[SEMMES, Raphael, 1809-1877]
Photographic portrait of Captain Raphael Semmes, commander of the Confederate raider CSS Alabama.
Albumen print photograph, carte de visite format (mount 100 x 62 mm); no photographer’s imprint, verso with contemporary inscription in pencil ‘Capt. Semmes, “Privateer Alabama”, destroyed by the Kearsage [sic.], June 19th 1864’; a couple of tiny spots of foxing to the print and mount, else a fine example of this rare studio portrait.
This photograph of Captain Raphael Semmes, commander of the CSS Alabama, was taken in Nassau in the Bahamas in 1861, where Semmes had been en route back to the Confederacy. He is seated at a table draped with the 1st National pattern Confederate Flag. It was in Nassau that Semmes received official notification of his promotion to Captain and orders to return to England to assume command of a new ship, which would arguably become the most famous of the Confederate raiders.
Built in secrecy near Liverpool, England, the Alabama (initially named the Enrica) was completed in May 1862. She was then refitted and equipped as a naval cruiser in the Azores. In August that year, now a commerce raider, she was commissioned for the Confederate States of America as CSS Alabama. Over a two year period, the Alabama terrorized Union shipping in the Atlantic, the West Indies, the Gulf of Mexico, and off the coasts of New England and Brazil, before entering the Indian Ocean via the Cape of Good Hope and heading for the East Indies. In need of another refit and repairs, she then redoubled back to the Cape and north through the Atlantic to France, where, off Cherbourg on June 19 1864, she ultimately met her fate at the hands of the Union sloop-of-war, USS Kearsarge.
The Alabama sank 65 Union vessels of various types, most of them merchant ships. During all of Alabama‘s raiding ventures, captured ships’ crews and passengers were never harmed, only detained until they could be placed aboard a neutral ship or landed ashore in a friendly or neutral port.
A native of Maryland, Raphael Semmes was a graduate from Charlotte Hall Military Academy and entered the United States Navy in 1826 as a midshipman. He served as a naval officer until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he joined the Confederate Navy, serving as captain of the Alabama and eventually receiving a promotion to rear admiral. Following the war, Semmes managed to survive a charge of Treason and was allowed to pursue a civilian career. During the final decade of his life he was employed as a professor of philosophy and literature at Louisiana State Seminary (now Louisiana State University), a county judge, and as a newspaper editor.