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A Confederate Seaman known for his many Mustaches

Raphael Semmes, Confederate Naval officer, was an important seaman in the Civil War. He was captain of the navy’s most famous pirate ship, The Alabama, and was famous for daring exploits including a dual between the Alabama and the Union ship USS Kearsarge in June 1864.

Semmes drawing by Howard Koslow

Semmes, a Marylander by birth, received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1826. Following his graduation, he received a law degree and was commissioned a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy.

During the Mexican War, Semmes commanded the USS Somers. His book “Service Afloat and Ashore During the Mexican War” chronicles his activities during that conflict.

His original Civil War vessel, the CSS Sumter, was a steamer converted into a commerce destroyer. Under his command, the Sumter captured and destroyed 18 U.S. merchant ships. When the Confederacy received the new ship The Alabama, Semmes took command.

In his two years at command, the Alabama captured 64 union vessels. In a dogfight with the Kearsarge in Cherbourg harbor on June 19, 1864, the Alabama was battered. It sunk in the harbor. Semmes and some of the crew were rescued. Again he authored a book of his war exploits, this time calling it “Memoirs of Service Afloat During the War Between the States.”

The cavalier Semmes became a hero of the South for his daring exploits at sea. He was known also for his various mustaches during his lifetime, earning him the nickname “Old Beeswax.”

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