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Wolf of the Deep: Raphael Semmes and the Notorious Confederate Raider CSS Alabama Hardcover – Bargain Price, July 24, 2007


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From Publishers Weekly

When you think of Confederate Civil War heroes, the names Lee, Jackson, Stuart and Longstreet, among others, come to mind. Historian Fox (The Mirror Makers, et al.) makes a convincing case that Confederate Navy Capt. Raphael Semmes should be added to that list, at least because of his brilliant seafaring skills. Fox's fact-filled, cleanly written account of Semmes's life focuses on his amazing 22-month stint as captain of the most famous Confederate privateer, the Alabama. Under Semmes's command, the Alabama roamed the world's waterways for nearly two years, seizing or sinking nearly 70 Union merchant schooners, whalers and other commercial ships to counteract the Yankee blockade of Southern ports, until June, 1864 when the Alabama was sunk by the U.S.S. Kearsage. Born in 1809 into a slave-owning, tobacco-farming family in southern Maryland, Semmes was orphaned at an early age, grew up in Washington, D.C. and joined the U.S. Navy at 17, remaining a staunch Southern partisan who espoused racist views and strongly believed in slavery. After serving without any particular distinction for 35 years, he made his mark with the Confederate navy. This well-conceived and executed military biography will have extra appeal for those who are familiar with nautical terms. (July)
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From Booklist

For those of a romantic bent, much of the naval conflict during the Civil War might seem dreary. Close-order battles between gunboats on the Mississippi and its tributaries lack the epic sweep of battles on the open sea. So Fox has provided a healthy dose of excitement in this swashbuckling account of the exploits of an extraordinary naval commander. A native of Maryland, Raphael Semmes served honorably for the U.S. in the Mexican War and then practiced law in Alabama. When Alabama seceded, he served the Confederacy as a blockade runner and had great success raiding Union merchant vessels in the Caribbean and Atlantic. But his greatest exploits began when he assumed command of the CSS Alabama in 1862. For the next two years, Semmes and his crew carried out depredations over thousands of miles from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean. Fox's account is filled with exciting battles, daring escapes, and interesting insights into the diplomatic wrangling between Britain and the U.S. Civil War and naval warfare aficionados will treasure this book. Freeman, Jay
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (July 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400044294
  • ASIN: B006G8JSMG
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,451,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By James Neville on October 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"Wolf of the Deep" is about the most successful commerce raider (read 'privateer') in the history of war at sea. The fact that Raphael Semmes was a captain in the Confederate Navy just adds more to the emotional appeal.

It turns out the Confederacy might have won after all, if it had done more commerce raiding. Semmes' raids alone were enough to cause hundreds of shipowners to sell their cargoes at a loss, or even the ships themselves, to avoid losing them as United States vessels. Semmes caused consternation out of all proportion to being one captain with one ship.

Stephen Fox tells the story with gusto, including lots of pictures, quotes from newspapers of the time, and different perspectives including pro-confederacy and anti-confederacy Brits as well as Americans. The Civil War is where Americans learned to fight with modern technology and transportation logistics - sadly, using each other; but learn they did.

For romance, for military adventure, for political buffoonery, for history: Wolf of the Deep appeals on all levels while telling a right good story. Amazingly, Captain Semmes retired and died in bed after all this brouhaha. You can see a statue dedicated in his honor in Mobile, Alabama.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Sandra Robertson on October 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
first off...it bugs me to no end that official and customer reviews refer to both Semmes and the CSS Alabama as "privateers." The Alabama was a ship built and comissioned in England by the Confederate States of America, and Semmes, her captain, was a Confederate Naval Officer. What she did, and did quite well, was commercial raiding, which was to destroy the enemy's commerce whenever possible. The Union ships did the same when they found Confederate blockade runners, and one can say they were performing the nautical version of what Sherman and others were doing on land.

That said, this is one outstanding book. I'm not partial to historical biographies, and even less to military ones, but I tore through this one in two days. Military, political, and sexual intrigue--a real flair for characterization---Fox has all of the ingredients for an old-fashioned potboiler--and this is all a true account of an overlooked Civil War navy commander of whom little was thought until late in his career.

Semmes and the Alabama are both fascinating characters--but the supporting roles of the crew--and those that love them--and those that plot aginst them--and the exotic ports of call the lovely Lady Alabama finds herself in and her many harrowing escapes until her final battle--all make for a book you can't put down.

Most historical tomes by Brown history professors aren't devoured like the latest beach novel. For me, this one was, but it was a far more satisfying experience.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By O. J. SEMMES on February 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Raphael Semmes is/was my great great grandfather. It is a matter of pride, if of no other significance, that I share a birth date of September 27th with him. An appreciable amount of my 78 years has been consumed in correcting error and wrongful expressions relative to Raphael Semmes, often by authors who borrowed liberally from his memoirs. For example the use of the words "notorious" instead of "famous"; the term "pirate" by authors better deserving the term; "rebel" by persons purporting to be historians. Fox appears, at times, to have used the philosophy of no proof to the contrary in his conclusions, especially his conjecture that one of Semmes's children had been born out of wedlock. This musing was based upon his time at sea and the unlikelihood of a 10 month pregnancy. Had one read all the error in the advertising of the book, this would come as no surprise. Semmes's character is best described in the words of Warren F. Spencer who wrote a factual book about Semmes during the Mexican War and the War between the States: "One other person inspired me to complete this writing:Raphael Semmes. His personality comes through all of his writings; his strong intellect constantly challenged me. I have learned from him the meaning of honor and the value of sacrificing one's self for the sake of one's convictions. My travel through Raphael Semmes's life has, in the sunset of my career, given me a new meaning to this period of my own existence. And for that, I thank Raphael Semmes". Spencer provided an accurate recounting of the life of a good man. The value of Spencer's thoughtful approach is well expressed through words of John Paul II: "People have always needed models to imitate, and that need is all the greater today, amid such a welter of confusing and conflicting ideas".
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. A. todd on September 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I just can't stress enough how interesting, well-written and -researched, and entertaining this book is. WOLF OF THE DEEP nicely balances a character-driven narrative, plunging deeply into Semmes's personality, whims, family life, and work, with illuminating historical backdrop. There is much to learn, even for Civil War buffs, I think, about the importance of the naval side of this war and its implications; as well about Anglo-American relations and Semmes's crucial impact upon them. I'd had no idea, for instance, that the Brits. were largely behind the Rebel South, looking upon it as an underdog agst. the big bully of the North -- until Lincoln was bold enough to hinge the War around slavery, as Fox points out. Meanwhile, the book reads like an adventure novel, filled with backstabbers, pirates, love interests, scheming politicians, and the like. If you're looking for an entertaining, insightful, probing history of the Civil War and one of its most important yet forgotten players, do yourself a favor and get Stephen Fox's WOLF OF THE DEEP.
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