When the Alabama arrived in port at Cherbourg, France, she soon found herself boxed in by the Union warship the Kearsarge, with no place left to run. Captain Semmes chose to fight rather than see his worn-out ship rot away at a French dock.
The battle quickly turned against Alabama due to the superior gunnery displayed by Kearsarge and the deteriorated state of Alabama’s contaminated powder and fuses. The Kearsarge was also armor-clad although this probably did not benefit her that much. Semmes, in the years that followed, claimed he would never have fought Kearsarge if he had known she was armor-clad.
A little more than an hour after the first shot was fired, Alabama was reduced to a sinking wreck, and Captain Semmes was forced to strike his colors and send one of his two surviving boats to Kearsarge to ask for assistance.
Kearsarge rescued the majority of the survivors but 41 of Alabama’s officers and crew, including Semmes, were rescued by Deerhound, a private yacht which spirited Semmes away to England.
The battle between the Alabama and Kearsarge is honored by the Unite States Navy with a battle star on the Civil War campaign streamer. The remains of the Alabama were found in November, 1984, under nearly 200 feet of water off Cherbourg. In 2002, a diving expedition raised the ship’s bell along with more than 300 other artifacts, including cannons, structural samples, tableware, and other items that reveal much about life aboard the Confederate warship. Many of these are housed in the Underwater Archeology Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command conservation lab.
If you want more on the subject, three is a book: The Cruise of the Alabama and the Sumter by Raphael Semmes. available from Amazon.com.