June 19, 1864 - 150 years ago today

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  1. NorwichDad

    NorwichDad Member

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    Sunday June 19 1864
    KEARSARGE CRUSHES CONFEDERATE CRUISER

    On 19 June, Alabama stood out of Cherbourg Harbor for her last action. Mindful of French neutrality, Kearsarge's new commanding officer, Capt. John A. Winslow, took the sloop-of-war clear of territorial waters, then turned to meet the Confederate cruiser.
    Alabama was the first to open fire, while Kearsarge held her reply until she had closed to less than 1,000 yd (0.91 km). Steaming on opposite courses, the ships moved in seven spiraling circles on a southwesterly course, as each commander tried to cross his opponent's bow to deliver deadly raking fire. The battle quickly turned against Alabama due to her poor gunnery and the quality of her long-stored and deteriorated powder, fuses, and shells. Unknown at the time to Captain Semmes aboard the Confederate raider, Kearsarge had been given added protection for her vital machinery by chain cable mounted in three separate, vertical tiers along her port and starboard midsection.
    This hull armor had been installed in just three days, more than a year before, while Kearsarge was in port at the Azores. It was made using 720 ft (220 m) of 1.7 in (43 mm) single-link iron chain and covered hull spaces 49 ft 6 in (15.09 m) long by 6 ft 2 in (1.88 m) deep. It was stopped up and down in three layers to eye-bolts with marlines and secured by iron dogs. This was then concealed behind 1 in (25 mm) deal-boards painted black to match the upper hull's color. This chain cladding was placed along Kearsarge's port and starboard midsection down to her waterline, for the purpose of protecting her engines and boilers when the upper portion of the cruiser's coal bunkers were empty. This armor belt was hit twice during the fight: First in the starboard gangway by one of Alabama's 32-pounder shells which cut the chain armor, denting the hull planking underneath, then again by a second 32-pounder shell that exploded and broke a link of the chain, tearing away a portion of the deal-board covering. Even if the shells had been delivered by Alabama's more powerful 100-pounder Blakely pivot rifle, the impacts were more than 5 ft (1.5 m) above the waterline and would therefore have missed her vital machinery.
    One hour after she fired her first salvo, Alabama was reduced to a sinking wreck by Kearsarge's more accurate gunnery and its powerful 11 in (280 mm) Dahlgren smoothbore pivot cannons. Alabama went down by the stern shortly after Semmes struck his colors, threw his sword into the sea to avoid capture, and sent one of his two remaining longboats to Kearsarge with a message of surrender and a rescue appeal for his surviving crew. Kearsarge finally sent ship's boats for the majority of Alabama's survivors, but Semmes and 41 others were rescued instead by the nearby British yacht Deerhound and escaped to the United Kingdom.
    The battle between Kearsarge and Alabama is honored by the United States Navy by a battle star on the Civil War campaign streamer. In addition, 17 of Kearsarge's crew received the Medal of Honor for valor during this action
     

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