the battle of the kearsarge and the alabama

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The American Civil War battle near France — The Battle of Cherbourg

The CSS Alabama was one of the most notorious and feared Confederate commerce raiders during the American Civil War.  Under the command of Captain Raphael Semmes (pictured above, right), she was active from 1862 until 1864, the Alabama sailed the high seas raiding Union merchant ships.  Much of her raids were conducted in the North Atlantic, however her two year voyage included raids as far away as the Indian Ocean and the Straits of Malacca near Indonesia.  Altogether, the CSS Alabama boarded 450 ships, sunk 65 Union merchant ships, and capture 2,000 prisoners without any losses to her 170 man crew.

The Alabama’s streak of luck was bound to end, as Union warships were dispatched world wide with orders to find and destroy her.  The Alabama’s luck would end when she docked in the port of Cherbourg in France on the 11th of June, 1864 to receive repairs and supplies.  However on June 14th the Union warship USS Kearsarge, commanded by Capt. John A. Winslow (pictured above, left), received word of the Alabama’s location and blockaded the port, sending a telegraph requesting assistance from the nearby USS St. Louis.  The blockade lasted 5 days, during which time Capt. Semmes drilled his men for battle.  On the 19th, the CSS Alabama left Cherbourg at full sail and prepared to do battle with the Kearsarge.

The Alabama came out swinging, firing her six 32 pound cannons, a 68 pound gun, and a 110 pound gun. The Kearsarge returned fire with four 32 pound guns, one 30 pound parrot rifle, and a massive 11 inch Dahlgren gun.  For an hour the two ships circled each other while trading shots.  On land the citizens of Cherbourg eagerly watched the battle, cheering on both sides and taking bets who would win.  The Alabama was able to lay down a heavier volume of fire, discharging 370 shots during that hour.  However, the gunners of the Kearsarge were more methodical and disciplined, firing more accurate shots and striking the Alabama at various vital points across the ship.  In addition, the Kearsarge was equipped with a special chain link armor which was woven over her hull. 

At the end of the hour of fighting, the Alabama had sustained six blows below her waterline, causing the ships to rapidly take on water.  It was then that Capt. Semmes ordered the Alabama’s colors struck, and replaced with the white flag of surrender.  40 Confederate sailors were killed, 70 were captured.  30 sailors were rescued by a British yacht, where they would be taken to England and granted asylum, among them Capt. Semmes.  Only one sailor on the Kearsarge was killed, with another two wounded.  As for the CSS Alabama, she quickly sank, taking up residence in Davy Jone’s Locker.