15. CSS Alabama and USS Kearsarge fought outside Cherbourg, France
CSS Alabama is the most famous of the Confederate commerce raiders built by Great Britain during the Civil War. Contrary to popular belief, Alabama was not built as a blockade runner, and in its short but active career it never entered a port of the Confederacy. It entered few ports at all. Its Captain, Raphael Semmes, formerly of the United States Navy, met the ship in the Azores, where he commissioned it into the Confederate States Navy in August, 1862. Alabama then began its career as a commerce raider, bent on capturing, burning, or sinking as many ships flying the United States flag as it could. Ironically, years before the war Semmes condemned the us of commerce raiders as an effort of war. In 1851 Semmes urged “all civilized nationsâ¦to suppress the practice altogether”. He may have disapproved of commerce raiding, but he proved exceedingly good at it.
Under his command, Alabama completed seven commerce raiding cruises between August 1862 and December, 1863. The ship took prizes or destroyed Union shipping in the North and South Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, along the coast of South Africa, in the Indian Ocean, and in the South Pacific. Out of 657 days, 534 were spent at sea, an incredible record for a warship of that period. The ship destroyed 65 Union ships, raising insurance rates in American ports to frightening levels. Shippers clamored for the US Navy to destroy Alabama. USS Kearsarge pursued Alabama in the Atlantic in vain until spring of 1864, when the ship ran aground off Oostende, Netherlands. Repaired in a Dutch drydock, Kearsarge returned to sea to find Alabama refitting in Cherbourg, France. The stage was set for one of the few naval actions fought on the open seas during the Civil War.