Wolf of the Deep
by Stephen Fox, Alfred A. Knopf.
Stephen Fox’s Wolf of the Deep is an enjoyable study of Raphael Semmes, the spectacularly successful captain of the notorious Confederate raider Alabama. Under Semmes, Alabama embarked on a 22- month, 75,000-mile voyage that wrecked Union naval interests around the globe. Semmes’ success in the war, sinking or capturing 65 ships valued at more than $4.5 million (nearly $500 million in contemporary figures), remains unparalleled to this day.
Fox provides an intensely personal look at the psychological and intrinsic forces that drove Semmes, a man well known for his solitary habits. The account of the Semmes family history reads much like a Hollywood screenplay. In nearly every aspect, his family was atypical of Southern culture. Not only were the Semmeses devoutly Roman Catholic, his wife and in-laws remained staunch Unionists and, in fact, lived in Boston throughout much of Alabama’s “cruise.” His daughter Electra, however, became an outspoken propagandist of the Confederate cause, and both his sons served in the Southern military.
Fox deftly outlines Raphael Semmes’ transformation from a relatively un – known and seemingly passive officer in the antebellum U.S. Navy to a fighting legend whose tactics are studied by naval historians around the world even today. Wolf of the Deep is a well-researched and insightful portrait of one of the greatest figures in American naval history.
Originally published in the August 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.