June 19

This Day in History

Civil War

Jun 19, 1864:

USS Kearsarge sinks CSS Alabama

The most successful and feared Confederate commerce raider of the war, the CSS Alabama, sinks after a spectacular battle off the coast of France with the USS Kearsarge.

Built in an English shipyard and sold to the Confederates in 1861, the Alabama was a state-of-the-art ship—220 feet long, with a speed of up to 13 knots. The cruiser was equipped with a machine shop and could carry enough coal to steam for 18 days, but its sails could greatly extend that time. Under its captain, Raphael Semmes, the Alabama prowled the world for three years, capturing U.S. commercial ships. It sailed around the globe, usually working out of the West Indies, but taking prizes and bungling Union shipping in the Caribbean, off Newfoundland, and around the coast of South America. In January 1863, Semmes sunk a Union warship, the Hatteras, after luring it out of Galveston, Texas. The Union navy spent an enormous amount of time and effort trying to track down the Alabama.

The ship sailed around South America, across the Pacific, and docked in India in 1864. By the summer, Semmes realized that after three years and 75,000 miles his vessel needed overhauling in a modern shipyard. He sailed around Africa to France, where the French denied him access to a dry dock. Semmes moved out of Cherbourg Harbor and found the USS Kearsarge waiting. In a spectacular battle, the Kearsarge bested and sank the Alabama. During its career, the Alabama captured 66 ships and was hunted by more than 20 Federal warships.

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