Confederate Rear Admiral, b. 1809 d. 1877.
At the age of 17, Semmes became a midshipman in the United States Navy. While in the service, he studied law while on leave and eventually became a practicing lawyer while remaining in the Navy. He fought in the Mexican War and served as special naval aide to the U.S. Army during their campaign against Mexico City.
With secession and the Civil War coming into the frame, Semmes resigned his position as a commander in the U.S. Navy in order to accept the same position with the Confederacy... despite the fact that he was born in Maryland and was a practicing lawyer in Ohio.
He was given command of the C.S.S. Sumter, the first Confederate cruiser commissioned by the Confederate Navy. In six months, he captured or sank fifteen Union vessels while attacking northern shipping lanes. The C.S.S. Sumter was then caught and blockaded by the U.S. Navy while trying to pass through the straits of Gibraltar. Before the ship and its crew were captured, Semmes escaped and made his way to England.
Knowing that a vessel was being built for the Confederacy at Laird's shipyard in Birkenhead, England, Semmes decided that this new vessel was his route back to the high seas. He took the vessel, named it the "Alabama" and almost single handedly took control of the Atlantic Ocean. Attacking mostly merchant ships, Semmes sank or captured another ten Union vessels in the next six months, including the Union warship U.S.S. Hatteras.
The Union labeled Semmes a pirate and offered a price for his capture. They would not recognize him as a naval officer because his conduct was "not befitting an officer in any naval command." His raids, designed to disrupt Union trade routes and to finance the economically troubled Confederacy, took him as far as the Indian Ocean and the China Sea.
The C.S.S. Alabama was destroyed on June 19, 1864 by the Union warship U.S.S. Kearsarge. After the Alabama sank, Semmes again returned, escaping both capture and death. He was picked up by an English yacht, which then returned him to the Confederacy. It was then that he was promoted to rear admiral.
During his Confederate naval career, Raphael Semmes compiled an impressive record. He captured eighty-two Union merchant vessels with a net cargo of six million dollars. He boarded at least 386 different ships and took over 2,000 prisoners during his twenty-two month command of the Alabama. He never returned to the north, retiring to Point Clear, Alabama where he died in 1877.