Old South Military Antiques

The Alabama's Raphael Semmes and John McIntosh Kell
Item #: OS-6700

This incredible ten by eleven[i] inch albumen photograph captures a historic moment in the life of the Confederacy’s greatest sailor, Confederate rear admiral Raphael Semmes, Commander of the CSS Alabama, the most famous of the Confederate raiders. Born in Charles County, Maryland, on September 27, 1809, he called Mobile, Alabama home for most of his life. A month after Alabama seceded, he resigned from the U.S. Navy. His experience in the Mexican War showed him the value of commerce raiders, and he was able to convince the CS Secretary of the Navy, Stephen R. Mallory to allow him to convert an unused vessel into a commerce raider.

Semmes then oversaw the conversion the CSS Sumter at New Orleans. The CSS Sumter went on to capture eighteen US merchant ships during a six month cruise before the old ship was abandoned to avoid capture while in dock for repairs. On his way back to the Confederacy, Semmes was ordered back to England to take command the CSS Alabama, the most famous raider in American history.

For the next two years the Alabama outfought, outran or outwitted all comers and was universally considered the most dangerous raider afloat. The Alabama captured sixty four ships, one of which was converted to the C.S.S Tuscaloosa, a formidable raider in its own right.

Semmes left the day to day operation of his ship to his executive officer and lifelong friend, Lt. John McIntosh Kell. When battle was near, Semmes took command.

In mid-June 1864, the Alabama needed repairs and Semmes sailed into the harbor at Cherbourg, France. The subsequent arrival of the USS Kearsarge, a much more powerful U.S. warship, commanded by John W. Winslow, forced Semmes to fight or flee. He chose to fight.

The two ships met on June 19, 1864, outside Cherbourg harbor. They fought for just over an hour and the battle ended with the sinking of the Alabama. A shot from the Alabama that lodged in the Kearsarge's sternpost would have won the battle for the Alabama, but it failed to explode due to defective powder.

Semmes and several others were rescued by the crew of an English yacht and brought to England, where Semmes was feted by his many admirers. Recognizing the historic moment, Commander Semmes, Executive officer John McIntosh Kell and the doctor that examined them, sat for this historic photograph in South Hampton, England. His own surgeon, D.H. Llewellyn drowned during the evacuation of the ship.

Semmes and Kell both returned to the Confederacy and served in the CS Navy for the rest of the War. A bronze statue of Semmes was dedicated in downtown Mobile on June 27, 1900, to honor his contributions to the Confederate cause. It was illegally removed June 4th, 2020. The Alabama attorney General then fined the city $25,000.00 dollars for removing it, but did not order the monument put back. So that the taxpayers were charged an additional $25,000.00 on top of what it cost to take the monument down, plus the expense to set up this dog and pony show. Laws are for the, not for me, sayeth the overlords.

This, John McIntosh Kell's personal copy, is I believe is the best image of Commander Raphael Semmes in existence.

[i] Approximate unframed