Raphael Semmes


Naval Officer

United States Navy 1837-1860. Confederate States Navy 1861-1865. As Commander of the Confederate ship "Alabama" he executed the mission to inflict the greatest injury to the enemy's commerce in the shortest time.

In the span of three years during the Civil War Raphael Semmes, admiral, general and lawyer, stole the hearts of the South, won the fear and respect of the seafaring nations of the world and inflicted a $6,000,000 wound to Federal shipping. As captain of the "Sumter" and the "Alabama" Semmes out-maneuvered and jauntily defied the vastly superior Federal naval forces to scourge the seas of vessels carrying cargoes vital to the Federal cause. Semmes' successful career of preying on unarmed merchant vessels concluded with the dramatic battle in which the Union ship "Keasarge" overwhelmed the "Alabama," leaving it to settle in the mud off the coast of France.

Emerging as one of the most popular military figures of the Civil War, Semmes owed much of his fame to his humanity to prisoners as to his brilliant naval tactics. Many a Yankee skipper felt the keen edge of Semmes' sarcasm but none reported an uncalled-for use of steel. Tried after the war for cruelty to prisoners, Semmes was dramatically cleared when captain after captain testified he had been "complete in his regard for the rights and privileges" of his prisoners.

Orphaned at ten, Semmes embarked on a training cruise as a United States Naval Midshipman at fifteen, learning the poorly charted waters of the West Indies. Later Semmes used this knowledge to elude the guns of his former fellow midshipmen. After losing the "Alabama" Semmes returned to the Confederacy and late in the war was commissioned a Brigadier General in the Confederate States Army. At the close of the war his parole papers listed him as both an admiral and a general. A native of Maryland, Semmes was a resident of Mobile both before and after the war.

Elected 1953

Alabama Hall of Fame, 1968

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Revised: 3/21/96