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The Shenandoah.

A sketch of the eventful life of the Confederate cruiser.

Captain James I. Waddell.

Carried the Confederate flag around the world. A Memorial address by Capt. S. A. Ashe, before the Ladies' Memorial Association, at Raleigh, N. C., May 10, 1902.

On Saturday afternoon, the 10th of May, 1902, at Raleigh, N. C., Captain S. A. Ashe delivered before the Ledies' Memorial Association an address on Captain James Iredell Waddell, who commanded the Confederate cruiser Shenandoah, carried the Confederate flag around the world, and never lowered it until seven months after Lee's surrender, when he brought his ship into a British port.

From his address we take the following:

Purchase of the ‘sea King.’

Captain Bullock, the representative of the Confederate government in Europe, had succeeded in purchasing the Sea King, a vessel built for the East India trade, and then on her maiden voyage. She was commodious and well adapted to carrying a large complement of men, sailed well under canvas, and had her screw propeller so adjusted that when not in use, it could be raised out of the water.

In September, 1864, Flag Officer Barron, at Paris, pursuant to instructions from the department, gave to Lieutenant Waddell his particular directions. They were to the effect that he should proceed to London and sail on the steamer Laurel to the island of Madeira. The Laurel had already on board a cargo apparently of merchandise—but really of cannon and munitions of war, which had been invoiced as machinery and other innocent goods and chattels.

The difficulties that beset Confederate operations abroad were almost insurmountable, the British authorities being vigilant to give no offence to the United States.

The Sea King having been secretly purchased, also set sail for Madeira. [321]

On October 19th the two vessels met off Funchal, and, a preconcerted signal being given, recognized each other, and proceeded to an anchorage on the shores of an uninhabited island some miles distant, where the transfer of stores was rapidly made, and Lieutenant Waddell read his commission, and raising the Confederate flag over the Sea King. christened her the Shenandoah. The little nook in which the vessels lay was well protected and the sea was smooth. The day was bright and lovely, and Lieutenant Waddell was inspired by the auspicious circumstances with the confident hope of success. In thirteen hours the consort had discharged every conceivable outfit intended for the Shenandoah, and then remained only to receive such passengers as were to return.

Captain Waddell has left some account of the cruise of the Shenandoah, from which I make some quotations: ‘I now felt,’ says Waddell, ‘that I had a good and fast ship under my feet-but there was a vast deal to be done, and to accomplish all that a crew was necessary.’

Wanted Dare-Devils.

In picking out the crews of the two vessels in England particular efforts were made to secure adventurous spirits, who might be induced to enlist on the Shenandoah. No married man was shipped, and none were taken except with the hope that when the time came they would take service under the Confederate flag; but out of the fifty-five men present only twenty-three were willing to adventure in such an undertaking. Waddell's force was, indeed, so weak that they could not weigh anchor—without assistance of the officers. These were young Confederates who had been sent abroad for such service, the first lieutenant being William C. Whittle, of Virginia, whose fine capacity rendered him of great assistance to Captain Waddell.

The officers threw off their jackets, and amid hearty cheers, soon had the anchor hanging at the bow; and the Shenandoah entered upon her new career, throwing out to the breeze the flag of the South and taking her place as a Confederate cruiser on her ocean home as a war vessel duly commissioned according to the laws of nations. That flag, wrote Waddell, unfolded itself gracefully to the favoring breeze and declared the majesty of the country it represented, amid the cheers of a handful of brave-hearted men; and the Shenandoah dashed upon her native element, as if more [322] than equal to the contest—cheered on by the acclamations of the Laurel, which was steaming away from the land we love—to tell the tale of those who would rejoice that another Confederate cruiser was afloat.

But work was to be done! The Sea King was to be metamorphosed into a cruiser, and armed with a battery for which she was not constructed. The deck was to be cleared, the stores put away, the guns mounted, gun ports cut in the vessel's sides, and the ship put in readiness to uphold the honor of the Confederate flag; all was to be done in mid-ocean, without an organized force, and with a small crew never before associated together.

While this situation was itself embarrassing, other embarrassments forced themselves on the mind of Lieutenant Waddell. In his memoir of his cruise he wrote: The novel character of my political position embarrassed me more than the feeble condition of my command, and that was fraught with painful apprehensions enough. I had the compass to guide me as a sailor, but my instructions made me a magistrate in a new field of duty and where the law was not very clear even to lawyers. I was on all matters to act promptly and without counsel; but my admiral instructions and the instincts of honor and patriotism that animated every Southern gentleman who bore arms in the South, buoyed me up with the hope and supported me amid the difficulties and responsibilities bearing upon me.

Brave man.

Noble man! chivalrous soul! brave heart! We here after these many years behold you rising aloft in those distant waters, the sole and solitary Confederate banner that has floated upon the bosom of the ocean. Alone it is borne by the breeze over the great waste of waters—the only emblem of our nation's sovereignty upheld beyond the limits of our beleagured States. We now realize the difficulties that beset you. We know the perils of the deep—the storms and hurricanes that sweep the ocean—the fury of the wild waves moved by mighty winds—but these, these have no place in your thoughts as you unfold the flag of your country, then heroically struggling for existence, but your mind is intent only on the honor of your countrymen!

The Shenandoah was a composite vessel—the frame of iron, the hull of teak—six inches thick, she could steam about nine miles an hour—could condense about 500 gallons of water a day and used [323] about twenty tons of coal a day; was very fast under favorable circumstances—made fifteen miles an hour under sail.

I am much indebted for some account of the incidents of the cruise of the Shenandoah to Captain W. C. Whittle, Waddell's first lieutenant, who has preserved the details in an admiral address delivered before the R. E. Lee Camp of Virginia.

Captain Whittle says: ‘Captain Waddell, though brave and courageous, was naturally discomforted and appalled at the work to be done.’

The battery consisted of four 8-inch, smooth bore cannon, two rifle Whitworth 32-pounders and two 12-pounder signal guns.

Do or die.

Every man and officer pulled off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves and with the motto ‘Do or Die,’ went to work at anything and everything. The captain took the wheel frequently, steering the ship to give one more pair of hands for the work to be done. We worked systematically and intelligently, doing what was most imperatively necessary first. By the 22d of October, four days of hard work, the decks were cleared, the guns mounted and the carpenters began to cut port holes in the sides of the ship.

Five days later the Shenandoah entered upon her first chase, and made a prize. And other prizes followed. From these prizes they secured twenty enlistments, increasing the crew from nineteen to to thirty-nine; so, including the officers, they had all told, sixty-two men, besides the prisoners, who were now and then sent away on some bonded vessel.

On December 8th they made Tristam da Canha, near St. Helena, and passing to the east of Africa they reached Melbourne, Australia, January 25th, 1865. There they landed all their prisoners, and after refitting left on February 18th. After leaving the harbor a number of men who had secreted themselves on board, came on deck and enlisted, increasing their crew to 144.

Sailing northward, in May, after many adventures, and capturing many prizes, they reached the shores of Kamskata.

Captain Whittle says: We were in the arctic and contiguous regions during the summer. It was most interesting, as we went north towards the pole—to mark the days grow longer and longer, and to experience the sun's being below the horizon a shorter and shorter time, until finally the sun did not go out of sight at all but would [324] go down to the lowest point, and without disappearing would rise again. In short, it was all day.

We went up as far as Gifinski and Tansk bays, but could not enter for ice, from fifteen to thirty feet thick. Frequent captures were made, and the smoke of the burning vessels made landmarks against the skies.

News of the surrender.

It was now in the middle of summer, and on June 23d Waddell captured two whalers which had left San Francisco in April, and had on board papers of April 17th, in which was found the correspondence between General Grant and General Lee, and a statement of the surrender at Appomattox, but the same papers also contained President Davis's proclamation from Danville, declaring that Lee's surrender would only cause the prosecution of the war with renewed vigor.

How harrowing must have been the news to these daring Confederates, then amid the floes of ice in the Polar ocean! But they were men of nerve. Whittle says:

We felt that the South had sustained great reverses; but at no time did we feel a more imperative duty to prosecute our work with vigor. Between June 22d and 28th we captured twenty-four whaling vessels, eleven being taken on the 28th.

Some of the prisoners expressed their opinion that the war was over, but notwithstanding that, eight of the prisoners taken that day enlisted on board the Shenandoah.

On June 29th, the Confederate flag was flying in the Artic ocean, but on that day Waddell turned his prow away from the pole and passed southward through Behring straits.

On July 5th they passed the Aleutian Islands, one of which was a volcano and was in a state of eruption, smoke and fire issuing from its peak. That was the last land seen by the Shenandoah for many days.

Let us pause for a moment and consider the strange situation of this Confederate cruiser—a war vessel representing the sovereignty of a nation that had expired amid the throes of disaster! In mid-ocean, separated by thousands of miles from any friendly hand, subject to vicissitudes—uncertain of the present, apprehensive of the future.

Brave hearts, true men, bold seamen. They feared not the fury of the waves, nor the storms of the ocean, but they knew well man's [325] inhumanity to man. They knew that the Navy Department of the United States, freed from the restraints imposed by fear of retaliation, would be vindictive and tyrannical to the last degree.

That department had always proclaimed the Southern people rebels, and their cruisers only pirates. On the land we had forced a recognition of belligerent rights, but at sea we had been powerless to retaliate.

On August 2d, when in north latitude 16 degrees and 122 west longitude, seeing a sailing bark, the Shenandoah made chase under steam and sail and overhauled her at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. It proved to be the British bark Barraconta—thirteen days out from San Francisco, en route for Liverpool. When the British captain was asked for the news of the war he inquired in astonishment, ‘What war?’ ‘The war between the United States and the Confederate States.’ ‘Why,’ said he, “that war has been over ever since April. What ship is that?” ‘The Confederate ship Shenandoah,’ was the reply.

Without a government.

Then came the information of the surrender of all the Confederate forces, the capture of President Davis, and the entire collapse of the Confederate cause; and the additional information, says Whittle, that Federal cruisers were searching for us everywhere, and would deal summarily with us, if caught. Files of recent papers confirmed it all. The information was appalling. We were bereft of country, bereft of government, bereft of a cause for which to struggle and suffer.

The independence for which our brave people had so nobly fought, suffered and died, was, under God's ruling, denied to us. Our anguish of disappointed hopes cannot be described.

Naturally our minds and hearts turned to our dear ones at home. What of the fate of each and all who were dear to us! These were the harrowing thoughts that entered into our very souls, the measures and intensity of which cannot be portrayed.

Then of ourselves! We knew the intensity of feeling engendered by the war—and particularly in the breasts of our foes towards us.

We knew that every effort would be made for our capture, and felt that if we fell into the hands of the enemy, fired as their hearts were, we could not hope for a fair trial and judgment. Even during [326] the war we had been opprobriously called pirates, and we knew, if captured, we would be summarily dealt with as such

These were reflections that disquited us—but they caused no demoralization, or craven fear, but were borne by true men with clear consciences, who had done their duty as they saw it, with all the powers given them by God. It was a situation desperate to a degree, to which history furnishes no parallel. The first duty was to suspend hostilities and to proclaim such suspension.

The ship Disarmed.

The following entry was made in the log book August 2, 1865, the Shenandoah being then off the coast of Mexico: ‘Having received by the bark Barraconta the sad intelligence of the overthrow of the Confederate government, all attempts to destroy shipping or property of the United States will cease from this date, in accordance with which First Lieutenant W. C. Whittle received the order from the commander to strike below the battery and disarm the ship and crew.’

The next step was to seek asylum with some strong nation, strong enough to maintain the ruling of the law of nations, and resist any demand for our surrender to our enemies, so that we might have a full and fair trial.

Writing of that critical time, Captain Waddell wrote:

My own life had been chequered, and I was tutored to disappointments. The intelligence of the issue of the fearful struggle cast a deep stillness over the ship's company, and would have occupied all my reflection, had not a responsibility of the highest order rested upon me—as to the course I should pursue, which involved not only my personal honor, but the honor of that flag entrusted to me, which had thus far been triumphant. I determined to run the ship for a European port—which involved a distance of 17,000 miles—a long gauntlet to run and escape. But why should I not succeed in baffling observation and pursuit? The ship had up to that time traversed 40,000 miles without accident.

I considered it due to the honor of all concerned to avoid anything that had a show of dread—under the severe trial imposed upon me, that such was my duty as a man and an officer, in whose hands was placed the honor of my country's flag and the welfare of my command.


Sailed for England.

And so Waddell determined to sail for England. No longer did he have legitimate authority, for his commission expired with the collapse of the Confederacy; yet so well disciplined had his crew become, that to the very end the conduct of his crew was remarkable.

On the 15th of September, running at the rate of fifteen miles an hour, the Shenandoah turned Cape Horn, and took her course northward for Liverpool. We passed many sails, says Whittle, but exchanged no signals. We were making no new acquaintances. They crossed the equator for the fourth time on October 11, 1865. On October 25th, in the afternoon, when about 500 miles south of the Azores, they sighted a supposed Federal cruiser. Their courses converged. The stranger was apparently waiting for the approaching vessel.

Quoting now from Captain Waddell:

The situation was one of anxious suspense. Our security, if any remained, depended on a strict adherence to our course. Deviation would be fatal; boldness must accomplish the deception. Still we forged toward the sail, and it would be madness to stop. Darkness finally threw her friendly folds around the anxious hearts on the little ship and closed the space between the vessels. What a relief! We could not have been four miles away.

The Shenandoah's head was then turned southward and steam ordered. It was the first time she had been under steam since crossing the equator on the Pacific side; indeed, the fires had not been lighted for a distance of more than 13,000 miles. The Shenandoah ran fifteen miles to the eastward, and then steamed north for 100 miles when a strong northwest wind dashed her within 700 miles of Liverpool. A calm then ensued, leaving us in sight of eleven sails during daylight. The ship was continued under sail until night again took us in its friendly embraces, when, after furling all sails, the vessel was put under steam and pushed her way towards the desired haven.

The Shenandoah entered St. George's channel on the morning of November 5th—just 122 days from the Aleutian Islands. We saw no land after leaving the Aleutian Islands until the beacon light in St. George's channel was seen exactly where it was looked for. We had sailed 23,000 miles without seeing land, and still saw the beacon exactly where we expected. [328]

The daily calculation of the ship's position was very accurate, when that fact is considered.

I received a pilot after night, and when he was informed of the character of the vessel, he said: ‘I was reading a few days ago of her being in the Arctic ocean.’ I asked for American news. He said the war had gone against the South. That was in November. Lee's surrender was in April.

“The quiet satisfaction seen in all countenances,” says Captain Waddell, ‘for our success in reaching a European port was unmistakable!’

We should think, indeed, there was cause. The chief danger was now past!

Safe in the Mersey.

On the morning of the 6th of November, 1865, the Shenandoah steamed up the Mersey, bearing aloft the Confederate flag. A few moments after she had anchored, a British naval officer boarded her —to ascertain the name of the steamer—and he gave Captain Waddell official information that the American war had terminated. No longer was there any Confederacy! The Southern States were a part of the United States!

The Confederate flag—representing then neither people—nor country—an emblem of an era that had closed in the history of mankind—was then sorrowfully lowered, this historic act taking place at 10 A. M. on the 6th of November, 1865. The vessel was then given in charge to the British government.

For a day or two some correspondence was in progress between the British and American authorities in regard to the Shenandoah, her officers and crew. But on the 8th of November the crew were suffered to depart, and soon the British government turned the vessel over to the United States authorities, by whom she was sold to the Sultan of Zanzibar, and later she was lost at sea.

She was the only vessel that carried the Confederate flag around the world, and she bore it at her mast head seven months after the surrender of the Southern armies and the obliteration of the Southern Confederacy.

In her cruise of thirteen months, she ran 58,000 miles, and met with no accident, and for a period of eight months, she did not drop her anchor. She destroyed more vessels than any other ship of war known to history, except alone the Alabama, and inflicted severe loss on the commerce of the United States.

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