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CSS Alabama

Shortly after the start of the war, Confederate commerce raiders began roaming the seas to prey on Union merchant ships. The most famous of these raiders was the CSS Alabama, which was built for the Confederate government by the Laird shipyard of Liverpool, England, and commissioned off the Azores on August 24, 1862. She was 220 feet long with a beam of 32 feet, was powered by two 300-horsepower engines that operated her double wheel, and also had a full complement of sails. Under full power, she could travel at a speed of 13 knots. Her armament included a 110-pounder rifled gun, an 8-inch solid- shot gun, and six 32 pounders. The Alabama had a crew of 120 men and 24 officers, commanded by Capt. Raphael Semmes.

The Alabama began her career by decimating the Yankee whaling fleet in the Azores, destroying 10 ships in two weeks. Next she sailed for Newfoundland and the coast of New England, where she captured 11 more ships. Most of the captured ships were burned after the crew and any needed provisions had been removed. The Alabama hunted down the East Coast of the United States and in the Caribbean, and then, in January 1863, sailed the Gulf of Mexico toward Galveston, Tex., where she attacked and sank a blockading Union warship, the USS Hatteras. To prevent capture by pursuing Union warships, the Alabama sailed down the coast of South America and, after burning a few more Yankee ships, crossed the Atlantic to the Cape of Good Hope. Sailing across the Indian Ocean to Singapore, the Alabama paralyzed Union trade in that area to such an extent that U.S. ships would not leave port. The Alabama sailed to India, then down the east coast of Africa, and back across the Atlantic to South America.

By now the ship was badly in need of repair, and Semmes sailed to France for a thorough overhaul, arriving at the port of Cherbourg on June 11,1864. During the 22 months since her commissioning, the Alabama had traveled 75,000 miles and captured 66 Union merchant ships worth more than $6.5 million.

Fascinating Fact: During her lifetime, the CSS Alabama never entered a single Confederate port.

Illustration courtesy Culver Pictures, Inc. Written by Stephen T. Foster
Printed in USA
MCMXCIII Atlas Editions, USA
D3 602 03-08