Thursday, May 30, 2013

It Doesn't Get Any More Trans-Mississippi Than This

In spite of my great love for sea novels, I have not delved much into Civil War naval history. It is a fascinating area, though, and I was reminded of this when I recently read “The Shenandoah” by “An Officer Thereof” in volume five of Histories Of The Several Regiments and Battalions From North Carolina In The Great War 1861-65 (1901).

Built in England and christened the Sea King in 1863, the vessel was purchased by the Confederacy and renamed the Shenandoah. This cruiser embarked on an amazing odyssey around the world that has been recounted in several books. After the war ended, but with the crew of the Shenandoah unaware of this fact, the vessel cruised along the Aleutian Islands and into the Bering Sea capturing several Yankee whalers. True, Alaska was not yet part of the United States, but it makes for a great trans-Mississippi tale. Here is an account of a part of the cruise from “The Shenandoah”:

“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 14 June [1865] no ships having been sighted, [James I.] Waddell changed his course toward the Aleutian Islands, entered Behring [sic] 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 order 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 all 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 29 June, 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….

Her depredations were at an end, for early in August she spoke the English bark Barracouta…and from her received New York papers which gave conclusive evidence of the end of the war…and imparted to Commander Waddell the more personally interesting information that the United States government had sent six gun-boats on his track to the Arctic regions to ‘catch the pirates and hang them on sight.’

Upon receipt of the news Commander Waddell put sixty men to work painting a 16-foot belt of white around the vessel, stowed the guns below the deck, trimmed her as a merchantmen and made Liverpool…

On 5 November, 1865, the Shenandoah entered St. George’s channel, having sailed 22,000 miles without seeing land….

She had visited every ocean except the Antarctic, covering a distance of 58,000 statute miles. The last gun in defense of the South was fired in the Arctic ocean from her deck on 22 June, 1865.” (pp. 348-349)

1 comment:

  1. It is so typical of the relentless spinddoctoring of Confederate partisans that an aggressive privateering encounter against an unarmed civilian vessel in the Arctic is described as "the last gun in defense of the South!"