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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

CSS Alabama

History

Battle between USS Kearsarge and CSS AlabamaCSS Alabama was a screw sloop-of-war built for the Confederacy in 1862 by John Laird Sons and Company, Liverpool, England. Launched as Enrica, it was fitted out as a cruiser and commissioned 24 August 1862 as CSS Alabama. Under Captain Raphael Semmes, Alabama spent the next two months capturing and burning ships in the North Atlantic and intercepting American grain ships bound for Europe. Continuing the path of destruction through the West Indies, Alabama sank USS Hatteras along the Texas coast and captured her crew. After a visit to Cape Town, South Africa, Alabama sailed for the East Indies where the ship spent six months cruising, destroying seven more ships before redoubling the Cape en route to Europe.

On 11 June 1864, Alabama arrived in Cherbourg, France and Captain Semmes requested permission to dock and overhaul his ship. Pursuing the raider, the American sloop-of-war USS Kearsarge arrived three days later and took up a patrol just outside the harbor. On 19 June, Alabama sailed out to meet Kearsarge. As Kearsarge turned to meet its opponent, Alabama opened fire. Kearsarge waited patiently until the range had closed to less than 1,000 yards. According to survivors, the two ships steamed on opposite courses moving around in circles as each commander tried to cross the bow of his opponent to deliver a heavy raking fire. The battle quickly turned against Alabama because of the poor quality of its powder and shells, while Kearsarge benefitted from the additional protection of chain cables along its sides. A little more than an hour after the first shot was fired, Alabama was reduced to a sinking wreck, causing Semmes to strike his colors and send a boat to surrender. According to witnesses, Alabama fired 150 rounds at its adversary, while Kearsarge fired 100. When a shell fired by Kearsarge tore open a section at Alabama's waterline, the water quickly rushed through the cruiser, forcing it to the bottom. While Kearsarge rescued most of Alabama's survivors, Semmes and 41 others were picked up by the British yacht Deerhound and escaped to England. During its two-year career as a commerce raider, Alabama caused disorder and devastation across the globe for United States merchant shipping. The Confederate cruiser claimed more than 60 prizes valued at nearly $6,000,000.

The Wreck

One hundred and twenty years after its loss, the French Navy mine hunter Circe discovered a wreck under nearly 200 feet of water off Cherbourg, France. French Navy Captain Max Guerout later confirmed the wreck to be Alabama's remains.

In 1988, a non-profit organization, the Association CSS Alabama, was founded to conduct scientific exploration of the shipwreck. Although the wreck resides within French territorial waters, the U.S. government, as the successor to the former Confederate States of America, is the owner. On 3 October 1989, the United States and France signed an agreement recognizing this wreck as an important heritage resource of both nations and establishing a Joint French-American Scientific Committee for archaeological exploration. This agreement established a precedent for international cooperation in archaeological research and in the protection of a unique historic shipwreck.

The Association CSS Alabama and the U.S. Navy/Naval Historical Center signed on 23 March 1995 an official agreement accrediting Association CSS Alabama as operator of the archaeological investigation of the remains of the ship. This agreement will be in effect for five years and is renewable by mutual consent. The signing of the agreement establishes a precedent for international cooperation in archaeological cooperation and the protection of a unique historic shipwreck. Association CSS Alabama, which is funded solely from private donations, is continuing to make this an international project through its fund raising in France and in the United States, thanks to its sister organization, the CSS Alabama Association, incorporated in the State of Delaware.

Additional Information:

Press Release: Recovery of Blakeley Gun 28 March 1995
Press Release: Field work on CSS Alabama Site 31 July 1995


25 May 2001