confederate raiders

Stuart’s Raiders at the Swollen Ford
Jared French (American; 1905–1988)
Oil and tempera
Photograph by Carol M. Highsmith
Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Washington, D.C.

Mural executed under the auspices of the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture (later called the Section of Fine Arts) for the Richmond Parcel Post Building (subsequently transferred to the Lewis F. Powell, Jr. U.S. Courthouse Annex, Richmond, Virginia).

Crew of the Russian frigate Osliaba harbored in Alexandria, Virginia, 1863.

During the American Civil War, the Russian Empire was an open supporter of the Union. When Britain and France threatened to go to war with the United States in 1863, Czar Alexander II sent the entire Russian Baltic Fleet to New York City in support of the Union Navy. Britain was also threatening to intervene against Russia in the Polish Uprising of 1863, and thus it was decided the fleet would be safer in American, rather than the Baltic where it could be trapped by the Royal Navy. This act, along with Prussian threats to go to war with France in support of the Union, caused Britain and France to back off. 

For six months the Russian fleet harbored along the Atlantic Coast, helping to enforce the Union blockade on Southern ports. Russian ships of the Far East Fleet also harbored in San Francisco to protect the city against Confederate raiders.

Voices From The Civil War- First Hand Account Of Morgan’s Raiders-  They were gentlemanly and represented the best manhood of Kentucky and their native states.

Mr. Johnson, interviewed near his home in Indiana during the 1930s, was a young man during the Civil War. Even so, his memories concerning John Morgan’s cavalry raid through his neighborhood were still fresh in his mind.

“… The gray figures of Morgan’s men appeared out of the distance. They showed the strain of a hurried and harassed march; both men and beast were weary. Four of the men stopped before me perched on the fence and said, ‘Son take these canteen and fill them with water’. I didn’t refuse but hurried across the road to Mr. Alexander’s Robinson’s well where two or three other boys were drawing water for the Raider’s men with a windlass. The well was wide and only about nine feet deep. As soon as I filled my canteens I passed them among the men and kept returning for more water until the well was dry. After this short period of service we were mustered out; and Morgan, the raider, with his men went their way with their jangling and clanking of arms to disappear in the horizon toward old Paris.”

There were some three thousand soldiers in the Confederate cavalry. They were gentlemanly and represented the best manhood of Kentucky and their native states. Of course in war and in that large a crowd there would be some unpleasant things, but on the whole the men were polite. Whenever they saw a horse they wanted they exchanged their worn out horse for it usually with the suggestion of “Let’s Swap, I think you can plow all right with this horse”. Many of the horses left were really better than the ones taken but were worn out and many had sore backs.


The Armored Train

Although the record attests to a few one of uses of improvised protection on trains going back at least to 1848, it was the American Civil War where armed and armored trains truly broke onto the scene, employed principally by the Union to protect their supply lines from Confederate raiders, an ideal method of protecting the fragile rail lines, allowing a small group of men to protect a much wider span of rail than could be done with traditional fortifications.

The European powers took notice, and experimented with the concept themselves, perhaps most notably with the British experience during the Second Boer War, but it was during the First World War where the weapon came into its own. The quick stagnation of the fighting on the Western Front limited the use to a few brief forays in the first months, but the vast Eastern Front saw extensive, and successful, use by the Russians, soon to be copied by their Austro-Hungarians and German opponents, with the biggest development being the self-powered moving fortresses known as ‘land-cruisers’. The reputation of armored trains was further bolstered during the Russian Civil War with all sides employing them in large numbers, most famously the Czech Legion as they made their trek down the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

Through the interwar period, the Soviets and the Poles principally drove the further development of armored trains, and the outbreak of the Second World War revealed just how vulnerable they could be to air attack, accounting for all the battlefield losses suffered by the Poles in 1939. Although ill-suited to the front lines perhaps, they still found a purpose in protecting supply lines, and not only by the Soviets, but the Germans as well who repurposed a number of captured examples, as well as building their own designs. The Western Allies put much less stock into these land battleships, but the British had limited use of them as part of their coastal defenses, even if they declined to deploy them to the continent.

Although armored trains fell out of favor with the end of World War II, it didn’t spell the end, with both purpose built and improvised examples being found in numerous hotspots where they still showed their worth against insurgents and guerrillas.

(Library of Congress I, IV, V; Imperial War Museum II, III, VII; Collection of Steven Zaloga VI; Magnum Photos VIII)


Confederate States Navy Rear Admiral And Brigadier General Raphael Semmes

Promoted to rear admiral and also served briefly as a brigadier general in the CSA Army. He’s the only North American to have the distinction of holding both ranks simultaneously.

Confederate Rear Admiral and Brigadier General Raphael Semmes Captain of the CSS Alabama, the most famous of the Confederate commerce raiders. Known as the “Nelson of the Confederacy” for his daring exploits. In the first two weeks of September 1862, Semmes damaged ten Union merchant vessels, including the whaling ship the Ocumglee, and inflicted 270,000 dollars’ worth of damage to the United States. He continued his cruise along the coasts of South America, where he destroyed twenty-nine Union merchant vessels throughout the summer months of 1863. Then he challenges the USS Kearsarge in Cherbourg, France- despite preexisting damages to the Alabama. He and his crew struggled to pierce the chain armor of the Kearsarge, and the Alabama began sinking only an hour after the battle began. While the Union forces were able to capture many members of Semmes’ crew, Semmes was able to escape aboard a British vessel.

The Confederate commerce raider CSS Shenandoah undergoing repairs at the Williamstown Dockyard in Melbourne, Australia, 1865. It sank or captured 38 Union merchant vessels and fired the last shot of the American Civil War.