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To the Uttermost Ends of the Earth: The Epic Hunt for the South's Most Feared Ship—and the Greatest Sea Battle of the Civil War

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The enthralling story of the greatest Civil War battle at sea by the award-winning and bestselling historians Phil Keith and Tom Clavin. On June 19, 1864, just off the coast of France, one of the most dramatic naval battles in history took place. On a clear day with windswept skies, the dreaded Confederate raider Alabama faced the Union warship Kearsarge in an all-or-nothin The enthralling story of the greatest Civil War battle at sea by the award-winning and bestselling historians Phil Keith and Tom Clavin. On June 19, 1864, just off the coast of France, one of the most dramatic naval battles in history took place. On a clear day with windswept skies, the dreaded Confederate raider Alabama faced the Union warship Kearsarge in an all-or-nothing fight to the finish, the outcome of which would effectively end the threat of the Confederacy on the high seas. Authors Phil Keith and Tom Clavin introduce some of the crucial but historically overlooked players, including John Winslow, captain of the USS Kearsarge, as well as Raphael Semmes, captain of the CSS Alabama. Readers will sail aboard the Kearsarge as Winslow embarks for Europe with a set of simple orders from the secretary of the navy: "Travel to the uttermost ends of the earth, if necessary, to find and destroy the Alabama." Winslow pursued Semmes in a spectacular fourteen-month chase over international waters, culminating in what would become the climactic sea battle of the Civil War.


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The enthralling story of the greatest Civil War battle at sea by the award-winning and bestselling historians Phil Keith and Tom Clavin. On June 19, 1864, just off the coast of France, one of the most dramatic naval battles in history took place. On a clear day with windswept skies, the dreaded Confederate raider Alabama faced the Union warship Kearsarge in an all-or-nothin The enthralling story of the greatest Civil War battle at sea by the award-winning and bestselling historians Phil Keith and Tom Clavin. On June 19, 1864, just off the coast of France, one of the most dramatic naval battles in history took place. On a clear day with windswept skies, the dreaded Confederate raider Alabama faced the Union warship Kearsarge in an all-or-nothing fight to the finish, the outcome of which would effectively end the threat of the Confederacy on the high seas. Authors Phil Keith and Tom Clavin introduce some of the crucial but historically overlooked players, including John Winslow, captain of the USS Kearsarge, as well as Raphael Semmes, captain of the CSS Alabama. Readers will sail aboard the Kearsarge as Winslow embarks for Europe with a set of simple orders from the secretary of the navy: "Travel to the uttermost ends of the earth, if necessary, to find and destroy the Alabama." Winslow pursued Semmes in a spectacular fourteen-month chase over international waters, culminating in what would become the climactic sea battle of the Civil War.

30 review for To the Uttermost Ends of the Earth: The Epic Hunt for the South's Most Feared Ship—and the Greatest Sea Battle of the Civil War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bookreporter.com Biography & Memoir

    “Named the Alabama, this cruiser had as her captain Raphael Semmes, who had already proved his prowess as a salt-water guerrilla on the now-defunct C.S.S Sumter. For the next two years Semmes and the Alabama roamed the seas and destroyed or captured sixty-four American merchant ships before being sunk by the U.S.S. Kearsarge off Cherbourg in June 1864.” – James M. McPherson, BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM: The Civil War Era That’s it. That’s all the CSS Alabama rates. A couple of sentences (less than a fu “Named the Alabama, this cruiser had as her captain Raphael Semmes, who had already proved his prowess as a salt-water guerrilla on the now-defunct C.S.S Sumter. For the next two years Semmes and the Alabama roamed the seas and destroyed or captured sixty-four American merchant ships before being sunk by the U.S.S. Kearsarge off Cherbourg in June 1864.” – James M. McPherson, BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM: The Civil War Era That’s it. That’s all the CSS Alabama rates. A couple of sentences (less than a full paragraph!) in a book that runs over 800 pages in paperback. That’s all it ever rates in most Civil War histories --- a brief mention, maybe in a footnote. You would think there would be a whole book in there. And you would be right. Phil Keith (who sadly passed away before the book’s publication) and Tom Clavin have collaborated to drag the men of the USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabama out of the gray, dim footnotes of history. Despite its clunky, unfortunate title, TO THE UTTERMOST ENDS OF THE EARTH is a stellar retelling of Civil War naval history, focusing not on the blockade or the showier Monitor-Virginia duel, but on the lonely shadow war fought by the Alabama on American shipping. It was H.L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore, who said, "Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats." Raphael Semmes was a native Marylander like Mencken, and was living the quiet life of a lawyer and naval reservist in Mobile when war broke out. He successfully glad-handed his way into the captaincy of a small merchant steamer and converted her into a successful commerce raider in the Caribbean, before being trapped in the port of Gibraltar. When the Confederacy was able to procure a cruiser from Britain and smuggle her out to the Azores, Semmes took command, armed and refitted the ship, and set off on a highly successful career of intercepting Union shipping. The primary difficulty that Semmes and the Alabama faced was that (due to the Union blockade of Southern harbors) she did not have a home port. Historically, this has been a problem for privateers, who are more successful when they can have a base of operations, such as Port Royal in Jamaica, where they can offload stolen goods, sell prizes and recruit hearty tars to prowl the Spanish Main in search of treasure. Semmes had to do all that, along with buying coal, and was only able to use neutral ports of call to do so. His ship was undermanned, and thus he wasn’t able to send out prize crews for captured ships. This turned him into one of history’s greatest arsonists, ranking with Nero and Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. What always puzzled me about the brief mentions of the Alabama in Civil War history was that her final battle was fought in France of all places. But Semmes was forced to range much farther than that. In search of friendly neutral ports, he sailed (and steamed, as the Alabama could operate on both sails and steam power) as far afield as South Africa, and even to Singapore, in search of unwary Union merchantmen. The authors wisely don’t focus all too much on the success of the Alabama. There’s not a great deal you can say about overwhelming victories against defenseless opponents after a while. The story then becomes about the worldwide hunt for the raiders, the corresponding voyage of the USS Kearsarge to block them, and the climactic battle that closes the book. In TO THE UTTERMOST ENDS OF THE EARTH, Keith and Clavin have righted a great slight and thrown the efforts of the two great ships and their crew into the spotlight. This is a masterwork of historical recovery and will be a proud addition to anyone’s Civil War library. Reviewed by Curtis Edmonds

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bon

    This book was a revelation; niche eras or regions of history can be so interesting. I never realized how much transatlantic activity there was during the American civil war; the Alabama was in Gibraltar, the English Channel, Port Royal, France, and more during the course of this book. Indeed, the Alabama fought what I saw another reviewer call a shadow war, attacking merchant ships and supply lines to harm the union side. We all know how important supply chains are, here in 2022, and I can't ima This book was a revelation; niche eras or regions of history can be so interesting. I never realized how much transatlantic activity there was during the American civil war; the Alabama was in Gibraltar, the English Channel, Port Royal, France, and more during the course of this book. Indeed, the Alabama fought what I saw another reviewer call a shadow war, attacking merchant ships and supply lines to harm the union side. We all know how important supply chains are, here in 2022, and I can't imagine getting by in the 1860s, in wartime, without essentials. I wasn't wildly enthused to read devout Confederates' parts in this book, and it was often a very one-sided battle between the Alabama and the ships it claimed victory over. Not a lot of honor there. But the book was a solid listen with a clear, effective narrator. The authors wisely avoided praising the Alabama too much. The facts of life at sea and the battle parts were written with a satisfying clinically distant tone.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nooilforpacifists

    Eh. Full of sloppy jargon: “Semmes’s experience as an attorney and counselor came to the fore. He argued to Mallory that a privateer sailed a thin line to be sure…” “Attorney and counselor”—only attorneys write “sell, convey, alienate, blah, blah, blah.” “Came to the fore”—embarrassing. “a privateer sailed thin to the line”—mixed metaphor plus embarrassing. There are two authors—one wrote the North’s story; the other the South’s. The latter seemed the more jargon laden writer. Both writers, however, Eh. Full of sloppy jargon: “Semmes’s experience as an attorney and counselor came to the fore. He argued to Mallory that a privateer sailed a thin line to be sure…” “Attorney and counselor”—only attorneys write “sell, convey, alienate, blah, blah, blah.” “Came to the fore”—embarrassing. “a privateer sailed thin to the line”—mixed metaphor plus embarrassing. There are two authors—one wrote the North’s story; the other the South’s. The latter seemed the more jargon laden writer. Both writers, however, erroneously used the definitive article before ships’ names In some ways, it freights an entire book on a single ninety minute battle. Some interesting facts, however: the addition of the Commander, Lt. Commander and Ensign ranks during the Civil war ended the former “First through [nth] Lieutenant” scheme inherited from the British. A gunner on USS Kearsarge may have been the first Black to win the Medal of Honor. And, amusingly, CSS Alabama lives on as USS Alabama, SSBN-731, the Ohio class submarine used as the platform for the movie Crimson Tide.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    Even avid students of the American Civil War likely know little about the battles at sea between the Union and Confederate navies across the oceans of the world. Many may not even know that the Confederacy had a navy. It did, but it wasn't much to speak of, except for the CSS Alabama, the most notorious of the merchant shipping raiders, which over the course of its piratical career destroyed scores of Union merchantmen from the Atlantic Ocean to the China seas. The Alabama met its fate in the En Even avid students of the American Civil War likely know little about the battles at sea between the Union and Confederate navies across the oceans of the world. Many may not even know that the Confederacy had a navy. It did, but it wasn't much to speak of, except for the CSS Alabama, the most notorious of the merchant shipping raiders, which over the course of its piratical career destroyed scores of Union merchantmen from the Atlantic Ocean to the China seas. The Alabama met its fate in the English Channel in the summer of 1864 when the Union warship USS Kearsarge sent it to the bottom of the sea. This book tells the entertaining story of that battle once you reach the final chapters.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Robert Mckay

    The Confederate States of America found themselves, unwillingly, in a war not long after their founding. All they wanted was to go their way in peace, but Abraham Lincoln provoked shooting at Fort Sumter, and when that happened, immediately called for 75,000 volunteers to invade the south - he had the war he'd wanted, a war of conquest being the only way he could bring the southern states back under his dominion. The Confederate States entered the war with severe handicaps. The United States had The Confederate States of America found themselves, unwillingly, in a war not long after their founding. All they wanted was to go their way in peace, but Abraham Lincoln provoked shooting at Fort Sumter, and when that happened, immediately called for 75,000 volunteers to invade the south - he had the war he'd wanted, a war of conquest being the only way he could bring the southern states back under his dominion. The Confederate States entered the war with severe handicaps. The United States had many more available men to put into uniform. The manufacturing capacity of the United States was vastly greater than that of the agricultural Confederacy. The US Navy, though it wasn't very large, vastly outnumbered the Confederate States Navy. About the only advantage the Confederate States had was in leadership quality - most of the superior combat commanders joined their states, leaving the United States saddled with such incompetents as Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker, and George McLellan. Everyone knows of Confederate Army commanders like Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, James Longstreet, Thomas J. Jackson, and P.G.T. Beauregard. But there aren't many who know of Raphael Semmes, the commander of the CSS Alabama. The Confederate Navy was never able to meet the US Navy on equal terms. The only major battle in which the Confederate States Navy had any notable success was the first day at Hampton Roads, when the CSS Virginia sank two US frigates and damaged two others, without any serious damage to the Confederate ship. The Confederate States instead turned to commerce raiding, a legitimate strategy in naval warfare (Germany did it during World War II, and for that matter most of the tonnage US submarines sank in that war was merchant shipping, not combat vessels). The Alabama sought out, captured, and destroyed American merchant shipping, carefully allowing neutral vessels to go their way (thus invalidating any claims that she was a pirate ship). She had a good run, seeing the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans before she was done. But while in port at Cherbourg, France to take on coal and effect necessary repairs, she found herself blockaded by the USS Kearsarge, a ship which the United States had sent out specifically to hunt down the Confederate raider. Worn down from years of constant toil, and suffering from inadequate gunnery, the Alabama lost the battle which followed. Most of the crew survived, including Capt. Semmes (who later received a promotion to rear admiral). But the Alabama was the last major Confederate naval vessel at sea, and the most successful one; her sinking effectively meant the end of the seagoing Confederate States Navy. That's a bald summary. The story is an exciting one, and the authors tell it well. There are a couple of annoyances. First, almost always they use the neutral pronoun "it" to refer to ships, when the tradition - still in full force during the War for Southern Independence - is to use the female pronoun, "she." There are a few inconsistencies, where they'll speak of a ship as "she," but anyone who knows the tradition and cares about it will find the use of "it" jarring. And then there's the anti-Confederate bias. This bias is in almost every single book on Confederate history there is. It's not just that the authors are on the side of the "union" (though as others have said, a union held together with bayonets isn't really a union), but that they automatically assume that all Confederate statements are suspect and all US statements are true. There is no concern for the Confederate side of things, except as it helps move the story along; what Confederate leaders and sailors actually thought about their effort to obtain independence is irrelevant, and only the US side of the story counts and is worth listening to. I've run across that over and over and over, in many places, and it's always annoying. It's not just that I share the principles of the Confederate States of America, which were the principles of the founders of the United States, but that it just isn't fair to disagree with someone without bothering to find out from him what he actually thinks, what his real motives are, what he's seeking.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bill Marsano

    By Bill Marsano. “The Confederates had a navy?” Yes, really. Many Americans have at least heard of such battles as Gettysburg and Bull Run, few know anything of the Civil War’s naval side save for the duel of USS Monitor and CSS Virginia, née Merrimack (and that mainly for making history as the first battle of ironclads—ships that bore armor as well as arms.) Yet the South did indeed have a navy or sorts: it wasn’t a fighting force but, like the Graf Spee and her pocket-battleship sisters of Wor By Bill Marsano. “The Confederates had a navy?” Yes, really. Many Americans have at least heard of such battles as Gettysburg and Bull Run, few know anything of the Civil War’s naval side save for the duel of USS Monitor and CSS Virginia, née Merrimack (and that mainly for making history as the first battle of ironclads—ships that bore armor as well as arms.) Yet the South did indeed have a navy or sorts: it wasn’t a fighting force but, like the Graf Spee and her pocket-battleship sisters of World War II, a predatory one aimed at despoiling the North’s commercial shipping. The South’s commerce raiders were few in number but of importance nevertheless. They cost the North many millions of dollars in lost cargoes, ships destroyed, and soaring insurance rates. The most and feared of them all was CSS Alabama. She was so successful and ranged so far—even into the Indian Ocean—that Lincoln’s Navy Secretary, Gideon Welles, demanded that she be hunted “to the uttermost ends of the earth.” In time, after endless frustration, Alabama is brought to bay off the coast of France by USS Kearsarge, and the result is a knockdown-dragout battle to which authors Tom Clavin and Phil Keith give full play (unlike Patrick O’Brien, whose splendid Aubrey-Maturin novels often gave combat short shrift). Both captains—the Union’s John Winslow and the Confederacy’s Raphael Semmes--had been “shipmates, messmates and roommates in a previous war, in which had won commendation for brave deeds.” Both had had slow-moving careers that fed a thirst for glory, and both were on the verging of “aging out” of the strenuous life of seagoing command in the days of wooden ships and iron men. Moreover, Kearsarge was the first opponent not meant to be Alabama’s prey. She was a fighting ship of proximate size, more heavily armed and benefitting from an ingenious adaptation of medieval chain mail. When she and Alabama began circling and shooting at each other six miles of Cherbourg, they did so before an enormous crowd of onlookers ashore—and gave them their money’s worth. More on the Southern navy is captured in Rachel Lance’s “In the Waves,” which covers H.L. Hunley, which in 1864 became the first submarine to sink a warship, the Union sloop-of-war Housatonic. It was a pyrrhic victory” Hunley, to, went to the bottom, killing all her crew. It is Lance’s quest to find out exactly why.—Bill Marsano is a superannuated salt and a longtime amateur of all things maritime.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Zeb Kantrowitz

    During the Civil War the South didn't have a traditional Navy, nor did they have large scale shipyards to build a Navy. So the Confederates sent agents to England to purchase existing ships and order the building of ships. Before the US put a stop to the ships being built, one was released and became the Raider CSS Alabama. Captained by a former Annapolis graduate, most of it's sailors were English or Irish. During a two year cruise the Alabama to control of 65 merchant vessels flying the US fla During the Civil War the South didn't have a traditional Navy, nor did they have large scale shipyards to build a Navy. So the Confederates sent agents to England to purchase existing ships and order the building of ships. Before the US put a stop to the ships being built, one was released and became the Raider CSS Alabama. Captained by a former Annapolis graduate, most of it's sailors were English or Irish. During a two year cruise the Alabama to control of 65 merchant vessels flying the US flag. Most of the ships and cargoes were burned and the sailors let off at neutral ports. At the end of the two year period, she was refitting at the port of Cherbourg in France when she was blocked by the USS Kearsarge from leaving the port. When the Alabama came out to fight the Kearsarge, they were eight miles outside of Cherbourg. While the French watched, the two ships battled. Alabama was at a disadvantage because it's gunpowder and fuses were over two years old and many didn't explode. Of their 170 man crew, the Alabama lost 19 dead and had 21 wounded. The Kearsarge suffered 1 dead and 2 wounded. In less than an hour the Alabama was sinking. Because the Kearsarge was a US Navy ship, her gunners and gun crews were able to cause massive damage to the Alabama, where the Alabama had gun crews that were mostly made up of ordinary seamen. Many of the Alabam's sailors were picked-up by an English yacht and French shipping. Though the Alabama lowered their flag and ran up a white surrender flag, none of the Alabama's officers were to surrender to the Kearsarge, choosing to escape to England or France. This was considered to be cowardly under the traditional rules of battle at this time. Keith does a fabulous job of explaining the rules of the sea at that time and how they were supposed to act towards neutral and prisoners of war. His description of the Battle of Cherbourg is a shell by shell description of how each shot's damage to the Alabama caused it's sinking.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Shoshana

    Over the last few years Tom Clavin has become a favorite writer of mine. His books about Dodge City Tombstone were well-written and very interesting. Although Phil Keith is the main author of this book, with Tom Clavin being the secondary, it is also well-written and very interesting. It recounts a little-known incident from the American Civil War which is right up my alley. `This is a fine book. It describes a naval battle which took place outside of Cherbourg Harbor. The Confederacy's raider "A Over the last few years Tom Clavin has become a favorite writer of mine. His books about Dodge City Tombstone were well-written and very interesting. Although Phil Keith is the main author of this book, with Tom Clavin being the secondary, it is also well-written and very interesting. It recounts a little-known incident from the American Civil War which is right up my alley. `This is a fine book. It describes a naval battle which took place outside of Cherbourg Harbor. The Confederacy's raider "Alabama" and the America ship the "Kearsage" fought until the Alabama was utterly vanquished. Keith gives the reader a minute-by-minute account of the battle, one might almost have been a participant. "Uttermost" is an excellent book for students of naval history. or those interested in the American Civil War. And, as proven once again, the reader cannot go wrong with any book in which Tom Clavin had a hand. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chet Slonina

    A wonderful book I had taken by chance to listen to and found very interesting. The stories of the Alabama and the Kearsage are fascinating as well as their backstory, exploits of both of the ships travels., and the captains are wonderful and painstaking research. The history of both North and South Navies are well documented an seeing them traverse the seven seas as pirates or privateers or just part of their naval duty was amazing. A Epic Hunt is truly the just name and the final showdown was A wonderful book I had taken by chance to listen to and found very interesting. The stories of the Alabama and the Kearsage are fascinating as well as their backstory, exploits of both of the ships travels., and the captains are wonderful and painstaking research. The history of both North and South Navies are well documented an seeing them traverse the seven seas as pirates or privateers or just part of their naval duty was amazing. A Epic Hunt is truly the just name and the final showdown was destined to happen. Buy who will win?!??!?!?!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    I don't pick up that much naval history of the American Civil War, but in this case I am very happy I did. Because this was one of the better, concise, well-written histories that I've read in a long while. I even liked the footnotes, and that is saying something. The authors don't get bogged down in too much minutiae, the story unfolds rather smoothly, there is a lot of good information presented, but not dryly like some many other histories so I think the academic and general readership will b I don't pick up that much naval history of the American Civil War, but in this case I am very happy I did. Because this was one of the better, concise, well-written histories that I've read in a long while. I even liked the footnotes, and that is saying something. The authors don't get bogged down in too much minutiae, the story unfolds rather smoothly, there is a lot of good information presented, but not dryly like some many other histories so I think the academic and general readership will both enjoy this. I hope this wins some awards.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Mike Stewart

    Entertaining and lively account of the most famous naval battle of the Civil War next to The Monitor vs. The Merrimack and certainly the most comprehensive I have read. Many interesting details of US and Confederate naval history, e.g. the ill-fated USS Missouri, of which I was unfamiliar.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Adelbert

    Best account of the Kearsage and Alabama I gave read. Excellent writing and meticulous research.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bookclubbish

    Categories Naval History, Wars & Conflicts, Civil War Period (1850-1877) US History

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dave Scrip

    Excellent Naval History Excellent research and writing on the CSS Alabama v USS Kersage battle during the Civil War. The characters involved Semmes and Winslow. They were former shipmates that became adversaries. A narrative of a great naval battle.

  15. 4 out of 5

    SCOTT and karen geller

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kathie Scheuermann

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chad

  18. 5 out of 5

    G Wheeler

  19. 5 out of 5

    Peg - The History Shelf

  20. 4 out of 5

    James Reed

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rob

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jim Kuhlman

  23. 4 out of 5

    MALCOLM MILBURN

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

  25. 5 out of 5

    Greg Girard

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dennie Hamilton

  27. 5 out of 5

    Miguel

  28. 4 out of 5

    Julia

  29. 5 out of 5

    Edward C. Gardetto

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jake Marshall

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