Sailor finally laid to rest

Funeral likely to be the last for a Confederate service member
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Staff Reporter

Hundreds of people packed into Mobile’s Magnolia Cemetery on Saturday to take part in the funeral service for a Confederate sailor whose skeletal remains had been recovered from the wreckage of the sea raider CSS Alabama on the bottom of the English Channel.

A long row of Civil War cannons thundered in salute as the unidentified sailor was buried in Confederate Rest, a section of Magnolia Cemetery where some 1,100 Confederate veterans are buried. For the occasion, miniature Confederate flags had been placed atop each of the weather-beaten gravestones.

Taking part in the event were several hundred members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization that held its 112th annual reunion in Mobile last week. Many of them wore an array of Confederate uniforms, and there were participants in Civil War-era civilian dress.

The event also attracted observers from as far away as England and Bogota, Colombia, for what Robert Edington — a Mobile attorney and president of the CSS Alabama Association — said would very likely be the last funeral for a Confederate service member.

The remains of the unidentified sailor were discovered in 2003, encrusted underneath a cannon that had been recovered from the site of the CSS Alabama’s wreckage in 2002.

On June 19, 1864, the CSS Alabama was sunk by the Union warship USS Kearsarge in the channel off the coast of France. The Confederate ship had become notorious for preying on Union merchant ships around the world during the Civil War.

The CSS Alabama was commanded by Adm. Raphael Semmes, who practiced law in Mobile after the war and is buried in Catholic Cemetery on Mobile’s north side.

The funeral procession formed at Government and Royal streets near the statue of Semmes and moved west on Government to Ann Street and then south on Ann to the cemetery. Horses drew a caisson bearing the hand-made wooden casket.

Among those on hand was Semmes’ great-great-grandson, retired Navy Capt. Oliver J. Semmes III, 77, of Navarre, Fla. Dressed in a dark blue suit, Oliver Semmes traded salutes with several leaders of the procession in Confederate uniforms as he watched from downtown on Government Street. He said he believes his great-great-grandfather would have been pleased with the funeral being given to the sailor 143 years after the naval battle.

Raphael Semmes and about 40 of his crew members were pulled out of the cold channel water 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. About a dozen crew members drowned or were never heard from again. Edington said the Confederate warship had a crew of about 120.

Among those who came to Mobile for the funeral was John M. Lancaster, 77, of Cheltenham, England, an indirect descendant of John Lancaster, who rescued Semmes and his crew members with the Deerhound. John M. Lancaster said he came to Mobile to honor his ancestor and to gather information on a book he is writing on the Lancaster family. He and his wife, Janet, were being hosted in Mobile by

Edington and his wife, Pat Edington.

Mark Raines, 46, formerly of Mobile, said he flew 3,500 miles from Bogota to attend the event. He said he works with the U.S. Embassy in Bogota but is a member of the SCV and the CSS Alabama Association. He said, "It’s just an honor and a pleasure to be here to honor the crew member of the CSS Alabama." He said he is a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel as well as a descendant of Confederate veterans.

At the cemetery, several hundred spectators covered their ears as Confederate-clad rifle units fired volleys and artillery units fired roaring cannons in honor of the sailor as he was put to rest.

A.J. DuPree, a member of Raphael Semmes Camp 11 of the SCV, told those gathered that the sailor "served on the greatest sea raider in all of history" and added, "I hope we gave him his due."

Some 400 artifacts have been recovered since a French naval mine hunter found the CSS Alabama’s wreckage Oct. 30, 1984, in about 200 feet of water. Most of the artifacts, recovered by U.S. and French navy divers, have been turned over to the U.S. Department of the Navy for restoration.

After the skeletal remains were discovered, samples were shipped to the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii, where DNA samples were taken. Edington said findings indicate that the remains were from a crew member between 17 and 30 years of age.

Some 600 members of the SCV were in Mobile for the reunion, which concluded Saturday.

© 2007 Press-Register.

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