Destruction of the Alabama
John Ancrum Winslow & Raphael Semmes
After the memorable victory of the Monitor over the Merrimac (March 9, 1862), there was no naval duel of like importance in the American Civil War until that which resulted in the sinking of the Confederate steam-sloop Alabama by the United States corvette Kearsarge, off Cherbourg, France, June 19, 1864. The Alabama was built and equipped for the Confederate Government, at Birkenhead, England, under the name (or number) of the 290, May 15, 1862. She was commanded by Captain Raphael Semmes, of the Confederate Navy, and carried an English crew. From the time that Semmes assumed command of her August, 1862) to the day of her fatal encounter with the Kearsarge, the Alabama inflicted great damage upon United States commerce. In various waters she captured or sank sixty-five merchant-vessels, and before her career was ended United States shipowners saw nearly all their craft driven from the ocean or transferred to the protection of foreign flags.
In June, 1864, the Alabama, cruising homeward from India, arrived at Cherbourg, where she put in for repairs. Lying off the harbor was the Kearsarge. This vessel was launched at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1861. Her commander was Captain John Ancrum Winslow, who was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, November 19, 1811, and entered the navy in 1827. Semmes might have avoided a fight with the Kearsarge, but he was desirous to increase the prestige of the Confederacy and to secure recognition of its independence by European powers.
In the two accounts here presented, the story of the famous combat is told by the rival commanders, upon whose reports historians have drawn for their narratives. With these opposing records before him, the reader may view the battle from both sides.