CSS Shenandoah

The CSS Shenandoah, formerly Sea King, was an iron-framed, teak-planked, full-rigged vessel with auxiliary steam power, under Captain James Waddell, CSN, a North Carolinian with twenty years' service in the Federal navy. The Shenandoah fired the last shot of the American Civil War, in waters off the Aleutian Islands.

History and mission

She was designed as a British transport for troops to the East, and was built on the River Clyde in Scotland. The Confederate Government purchased her in 1864 for use as an armed cruiser. On October 8, she sailed from London ostensibly for Bombay, India, on a trading voyage. She rendezvoused at Funchal, Madeira, with the steamer Laurel, bearing officers and the nucleus of a crew for Sea King, together with naval guns, ammunition, and stores. Commanding officer Lieutenant James Iredell Waddell supervised her conversion to a ship-of-war in nearby waters. Waddell was barely able, however, to bring his crew to half strength even with additional volunteers from Sea King and Laurel. The new cruiser was commissioned on October 18 and her name changed to Shenandoah.

In accord with operation concepts originated in the Confederate Navy Department and developed by its agents in Europe, Shenandoah was assigned to "seek out and utterly destroy" commerce in areas as yet undisturbed, and thereafter her course lay in pursuit of merchantmen on the Cape of Good Hope–Australia route and of the Pacific whaling fleet. En route to the Cape she picked up six prizes. Five of these were put to the torch or scuttled, after Capt. Waddell had safely rescued crew and passengers; the other was bonded and employed for transport of prisoners to Bahia, Brazil. Still short-handed, though her crew had been increased by voluntary enlistments from prizes, Shenandoah arrived at Melbourne, Australia, on January 25, 1865, where she filled her complement and her storerooms. She also took on 42 crew who were stowaways from Melbourne. However, they were not enlisted until the ship was outside the legal limits of Australian waters. The Shipping Articles show that all these 42 crew enlisted on the day of her departure from Melbourne, February 18, 1865. Nineteen of her crew deserted at Melbourne, some of whom gave statements of their service to the United States Consul there.

Shenandoah had taken but a single prize in the Indian Ocean, but hunting became more profitable as she approached the whaling grounds. Waddell burned four whalers in the Caroline Islands and another off the Kurile Islands, without loss of life. After a 3-week cruise in the ice and fog of the Sea of Okhotsk failed to yield a single prize, due to a warning which had preceded him, Waddell headed north past the Aleutian Islands into the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean. On June 23, he learned from a prize of General Robert E. Lee's surrender and the flight from Richmond, Virginia of the Confederate Government 10 weeks previously. Nevertheless, he elected to continue hostilities, and captured 21 more prizes, the last 11 being taken in the space of 7 hours in the waters just below the Arctic Circle.

Surrender of the CSS Shenandoah

Waddell then ran south to intercept commerce bound from the West Coast to the Far East and Latin America, and on August 2 received intelligence from a British bark of the American Civil War's termination some 4 months before. Immediately Shenandoah underwent physical alteration. She was dismantled as a man-of-war; her battery was dismounted and struck below, and her hull repainted to resemble an ordinary merchant vessel.

The Captain of HMS Donegal took the last surrender of the American Civil War on November 6, 1865 when the CSS Shenandoah under Captain Waddell surrendered after travelling 9,000 miles (14,500 km) to Liverpool to do so. She was then turned over to the United States government. The Shenandoah had been in the Pacific Ocean when news reached her of the end of the Civil War, necessitating such a long voyage.


Shenandoah had remained at sea for 12 months and 17 days, had traversed 58,000 miles (carrying the Confederate flag around the globe for the first and only time) and sunk or captured 38 ships, mostly whalers. Waddell took close to a thousand prisoners, without a single war casualty among his crew: two men died of diseases. The reason the vessel did not have any war casualties was because it was never involved in a battle against any Union Naval vessel, as was the CSS Alabama, but instead took unarmed United States merchant vessels.

Battle Ensign

The Battle ensign of the CSS Shenandoah is unique amongst all of the flags of the Confederate States of America in that it was the only Confederate flag to circumnavigate the Earth, and that it was the last Confederate flag to be lowered by a combatant unit in the Civil War (Liverpool, UK on November 6, 1865). The flag is on display at the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia.

The battle ensign has been in the Museum of the Confederacy’s collection since 1907. Lt. Dabney Scales CSN, gave the flag to a cousin - Eliza Hull Maury - for safekeeping. Col. Richard L. Maury CSA, Eliza’s brother, brought the flag from England in 1873, and donated it to the Museum in 1907. The flag itself measures 88” x 136.” (source: Robert F. Hancock, Director of Collections & Senior Curator, The Museum of the Confederacy)


Further reading

  • Lynn Schooler, 2005. "The Last Shot: The Incredible Story of the CSS Shenandoah and the True Conclusion of the Civil War" (HarperCollins).
  • Tom Chaffin, 2006. "Sea of Gray: The Around-the-World Odyssey of the Confederate Raider Shenandoah" (Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
  • John Baldwin and Robert Powers, 2007. "Last Flag Down: The Epic Story of the Last Confederate Warship" (Crown Publishers/Random HouseInc.)

See also

External links

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