The famous Civil War battle between the ironclad Monitor and Merrimac was an historic event, but a far more significant sea battle took place off the coast of France in 1864, between the CSS Alabama and USS Kearsarge. The Alabama and its captain Raphael Semmes became famous around the world as they destroyed Union shipping on the high seas for 22 months, evading capture at every turn. Sink the Alabama sees this story from three perspectives: Raphael Semmes, a former U.S. Navy officer turned diehard Confederate; his wife Ann Spencer Semmes, a committed abolitionist; and U.S. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, who was determined to sink the Alabama and put the “pirate” Raphael Semmes in jail. An important part of the story is how Great Britain, though fiercely anti-slavery, ended up allowing the Alabama as well as other Confederate ships to be built in its shipyards.

Eric Tucker as Raphael Semmes
Katie Hartke as Ann Spencer Semmes
Randolph Rand as Gideon Welles

British historian Amanda Foreman tells us that British public opinion shifted to the South because the North initially insisted the war was not about slavery, and because the Confederates masterminded a clever propaganda campaign painting the North as an imperialist aggressor and the South as a plucky underdog fighting for its independence. The film uses the story of the Alabama to tell how the Civil War was almost lost by the Union thanks in part to Great Britain but also to Lincoln’s reluctance, for political reasons, to confirm that ending slavery was the war’s principal aim.

Stream Now

This film had its broadcast premiere August 3, 2023 on Alabama Public Television and can be streamed HERE

Film Trailer

Major Funders

With funding from the Ben May Charitable Trust, Paul and Alma Fischer Education Endowment, Betty McGowin Charitable Trust, and the Alabama Humanities Alliance, a state program of the National Humanities Foundation.