USS Kearsarge vs. CSS Alabama
19 June 1864

After nearly two years of highly successful cruising at the expense of the United States' commercial shipping, CSS Alabama returned to European waters in early June 1864. Badly in need of a refit, she put into Cherbourg, France, on 11 June. News of her presence soon reached the USS Kearsarge , which promptly steamed to Cherbourg, arriving on the 14th. Seeing that he was blockaded, with repairs delayed and with the probabability that his ship would not be able to resume her raiding activities, Alabama's Captain Raphael Semmes challenged Kearsarge's Captain John Winslow to a ship-to-ship duel. That suited Winslow very well, and he took station offshore and waited.

After four days of coaling, drill and other preparations, Alabama steamed out of Cherbourg harbor in the morning of 19 June 1864, escorted by the French ironclad Couronne, which remained in the area to ensure that the combat remained in international waters. On paper, Kearsarge and Alabama were well-matched, with the Union warship having a slight advantage in gun power and speed. As the Confederate approached, Kearsarge steamed further to sea, to ensure that Alabama could not easily return to port.

At 10:50 AM, Captain Winslow put his ship around and headed for the enemy. Alabama opened fire a few minutes later, at a distance of about a mile, and continued to fire as the range decreased. As the ships closed to about a half-mile, Kearsarge turned and began to shoot back. Both ships had their guns trained to starboard, and the engagement followed a circular course, with the ships steaming in opposite directions and turning to counter the other's attempts to gain an advantageous position. Superior Federal gunnery, and the deteriorated condition of Alabama's powder and shells, soon began to tell. Though Alabama hit her opponent several times, the projectiles caused little damage and few casualties. One shell hit Kearsarge's sternpost, failed to explode and survives today as a relic of the battle.

After about an hour's shooting, Alabama was beginning to sink, with several men killed and many others wounded. Among the injured was Semmes, who turned and tried to run back toward Cherbourg. However, when Kearsarge headed him off and the rising water stopped his engines, Semmes struck his flag. As Alabama sank, some twenty minutes after firing ceased, most of her crew were rescued by the victor and by the British yacht Deerhound. Those saved by the latter, including Semmes and most of his officers, were taken to England and thus escaped capture and imprisonment. One of the Civil War's most significant naval actions was at an end, as was the career of the Confederacy's most destructive ocean raider.

Additional information see Sinking of C.S.S. Alabama by U.S.S. Kearsarge, 19 June 1864"

This page features a special selection of images of the battle between USS Kearsarge and CSS Alabama.

For more comprehensive pictorial coverage of this action

Other images of the two ships:

Click the photograph to prompt a larger view.

Photo #: NH 65736

USS Kearsarge vs. CSS Alabama, 19 June 1864

Line engraving published in the "Illustrated London News", 2 July 1864, depicting an early stage in the battle. Kearsarge is on the left, with Alabama in the right distance.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 150KB; 740 x 575 pixels

Photo #: NH 86059

"Naval Combat - Kearsarge and Alabama off Cherbourg, France - June 19, 1864"

Photograph of a painting, published by E.H. Hart, 1162 Broadway, New York, circa the later 1880s, depicting the action between USS Kearsarge and CSS Alabama.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 116KB; 740 x 425 pixels

Photo #: NH 42376

"The action between the Ironclad Federal steamer 'Kearsarge' and the Confederate steamer 'Alabama', off Cherbourg, June 19th 1864."

Print after a painting by W.F. Mitchell.

Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. Beverly R. Robinson Collection.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 78KB; 740 x 470 pixels

Photo #: NH 59354

USS Kearsarge vs. CSS Alabama, 19 June 1864

Contemporary line engraving, depicting an early stage in the battle. Alabama is on the right, with Kearsarge in the left distance.

Courtesy of F.S. Hicks.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 144KB; 740 x 585 pixels

Photo #: K-29827 (Color)

USS Kearsarge vs. CSS Alabama, 19 June 1864

Painting by Xanthus Smith, 1922, depicting Alabama sinking, at left, after her fight with the Kearsarge (seen at right).

Courtesy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York.

Official U.S. Navy Photograph.

Online Image: 85KB; 740 x 500 pixels

Reproductions may be available through the National Archives

Photo #: NH 42379

Action between USS Kearsarge and CSS Alabama, off Cherbourg, France, 19 June 1864

Civil War era photograph of an artwork, mounted on a Carte de visite.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 74KB; 740 x 450 pixels

Photo #: NH 1261

"Hauling Down the Flag -- Surrender of the Alabama to the Kearsarge off Cherbourg, France, 19 June 1864"

Artwork by J.O. Davidson, depicting the sinking of CSS Alabama, as seen from USS Kearsarge. The crew of one of Kearsarge's eleven-inch Dahlgren pivot guns is celebrating their victory.

Collection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1936.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 89KB; 740 x 540 pixels

Photo #: NH 96016

Navy Memorial Museum, Building 76, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.

View in the Civil War exhibit area, March 1980, showing the sternpost of USS Kearsarge with an unexploded shell from CSS Alabama embedded in it, a relic of the 19 June 1864 battle between those two ships.
Other artificts visible include the Historical Data Plaque of USS Cushing (DD-797), immediately to the right of the Kearsarge sternpost.
Photographed by PH3c F. Brownson.

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 154KB; 590 x 765 pixels


For higher resolution images see: Obtaining Photographic Reproductions

To the best of our knowledge, the pictures referenced here are all in the Public Domain, and can therefore be freely downloaded and used for any purpose.

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