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American Civil War: CSS Shenandoah

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American Civil War: CSS Shenandoah

CSS Shenandoah undergoing repairs at Melbourne, Australia, February 1865

Photograph Courtesy of the US Naval Historical Center

Overview:

  • Nation: Confederate States of America
  • Type: Commerce Raider
  • Shipyard: A. Stephen & Sons
  • Launched: August 17, 1863 (as Sea King)
  • Commissioned: October 18, 1864
  • Fate: Surrendered at Liverpool England, November 6, 1865

Specifications:

  • Displacement: 1,160 tons
  • Length: 230 ft.
  • Beam: 32 ft.
  • Draft: 20 ft. 6 in.
  • Propulsion: Sails w/ steam auxiliary
  • Speed: 9 knots under steam power
  • Complement: 109

Armament:

Guns

  • 4 × 8 in smoothbores, 2 × 32-pdrs rifled guns, 2 × 12-pdr guns

Operational History:

Laid down on the River Clyde in Scotland, CSS Shenandoah was designed as the British troop transport Sea King. Launched from the yard of A. Stephen & Sons on August 17, 1863, the ship possessed iron framing and teak planking. For propulsion, Sea King relied on sails and an auxiliary steam engine. Shortly after it was completed, Confederate agent James Bulloch noticed the new ship at anchor and began making plans to acquire it for use as a commerce raider. Bulloch's actions did not go unnoticed as US agent Thomas Dudley alerted Ambassador Charles Francis Adams of Bulloch's intentions.

As US Secretary of State William Seward had repeatedly warned the British government about allowing the Confederates to purchase ships and weapons, Bulloch was forced to act covertly to avoid further detection by American and British authorities. Utilizing a variety of ruses and covert operations, he succeeded in purchasing Sea King as well as a tender, Laurel. On October 8, 1864, Sea King departed London for an announced trading voyage to India. Arriving at Funchal, Madeira, Sea King rendezvoused with Laurel which had sailed with guns and military stores.

Working over several day, Confederate sailors converted Sea King into a warship. Commissioned as CSS Shenandoah, with Lieutenant James Waddell in command, the ship possessed an armament consisting of four 8-inch smoothbore guns, two Whitworth 32-pdrs, and two 12-pdrs. Charged with seeking out and destroying American commerce, Waddell continued south with the goal of attacking shipping in the sea lanes between the Cape of Good Hope and Australia. Though badly under-manned, Waddell managed to capture six prizes en route to the Cape.

Five of these were burned, while the sixth was bonded and sent into Bahia, Brazil with the prisoners taken off the prizes. Making the run across the Indian Ocean, Shenandoah captured only one prize and ultimately made port at Melbourne, Australia on January 25, 1865. While in port, Waddell had the ship repaired, laid aboard fresh supplies, and was able to fill out his crew. Turning north, the raider sought to wreak havoc on the American whaling fleet in the North Pacific. Moving through the Carolines, Waddell burned four whalers and captured a fifth in the Kuriles.

Moving northwest into the Sea of Okhotsk, Waddell endured three weeks of fruitless searching without taking a single prize. This was largely due to the fact that the whalers had been alerted to Shenandoah's approach and had fled the area. Cruising northwest into the Bering Sea, Waddell learned on June 23, 1865, that General Robert E. Lee had been forced to surrender at Appomattox and that Richmond had been captured. Assessing his situation, Waddell believed the war to still be ongoing and decided to continue hostilities. Terrorizing the whaling fleet, Shenandoah took 21 more prizes including 7 in one 11-hour span.

Turning south, Waddell decided to attack commerce sailing from the West Cost to the Far East and Latin America. While en route, Shenandoah encountered a British bark on August 2 and learned that the war had ended in April. Upon learning this news, Waddell ordered Shenandoah's guns dismantled and began altering the ship to look like a simple trading vessel. Evading American warships, Waddell steered a course around Cape Horn and sailed for Liverpool, England. Arriving in the Mersey on November 6, 1865, Waddell surrendered the ship to the British authorities and disembarked with his men.

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. After Waddell and his men departed, the British authorities turned the ship over to the US Government. Thomas Dudley, acting as the US Consul in Liverpool, sold the ship and its fittings in April 1866, for around £17,000.

Selected Sources

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  3. Military History
  4. Naval Warfare
  5. Ship Profiles
  6. American Civil War
  7. CSS Shenandoah - Confederate Raider CSS Shenandoah

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