most thorough and intriguing accounts of her career, although her fame ensures that she will figure in any naval history of the Civil War. [See also CONFEDERATE NAVAL FICTION]

Anna E. Lomando