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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