Raphael Semmes was born in Charles County, Maryland on 27th September, 1809. He joined the US Navy in April, 1826, and served in the Mexican War under Winfield Scott. After the conflict he published the book The Campaign of General Scott and Service Afloat During the Mexican War.
Semmes retired to Alabama and on the outbreak of the American Civil War offered his services to President Jefferson Davis. He first task was to travel to Washington and spy on the preparations being made by the Union Army.
When Semmes returned to the South he took command of the cruiser Sumter. After capturing 17 Union merchant ships he went to England where he took command of the newly built Alabama. Between September 1862 and June 1864, when it was sunk off Cherbourg, the Alabama captured or destroyed 69 ships.
Semmes was saved by an English yacht and when he returned to the Confederacy he was promoted to Rear Admiral. He took command of the James River squadron until the defeat of the Confederate Army in April, 1865.
After the war Semmes worked as a lawyer in Mobile and wrote several books including The Cruise of the Alabama and Sumter. Raphael Semmes died on 30th August, 1877.