The effect of Semmes and the Alabama.


Active Member
May 16, 2023
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First the US had about 5 million tons of shipping at the start of 1860. The losses to Semmes and the Confederate raider the Alabama were a drop in the bucket. The US was capable of building about 500,000 tons of ocean steamers, river steamboats and canal barges a year. The fact that Semmes caught and burned a few US merchant ships in more and more remote locations had no impact on the US war effort.
It did make it hard for US ship owners to get insurance. The owners sold their ships to British investors, which was work for George Peabody in London and his friends at Barings. I wonder that the ship owners did with their liquid funds. I suspect they purchased war bonds. As for the US sailors on the ships that were reflagged as British, those not able to claim Irish or the equivalent of Canadian citizenship were probably looking for work in US navy, or on transport owned and operated by the US army.
Semmes' greatest accomplishment was probably causing some of the best US steam sloops to be sent on patrol rather than being used to extend the blockade.
Towards the end of his cruise Semmes caught and burned a ship that had British ownership paperwork. Because there were no admiralty courts open to the
Alabama Semmes made the decision on his own that the ship was American. The ship probably had insurance from a British company. That's the main purpose of the transfer of ownership paperwork. Creating a payable insurance claim was a big mistake by Semmes. I suspect he knew that by the time he got back to the English channel, which is why he steamed into Cherbourg not Southhampton.


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Jul 28, 2019
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This is what the Confederacy was trying to do to cause financial pain in this way...

During the two-year cruise of Alabama, insurance rates increased to a debilitating ten percent, encouraging the bulk of northern commerce to flee to foreign hulls as Britain secured the position as America's dominant carrier, a position she would hold for decades.

In the history of commerce warfare, CSS Alabama was the most successful raider in terms of number of vessels prized. The devastation caused by the CSS Alabama has frequently been cited as one cause of the decline of U.S. international shipping in the latter half of the nineteenth century. An immediate consequence of their efforts was the 900 percent rise in insurance rates for U.S.-flag ships and the resulting transfer of some 900 ships to foreign registries.

In addition to the Alabama, other British-built ships in the Confederate Navy included the Florida, Georgia, Rappahannock, and Shenandoah. Together, they sank more than 150 Northern ships and impelled much of the U.S. merchant marine to adopt foreign registry. The damage to Northern shipping would have been even worse had not fervent protests from the U.S. Government persuaded British and French officials to seize additional ships intended for the Confederacy.

Re-christened Alabama, she began a two-year odyssey that ravaged Union shipping and raised both alarm and maritime insurance rates all along the Atlantic coast of the United States.

Both commanders made careful preparations for the fight, but Winslow possessed two advantages that would prove decisive. First, he draped heavy chains over the side of his wooden ship, then planked over the chains so they were not visible, providing greater protection from Alabama’s heavy shot. Semmes later argued that disguising that the vessel was effectively an ironclad was a dirty Yankee trick. Another advantage Winslow had was that while his powder and shells were relatively fresh, Alabama’s ordnance was at least two years old and its reliability was uncertain.