Last Surrender of the Civil War: CSS Shenandoah

CSS Shenandoah. Wikipedia photo.

The last surrender of the Civil War took place 150 years ago today, November 6, 1865, when the CSS Shenandoah surrendered in Liverpool England.

The Shenandoah was a commerce raider whose mission was to interfere with Union shipping. The Scottish-built ship was originally called the Sea King, and was secretly purchased in England in September 1865. In October, off the coast of Spain, she was converted into a warship, with Captain James Iredell Waddell in command. When General Lee surrendered to Union forces in April 1865, the ship was in the South Pacific, and had already captured thirteen Union merchant ships. The ship headed toward the Bering Sea, crossing the Arctic Circle on June 19. She then headed south along the Alaska coast, where she encountered Union whaling ships and destroyed most of them. The last two shots of the Civil War took place on June 22, when the Shenandoah fired upon a fleeing whaler, the Sophia Thornton.

On June 27, the captain of one of the captured ships produced a San Francisco newspaper, and it was then that Capt. Waddell first learned of Lee’s surrender. But since the newspaper also carried President Jefferson Davis’s proclamation that the “war would be carried on with renewed vigor,” Waddell continued to capture Union whaling ships, taking ten more. The Shenandoah set sail for San Francisco, where Waddell had intended to carry out a raid.

But on August 2, the Shenandoah encountered an English ship, and Waddell learned of the Confederacy’s total collapse. Waddell then repainted the ship, converted it to a merchant ship by stowing the cannon below deck, and set about figuring out the best way to surrender. He assumed (probably correctly) that he would face hostility if he tried to do so in an American port. After all, he had captured numerous innocent ships after the cessation of hostilities. There was a real risk of being tried for piracy and having himself and the crew hanged.

Staying well off shore, the Shenandoah headed south and around Cape Horn and thence to Liverpool, where he surrendered to an officer of the British Royal Navy. After an investigation by the British Admiralty Court, the crew were released.

In her year at sea, the Shenandoah logged over 58,000 miles and has the distinction of being the only Confederate vessel to have circumnavigated the world.


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