Confederate Raider: Raphael Semmes of the Alabama

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9780028810867: Confederate Raider: Raphael Semmes of the Alabama

Raphael Semmes was the Confederacy's most famous naval officer. Many of his Northern contemporaries, however, considered the Yankee-hating Semmes nothing more than a pirate. In either guise, Semmes commanded the most successful sea raider of all time. During a two-year cruise, his Alabama took nearly 100 Federal merchant vessels out of the war and became a household word on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Her final battle, off the coast of France against the USS Kearsarge, was an epic clash befitting the last one-on-one duel of wooden ships. A commander who carried out his mission without being able to call in a Southern port and whose crew had no allegiance to the Confederacy, Semmes is a compelling figure in American military history. John M. Taylor is the author of "William Henry Seward: Lincoln's Right Hand" and "General Maxwell Taylor: The Sword and the Pen".

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It is a minor scandal that this excellent biography is the first full-scale treatment of Raphael Semmes, the most distinguished commerce raider not only of the Confederacy but in all American naval history. Semmes, who was born in Maryland, served with distinction in the Mexican War, then went with the Confederacy over the states' rights issue and commanded both the C.S.S. Sumter and the famous Alabama. He emerges from these pages as an extremely able and aggressive sea warrior but in many respects not a very sympathetic human being--an unreconstructed Southerner, something of a martinet, and chivalric to the point of mismanaging his duel with the U.S.S. Kearsarge. Taylor's writing is a model of clarity, of balance, and of filling in the background for the nonspecialist reader. His biography deserves wide readership and certainly a place in Civil War and naval history collections. Roland Green

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