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Washington letter.)

The agents of the Navy Department who are engaged in the compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate navies in the late war have recently brought to light, from Southern sources, a mass of hitherto unpublished information of curious interest and value, relative to the operations of the Confederate privateer Shenandoah. In destructiveness to Union property, the work of the Shenandoah was second only to that of the Alabama, and the former enjoyed the peculiar distinction of having far outstripped the records of all other cruisers in the length of her voyage, and the fact that she never met with the slightest opposition from Union arms in her path of destruction, and continued her depredations many months after the conclusion of the war.

It is worthy of remark that the Navy Department at Washington was in possession of information relative to her outfit and plans early in the summer of 1864, but no active search was instituted until January, 1865; and though the United States ships Santee, Wachusett, Iroquois, Wyoming, and the European and Pacific squadrons at large were successively ordered in pursuit of her, none of them ever succeeded in coming up with her, much less in engaging her in combat. In the fall of 1865 her commander gained conclusive information that the war had gone against the South, and he leisurely and uninterruptedly made his way to England, where he gave himself and his ship into the hands of the British government. [127]

The Shenandoah was a full-rigged ship of 1,000 tons and 250 horse power, with a battery of four 8-inch guns—two 32-pounders and two 12-pounders. She was originally the British ship Sea King, built in 1863 for the East India trade. On her return to England from her first voyage she was purchased by Confederate agents in Europe and fitted out as a cruiser in the Confederate service, primarily to disperse and destroy the New England whaling fleet in the northern seas. She had been designed as a transport for troops, had spacious decks and large air ports, and was well suited for conversion into a cruiser. A fast sailer under canvas, her steam power was more than auxiliary, as she could exceed eleven knots without pressing. Provided with fifteen months stores, she sailed from London on October 8, 1864, in command of her English Master, Captain Corbett, for Madeira. Ten days later she was delivered over to her new commander, Lieut. James J. Waddell, who had taken passage from Liverpool with the officers and men detailed for his command. Among the latter were some picked men from the famous Alabama, which had been sunk by the Kearsage a few months before. The Shenandoah was commissioned on October 19th, and that day cleared for Madeira.

The journal of Commander Waddell is now in possession of the Navy Department, and it is a most interesting record of the career of the Shenandoah.

On October the 30th the cry of ‘Sail ho!’ rang out from the Shenandoah's masthead. Immediately she bore down upon the distant vessel, an American bark the Alina, of Seaport, Me., bound for Buenos Ayres with railroad iron. She was on her first voyage, thoroughly equipped, nicely coppered, and beautifully clean—a tempting prize. Defence on her part was out of question, and the Confederates boarded and scuttled her, after appropriating such of her furnishings as they could make use of and taking the crew prisoners, six of whom afterward volunteered their service as active men on the Shenandoah. The Alina was valued at $95,000.

On November 15th, the Shenandoah crossed the equator. The course thence lay south along the coast of Brazil. Nothing of interest occurred after crossing the line except the interchange of courtesies with neutral vessels until December 4th, when the American whaleship Edward, of, and out of, New Bedford three months, was sighted and captured near the island of Tristan. The Edward had taken a whale and was ‘cutting out’ when captured, her crew being so occupied with the fish that the Shenandoah had come within easy range of her unobserved. The Edward's outfit was of excellent [128] quality, and the Confederates lay by two days supplying their steamer with necessaries. The whaleship was then burned, and Waddill landed for a day at Tristan and made arrangements with the native Governor to receive the Edward's crew, most of whom were Sandwich Islanders.

Soon after the departure from Tristan it was found that a serious accident had happened to the propeller shaft of the Shenandoah and it became necessary to seek some considerable port for repairs. Cape Town was nearest, but Commander Waddill preferred making Melbourne, if possible, the course thither lying nearer the more frequented tracks of the United States vessels. The voyage was marked by the capture of several merchantmen.

The character of the Shenandoah was known at Melbourne, and she dropped anchor in Hobson's Bay, cheered and surrounded by the steamers in the haven. The next day the work of repairing the ship was begun, and during the delay several of the crew embraced the opportunity to desert, all of them being men who had joined the Shenandoah from captured ships. The attempt of Waddell to pursue and bring back these men was obstructed by the United States Consul, as well as by the Australian authorities. The Shenandoah, in a fortified British port, was in no position to resist these acts, and on February 18th, the repairs and coaling having been completed, the port was cleared.

The delay of the steamer at Melbourne had operated against success for the Shenandoah in the South Pacific. The whaling fleets of that ocean had received warning of the presence of the privateer, and had departed for sheltering ports of the Arctic Ocean. Learning from a passing steamer that some United States whaling vessels were to be found in a harbor of the Caroline Islands, Waddell directed his course thither, reaching the islands early in April.

An English pilot, who had been living there for years, volunteered his services to the Confederate, and brought the steamer to anchor in sight of four vessels flying the American flag. The flag of the Shenandoah was not yet displayed. After anchorage was secured, four armed boats were dispatched with orders to capture the vessels and bring their officers, ships' papers, log-book, instruments for navigation and whaling charts to the Shenandoah. After the boats left the steamer the Confederate flag was hoisted and a gun fired. This signal, announcing the character of the warship, brought down the American flags and the seizure was immediately made. Waddell [129] remained some days in this harbor, where he made friends with the native ‘King,’ a savage.

The course of the Shenandoah was thence for many days toward the north and beset with violent storms. Finally, the snow-covered Kuril Islands were sighted, and on May 31st the Sea of Okhotsh was entered under the coast of Kamschatka. A few days later the whaling bark Abigail, of New Bedford, was overtaken, captured and burned. The Shenandoah continued as far north as the mouth of Chijinsk Bay, but being forced away by the ice, she stole along the coast of Siberia on her still hunt, amid frequent storms and great danger from floating ice. On June 14th, no ships having been sighted, Waddell changed his course toward the Aleutian Islands, entered Behring Sea on the next day, and almost immediately fell in with a couple of New Bedford whalers. One of them, the William Thompson, was the largest out of New England, and valued at $60,000. These ships were burned.

The following day five vessels were sighted near an ice floe. The Confederates hoisted the American flag, bore down upon them, and ordered the nearest, the Milo, of New Bedford, to produce her ship's papers. Her captain complied, but was enraged to find himself thus entrapped. He declared the war was over. Waddell demanded documentary evidence which the Captain could not produce. His vessel was seized, and the Shenandoah started after the companion ships with the usual result. For several days following, the Shenandoah had things her own way, and the prizes were frequent and valuable. She struck fleet after fleet of whaling ships, only to consign them and their contents to the flames. On June 26th alone, five ships, valued collectively at $160,000, were destroyed, and a day or two later, she reached the climax of her career, burning within eleven hours eleven ships, worth in the aggregate nearly $500,000.

The Shenandoah was now overcrowded with prisoners, most of whom were afterwards transferred to passing ships. Having cruised around daringly for a week or two longer, and sighting no more ships, she turned her prow southward again. Her depredations were at an end, for early in August, she spoke the English bark Barricouta, from San Francisco to Liverpool, and from her received conclusive evidence of the end of the war between the States. Commander Waddell could not persuade himself to enter an American port, and for some time aimlessly scoured the seas. Later it was determined to seek an English port, and on November 5, 1865, the Shenandoah entered St. George's channel, having sailed 23,000 [130] miles without seeing land. On November 6th, she steamed up the Mersey, and the Confederate flag having been hauled down, Waddell sent a communication to the English Minister of Foreign Affairs, Earl Russell, placing his ship at the disposal of the British Government. Through Earl Russell the vessel was transferred to the jurisdiction of the American Minister, Charles Francis Adams, who caused her to be conveyed to this country, to be dismantled.

Such is the record of the Shenandoah. She was actually cruising for Union property but eight months, and during that time she captured and destroyed vessels to the value of more than $1,100,000, and the Union had never been able to direct a blow against her. She had visited every ocean except the Antarctic, covered a distance of 58,000 statute miles. The last gun in defence of the South was fired in the Arctic Ocean from her deck on July 22, 1865.

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