This book is an excellent narrative of the cruise of the CSS Alabama, keeping a fast-paced narrative, even through the most boring phases of the voyage. At the same time, the book provides a biography of captain Semmes and a compelling psychological portrait of such an interesting personality. The only downside was the criticism of the writer on the Confederate ethics and towards slavery, which is out of place on a historical book. Other than that, it is an excellent addition to any naval history enthusiast's library.
Stephen Fox (who, I assume, is either a Yankee or has Yankee sympathies) has written a superb, sympathetic and pretty well true (I have read with interest the review by O.J. Semmes and I respect it) thriller based on the exploits of Captain Raphael Semmes (O.J. Semmes's great great grandfather) and that of his principal and most important command, the C.S.S. Alabama, the extraordinary Confederate raider that wrought havoc amongst Yankee shipping during the War for Southern Independence. It's the sort of book that's almost impossible to put down as, though one knows how the ship's story ends - sunk off Cherbourg, France, by the U.S.S. Kearsarge, on Sunday, the 19th of June, 1864 - the Alabama's creation at Liverpool and her career at sea makes for endless fascination, as does the life of Captain Semmes himself. For this Britisher, however, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the careful cataloguing of the Confederacy's many supporters who were 'over here,' some of whom I knew of but about some of whom I knew next to nothing. Any present-day supporter of the cause of the Confederate States of America should remember with pleasure the parts played on 'our' side of 'the pond' by such as (in alphabetical order) James Dunwoody Bulloch (an uncle of Theodore Roosevelt), William Ewart Gladstone, M.P., Henry Hotze, the Laird ship-building brothers of Liverpool, William Schaw Lindsay, M.P., Senator James Murray Mason, Matthew Fontaine Maury, Senator John Slidell, James Spence, and, of course, the Revd. Francis William Tremlett and his sister, Louisa. These fine folk played their parts in the great drama and I am proud of all of them, British and American, but it was Semmes and his ship that nearly turned the tide of history and, despite losing the last battle, had lasting effects on both Great Britain and the United States. Read this well-written book: you'll love it like I did!
"Wolf Of The Deep" tells the tale of the C.S.S. Alabama and its legendary captain, Raphael Semmes. From 1862-1864 the Alabama left a trail of burning wrecks across the oceans of the globe as it sought to apply pressure to break the will of the North to carry on its war against Southern Independence. Built in Birkenhead, England, it was born in the midst of diplomatic chess games between the Confederate agent, James Bullock, uncle of Theodore Roosevelt, and U. S. Ambassador, Charles Francis Adams, son of John Quincy Adams, as Bullock maneuvered to acquire the ship while Adams interceded with the British government to prevent its delivery. Bullock won the race as the ship slipped away to the Azores where it was fitted for its voyage. With its largely non-American crew it began its cruises during which it preyed on Union shipping.
Semmes was a devout scion of the Southern Maryland Catholic aristocracy who left the U.S. Navy to serve the nascent Confederate service. A small, bookish man, he was not the one who would have been picked out of the crowd as a terror of the seas, especially by his pre-war naval colleagues. To the surprise of all who knew him, his seamanship, leadership daring would make him known and feared the world over.
The voyage of the Alabama lasted only 22 months during which it took over 60 Northern ships and cargos worth millions of dollars. Challenging only two Union Naval vessels, its career caused many to view the ship and Semmes as pirates. In truth they carried out a campaign against enemy commerce of a type that was and would remain a feature of warfare. Cruises through the North and South Atlantic were extended as far as Singapore with celebrated visits to South Africa that are recalled in song to this day.
I was generally familiar with the story of the Alabama, but this book brought to light some matters of which I was unaware. The crew was largely foreigners who were hired on the promise of pay and booty rather than Confederate volunteers. The ship itself was powered by both steam and sail. After seizing cargo and provisions, it generally burned its captures rather than towing them into port for sale. By the time of its sinking it was a ship in peril. Its leaking joints wearing out equipment and the rising mutiny in its crew forced it to seek repairs and rest in Cherbourg in June 1864. Unable to receive needed repairs there, Semmes, who had already asked for relief, took her out to meet the Kearsarge in the deadly battle that put an end to the Alabama's reign of terror.
After the sinking Semmes would be saved and whisked, along with other officers, to England. After the war he would return to his home in Mobile where he would try his hand at various businesses and spend time under arrest for avoiding capture at the time of the sinking. An unreconstructed rebel, he eventually he would write his memoirs and undertake a lecture tour to tell the story, as he saw it, of the greatest naval raider in history.
The record of The Alabama would lead to extended litigation by the United States against Great Britain for damages for the destruction caused by the ship. Ultimately a recovery was obtained.
Author Stephen Fox has provided us with a well written account of a captivating tale of the sea. With interest never flagging, the reader is drawn in to the tale and the people of the "Wolf of the Deep."
Personally I had little idea of the exploits of the Confederate States Navy, nor of the role of the UK in the achievements of the CSN. I found this book fascinating, a very easy read but with enough detail to keep the interest up. Strongly recommended.
I had known about Raphael Semmes and the Alabama for quite some time. However, this book not only filled in all the gaps in my knowledge but it put me aboard the ship for its incredible journey. I really feel now that I know Captain Semmes and what it was like on that epic 22 month journey whilst they wrought havoc on Union commercial shipping.
Some books, when you put them down after having read them for a whilst seem to shout " pick me up and keep on reading me". This is one of those books. I am sure I shall read it again some time.