C.S.S. Shenandoah

C.S.S. Shenandoah

    Built on the River Clyde in Scotland, the CSS Shenandoah was originally destined to become a British troop transport named 'Sea King'. Constructed around an iron frame and clad in the finest oak and teak planking, the Sea King was launched at the Stephen & Sons shipyard on 7 August 1863. From the outset the 'Sea King' was designed as a sailing ship; but midway through her construction, accommodation was made for an auxiliary steam engine. James Bulloch, the Confederate Navy's agent observed this new ship and finally acquired it for use as a commercial raider. As usual, Bulloch's actions didn't go unnoticed and the US Consul, Thomas Dudley had once again informed Ambassador Adams of Bulloch's intentions.

    By this time, the British government had received repeated warnings about Bulloch and the Confederates being allowed to purchase ships and weapons. Following his purchases of the Florida and Alabama, Bulloch was now forced to employ covert means to avoid further detection by American and British authorities; but he eventually succeeded in purchasing ‘Sea King’ as well as the tender, ‘Laurel’. On October 8, 1864, ‘Sea King’ departed for an announced trading voyage to India; but on arrival at Funchal, Madeira, she rendezvoused with ‘Laurel which had already arrived loaded with necessary guns, powder and military stores. Over the following days the ‘Sea King’ was successfully converted into a formidable warship; and on October 19, 1864 she was formally renamed and commissioned into the Confederate Navy as ‘CSS Shenandoah’ under the command of Lieutenant James Waddell. Bulloch had instructed Waddell '...to sail into the seas and among the islands frequented by the great American whaling fleet, a source of abundant wealth to our enemies and a nursery for their seamen. It is hoped that you may be able to greatly damage and disperse that fleet.'

    Waddell indeed set sail a few days later and headed south. His goal was to seek out and destroy all American commerce in the sea lanes between the Cape of Good Hope and Australia. Though still seriously under-manned, Waddell managed to capture no less than six prizes en route to the Cape. The Shenandoah eventually arrived at Melbourne, Australia on January 25, 1865, where Waddell had the ship repaired and re-supplied. Here, he was able to recruit enough seamen to complete his crew; but after only a few weeks rest in Australia, the Shenandoah headed north towards his ultimate goal, the vulnerable and highly prized American whaling fleet in the North Pacific.
    The Shenandoah seized a total of 38 ships of commerce, and burned 32 to the waterline. Prowling the Western Arctic, over a period of less than a week in late June of 1865, the Shenandoah captured 24 whaling ships and sunk 20 in the waters near the Bering Strait. James Waddell, and his officers refused to believe reports from the vessels they were destroying that the war had already ended, some three months earlier. All ships’ personnel from these captured vessels, numbering over a thousand according to the ship’s records, were released unharmed and only two of the crew of the Shenandoah lost their lives during the epic voyage. The total loss to the whaling industry was estimated at $1.4 million ($19.7 million in 2000 dollars)

    Despite hearing of the Lee’s surrender and the fall of Richmond on June 23, 1865, Waddell continued his assault on the US whaling fleet. Only when sailing south, did the Shenandoah encounter a British bark on August 2, 1865 and Waddell was finally persuaded that the war had in fact ended in April. He immediately ordered all the ships guns to be dismantled and began the long voyage to Liverpool, England. Arriving in the Mersey on November 6, 1865, Waddell surrendered the ship to the British authorities and disembarked with his men. To their everlasting credit, the crew of the CSS Shenandoah fired the last shots of the war on 28 June 1865 during a raid on American whalers in the Bering Sea.

    The CSS Shenandoah was the only Confederate warship to circumnavigate the globe during the conflict and was the last Confederate military unit to surrender at the war's end. Along with the Florida and Alabama, she successfully disrupted shipping and supplies destined for the Union. After her surrender, the British authorities turned the ship over to the US Government where, Thomas Dudley, acting as the US Consul in Liverpool, sold the Shenandoah and its fittings in April 1866, for around £17,000.

Kindly submitted by Gerald Sears, Member,  290 Foundation, 2011


The Last of the Cruisers:


Following a highly successful series of operations in the Bering Straits and Antarctic Ocean against the Whaling Fleet of the Northern States, Captain Waddell turned the 'CSS Shenandoah' in a southerly direction towards the west coast of the United States. Waddell had long planned to raid the Port of San Francisco and the Bay area as part of his brief to disrupt shipping by intercepting, capturing then destroying US flagged vessels carrying cargo along the west coast shipping routes. This strategy was originally intended to cause the United States Navy considerable expense and effort, perhaps even force Washington to reduce the number of vessels employed on Blockade duties in the Atlantic. What Captain Waddell needed as he approached the coast was some current intelligence on naval and general shipping news. In this, he had been eminently successful!

Waddell had long been out of touch with any sources of information and not had any contact with any other vessels for some weeks. So it must have been with some relief on August 2nd 1865, when he was able to hail and stop a merchant ship sailing from the San Francisco area. Unhappily though, he was to learn from the British Barque, the 'Barracouta', carrying some current newspapers, that the Southern government had fallen some two months or so earlier meaning his recently completed operations against the Whaling Fleet had clearly taken place after the surrender of the South! This unwelcome news could well be even more serious when he realized that both he and the ship might well be guilty of Piracy in a civil court of law. Following his meeting with the 'Barracouta' and discussions with both her captains and his crew, Captain Waddell and his officers deliberated on their immediate future.

Captain Waddell (See photo left) learned some two months previous, the war had perhaps been going badly for the South but this more current news, must have caused everyone severe trepidation over what this would mean to them personally. He now ordered the ship to be stood down from its role as a Cruiser and returned as far as possible to its original guise as a cargo vessel. All deck guns to be stowed below into the cargo hold, the gun ports closed and sealed then painted over with a coat of white paint to complete the transformation. This done, Captain Waddell and his officers decided on their next course of action. If they simply sailed to the closest port on the Pacific coast, they could well be put on trial as Pirates, in fact if they called in at any port that might have a U.S. Consulate present, they could well run the risk of arrest? To Waddell the choice was quite clear. They would now sail direct to England via Cape Horn from their location on the West coast, round the Horn and sail across the Atlantic, a non-stop voyage of some 9000 miles. This would in effect be the first round the world voyage by a CSN ship.

Accordingly, on November 5th 1865, the 'Shenandoah' arrived and anchored off the Mersey Bar at the entrance to Liverpool Bay and there hoisted a 'Pilot request flag'. The next day, the 6th, a pilot arrived but insisted that any ship entering Port needed a 'national ensign' flown before he would do his duty! Captain Waddell immediately ordered the flag of the Confederacy hoisted for the last time and on reaching Liverpool, Captain Waddell requested the pilot to lay alongside any naval vessel in the area and the 'Shenandoah' hove to close to HMS Donegal, the Captain then turned over his ship to Captain Paynter R.N. with great ceremony on the quarter deck of the ‘Donegal’.

He then ordered the lowering of the flag of the Confederacy for the last time. His final act on behalf of the former Confederate States Navy was to request he be allowed to proceed to Liverpool Town Hall and formally surrender the C.S.S. Shenandoah to the British Government. The ship was then towed to the Prince George Landing stage and the crew formed up on the quarter deck of the 'Donegal' on Captain Paynter’s orders. A Roll call was taken and each crew member asked to state his hometown, a procedure designed to satisfy the British Home Office requirement to discover if any British citizens had shipped out in contravention of British Neutrality rules. Following a determination that only citizens of the United States had been onboard and despite the fact that dialects from every corner of the British Isles could be heard, the crew was released and paid off by Captain Bulloch, the now former senior Confederate Officer in the Port of Liverpool.

The now deserted ship was towed to the newly completed dock 'Herculaneum' to await her fate. The US Government took control of the vessel and the US Consul who was based in Liverpool was tasked to find a crew and Captain in order to sail her to the United States. He contracted a Captain Freeman, an experienced sailor from the New York area.

Captain Freeman was able to hire 55 seamen - and under pressure from the consulate, he attempted to get the vessel to sea despite the time of the year. The winter of 1865/6 was particularly bad with severe storms in the Western Approaches and after nearly a month at sea, Captain Freeman was forced to return with a damaged ship and barely any supplies. He reported that the ship badly needed docking for repair to the hull, masts and sails. Following his report Freeman appears to have found other employment and the ship remained in Liverpool until the end of 1866 where she was reported to have been regularly visited by her former Skipper. It seems Waddell, who stayed in the Liverpool suburb of Waterloo, frequently took a carriage ride to visit his former charge.

Put up for sale by auction, the 'Shenandoah' was purchased by agents of the Sultan of Oman and Zanzibar and renamed 'Majidi'. Following repairs she was sailed to Zanzibar to be home-ported at Stone-Harbour and was to be used initially as the Sultans personal yacht. It appears she operated in this role for a number of years sailing between the Ports of Zanzibar and Oman. Eventually she took on more of a role as a cargo ship carrying Coal, Clover and Gum.

Fate however finally caught up with 'Majidii' while at anchor near Stone harbour. In early April 1872, a tremendous storm struck the coast of Zanzibar. Over a hundred ship were blown ashore and the 'Majidi' was one of those victims. Re-floated with heavy damage to her hull and decking, she was eventually pumped dry but it was then decided to have the British Salvage Company that had re-floated her, take the ship under tow to the Port of Bombay where there were better repair facilities than in Zanzibar. Following her return in July of 1872 she was soon back in service, sailing with a German Captain and a native crew; but after departing Stone Harbour on her first voyage, she vanished and it was several weeks before HMS Briton was reported to have recovered several survivors adrift from the ship in the Mozambique Channel. The Captain of the British ship stated that some of the survivors had accused the German Captain of deliberately running the 'Majidi' aground in was order to allow a German Ship Building Company to offer a replacement vessel.

The wreck of the former cruiser, the CSS Shenandoah is still out there, on a reef somewhere in the Mozambique Channel. One cannot help but feel she deserved a better fate?


Kindly submitted by Dennis Brindle, Member, 290 foundation (BVI) Inc