Monday, January 23, 2012

CSS Sumter Crosses the Atlantic

Once Raphael Semmes and CSS Sumter escaped from the West Indies, they headed east across the Atlantic. Along the way, he captured a few more ships, namely a whaler out of New Bedford and a schooner out of New York carrying food. By the time Sumter arrived in Cadiz, Spain, in January 1862, she had captured sixteen ships.  However, none of the ships were particularly big catches.  Semmes would later complain to his superiors that despite capturing all these ships, he only took in about $1,000 in cash.  Thus, he needed more money to refit his ship and his men. 

As for the U.S. Navy, Welles had six cruisers looking for Sumter (in some cases as far south as Brazil): USS Niagara, San Jacinito, Richmond, Keystone State, Powhatan, and Iroquois.  When Semmes read Welles' public account of the search for his cruiser, the Confederate captain wrote a letter from Cadiz to the London Times mocking the U.S. Navy Secretary. 

Semmes, however, had a more serious problem than U.S. Navy cruisers.  Sumter was falling apart. Spanish authorities only allowed him temporary repairs and no fuel.   Semmes departed Cadiz and headed to the British colony of Gibraltar, hoping to find a more sympathetic ear.  He did not.  For the next several weeks, he attempted to procure coal and supplies, but did not succeed.  With some of the enlisted sailors deserting, Semmes pondered what to do next.

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