June 19, 1864, saw the most famous Confederate raider, the CSS Alabama, sent to the bottom of the ocean after a battle with the USS Kearsarge off the coast of Cherbourg, France. After two years of disrupting U.S. shipping all over the world—and sinking a Union warship in 1863—the Alabama’s captain, Raphael Semmes, took his ship to France for maintenance and repair.
The Kearsarge, captained by John Winslow, followed the Alabama and waited in Cherbourg’s harbor for the Alabama to reemerge. Semmes, aware that he was blockaded in the harbor, decided to challenge the Kearsarge to a ship-to-ship duel. Winslow accepted, and on June 19, a French ironclad escorted the Alabama to meet up with the Kearsarge in international waters.
The Battle of Cherbourg began about 11 a.m., with the Alabama firing the first shots, and lasted about an hour. The Alabama fired faster but less accurately, and its shells and powder were in poor condition. The Kearsarge, firing more deliberately, eventually struck the Alabama below the waterline, causing it to start to sink. Semmes surrendered, but he and some of his crew were rescued by a British yacht and escaped before they could be captured by the Federals.