- The Washington Times - Friday, October 1, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHERBOURG, France — American cannon blasts bellowed in the English Channel 140 years ago, and bloodied bodies

lined the deck of a sinking Confederate ship. Teary onlookers watched in horror from the Normandy coast.

On June 19, 1864, far from battlefields at home, the USS Kearsarge hunted down and sank a dreaded Confederate raider in one of the most important naval battles of the American Civil War — off the coast of France.

The Confederate State Ship Alabama today lies where it sank 198 feet under swirling currents about seven nautical miles off the French town of Cherbourg.

This week, the Civil War Preservation Trust, an American nonprofit group, named this English Channel town a historic Civil War site — the first outside the United States. Officials dedicated a plaque commemorating the battle at the Cite de la Mer museum, which is exhibiting a cannon recovered from the Alabama.

“This was one of the most notable naval battles of the Civil War, and one of the most unique in that it happened so far away from American shores,” Robert Neyland, head of underwater archaeology at the U.S. Naval Historical Center, said from Washington.

The Alabama, built for the Confederacy by a company in Liverpool, England, was one of the most successful raiders ever. In 22 months, its crew boarded 447 vessels, including 65 Union merchant ships, and took 2,000 prisoners, according to the CSS Alabama Association, www.css-alabama.com.

“This ship caused a lot of panic in the United States,” Mr. Neyland said, adding that its exploits made it known — and at times celebrated — in many parts of the world.

Five days before its last battle, the Confederate raider stopped for repairs in Cherbourg, where the Kearsarge found it after a long hunt. Capt. Raphael Semmes, who commanded the three-masted Confederate sloop, then challenged Kearsarge Capt. John Winslow to a one-on-one battle.

French witness accounts and Capt. Semmes’ journal described a gruesome battle between the steam- and sail-powered ships lasting more than an hour.

The historical center said 10 of the Alabama’s 155 crew members were killed in the battle, four drowned and 15 more went missing in action and were presumed dead.

Semmes’ great-great-grandson, Oliver Semmes, attended Monday’s ceremony.

A French naval mine sweeper discovered the 234-foot-long, 30-foot-wide ship in 1984. Divers and robots have retrieved relics — including the cannon, revolver bullets and coins — in more than 1,000 dives.

After a two-year pause, explorations will resume next year. The ship belongs to the United States but is in French territorial waters.

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