Sink the Alabama

Story of famed Confederate merchant raider premieres August 3 on Alabama Public Television and PBS App.

Painting of Sinking

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Captain Semmes

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Captain Semmes and officers on CSS Alabama

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On July 29, 1862, a ship commissioned by the Confederacy and built secretly in Liverpool's Laird shipyard slipped out of England to seek out and destroy Union commercial vessels on the high seas. So began the voyage of the CSS Alabama and its captain Raphael Semmes, deemed "pirates" by the North as they captured and burned their prey. The story of the Alabama and Semmes come to life in a new documentary, SINK THE ALABAMA, premiering Thursday, Aug. 3 at 8:00 p.m. on Alabama Public Television and on the PBS app.

Semmes and the Alabama became famous around the world as they narrowly escaped from warships sent by U.S. Naval Secretary Gideon Welles. The U.S. Navy sent as many as 18 warships to hunt the waters of the Atlantic and Indian oceans for the Alabama, but without success. The Alabama became famous in newspapers both in the North and South as it became the most successful merchant raider in maritime history.

After 22 months of wreaking destruction, the Alabama, its crew now mutinous and the ship failing, put into the harbor at Cherbourg, France in desperate need of supplies and refitting. It was at Cherbourg that the USS Kearsarge finally cornered the Alabama and was able to sink her in a battle witnessed by thousands along the shore.

SINK THE ALABAMA, directed by Robert Clem, combines documentary with drama: with commentary from Mobile historian John Sledge, British historian Amanda Foreman, Semmes biographer Stephen Fox, and U.S. Naval historian Craig Symonds; and dramatized scenes based on the journals of Raphael Semmes, the diaries of Gideon Welles and Wolf of the Deep by  Stephen Fox. The film also includes letters between Semmes and his wife Anne Spencer Semmes, an ardent abolitionist who left Mobile for her native Cincinatti when war broke out, but as "the wife of the pirate Semmes," she was forced by Union authorities to move back to Mobile until the war ended

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