Intrepid Mariners: John Winslow of the USS Kearsarge & Raphael Semmes of the CSS Alabama

By John C. Fazio
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

March 9 to 27, 1847. Polk’s nasty little war of conquest against our southern neighbor was on. (“We had to have California.”) This was the war that Ulysses S. Grant would later characterize, in his memoirs, as “…one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation,” the war that he believed led directly and consequentially to our national fratricide, which he saw as “punishment” for our “transgressions.” General Winfield Scott (“Old Fuss and Feathers”) commenced his expedition against Mexico City by laying siege to Vera Cruz, which he took on March 27, overcoming stiff resistance.

Raphael Semmes

Off shore, two American sailors shared a stateroom aboard the USS Raritan. One was 37, the other 35. The 37-year old was Raphael Semmes (“Old Beeswax,” because of his slicked handlebar mustache). The 35-year old was John A. (for Ancrum) Winslow. They were already good friends, having previously served together aboard the USS Cumberland. Following their service aboard that 1,700 ton sailing frigate, they were both given commands of ships. Both commands ended in disaster and both men had to swim for their lives in Mexican waters. Semmes’s ship, the Somers, capsized in a gale, and Winslow’s, the Morris, got stuck on a reef. So much for commands. Aboard the Raritan, they often joked about their common misfortunes. Semmes also saw service with one of the on-shore naval batteries.

John A. Winslow

But serving on two ships together, sharing a stateroom and nearly losing their lives in the same war, at the same time and in the same place weren’t the only ironies that characterized their relationship. Another was that Semmes, who embraced the cause of the Confederacy, was technically a Northerner, born September 27, 1809, in Charles County, Maryland, a border state that stayed in the Union (with a little help from the Commander in Chief in the White House), whereas Winslow, who remained loyal to the Union, was a North Carolinian, born in Wilmington on November 19, 1811. But the greatest irony of all was yet to come. It would be played out—or, more accurately, fought out—off the coast of Cherbourg, France, on June 19, 1864, where and when these erstwhile countrymen and fast friends would go for each other’s jugular. But a lot would happen between Vera Cruz and Cherbourg.

After Mexico, Semmes, who had been admitted to the bar in 1834, practiced law in Mobile, Alabama, while on extended leave from the Navy. In 1855, he was promoted to the rank of Commander and was assigned to lighthouse duties until 1861. In that momentous year, Alabama, his home state, seceded from the Union. Semmes went with her. On orders from Jefferson Davis himself, he went north for the purpose of persuading ordnance mechanics to help the Southern cause and, while there, to purchase munitions of war. He did very well, apparently because Northern arms merchants were more interested in profit than principle; in lucre than loyalty. When has it ever been otherwise?

Upon his return to Montgomery, on April 4, 1861, he was commissioned Commander in the fledgling Confederate Navy, an arm of the Confederacy that was short on ships and materiel, but long on talent. Having had experience with lighthouse duty in the United States Navy, he was placed in charge of that bureau by the Confederate Navy, but he quickly realized that the Confederacy had another need, in his judgment a greater need, and one for which he felt better suited, namely commerce raiding.

On orders from Secretary of the Navy, Stephen R. Mallory, who liked what he heard from Semmes, he went to New Orleans to convert a steamer into the cruiser, CSS Sumter, the first Confederate commerce raider. (She was named, like so many other things in the South having the same name (e.g. Ft. Sumter; Camp Sumter, aka Andersonville) for a Revolutionary War hero, General Thomas Sumter of South Carolina.) In June that year, he ran the Federal blockade, which Lincoln had ordered into effect on April 19, 1861 (South Carolina to the Rio Grande) and April 27, 1861 (North Carolina and Virginia), in accordance with General Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan.

He spent the next six months in the West Indies and in the Atlantic, looking for and finding United States merchant ships. He captured 18. “Captured” usually meant that he burned them after removing whatever he felt he could make use of and then paroling his prisoners and depositing them on the nearest land. In January, 1862, he brought his raider to Gibraltar for repairs and coal. Two Federal cruisers, learning of his presence there, blockaded him. One of these cruisers (more irony) was the USS Kearsarge, but it was not under the command of John Winslow at the time. Soon, five other United States warships joined the blockade. Semmes knew, of course, that there was no way he could save the Sumter, so he abandoned it, left it with a skeleton crew, and then made his way, with many of his officers, to England, knowing that a magnificent cruiser was being built for him there.

The CSS Alabama

She was state of the art, sleek and fast. Identified simply as “hull number 290,” she was built in Liverpool ostensibly for French purchasers, but her ultimate destination was no secret, and her construction, therefore, created a diplomatic flap between the United States and Britain. To circumvent American objections, her builders did not arm her. They could thus argue – and they did – that English neutrality laws, which provided that warships could not be built in England for belligerent nations, had been complied with.

On July 29, 1862, she steamed out of Liverpool for a “trial run,” complete with a civilian contingent to give her departure the appearance of a holiday excursion. At some point that was convenient for those in command, but not necessarily for the bewildered passengers, the latter were put ashore and the ship continued its “trial run,” which didn’t stop until she reached the Azores, where she was armed and christened the CSS Alabama. Semmes, now promoted to the rank of Captain, took command of her and began a maritime saga that surpassed anything of its kind in the annals of the United States Navy and perhaps of any navy.

From August, 1862, to June, 1864, he took the Alabama into the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, the Atlantic, around the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean to the South China Sea and the East Indies and then back again across the Indian to the Atlantic, this time to France for refitting. En route, and incredibly, he sank a Union warship, the USS Hatteras, and captured 65 Union merchantmen, most of which he burned or sank.

To gain some idea of the magnitude of his deed, consider that Count Felix von Luckner, Captain Sea Devil of the Seeadler (Sea Eagle), lionized for his exploits as a commerce raider for the Imperial German Navy in World War I, sank 14 Allied ships. Semmes had that beat with the Sumter before he even set foot on the Alabama. Semmes, quite simply, became a terror to Federal shipping, swooping in on his prey with lightning speed, bagging her and then skillfully eluding all pursuers from one end of the globe to the other.

To Confederates, of course, he was a hero, a welcome tonic for bad news in the land war. To the Federals, he was nothing more than a pirate who would one day receive his comeuppance for inflicting $6 million of damage to their cause ($105 million to $1.6 billion in 21st century dollars, depending on which of four indices for measuring the value of an 1861 dollar is used), driving insurance rates through the roof, effectively wrecking Union shipping for almost two years and inflicting a wound to American commerce from which it took almost a century to recover, though they could not help admiring his skill and daring. Secretary of the United States Navy, Gideon Welles, put the capture or killing of Semmes (whom he referred to as “this wolf from Liverpool”) highest on his wish list.

Raphael Semmes aboard the Alabama

On June 10, 1864, Semmes anchored the Alabama off Cherbourg. She was badly in need of repairs. He requested permission to put her in dry dock there. Port authorities turned him down, ostensibly because the Emperor (Napoleon III) was not available to grant the permission needed. So Semmes waited, confident of the Emperor’s sympathy. It was a fateful, and fatal, pause. The lives of the two intrepid mariners, countrymen who had fought under the same flag, friends who served together aboard the USS Cumberland and the USS Raritan, who had even shared a stateroom aboard the latter ship and who had almost died at the same time, in the same war and in the same waters 17 years earlier, were about to intersect again.

While Raphael Semmes was making his way from Vera Cruz to Cherbourg, by way of Montgomery, Alabama, and Richmond, Virginia, John A. Winslow was also making his way to Cherbourg, but by a different path. Following Vera Cruz, he continued service in the Gulf as Executive Officer of the sloop Saratoga from 1848-1849. After a year in the Boston Navy Yard (1849-1850), he returned to active duty in the Pacific in the frigate St. Lawrence from 1851-1855. In 1855, he was promoted to the rank of Commander. (More irony: Semmes was promoted to the same rank in the same year.)

In 1861, he was assigned to duty on the Mississippi as Executive Officer of the Western Gunboat Flotilla, but had to leave the service for several months to recover from a disabling accident that occurred when he was commanding the iron-clad gunboat Benton. In July, 1862, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and returned to service on the Mississippi. In April, 1863, he was given command of the USS Kearsarge (named for a mountain in New Hampshire) and spent the next year and a half in European waters looking for Confederate raiders, especially one particular raider. Never knowing where or when he might find one, especially that particular one, he kept his ship and crew ready for every eventuality, a bit of foresight that served him well.

The USS Kearsarge

On June 12, 1864, the Kearsarge was anchored in the Scheldt, off Flushing, Holland. (The Scheldt is a river in Holland that flows into an estuary of the North Sea.) William L. Dayton, the American Minister to France, sent Winslow a telegram, advising him that the Alabama was in Cherbourg harbor. The presence of the Confederate raider had been reported in all the local newspapers. Winslow immediately called his officers and men to the ship and sailed to Dover for dispatches, arriving on June 13. He then sailed for Cherbourg, arriving there the next day with a ship and crew that were in top condition.

Upon arrival, Winslow, his officers and men saw the Confederate flag flying within the breakwater. It is impossible for us to imagine the thrill, the elation, they must have felt at having finally cornered the “daring rover” that had all but destroyed Union commerce for almost two years and that had then left in her wake a trail of befuddled pursuers. Twenty-five Union warships had pursued her during that period at a cost of $7 million. Watching her through his scope, and knowing that she was under the command of his former shipmate, room-mate and friend, Winslow must surely have known that the most important event of his life was upon him, an event from which he would emerge as either a national hero or a corpse. There were two entrances to Cherbourg Harbor. Winslow ordered both to be watched to assure that the “pirate” would not escape. He then positioned his vessel a few miles off shore, a silent sentinel, cat-like, and waited for his quarry to make his move. He had waited more than a year for this opportunity. He would not let it slip through his fingers.

Both ships were magnificent specimens of naval architecture. They were about equal in size (Kearsarge: 198.5 ft. in length; 33-ft. in beam; 16-ft. draft; 1,031 tons. Alabama: 210-ft. in length; 32-ft. in beam; 17-ft. draft; 1,150 tons), and though they were both well armed, the Kearsarge had more firepower. She had two pivoted 11-inch Dahlgrens, each capable of firing 150-pound shells. It was these monsters that were largely responsible for tearing the Alabama apart. She also had one 30-pounder rifle and four 32-pounder smoothbores, giving her a total of seven guns, of which five were used in the battle. The Alabama had one pivoted 7-inch 110-pounder Blakely rifle, one pivoted 8-inch 68-pounder smoothbore and six 32-pounder smoothbores, for a total of eight guns, of which seven were used in the battle. Because of her edge in firepower, and also because of the condition of his ship and crew, Winslow was confident that he could take the Alabama in a fair fight.

John A. Winslow and crew aboard the Kearsarge

When he learned of the arrival of the Kearsarge, Semmes, never one to shrink from a fight, challenged her. He sent word to the Confederate Commercial Agent in France (A. Bonfils), requesting that he inform Winslow, through the United States Commercial Agent (Mr. Liais), that if Winslow would wait until the Alabama was coaled, he would come out and give battle. Winslow responded to Semmes, through the same channels, that he was there to fight and that he had no intention of leaving. Semmes knew that he had no time to spare, because other Federal ships would soon make escape impossible. He prepared his ship for battle. In the process, his crew, most of whom were English, amused themselves, and bolstered their courage, with this ditty:

“We’re homeward bound; we’re homeward bound
and soon shall stand on English ground
But ere that English land we see
We first must fight the Kearsargee.”

The stage was now set for the lives of these two Titans to intersect again.

Sunday, June 19, 1864, dawned beautifully. Warm. A touch of haze. A slight westerly wind over the waves, causing the sails to pillow and the ensigns to snap and flap in the way that always stirs men’s blood. A puff of cloud here and there to break the pale blue sky and the fading embers in the east. And, as far as the eye could see, the dark and mysterious waters. It was a day to celebrate life. Instead, before it was half done, the deck of the Alabama would be strewn with the mangled bodies of brave men and with the remains of other brave men staring vacantly at infinity, and the ocean floor, 45 fathoms below the surface, would be dotted with the lifeless forms of still other brave men, whose lungs were filled with sea water. But the die was cast. On one thing Semmes and Winslow would surely agree: disfigurement and death were unspeakably ugly, but nothing was uglier than cowardice, dishonor and disgrace. Semmes is reported to have said that he would “prove to the world that (his) ship was not a privateer, intended only for attack upon merchant vessels, but a true man-of-war.”

And so, at 9:45 a.m., the Alabama, with approximately 154 men (accounts differ), raised anchor and headed for the Kearsarge, which had approximately 163 men. The Alabama was escorted by a French ironclad, the Couronne, and several smaller French craft. Also escorting her was the English yacht, the Deerhound, owned by an English textile magnate, Mr. John Lancaster, who was vacationing in France with his family and nurse. Earlier they had taken a vote as to whether they should attend church that morning or witness a sea battle. His nine-year old daughter, Catherine, cast the deciding vote, in favor of watching the battle. Raphael Semmes and 41 of his officers and men would soon owe their lives to this young girl. The Deerhound stayed close to the action and played a pivotal role in the aftermath of the battle.

Because of the publicity of the impending duel, a crowd of about 15,000 gathered on shore, on the cliffs, on the breakwall and in ships to watch it. Some of them waved Confederate flags. A band aboard a French ship played Dixie. Among the crowd were officers and men, and some of their families, of two United States merchantmen that had been waylaid and burned by the Alabama on her way to Cherbourg. They were alive, but not by much, having been put ashore in terrible condition.

On sighting the Alabama, Winslow, who had been conducting a religious service, put down his prayer book and ordered the drum beat to general quarters and the ship cleared for action. Believing that God helps those who help themselves, he resolved now to keep his end of the bargain. Winslow knew that the supreme moment of his life was at hand. To assure that there would be no violation of French neutrality and also to make escape by the Alabama into neutral waters less likely, he took his vessel farther out to sea. Semmes pursued him, making it appear that the Kearsarge was running from the Alabama. But both commanders knew better. They were seasoned veterans who had been around seas and ships all their lives. Semmes knew that Winslow wasn’t running, and Winslow knew that he knew it.

When the Kearsarge was about seven miles from shore, Winslow turned her and headed for the Alabama. At 10:57 a.m., when the vessels were about a mile apart, the serenity of the scene, which might have flowed from the brush of an impressionist master, was rudely shattered by the roar of a broadside of solid shot from the Alabama’s starboard. The Kearsarge did not respond immediately, apparently intending to fight at closer range. There was a period of silence. What was Winslow thinking? The sea lapped quietly against the sides of the ships. Two minutes later, a second and then part of a third broadside thundered from the Alabama before Winslow, with the vessels now about a half-mile from each other, brought the Kearsarge about, presented his starboard to his foe and then unleashed his own fury, a salvo of solid shot and shell, some of which found the mark.

The CSS Alabama and USS Kearsarge join battle off the coast of Cherbourg, France, June 19, 1864

The action now became hot and general, and the din fearful – a mélange of booming, whistling, whooshing, crashing and exploding iron and powder, timbers splintering, sails tearing, rigging collapsing, and through it all the deep-throated cheers, screams and groans of the combatants, all of which combined to form a hideous incongruity with the natural beauty of the setting and the promise of the on-coming day.

Some of the Alabama’s initial fire cut Kearsarge rigging, but most of her shots went over and alongside the Kearsarge. The Alabama continued a rapid, but wild, fire. Her gunners were not as well-trained as those of the Kearsarge, nor in particularly good condition after being so long at sea, though as the battle wore on, they did find the range. In the meantime, however, Kearsarge gunners, well rested, highly-trained, and ordered to fire below the water line with their heavy guns and to clear the deck with their lighter ones, took a fearful toll on the Alabama – killing and maiming men, disabling guns, causing rigging to collapse and tearing gaping holes in her starboard hull and between decks. One shell exploded in a coal bunker, creating a dense cloud of coal dust about the ship. The Kearsarge fired fewer projectiles than the Alabama, but most found their mark. (The ship’s surgeon of the Kearsarge recorded that his ship fired 173 projectiles and the Alabama about twice that number, but other accounts give different figures.) Contrariwise, of all the shot and shell fired by the Alabama, only a few struck the Kearsarge, damaging little more than masts and rigging.

To make matters worse for the Alabama, many of her shells were duds, because of the poor condition of her powder. Semmes could see, very quickly, that the battle was not going his way. He hoped for a lucky shot that might save the day for him, his men and his beloved lady. About 15 minutes into the battle, he got it. A 110 pound shell from his Blakely rifle arched and then penetrated the sternpost of the Kearsarge. He watched for a few seconds, keenly anticipating the explosion that would put his nemesis away. But his hopes were soon dashed, because it didn’t explode. (This sternpost, with its embedded shell, still exists: It is on display at the Naval Memorial Museum, Building 76, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.)

Before the battle, Semmes’s First Lieutenant, John McIntosh Kell, warned Semmes about the condition of the powder, but Semmes did nothing about it because there really wasn’t anything he could do about it, except to refuse to fight, and he wasn’t about to do that. As matters turned out, it was the condition of the Alabama’s powder that sank her, because the 110 pounder in the sternpost of the Kearsarge would have sent her to the bottom if it had exploded. Semmes later had this to say about the unexploded shell in Kearsarge’s sternpost: “If the cap had performed its duty and exploded the shell, I should have been called upon to save Captain Winslow’s crew from drowning, instead of his being called upon to save mine. On so slight an incident – the defect of a percussion cap – did the battle hinge.”

Semmes noticed, too, that his solid shot appeared to do little damage to Kearsarge’s hull. Only later did he find out that she had a layer of chain armor around it, a fact that later gave rise to claims of an unfair fight between an iron-clad and a wooden ship. Kearsarge men responded by saying that they didn’t know how Semmes could be ignorant of the Kearsarge’s chain armor: They had made no attempt to conceal it. Further, it was known that Confederate spies had come aboard and been shown the ship. Still further, the same French pilot had been employed by both ships and had visited each of them during their preparations for battle.

Interestingly, the idea of protecting the ship’s midsection with sheet-chain came from Farragut, who had used it when he passed the forts at New Orleans. To his dying day, Semmes insisted that he knew nothing about the chain armor and that if he had known about it, he wouldn’t have engaged the Kearsarge. But the evidence suggests that he was advised of Kearsarge’s armor by one of his Lieutenants (William Sinclair). Furthermore, Semmes’s saying that he wouldn’t have fought can hardly be credited. He was told by French Naval Officers, whom he consulted while still in port, that under the circumstances he really had no choice in the matter; that honor required that he fight. Further, the knowledge that other Union ships would soon arrive and make escape impossible also left him with no alternative but to fight.

The two ships steamed through seven full circles around a common center, doing their best to destroy each other with starboard broadsides of shot and shell. (Neither ship fired grape or canister, though both were in their arsenals.) The superiority of the Kearsarge’s armament, the élan of her crew, and the chain armor around her hull, all spelled doom for Semmes’s beloved lady after an hour and two minutes (some accounts say an hour and 10 minutes ) of ferocious combat at distances as close as 400 to 500 yards. He tried to get her to shore, but it was too late; the sea was pouring in too fast. The fact that her bunkers were full of coal (350 tons of it, to be exact) did not help matters. To his credit, Winslow kept his bunkers under-loaded by 70 tons.

Semmes knew that he had no choice but to strike his colors. He did so, raising the white flag in its place. At this point the accounts differ. Semmes later wrote that after he had shown the white flag, Winslow poured another broadside of five shots into his stricken ship (some accounts say three or four shots), decrying this breach of the “rules of Christian warfare.” If true, it will forever tarnish Winslow’s victory, unless excused by ignorance. But Kearsarge men told it differently. According to their account, Winslow ordered all firing to cease when the Alabama struck her colors, without having yet raised the white flag, whereupon two of the Alabama’s junior officers, swearing that they would never surrender, opened fire on the Kearsarge with the two port guns, prompting Winslow to order the broadside. Only then was the white flag shown over the stern, and her ensign half-masted, causing Winslow to order, for the second time, a cessation of hostilities. In any case, the Alabama, settling by the stern, slipped beneath the waves to her final resting place at 12:24 p.m., an hour and 27 minutes after firing the first shot in the only major battle between ocean-going ships in the war. No one cheered. There was only silence as the graceful lady, who had wreaked havoc on Federal shipping for almost two years, disappeared forever.

Winslow ordered his crew to save as many of the Alabama’s men as they could, but he had only two undamaged boats, and the Alabama had only one (some accounts say two), so there was no way to save everyone. A boat from the Alabama pulled alongside the Kearsarge with a few of the wounded. The officer in charge, a master’s mate, after assuring Winslow that Semmes had in fact surrendered, asked permission to return to his drowning mates, giving his word of honor that when this had been done he would return to the Kearsarge, come on board and surrender. Winslow permitted it, but the Confederate seaman did not keep his word. Instead, he rescued a few officers and then took them and himself to the Deerhound, leaving a number of his men behind in the water.

The Deerhound had previously pulled alongside the Kearsarge. Winslow had then shouted to her owner, Mr. John Lancaster: “For God’s sake, do what you can to save them.” He did, pulling dozens of men out of the water, including Semmes and 12 of his officers. A boat from the Kearsarge drew up alongside the Deerhound. An officer asked the men in the latter craft if they had seen Semmes. Kell answered: “Captain Semmes is drowned.” It was a lie. In fact, he was lying between the stern sheets, with one arm in a sling, because of a wound, but only half alive.

When the perfidious master’s mate had deposited his human cargo on the Deerhound and had set his boat adrift, the Deerhound made sail for Southampton. Winslow’s officers, who were sure that Semmes was aboard her, pleaded with their commander to fire on the Deerhound, but he refused, to his everlasting credit. Some have speculated that Winslow intentionally allowed Semmes to escape, as a gesture to his old friend. Altogether, the Deerhound rescued 42 men, including Semmes, who would make his way back to Richmond. It appears that “the rules of Christian warfare” did not prohibit lying, perfidy and deception. Casualties on the Alabama were 21 killed (12 drowned), 21 wounded and 70 made prisoners, the others escaping. The Kearsarge suffered three wounded, one of whom died from his wounds. Thus ended one of the most significant engagements in American naval history.

Neither Winslow nor Semmes, however, was finished. Their paths, which had crossed twice, now diverged again. Winslow, of course, was honored throughout the country, including a vote of thanks from the Congress and a promotion to the rank of Commodore, which was made retroactive to June 19, 1864, the day of the battle.

Incredibly, despite Winslow’s risking his life and the lives of all of his officers and men in the service of their country (they had agreed to go down with the ship with flags flying rather than surrender), and despite his magnificent victory and all the accolades that followed, Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, responded to Winslow’s Official Report by criticizing his “gross error” –his “error of judgment”—in paroling most of the “foreign pirates captured on board the Alabama,” and expressly disavowed the act, whatever that meant, inasmuch as the “pirates” were already paroled and therefore long gone to only God knew where. Charles Francis Adams was also critical of Winslow’s treatment of his prisoners and was especially angry because Semmes and his principal officers had escaped.

Despite the chastisement, Winslow continued his service in the Navy for the duration of the war and after. That fact alone testifies to his enormous dedication to his country and its cause; many other commanders, lesser men, in such circumstances, would have resigned in disgust. On March 2, 1870, he was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral. After his return from the Pacific, he resided for a while in San Francisco before moving to Boston. He died there on September 29, 1873.

Semmes suffered no loss of esteem or popularity because of the defeat. (It was argued that a battle between an “iron-clad” and a wooden ship was an unfair fight.) After arriving in Richmond, after a very circuitous and torturous journey, he was made a Rear Admiral and later a Brigadier General in the army. He served on the James River for a time, protecting Richmond, and was present at the surrender of General Johnston’s Army at Greensboro, North Carolina, on May 1, 1865.

After the war, Semmes opened a law office in Mobile, but was later arrested and charged with violating “the usages of war,” piracy, privatizing, inhumane treatment of prisoners, treason, etc. As with so many Confederates, these charges came to nothing, largely because of the extreme animosity between the Radical Republicans and President Johnson, but also because captain after captain of captured merchantmen sent letters to Secretary Welles attesting to the fact that Semmes had always treated his prisoners fairly and kindly, in accordance with the rules of war.

Semmes spent four months in jail, brooding. He was released when President Johnson, who had refused Secretary Welles’s entreaties to try Semmes, finally proclaimed the war at an end on April 3, 1866. Semmes received a pardon and his freedom without being subjected to the ordeal of a trial. Later, he was elected Judge of the Probate Court of Mobile County, but President Johnson ordered that he not be permitted to carry out the functions of his office. Apparently, amnesty had its limits.

He then became editor of a daily newspaper in Mobile, for a time, before accepting a professorship at the Louisiana Military Institute. He concluded his varied career by again practicing law in Mobile. He published Service Afloat and Ashore During the Mexican War (Cincinnati, 1851); The Campaign of General Scott in the Valley of Mexico (1852); The Cruise of Alabama and Sumter (New York, 1864): and Memoirs of Service Afloat During the War Between the States (Baltimore, 1869).

And now for the final irony: This man with nerves of steel, this scourge of Federal merchantmen, who strode across the world’s oceans weathering every storm and overcoming every obstacle with unheard of cunning, daring and courage, even to escaping with his life and returning to service after disasters at Vera Cruz, Gibraltar and Cherbourg, died of food poisoning after eating spoiled shrimp at the home of his sister in Point Clear, Alabama, on August 30, 1877.

Related link:
A Brief Sketch of the Life and Death of Lt. Simeon W. Cummings


The Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Ulysses S. Grant, Da Capo Press paperback edition, pp. 22, 24.

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era , James M. McPherson, Oxford History of the United States, 1988, p. 5.

Gray Raiders of the Sea: How Eight Confederate Warships Destroyed the Union’s High Seas Commerce, Chester G. Hearn, International Marine Publishing, 1992.

Additional Note:

Apart from the references above, this article is based entirely on material from the Worldwide Web. There is an abundance of entries on John A. Winslow, Raphael Semmes, USS Kearsarge and CSS Alabama, with numerous links to related material and including illustrations and photographs of personnel, the ships and the battle. There are fine accounts of the battle, in the form of official reports, by the commanders themselves and by their subordinates. There are also fine accounts, not official reports, by John M. Browne, Surgeon of the Kearsarge, by First Lieutenant John McIntosh Kell, Executive Officer of the Alabama, and by an unknown member of the Alabama’s crew, identified only as “a young Englishman.”