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Today in Military History: November 6, 1865,Confederate Raider Shenandoah Surrenders to British Authorities at Liverpool, Seven Months after Appomattox

Confederate Raider Shenandoah Surrenders to British Authorities at Liverpool, Seven Months after Appomattox

«Destruction of Whale Ships off Cape Thaddeus Arctic Ocean, June 23, 1865 by
(Confederate Steamer) Shenandoah;» Colored lithograph of artwork by B. Russell
Collection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

Today’s little history lesson involves a warship still fighting for its «Lost Cause» seven months after the surrender of the Army of North Virginia. Its actions became the basis of an international court case between the U.S. and Great Britain.


The «War Between the States» was not only fought on land for four years; it was just as hotly contested on the seacoasts, bays, and rivers of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, the Confederacy had some (almost) silent partners in their conflict with the Federal government. The British Empire gave some support to the Confederacy, with sales of arms, munitions, and other supplies in exchange for the the South’s more important commodity: cotton.

But Britain didn’t stop at supplies; a number of Rebel naval vessels began life in the shipyards of England. One of the most famous of these ships was the CSS Alabama, a notorious attacker of American commerce on the high seas. It was constructed and outfitted in Liverpool, and sailed under the Confederate flag for almost two years before it was sunk by the USS Kearsarge in June of 1864. [Readers interested in that little bit of naval history should consult my BurnPit story from June of 2014: Battle of Cherbourg: USS Kearsarge Sinks Confederate Commerce Raider Alabama.]

A sister ship to the Alabama was the Shenandoah. The vessel, originally named Sea King, was built in British shipyards in Scotland as a state-of-the-art clipper ship, launched 1863, and initially serving as a cargo vessel and troop transport. The Confederate Navy secretly purchased the vessl in October, 1864. It sailed from London with the cover story of making a trade voyage to India. It met a supply ship in the harbor of Funchal, the Madeira Islands, where it was officially turned over to the Confederacy. Crew, supplies, and weapons were placed on the vessel, re-christened the Shenandoah.

"Commander James Iredell Waddell, Confederate States Navy, 1824-1886"; Date and photographer unknown; From Online Library of Selected Images, U.S. Naval Historical Center
«Commander James Iredell Waddell, Confederate States Navy, 1824-1886»
Date and photographer unknown
From Online Library of Selected Images, U.S. Naval Historical Center

The ship’s new commander, CSN Lieutenant James I. Waddell, was tasked to strike at the Union’s economy and «seek out and utterly destroy» commerce in areas yet undisturbed. Captain Waddell began seeking enemy merchant ships on the Cape of Good Hope-Australia route and in the Pacific whaling fleet.

The Voyage of the Shenandoah

The Confederate commerce raider sailed south, around the Cape of Good Hope of Africa and headed across the Indian Ocean for Australia, destroying Union vessels it encountered on the way. In the first two months of the ship’s mission, it captured, scuttled, or burned eight Union vessels. One ship was used to ferry survivors of the first five victims of the Shenandoah to the Brazilian port of Bahia.

The Shenandoah put into Melbourne, Australia for refitting and to recruit additional crew. [Nineteen men took the opportunity presented to them and deserted the ship after docking. Some of these men gave statesments of their activities to the U.S. Consul.] After receiving further supplies, munitions, and crew, the Shenandoah proceeded to the Caroline Islands, where four whaling ships were attacked and burned.

Upon reaching the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Sea area, the Shenandoah attacked and burned a total of 20 of the 58 American whaling ships plying the cold northern waters. Perhaps the Confederate vessel’s most lucrative day was June 28, 1865, when 10 whalers were attacked and burned in one day.

On August 3, Captain Waddell was sailing the Confederate raider to San Francisco, with plans to attack the city and U.S. Navy yard there, as he believed they were weakly defended. Enroute, the Shenandoah encountered the British sailing ship Barracota bound for San Francisco. He received the devastating news of the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston’s army on April 26, Gen. Kirby Smith’s Army of the Trans-Mississippi’s surrender on May 26, and crucially the capture of President Davis on May 10. Captain Waddell then knew the war over. He ordered the ship’s Confederate flag lowered, and the CSS Shenandoah underwent physical alteration. Her guns were dismounted and stored below deck, and her hull was painted to look like an ordinary merchant vessel.

A pencil sketch of the CSS Shenandoah, from the inside cover of a notebook kept by her commander, Captain Wadell
A pencil sketch of the CSS Shenandoah, from the inside cover
Of a notebook kept by her commander, Captain Wadell

The disguised commerce raider sailed around Cape Horn and into the Atlantic Ocean. The captain and crew were reluctant to sail to any Union port, fearful of being taken into custody and tried as pirates. Consequently, the Shenandoah sailed for its unofficial homeport of Liverpool, arriving there on November 5.

While laying at anchor in the Mersey River estuary for a pilot to guide them into port, the vessel was flying no flag. The next day a pilot came out to the vessel, but refused to take the ship into Liverpool without a flag. Bowing to the inevitable, Captain Waddell ordered the crew to raise the Confederate flag. Upon reaching a point in the Mersey offshore of the city, Waddell ordered the Shenandoah to drop anchor near the British vessel HMS Donegal, a Royal Navy first-rate ship of the line. Captain Waddell surrendered the CSS Shenandoah to Captain Paynter of the Donegal, and ordered the Confederate flag lowered for the final time.

Later that day, Captain Waddell landed in Liverpool and walked up the steps of the town hall. He presented a letter to the mayor officially surrendering the vessel to the British government.


The ship’s officers and crew were paroled by Her Majesty’s government. In 1866 the United States government, after taken possession of Shenandoah, sold her at auction to the first Sultan of Zanzibar, who renamed her after himself (El Majidi). On April 15, 1872, a hurricane hit Zanzibar. Shenandoah (El Majidi) was one of 6 ships owned by Seyed Burgash which were blown on shore and seriously damaged.

Footnote #1: The Shenandoah became the only Confederate vessel to circumnavigate the globe.

Footnote #2: As a result of the destruction of many whaling ships, the whaling industry never recovered. Without a steady supply of whale oil, new sources for lighting America’s lamps were found, particularly the use of kerosene distilled from the black stuff drilled from the ground in Pennsylvania – petroleum.

Footnote #3: Two artifacts of the Shenandoah can be seen today. The Confederate naval ensign of the ship is on display at the American Civil War Museum (formerly the Museum of the Confederacy) in Richmond, VA. One of its signal cannons is on display at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.

Footnote #4: After the war, the U.S. Government pursued international court claims against the British government for the damages from the various Confederate commerce raiders. A final settlement was attained in 1871, with Great Britain paying $15.5 million in damages. [At one point, the U.S. government would have settled for the ceding of all of Canada to the U.S. England rejected this.]

Footnote #5: The Charles F. Adams-class guided missile destroyer USS Waddell (DDG-24) was named for him. The ship was commissioned in 1962, saw action during the Vietnam War, receiving 11 engagement stars and 2 Presidential Unit citations. The Waddell was stricken from the Naval Register in October, 1992, sold to Greece and renamed Nearchos. The destroyer was decommissioned July 18 2003, and sunk by the Greek Navy in a weapons test on May 26 2006.

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