The Last Surrender

Sketch of the CSS Shenandoah from Capt. Waddell's own notebook.

Sketch of the CSS Shenandoah from Capt. Waddell’s own notebook.

As every fool knows—or every fool of a Civil War buff should know—the Confederacy did not end with General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox; nor did it end when Uncle Joe surrendered to Uncle Billie in North Carolina. No, nor did it end with the surrender of the Rebel forces in Texas. In fact, the last Confederate troops did not even surrender when Stand Waitie ordered his Confederate Cherokees to stand down in Oklahoma. No sir; the last Confederates to officially called it quits did not do so until November of 1865, and it was not anywhere in the continental United States, but in Liverpool, England to the captain of a British man o’ war. And therein hangs the tale.

Captain James Iredell Waddell, skipper of the CSS Shenandoah.  Born in North Carolina and served in the US Navy, but when war broke out resigned his commission and joined the Confederacy.

Captain James Iredell Waddell, skipper of the CSS Shenandoah. Born in North Carolina and served in the US Navy, but when war broke out resigned his commission and joined the Confederacy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She began life as the good ship Sea King, a three masted, steel hulled sailing ship. She had an auxiliary power of steam, but her main means of cutting the waves was by wind power. She was built sturdy and she was built true, with solid teak planking for her decks. She was, as they say, yar, easy to handle, responding to the wheel as sprightly as a young maid dancing about the Maypole in spring. She was built Clyde side in Scotland by Alexander Stephan and Sons, launched in August of 1863. It wasn’t until the next year, however that the Confederate agents in Britain managed to get hold of her. On October 8, 1864 she set sail, ostensibly headed for Bombay to pick up a load of tea. Coincidently, that same day the supply steamer Laurel set out from Liverpool; by the oddest of chances, the two vessels met at the Madeira Islands off of Portugal. As it turned out, instead of black tea, the Sea King took on a load of black gunpowder and heavy guns. There Captain James I. Waddell and his officers and crew came aboard and began the conversion of the sleek clipper ship into the commerce raider the CSS Shenandoah. She was outfitted with four eight inch smoothbore cannon, two twelve pounder Whitworth rifled guns and two thirty-two pounders. Like the Germans against the Brits in both world wars, the Confederates knew they were no match for the might of the US Navy on the open seas, but where they could hurt the US the most was by attacking her merchant fleet, and in a little over a year the Shenandoah did its best to inflict as much pain on Yankee commerce as possible.

The Shenandoah in drydock in Australia, where she also picked up 40 more crew.

The Shenandoah in drydock in Australia, where she also picked up 40 more crewmen.

Captain Waddell first sailed his ship around the horn of Africa and into the Indian Ocean. En route to Melbourne, Australia, she managed to take six prizes. After a spell in drydock and resupplying in Melbourne, including taking on forty new recruits, the Shenandoah head northwards, in search of the American whaling fleet. Cruising first to the Carolines and thence to the Aleutians, the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean, the Shenandoah made of clean sweep of the whalers, netting some sixteen ships; the white whale itself could not have done a better job of revenge on the Yankee whalers.

Painting by B. Russell showing the Shenandoah destroying Yankee whalers.

Painting by B. Russell showing the Shenandoah destroying Yankee whalers.

Then, on June 27, 1865, Captain Waddell and his crew learned from one prize that Richmond had fallen and General Lee had surrendered in Virginia. However, reading the newspaper report, Waddell noted that President Davis had vowed that the “war would be carried on with re-newed vigor.” So the Shenandoah kept on its mission, sweeping up more whalers and then began heading for San Francisco, believing the west coast port was poorly defended and vulnerable to attack.

The CSS Shenandoah cruising the Arctic Ocean.  Via US Naval History Center

The CSS Shenandoah cruising the Arctic Ocean. Via US Naval History Center

However, on the way, Captain Waddell learned that not only had Joe Johnston and Kirby Smith’s armies surrendered, but that President Jefferson Davis was also a prisoner. Realizing that the war was at last over, the Shenandoah hauled down her flag, dismounted her guns and received a new coat of paint to make it look like an ordinary clipper ship. Waddell, however, resolved not to surrender to the Yankees, lest he and his men end up dangling from the yardarm of a Yankee warship. They set sail down the coast of South America and headed back towards England, finally arriving in Liverpool Harbor in the early fall. Entering the Mersey, she took on a pilot to guide her into port, but the pilot, going by the books, refused to guide the Shenandoah in unless she was flying her national colors, so the Captain Waddell again raised the Confederate Ensign and came sailing into Liverpool still under the Rebel flag. Here the CSS Shenandoah officially surrendered to the HMS Donegal on November 6, 1865, the last surrender of the war. Captain Waddell personally walked up the steps of the Liverpool Town Hall where he presented a note, addressed to Lord Russell, then Prime Minister of Great Britain, formally surrendering his vessel to the British nation.

The Shenandoah in its brief naval career managed to sink or capture 38 vessels and capture a thousand prisoners and the Shenandoah was the only Confederate ship to ever circumnavigate the globe. Many of the crew, though claiming to be Confederates, were actually British, but by claiming to be Rebels avoided imprisonment in England, since Her Majesty’s government paroled all former Confederates straighaway. Those among the crew who actually were Americans eventually returned to the States when it was safe to do so, although a few had various adventures in Latin America in the meantime. As for the Shenandoah itself, it was sold to the Sultan of Zanzibar, who rechristened it after himself, calling it the El Majidi.

Scrimshaw of the CSS Shenandoah, carved on whalebone sometime in the 1860's.

Scrimshaw of the CSS Shenandoah, carved on whalebone sometime in the 1860’s.

Alas, its career with the sultan was less than steller. Details are a bit fuzzy; she was either a cruiser in the Zanzibar Navy, a slave ship or a legitimate passenger liner—my guess is, probably a bit of all three. She was damaged in a hurricane at Zanzibar in 1872 and then given a half-hearted patch job. She then set sail with a full load of 130 passengers and crew for Bombay and, still leaking from her previous injuries, sank en route.

For more strange tales and unusual events of the Civil War, read The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham LincolnThe Paranormal Presidency and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil WarGhosts and Haunts of the Civil War.

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About Christopher Coleman

I am an author, lecturer, and sometime instructor. My interests span a variety of subjects, including Southern tales of the supernatural, American history and folklore, military history in general, as well as archaeology, anthropology, plus various and sundry things that go bump in the night. I currently have six books in print: Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Dixie Spirits, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, a factual history of some more esoteric--and hitherto overlooked--aspects the sixteenth President. My book is Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, published in hardcover by the University of Tennessee Press and chronicling the wartime experiences of young Ambrose Bierce, noted American author. Bierce has been called many things by many people, but idealist, hero and patriot are terms that should be added to the list after reading this book. I am currently at work on several projects, some dealing with the American experience but also several fiction and non-fiction works looking into the Age of Arthur.
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