Because the CSS Alabama lies in 200 feet of high current water off the French coast of Normandy, the celebrated Confederate commerce raider may never be accessible to the general public. Museum exhibits display artifacts recovered from the wreck but visiting them requires physical travel. We invite you to journey via computer back through time to the coast of France to the CSS Alabama and be a part of the Franco-American archaeological investigation of Captain Raphael Semmes' most famous ship. Climb aboard CSS Alabama in its search for Union merchant vessels and its final battle with the USS Kearsarge. From the comfort of home, you can see images from the recovery of both information and artifacts without the dangers of diving in cold, deep water. You can also examine some of the recovered and preserved artifacts. I hope you will enjoy a virtual visit as much as I have enjoyed the opportunity and privilege of being aboard one of the most famous ships of the American War Between the States. (Dr. Gordon Watts, Musuem of Underwater Archaeology)
England's textile industry relied heavily on Southern cotton and England was a quiet supporter of the C.S.A. Since it violated international laws of neutrality for England to build warships for the Confederate cause, England simply constructed the ships but had them armed in other locations. After leaving England, the CSS Alabama was commissioned and outfitted for combat by the Confederate navy in the Azores. The Alabama attracted attention even during her construction. Union spy reports trace the ship designated "290" from her days in the building dock through six months of her sea voyages. Information about the ship's dimensions, manpower, and armaments was gleaned from workers around the ships and even from the sailors themselves. "Met the seamen, say thirty in number, on Saturday (July 26, 1862) coming down Canning Street from the ship, playing "Dixie's Land".... Went up to one of the men and asked him when he thought the ship would be going out. He told me that their bed clothes and bedding were on board and that the boatswain had told those who intended to go in her, to hold themselves in readiness for early next week."
Raphael Semmes, who had served in the United States Navy during the Mexican War, was appointed to the post of Commander of the Confederate Navy in 1861. His first action for the C.S.A. Navy was to command the CSS Sumter, a New Orleans steamer-turned-cruiser that began Semmes' reign of the high seas. After six months aboard CSS Sumter, Semmes was promoted to the rank of Captain and sent to England to command the new cruiser Alabama. The following proceedings marked a change in maritime custom, noting that the Alabama would burn one ship and lie in wait to capture any would-be rescuing ships. The sight of a burning ship could no longer be considered a call to aid but a signal to steer clear of potential pirates. "...in view of this atrocity (the burning of the Union ship Brilliant), it is the duty of this chamber to announce, for the information of all who are interested in the safety of human life--the life of ship-wrecked passengers and crews--that henceforth the light of a burning ship at sea will become to the American sailor the signal that lures to destruction; and will not be, as in times past, the beacon to guide the generous and intrepid mariner to the rescue of the unfortunate."
The CSS Alabama exhibit you are able to view at the virtual Mueseum of Underwater Archaeology is a new version of the exhibit launched early in 2006. It was redesigned to using cascading style sheets, and to be more accessible to individuals with disibilities. This virutal exhibit was designed and created by T. Kurt Knoerl and Michelle Damian. The exhibit script was based on the seasonal field reports written by Dr. Gordon Watts and was edited and arranged by Danielle Flores, Michelle Damian, and T Kurt Knoerl.
The above images and text are found at the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, CSS Alabama Exhibit