SEAPOWER / NOVEMBER 2015 52 WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG
The Civil War Raiding
Voyage of CSS Shenandoah
By DAVID F. WINKLER
The forthcoming publication of Dwight Sturtevant Hughes’ “A Confederate Biography: The Cruise of
the CSS Shenandoah,” is most timely, given that Nov. 6
marks the 150th anniversary of the ship’s surrender to
British authorities at Liverpool. Whether the Hughes
book breaks new ground remains to be seen, given that
Shenandoah may be one of the most written-about warships in recent history. Over the past decade, at least nine
books have been published about it. Why Shenandoah?
Simply stated, the ship, following its commissioning
on Oct. 19, 1864, embarked on a remarkable year-long
commerce raiding cruise that would take its crew
around the world. With the surrender of Lee’s Army at
Appomattox, Va., in April 1865, Shenandoah carried on
the fight for a lost cause. In doing so, it fired the
South’s last shot and was the last unit to fly the Confederate battle ensign.
The ship, built in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1863 as Sea
King, had a busy first year in merchant service, making
several trips to the Far East carrying troops and cargo.
In October 1864, Confederate agents secretly negotiated for the ship’s purchase from the Wallace Brothers of
To complete the deal outside the purview of authorities, Sea King sailed from London on Oct. 8 supposedly
for Bombay, India. Another ship, Laurel, carrying LT
James Waddell, the nucleus of a wardroom and crew, and
armaments, left the same day from Liverpool. Meeting at
Funchal, Madeira, in the North Atlantic 10 days later, the
two ships transferred men and materiel to convert the
British merchantman into a Confederate cruiser.
Now in Confederate service, Waddell pointed the
bow of Shenandoah on a southerly heading. En route to
the Cape of Good Hope, the cruiser captured six northern merchant ships, sinking five and releasing the sixth
after a ransom bond was signed, and carried all of the
captured crews to Brazil where they were released.
Waddell took one more prize in the Indian Ocean,
before arriving in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 25,
1865. In port for just over three weeks, Shenandoah
departed for the northern Pacific with the objective of
disrupting Union whaling operations.
Over the next four months, the Confederate raider
sailed northward across the equator to the Arctic Ocean
via the Sea of Okhotsk and Bering Sea. During that time,
Waddell burned four whalers and claimed a dozen prizes.
It was from one, Susan & Abigail, that Waddell learned of
GEN Lee’s surrender. However, the San Francisco newspaper carrying the news also contained a proclamation
from President of the Confederate States Jefferson Davis
that the fight would continue with renewed vigor.
Following these instructions from his commander-in-chief, Waddell continued his campaign against northern
whalers. He would be credited with the capture and/or
destruction of 38 Union merchant/whaler hulls. He then
boldly decided to head to San Francisco, thinking he
could actually capture the city. En route, on Aug. 2,
1865, he encountered the British barque Barracouta,
which informed him of the surrender of remaining
Confederate armies and the capture of Davis.
Rather than surrender his ship to Union authorities and
risk being charged with piracy, Waddell charted a course
south along South America and around Cape Horn into
the Atlantic and back to Liverpool. For the three-month,
17,000-mile voyage, Waddell reconverted the ship to its
merchantman appearance and lowered the flag.
When it arrived off Liverpool, the pilot refused to
take Shenandoah up the Mersey River unless it flew a
flag. Thus, the Confederate flag would be raised and
then lowered one last time. The battle ensign has survived and is maintained at the American Civil War
Museum in Richmond, Va.
Turned over to the U.S. government, Shenandoah
was sold to the First Sultan of Zanzibar. In April 1872,
a hurricane pushed the ship ashore at that archipelago
located off East Africa.
Offered amnesty in 1875, Waddell would captain a
merchant ship and lead the Maryland State flotilla
force that had been established to police the
Chesapeake Bay oyster fleet. He would die in 1886.
Nearly a century after the Confederate ensign was
first hoisted over Shenandoah, the U.S. Navy recognized Waddell with the commissioning of an Adams-class guided-missile destroyer in his name on Aug. 28,
1964. USS Waddell fittingly would steam with the
Pacific Fleet for the next 28 years.
“A Confederate Biography: The Cruise of the
CSS Shenandoah,” will be published by Naval Institute
Dr. David F. Winkler is a historian with the Naval Historical