After the outbreak of the Civil War, the Union blockade crippled Southern commerce. Hoping to ease the pressure on blockade runners (and turn the tables on Northern shipping), the Confederate Navy contracted with British shipbuilders to construct commerce raiders – warships designed to prey on merchant shipping while evading opposing naval vessels. Denounced as a pirate in the North, Maryland-born Raphael Semmes captained the most effective commerce raider, the CSS Alabama, as the ship terrified Union merchant vessels and frustrated the Union Navy. Semmes quickly became a hero in the South and earned a reputation as a daring commander throughout the world. In Part 1, we look at the clandestine construction of the Alabama and the beginning of her career as the most successful commerce raider in naval history.
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