CSS Alabama yields a sailor’s remains

Monday, June 04, 2007
Staff Reporter

The remains of a Confederate sailor recovered from the wreckage of the famed CSS
Alabama at the bottom of the English Channel will be brought to Mobile in late
July for burial.

Skeletal remains of the unidentified sailor were discovered a few years ago
encrusted on the bottom of a cannon, but the find was kept quiet pending further
examination, according to Mobile lawyer Robert Edington, who is president of
the Mobile-based CSS Alabama Association.

Edington said the remains are "definitely" those of a Confederate
sailor and will be buried July 28 at Confederate Rest in Magnolia Cemetery.
Some 1,100 other Confederate service members are interred there.

The Alabama, which preyed on Union merchant ships around the world during the
Civil War, was sunk June 19, 1864, in a battle with the USS Kearsarge about seven
miles off the coast of France.

The Alabama’s commanding officer, Raphael Semmes, and about 40 of his men were
plucked out of the channel by the British yacht Deerhound and taken to England.
Others were picked up by the Kearsarge or by French boaters who were watching
the battle.

But about a dozen crew members drowned or were never heard from. Edington said
the Confederate warship had a crew of about 120.

Some 400 artifacts have been recovered since a French naval mine hunter found
the wreck on Oct. 30, 1984. The wreck lies in about 200 feet of water.

The cannon was raised by American archaeologists during the summer of 2002
and sent to the Warren Lasch Conservation Laboratory in North Charleston, S.C.,
according to Shea McLean, the Museum of Mobile’s curator of collections.

McLean said he has worked at the lab as a staff archaeologist both on the CSS
Alabama and the Confederate submarine CSS Hunley.

"I found human remains sometime in 2003," McLean said. The remains
were on the underside of the cannon, as if it had crushed the sailor.

McLean said the remains were eventually sent to U.S. Army Central Identification
Laboratory in Hawaii, which took DNA samples.

He said there is no doubt that these are the remains of a Confederate sailor
and he hopes to use the DNA to trace down the sailor’s descendants, through
a list of the crew.

Edington said the remains will be shipped to Mobile in conjunction with a national
convention of the Sons of Confederate Veterans to be held in July at the newly
renovated Battle House Hotel downtown. The convention is being hosted by Raphael
Semmes Camp 11 of the SCV, and burial will be with full military honors.

"We are confident that this will be the last Confederate sailor to be
buried," Edington said, noting a lack of other sites likely to hold any
Confederate sailors’ remains. No other human skeletal remains have been found
at the Alabama’s wreckage site.

About 200 artifacts were recovered from the CSS Alabama by the French in the
1990s and about 200 more were recovered after Americans took over the wreck
exploration with French cooperation. Most of the artifacts have been turned
over to the U.S. Department of the Navy for restoration.

The last dives on the wreck site occurred in 2005, and have not been resumed
because of a lack of funding, Edington said.

Semmes, the commanding officer of the CSS Alabama, spent the last years of
his life in Mobile and is buried in Mobile’s Catholic Cemetery.

© 2007 Press-Register.

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