Two Confederate sailors who fell in 1864 are buried in Cherbourg

Two Confederate graves from the American Civil War in Normandy, France

During the 20th century, France was the scene of major battles during both world wars, with hundreds of thousands of deaths.

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A tour of the beautiful English Cemetery in Málaga, the oldest in the Iberian Peninsula

Because of this, France has thousands of war cemeteries. To give us an idea of the approximate number, a total of 2,945 French cemeteries have buried soldiers of the British Commonwealth of Nations. One of those cemeteries is the Old Communal Cemetery of Cherbourg, in Normandy, a city that suffered heavy fighting during World War II. There are buried French soldiers, from the French colonies in Africa, from Belgium, the United Kingdom, the United States, Poland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other countries. There are even two tombs from a country that only existed for 5 years: the Confederate States of America.

The Confederate corvette CSS Alabama, painted by Rear Admiral (Ret.) J.W. Schmidt in 1961 (Source: Naval History and Heritage Command).

Specifically, in that cemetery there are two graves of sailors from the Confederate States Navy, who fell during the US Civil War (1861-1865). The obvious question is: and what are those tombs doing in France? The answer to this question takes us to the history of the corvette CSS Alabama, a Confederate warship launched in 1862 in England and whose mission during the Civil War was to block maritime trade routes to the States of the Union. This ship sailed through the Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia, capturing or sinking 65 northern ships , without suffering a single casualty among its crew.

Captain Raphael Semmes, commander of the CSS Alabama, stands next to his ship's 110-pounder rifled gun during his visit to Cape Town in August 1863. His executive officer, First Lieutenant John M. Kell, stands in the background, next to the rudder (Source: Naval History and Heritage Command).

The good luck of the CSS Alabama ended upon its return from its expedition through Southeast Asia. The Confederate corvette arrived at the port of Cherbourg on June 11, 1864, in order to carry out repairs on dry dock. Without realizing it, she was pursued there by the Union warship USS Kearsarge.

Painting by the French painter Édouard Manet about the battle between the CSS Alabama and the USS Kearsarge off Cherbourg, France (Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art).

On June 19, the CSS Alabama went out to meet its rival, in which the armor of the northern ship and its greater firepower gave it an advantage. The fighting was fierce, with hundreds of shots fired by both ships, but in the end the CSS Alabama was sunk. Most of her crew were rescued by the USS Kearsarge. The Confederate sailors buried at Cherbourg were two of the 19 fallen from the CSS Alabama in that battle.

Two weeks ago, the excellent channel The History Underground (I recommend that you subscribe to he if you are interested in military history) published a video touring that cemetery and showing the graves of those Confederate sailors:

You can see some screenshots from the video here. Here we see metal crosses on the graves of French soldiers from the First World War.

The grave of a Muslim soldier from Senegal, then a French colony.

The grave of a Polish airman of the 300th Polish Bomber Squadron "Land of Masovia" of the RAF. He died on January 15, 1943, during World War II.

The graves of the two Confederate sailors, sailor George Appleby, 60, and sailor James King, 38.

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