The Shnandoah and Captain Waddell

shenConfederate Sailing Ship Shenandoah and Her Captain, James Iredell Waddell.

Constructed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1863 by Alexander Stephen & Sons, who also built the paddle steamers Fergus and Dare as blockade runners for the Civil War. The Sea King was built with an iron frame and wooden deck. This alone was somewhat novel for the time as iron based ships were a very new concept and there were still many who thought iron ships could never float.

During its construction the ship attracted the attention of Confederate agents in Europe looking for candidates for commercial raiding ships. In particular, she was a three mast sailing ship with an auxiliary coal-fired steam engine and a screw that could be raised while sailing to reduce drag. The ability to run either as a sailing vessel or under steam power allowed the ship to be very fast and make headway in a variety of conditions.

After an initial voyage to deliver British troops to New Zealand, the Confederate Navy secretly purchased her. She was met at sea by confederate officers and equipment necessary to refit her for military purposes including the installation of large guns. The CSS Shenandoah set sail October 1864 for what would be only a 13 month voyage.

waddCommanded by James Waddell, the CSS Shenandoah regularly needed to recruit sailors as a large crew was necessary to meet needs for sailing, firing guns, and boarding other ships. Many sailors were recruited from captured ships and when she arrived in Melbourne, Australia in January 1865 for repairs she was able to take on quite a number of new replacement crew members.

The Shenandoah focused on unarmed merchant ships from the Union. Among others, she destroyed over 20 whaling vessels and may have inadvertently helped end of the US whaling industry, having wiped out nearly 50% of the fleet during her short service. Despite the civil war ending in May 1865, the CSS Shenandoah didn’t receive official word until after capturing and destroying about two dozen ships. She finally learned that the Civil war had ended in late June 1865 off San Francisco. Rather than returning to the United States, she sailed to England and was turned over to the British in Liverpool in November 1865.


%d bloggers like this: