CSS Shenandoah Finally Surrenders

From The Civil War at Sea, by Craig L. Symonds (Praeger, 2009), Kindle Locs. 2369-2400:

After its adventure in Melbourne, the Shenandoah headed into the South Pacific, where Waddell encountered a string of bad luck. Forewarned of the Shenandoah’s presence by the American consul at Melbourne, U.S. shipping had fled the area so that no prizes were available, and a series of fierce storms battered the rebel raider as it struggled northward. Then on April Fool’s day, the Shenandoah found and captured three American brigs that were anchored off the idyllic island of Pohnpei in Micronesia. On that same day, nearly halfway around the world near Petersburg, Virginia, Federal troops broke through Lee’s lines at Five Forks, the event that prompted Lee’s decision to evacuate the Richmond-Petersburg lines and begin his retreat to Appomattox. By the time the Shenandoah left Micronesia and sailed north to begin its assault on the American whaling fleet in the Pacific, Lee had surrendered.

After a brief visit to the Sea of Okhotsk, where the ship and its crew battled ice storms and fog, the Shenandoah entered the Bering Sea in mid-June. There the pickings were plentiful, and the Shenandoah captured one whaling ship after another, burning most of them and using the others as cartels for the prisoners. Newspapers found on board one of the whaling ships reported that Charleston and Richmond had fallen to the Yankees. On another, the ship’s captain declared unequivocally that the war was over, that Lee had surrendered his army. Waddell demanded proof, but the whaling boat skipper could only reply that he had heard in San Francisco that the war was over. That was not good enough for Waddell or the members of his crew, one of whom wrote in his diary “There is no doubting the fact that the Confederacy has received in prestige a heavy blow, but further I do not believe.” Waddell was conflicted. If the war was indeed over, all his actions could be construed as piratical. But he had heard nothing officially, and it was always possible that the Yankees were publishing lies, something he believed them to be capable of. A few days later, Waddell captured another prize that had even more recent newspapers on board. These confirmed the fall of Richmond, but also stated that the rebel government had moved to Danville, Virginia, and that Jefferson Davis had resolved to fight on. The Shenandoah’s rampage continued. In four days (June 25-28), it took and burned 15 whaling ships and bonded three others.

Leaving the Bering Sea in early July, Waddell took the Shenandoah south along the North American coast with a plan to enter San Francisco Bay in the dark of night, steal up on the Union ironclad that was stationed there, board it in the dark, and take it. Then with both the Shenandoah and the Union ironclad under his command, he would place the city of San Francisco itself “under contribution,” that is, he would demand an indemnity from the city to avoid being shelled.

While en route there, however, the Shenandoah encountered the British bark Baracouta on August 2, and from it Waddell received chilling news. The war was indeed over. President Davis had been captured, southern armies had surrendered, and the people of the South had been “subjugated.” This time, there was no doubting the facts. As one officer wrote in his diary, “We now have no country, no flag, no home.” Describing this as “the bitterest blow,” Waddell pondered his next move. In his initial orders, written the previous October, Bulloch had suggested to Waddell that after he had completed his mission “the best disposition you could make of the Shenandoah would be to sell her, either somewhere on the west coast of South America or to adventurous speculators in the Eastern seas.” Uncertain whether that was still possible, and unwilling to surrender his command to the Yankees, Waddell resolved to take his ship to a European port. Waddell may have worried that the Yankees would consider him a pirate for having made most of his captures after the war had ended. In any case, he ordered the guns dismounted and struck below, pointed his ship southward, and began a 17,000-mile voyage back to the Shenandoah’s port of origin.

The Shenandoah passed Cape Horn in mid-September and turned north. Six members of the crew, fearful of being caught by a Federal steamer in the long run back to England and hanged as pirates, petitioned Waddell “to land us at the nearest and most convenient port,” and 10 others urged him to take the ship to Cape Town. Waddell’s officers supported him in his decision to return to Liverpool, and in a testimony to Waddell’s leadership, the rest of the crew, some 71 persons, signed another other petition expressing confidence in whatever decision he made. Discipline held, and so did Waddell’s luck. Though several ships were sighted en route to England, none pursued the disarmed Shenandoah, and on November 6, 1865, after a round-the-world the-world cruise of 58,000 miles, during which it had captured 38 prizes, the ship dropped anchor in the Mersey River near the British ship of the line HMS Donegal. Waddell distributed the prize money that had been taken before the end of the war to the members of the crew, and put the rest of it ($820.28) in a bag and gave it to the paymaster of the Donegal. After four more days in a kind of legal twilight, the officers and men of the Shenandoah were released unconditionally, and the Civil War at sea came to an end.

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Filed under Australia, Britain, military, nationalism, Pacific, travel, U.S., war

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