This article was originally published Aug. 12, 2020, on We Are The Mighty.
Historians don’t talk much about naval action during the Civil War, certainly not as much as they do about the ground combat. If it’s not about a riverboat, the Monitor and the Merrimack, or damning torpedoes, it just doesn’t get the same attention.
The CSS Shenandoah did a lot of things worth talking about.
Her flag was the last Confederate flag to be lowered and she was the ship that took the Civil War to the global stage, looting and burning Union merchant shipping from Africa to India to Russia and back.
She took 38 prizes and more than a thousand prisoners, some of them joining the Confederate ship.
Shenandoah was built by the British. A fast, steam-powered screw ship, the Brits transferred her to a Confederate skeleton crew under Capt. James Waddell off the coast of Africa. From there, Shenandoah terrorized American ships in sea lanes around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Pacific, and into the Bering Sea off Alaska.
At the time, however, Alaska belonged to the Russian Czar. And the Czar was friend to the United States. When Shenandoah began burning American whaling fleets in his territory, the Czar was not at all pleased.
Even after the Civil War was over, Shenandoah continued her Pacific rampage. The skipper just didn’t believe Lee’s surrender ended the war, even when American whaling captains told him so.
Pretty soon, he was the only Confederate still fighting. So he moved to shell the defenseless city of San Francisco. It was on his way to California that he met a British ship who confirmed the news: The Confederacy was gone and the captain and crew of the Shenandoah were going to be tried and hanged.
With every Navy in the world looking for Shenandoah and a hefty bounty on his head, Capt. Waddell disguised the ship, stowed its weaponry, and made a mad dash for Great Britain – the long way around.
Out of major shipping lanes, he faced terrible weather. He also never contacted any ships or stopped in any port, steaming the Shenandoah 27,000 miles to Liverpool, England, where he surrendered to the Royal Navy.
The USS Waddell, a guided missile destroyer, was named for the ship’s captain. Though not the first ship to be named for a Confederate, it was the first one to be named for an enemy captain who wreaked havoc on American shipping.
Ethan E. Rocke is a contributor and former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine, a New York Times bestselling author, and award-winning photographer and filmmaker. He is a veteran of the US Army and Marine Corps. His work has been published in Maxim Magazine, American Legion Magazine, and many others. He is co-author of The Last Punisher: A SEAL Team THREE Sniper’s True Account of the Battle of Ramadi.
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