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Last Of The Rebel Raiders
Long after the Civil War was over, the Shenandoah’s die-hard skipper was still sinking Yankee ships
December 1958 | Volume 10, Issue 1
The ship was a mess. Arms, ammunition, and supplies had been hastily transferred from the hold of the Laurel—which had in the meantime departed—and lay now in helter-skelter confusion on the deck. Ship’s Carpenter John O’Shea searched everywhere for gun bolts to secure the cannon; finally they were found, packed in with a barrel of beef. The gun tackles could not be located at all. Somehow, unaccountably, they had been left behind. The cannon had to be lashed down with ropes and thrust through the portholes in a posture of empty menace. The only working armament consisted of two twelve-pound signal guns, and for these there was only one round of live ammunition plus the usual supply of signal blanks.
The Rebels decided to bluff it through. Waddell took the helm himself, to spare his men for more urgent duties, and set a southerly course. He planned to go the long way around, raiding Yankee commerce in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans before striking finally at the Arctic whalers. He hoped thus to outflank the Union Navy, which had driven every other Confederate cruiser from the seas.
Ten days out of the Madeiras, the raider took her first prize. It was the barque Alina , bound from Newport, England, to Buenos Aires with a cargo of railroad iron, and she hove to and surrendered after one shot from a sisrnal eun. It was a eood catch, worth $95,000 by the Rebels’ estimate; more important, the boarding party found gun blocks to fit the Shenandoah’s cannon. The next time the cruiser fired a signal shot she would be able to back it up.
The prize was scuttled. Captain Edward Staples of the Alina and Master’s Mate Cornelius Hunt of the Shenandoah. watched her go down, and for both it was a sight that they could never forget.
“I tell you what, Matey,” said Staples, according to Hunt’s memoir, “I’ve a daughter at home that that craft yonder was named for, and it goes against me cursedly to see her destroyed. I know it is only the fortune of war, and I must take my chances with the rest, but it’s damned hard. I only hope I shall have an opportunity of returning your polite attentions before this muss is over, that’s all.”
Young Hunt didn’t enjoy it either. “Her stern … settled,” he wrote later, “her bows reared high in the air, as if in indignant deprecation of such sacrilegious treatment at the hands of seamen, and with all sail set she went down right bravely. I confess it was some time ere I could fully recover from the unpleasant feelings the sight engendered.”
The Shenandoah’s captain didn’t join, then or later, in such commiseration with the defeated foe. A good hater, he was to write afterward that the Yankees warred on the South “with all the vices and passions of civilized men added to the natural ferocity of the savage. They had no magnanimity or chivalry; they fought on a calculation of profit. This fact never left my mind, and reconciled me to the destruction of property …”
The raider captured two more vessels, the schooner Charter Oak and the barque D. Godfrey, in the next nine days. Both were burned. The Charter Oak’s skipper was philosophical, advising the boarding crew: “For God’s sake, bring the preserved fruit on board.” The Godfrey ’s captain took it hard. “That was a vessel,” he told the Rebels, “which has … faced old Boreas in every part of the world, in the service of her master and after such a career, to be destroyed by men on a calm night, on this tropical sea, is too bad—too bad! There is no sight so awful to a sailor as a ship on fire.”
The cruiser by now was jam-packed with prisoners. Captured officers were paroled to the wardrooms; most of the captured crewmen were clapped in single irons and confined to the topgallant forecastle where they shared cramped cjuarters with live chickens and sheep. Waddell unloaded some of his captives on a passing Danish brig, the Anna Jane . The rest were put on the Kate Prince , a sailing ship out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which the raiders captured and released after extracting a ransom bond of $40,000. But not all: about a dozen men from various of the Shenandoah’s prizes had joined the Rebel crew.