The Last Surrender: CSS SHENANDOAH

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! Nor was it 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 great-grandfather Thorp used to 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 this ship. 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, with his officers and crew came aboard and began the conversion of the sleek clipper ship into the commerce raider the CSS Shenandoah and was officially commissioned on October 19, 1864. Initially, only the two 12 pounders previously on board could be fired, since the ship had not come with tackle for mounting the heavy ordnance; they could threaten potential targets, but not shoot. She was outfitted with four eight inch smoothbore cannon, two twelve pounder Whitworth rifled guns and two thirty-two pounders.

As with the German Imperial Navy against the British Fleet in both world wars, the Confederates knew they were no match for the might of the US Navy on the open seas, but that where they could hurt the US the most was by attacking her merchant fleet.

In a little over a year, the Shenandoah did its best to inflict as much pain on Yankee maritime 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.

The Shenandoah spent three weeks in Melbourne, including a spell in dry dock for much needed repairs.  She also received fresh stores, having depleted much of her on board victuals and other vitals.

During this time, the Rebel raider also recruited forty new crewmen. Waddell’s initial complement of men had been 17 men and two cabin boys. The crew was supplemented during the voyage out by impressing sailors from some of her captured prize ships.  Impressment, it should be recalled, was a practice that Americans prior to the War of 1812 had found particularly odious when carried out by the English Navy.  So the new recruits to the Shenandoah’s crew were warmly welcomed by Captain Waddell.  Apparently the captain and his crew were also feted by some members of Melbourne society during their stay, although other Australians found the presence of the Rebel “privateers” in their midst something of a political embarrassment.

One editorial referred to the Shenandoah thus: “We cannot regard the Shenandoah as other than a marauding craft, and her officers and crew than as a gang of respectable pirates.”  Given supposed British neutrality, the fact that the local government had allowed the commerce raider to stay as long as necessary to make repairs for war potentially had profound international consequences.  There was also some suspicion that the ship’s officer were using the layover to obtain information about US ships in the region who may be potential targets.

After this valuable rest, refit and resupply in Australia, the Shenandoah headed northwards in search of the American whaling fleet.

 

Cruising first to the Carolines, she burned four whalers on April 3–4, virtually days before Lee’s surrender in Virginia.  Thence Waddell steered his raider to the Aleutians, the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean, where the Shenandoah made of clean sweep of the whalers. All told, the Shenandoah netted some sixteen ships in the Arctic seas.  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.

On June 27, 1865, Captain Waddell and his crew learned from one prize, the Susan & Abigail out of San Francisco, that the Confederate capital of Richmond had fallen and General Lee surrendered in Virginia. However, upon 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 merchantmen across the Pacific 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 2 August 1865, Captain Waddell learned from a British ship, the bark Barracouta, headed to Liverpool from San Francisco  that not only had Generals Joe Johnston and Kirby Smith’s armies surrendered, but that President Jefferson Davis was also a prisoner. Realizing that the war was finally 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 around Cape Horn, and thence sailed northward headed back towards England, with Yankee warships pursuing them for much of that time, finally arriving in Liverpool Harbor in the early November.

Entering the Mersey, she took on a pilot to guide her into port, but the pilot, going strictly by the book, 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 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.  The Shenandoah was the only Confederate ship to ever circumnavigate the globe. Many of the crew, though claiming to be Confederates, were actually British citizens, 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 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.  For the reader interested in the military career of famed author Ambrose Bierce, we recommend Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, published by University of Tennessee Press.

 

 

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The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln carefully documents the President’s many beliefs and experiences with regard to prophetic dream, omens, premonitions and his active participation in séances.

 

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War relates true tales of the uncanny and supernatural relating to the War Between the States.

 

 

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Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife chronicles the wartime experiences of one of America’s more notorious journalists and authors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Odyssey of the CSS Stonewall

Some friends and I were discussing the Civil War the other day—a common topic.  The subject came up, when did the war end?  “On April 9, 1865, of course, when Lee surrendered to Grant,” said one.  “No,” said another, “when Jo Johnston surrendered to Sherman in North Carolina.”  “No, No, you’re both wrong,” said a third, “it was in Texas in May.”

The CSS Stonewall in drydock, probably in France during construction.  Millers Photographic History of the War vol. 6.
The CSS Stonewall in drydock, probably in France during construction. Millers Photographic History of the War vol. 6.

“You’re all wrong,” said I.  “The last Confederate troops to lay down their arms weren’t any of those.  It was the Confederate Navy that was the last to surrender, or at least two of their ships.”  And therein hangs a curious little tale or two.

Close up view of the Stonewall in drydock.  Millers Photographic History of the War, Vol. 6
Close up view of the Stonewall in drydock. Millers Photographic History of the War, Vol. 6

There was the CSS Stonewall, for example, a steam powered ironclad, built in France for the Confederacy.  Napoleon III, who was eager to support the Confederacy and have access to their cotton crops, secretly authorized the construction of this powerful warship.

The U.S. government found out, however, so the ship was quietly transferred to Denmark where the ironclad finished being fitted out.  It was there where Captain T. J. Page was made skipper of the new ironclad.  It was a formidable warship, built in the style of the French “Ocean Class” warships and was one of the most powerful for its time: it boasted one 300 pounder main gun, with two 70 pounder guns in a turret on the aft deck, sheathed in thick steel armor proof to just about any cannon fire, as well as a powerful steel ram attached to the bow of the ship.  The main gun fired forward, while the 70 pounders were in the turret, which presumably revolved, although it had a limited field of fire. The turret was handicapped by being located behind the aft mast instead of amidships, where the mast’s rigging seriously interfered with its line of fire.  In addition, she was equipped with at least two Gatling guns on top of the turret.

The Stonewall off the coast of Spain in early 1865.
The Stonewall off the coast of Spain in early 1865.

Upon commissioning, it traveled down the European coastline, first to Brittany, thence to Spain and Portugal, with Yankee ships following at a respectful distance.

The CSS Stonewall leaving Lisbon Harbor for America.  Source: Illustrated London News.
The CSS Stonewall leaving Lisbon Harbor for America. Source: Illustrated London News.

This powerful warship next cruised across the Atlantic and plied about the Caribbean for a bit, perhaps contemplating a raid or two against Union shipping.

Then one day in May, 1865, the CSS Stonewall showed up in Havana harbor, its solid steel sides and big guns looking quite intimidating.  The US Consul in Havana nearly had a fit; he knew the Stonewall was impervious to anything the US Navy could throw at it; the Navy’s low-lying ironclad monitors were no match for it: the ram-equipped Stonewall could simply crush them beneath its armored prow.  The commander of the East Gulf Blockading Squadron, Admiral C. K. Stribling, dispatched a detachment of warships to deal with the Rebel dreadnaught—although if the Confederates decided to make a fight of it, the Navy’s ships were likely doomed.  However, Stribling sent a personal note to the captain offering generous terms of surrender.  Captain Page, knowing that the Lost Cause was indeed lost, sold the ship to the Spanish governor of Cuba, paid off his crew with the money and he and his crew quietly made their exit from the scene.  The Spanish then re-sold the vessel to the U. S. government for what he’d paid the Confederate captain.

Now the USS Stonewall, sitting at anchor in the Washington Navy Yard, ca. 1865.  courtesy US Navy
Now the USS Stonewall, sitting at anchor in the Washington Navy Yard, ca. 1865. courtesy US Navy

The Stonewall could lay fair claim to being the first modern battleship to see combat—but not with the Confederate Navy.  After languishing in a Navy yard for a few years, the Stonewall was sold to the Japanese government in 1868, then busily modernizing its armed forces and in a hurry to catch up with the European powers.  Initially, it was to be sold to the Tokugawa Shogunate, Japan’s last vestige of its Feudal heritage.

The Stonewall, rechristened the  Kotetsu, sitting in a harbor somewhere in Japan.  via US Navy
The Stonewall, rechristened the Kotetsu, sitting in a harbor somewhere in Japan. via US Navy

However, factions in Japan pushing hard for modernization sought to revive Imperial rule and overturn the old feudal order and instituted a coup, of sorts, called the Meiji Restoration.  But old ways die hard in Japan and their restoration of Imperial rule sparked a brief Civil War, The Boshin War.  Remaining neutral, the US refused to hand over the Stonewall, now called the Kotetsu, which was briefly reflagged as an American vessel again.

the Kotetsu at the Battle of Hakudate.  (via US Navy).
the Kotetsu at the Battle of Hakudate. (via US Navy).

Finally, in February, 1869, she was handed over to the new Meiji government, who named her the Kotetsu and promptly sent her north to Hokkaido to stamp out the last of Shogun resistance to the new regime.  The Kotetsu participated in the Battle of Miyako , repulsing a rebel boarding party with its Gatling guns.  The Kotetsu would go on to also fight in the Battle of Hakudate  before the last remnants of the old regime on Hakkaido were finally defeated.  In 1871, the Stonewall was again renamed, this time the Azuma, under which she remained in service until 1888 and was finally scrapped in 1908.

The Kotetsu flying Japanese colors. (via US NAVY)
The Kotetsu flying Japanese colors. (via US NAVY)

The Stonewall/Kotetsu was not the Rebel Navy’s last ship to lower its flag; but more about that next time.

  1. For hobbyists, there is in fact a model available of the Kotetsu, as well as a paper model of the Stonewall–a modeling specialty popular in Japan and Europe, not so much here.  One enterprising Italian hobbyist used the scale plans from that kit to make a 1/75 scale wooden model.

My latest book about the Civil War is now in print and available: Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, chronicling the war career of the famous American author and his war experiences in the Union army.

ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce, famed American author, is best known for his macabre fiction and cynical humor. Bierce’s wartime experiences were the transformative events of the young author’s life. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife for the first time chronicles this pivotal period of Bierce’s life.

 

CSS Stonewall off Feral Spain pursued by Yankee warships by artist Ian Marshall
The CSS Stonewall off the coast of Feral Spain, pursued by two Yankee warships. Watercolor by artist Ian Marshall