Nickname: "Old Beeswax," for his habit of twisting his waxed moustache while pacing the quarterdeck
Nickname: Known as "The Nelson of the Confederacy" for his daring exploits
Born: September 27, 1809
Birthplace: Charles County, Maryland
Father: Richard Thompson Semmes 1784 – 1823
Mother: Catherine Taliaferro Middleton Unknown – 1811
Raised by his Uncle: Raphael Semmes
Wife: Anne E. Spencer 1819 – 1892
(Buried: Catholic Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama)
Married: In Cincinnati, Ohio in 1837
Captain Samuel Spencer Semmes 1838 – 1912
(Buried: Violet Cemetery, Osceola, Alabama)
Oliver John Semmes 1839 – 1918
(Buried: Magnolia Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama)
Electra Louisa Semmes Colston 1843 – 1925
(Buried: Catholic Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama)
Katherine Middleton Semmes Wright 1844 – 1937
(Buried: Forest Hill Cemetery, Midtown Memphis, Tennessee)
Midshipman Raphael Semmes Jr. 1849 – 1918
(Buried: Greenwood Cemetery, Montgomery, Alabama)
Graduated from Charlotte Hall Military Academy, 1826
Occupation before War:
1826 - Began service in the United States Navy as a Midshipman
Semmes studied law and was admitted to the Maryland bar while remaining in the service.
1837 - Commissioned as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy
1846 - In December, in support of the Mexican-American war effort, Semmes commanded the brig USS Somers in the Gulf of Mexico as part of a blockade. A fierce storm sank the brig just off Vera Cruz, and 39 crew were lost, and Semmes nearly drowned. A court of inquiry found no fault with Semmes and praised him for the way he handled his ship.
1847 - Accompanied Gen. Winfield Scott's army as it fought its way to the Mexican capitol
1847 - In September, Semmes commanded a howitzer that he dragged up onto the roof of a house, in coordination with another howitzer manned by a young Army Lieutenant named Ulysses S. Grant, located on the adjacent Church of San Cosme rooftop. Together they opened fire on the Mexican forces as the U.S. military fought its way into Mexico City.
Ended the Mexican War as volunteer aide to Brig. Gen. William J. Worth.
Settled in Mobile, Alabama, and began practicing law while on extended leave after the Mexican War.
1851 - Published his first book, Service Afloat and Ashore During the Mexican War, a book about his war experiences
1855 - Promoted to the rank of Commander
1856 - Assigned to Lighthouse Service as an inspector, in Washington, DC
1861 - On February 15, Semmes resigned from the United States Navy after Lincoln's Election and Alabama's secession from the Union
Civil War Career:
1861 - On February 21, Semmes meets with Acting Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who tasked him with a trip north to purchase war materiel for the new nation, a mission Semmes is mostly successful at, though he failed to find and purchase any ships.
1861 - In April, Semmes is appointed as a Commander in the Confederate Navy, and head of the Confederacy's Lighthouse Bureau
1861 - Semmes convinces the Confederate Secretary of the Navy to send him to New Orleans, where he converts the steamer Havana into the cruiser CSS Sumter, and ran her through the Federal blockade in June and began a career of commerce raiding
During Sumter's six months' operations in the West Indies and the Atlantic, Semme's crew captured eighteen merchant vessels and skillfully eluded pursuing Union warships.
1862 - Made port in Gibraltar in January in need of repairs, but Federal cruisers made it impossible to return CSS Sumter to sea.
1862-1864 - While commanding the CSS Alabama, Semmes and his crew captured some sixty merchantmen and sank one Federal warship, USS Hatteras.
1864 - After a long cruise, Alabama was blockaded at Cherbourg, France, while seeking repairs. On June 19, CSS Alabama was put to sea to fight the Union cruiser USS Kearsarge. Semmes was wounded when the Alabama was sunk in action. Semmes was rescued by a British yacht, and was able to find passage back to the Confederacy.
1865 - In February, Semmes was promoted to Rear Admiral, and commanded the James River Squadron during the last months of the Civil War.
1865 - When the fall of Richmond, Virginia forced the destruction of his ships, he was made a Brigadier General by Jefferson Davis, and led his sailors as an cadet infantry force.
1865 - Semmes and his cadets escorted the fleeing President Jefferson Davis south
1865 - Semmes is with Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina when Johnston surrendered his army on April 26, and given a parole with the rest of the army.
Occupation after War:
1865 - In December, Semmes is arrested under the charges of treason, piracy, and ill-treatment of prisoners. He is imprisoned by the United States Government in the New York Navy Yard for a term lasting 3 months, held as a Prisoner of War. He is released without having been brought to trial.
1866 - Elected probate judge of Mobile County, Alabama in May but prohibited from taking office by U.S. authorities
Professor of Philosophy and Literature, Louisiana State Seminary
Wrote and published Memoirs of Service Afloat During the War Between the States
Editor of the Newspaper, the Memphis Daily Bulletin
Died: August 30, 1877
Place of Death: Mobile, Alabama
Cause of Death: Contracted food poisoning
Age at time of Death: 67 years old
Burial Place: Catholic Cemetery, Mobile, Alabama
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