Raphael Semmes, born on 27 September 1809 in Charles County, Md., was appointed midshipman in the United States Navy on 1 April 1826. After initial duty in Lexington in the Mediterranean Squadron, he attended the Naval School at Norfolk, Va.; then served on the Mediterranean, West Indian, South American, and Florida stations; conducted a hydrographic survey of Narragansett Bay; and served in various capacities at the Washington Navy Yard. During the Mexican War, he served as commanding officer of Somers until that ship's loss; then became flag lieutenant under Commodore Conner. He participated in the siege of Vera Cruz and the expedition against Tuxpan and accompanied General Scott's army to Mexico City. Promoted to Commander on 14 September 1855, he was subsequently appointed Light House Inspector of the 8th Light House District and served on the Light House Board until 1861. With the secession of Alabama, his adopted home state, Semmes resigned his commission in the United States Navy on 15 February 1861. He subsequently served in the Confederate States Navy and, after commanding the raiders Sumter and Alabama, was appointed Rear Admiral and given the command of the James River Squadron, which he destroyed during the evacuation of Richmond. After the war, he taught at the Louisiana State Seminary; edited the Memphis Daily Bulletin; and practiced law in Mobile until his death on 30 August 1877.
(DD-189: dp. 1,190; l. 314'5"; b. 31'8"; dr. 13'6"; s. 35 k.; cpl. 120; a. 5 4", 1 3", 12 21" tt.; cl. Clemson)
The first Semmes (DD-189) was laid down on 10 June 1918 by the Newport News Shipbuilding Co., Newport News, Va.; launched on 21 December 1918; sponsored by Mrs. John H. Watkins, granddaughter of Raphael Semmes; and commissioned on 21 February 1920, Comdr. H.H. Norton in command.
Following shakedown, Semmes participated in exercises along the northeast coast until January 1921 when she sailed south for winter fleet maneuvers in the Caribbean. From there, she transited the Panama Canal to cruise off the west coast of South America and returned to the Caribbean in late February to conduct further exercises out of Guantanamo Bay. In late April, she resumed operations out of Norfolk.
The destroyer was ordered inactivated in 1922; and, on 12 April, entered the Philadelphia Navy Yard where she was decommissioned on 17 July. Activated ten years later, she was transferred to the Coast Guard and commissioned in that service on 25 April 1932. As a Coast Guard destroyer, she was reconditioned at Boston and based at New London, whence she operated from 25 September until detached for two months duty with the Navy on 7 September 1933. On 10 November, she returned to New London and resumed operations for the Treasury Department. On 20 April 1934, the destroyer was returned to the Navy and was recommissioned as an experimental ship in accordance with the London Treaty limiting naval armament.
Although not officially redesignated as an auxiliary ship, AG-24, until 1 July 1935, Semmes was assigned to Experimental Division 1: and, with assigned submarines, tested and evaluated underwater sound equipment into the 1940's. After the entry of the United States into World War II, Semmes added escort missions, training services for the Key West Sound School, and antisubmarine patrol work to her duties.
At Key West from 16 March to 16 April 1942, she performed escort and patrol work off the mid-Atlantic seaboard into May; and, on the morning of the 6th, while patrolling off Cape Lookout, collided with a British ship, Senateur Duhamel. The latter sank; and, after assisting the survivors, Semmes put into Morehead City for temporary repairs.
Permanent repairs were completed at Norfolk on 3 June and the former destroyer resumed her test and evaluation, patrol, and escort work which she continued through the end of the war in Europe. After the capitulation of Germany, Semmes resumed her primary mission of testing experimental equipment and, for the remainder of her career, conducted tests for the Underwater Sound Laboratory, New London, as a unit of the antisubmarine surface group of the Operational Development Force. Other duties during that period included the provision of training services to the Submarine School and to the Fleet Sonar School.
On 21 May 1946, Semmes again entered the Philadelphia Navy Yard for inactivation. Decommissioned on 2 June 1946, her name was struck from the Navy list on 3 July 1946; and her hulk was sold for scrapping to the Northern Metals Corp., Philadelphia, on 25 November 1946. She was scrapped the following year.