- Historic Sites
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
There were charges afterward that some of these men were more impressed than enlisted, and Waddell didn’t bother to deny it in his account of the voyage. “I could rely,” he observed dryly, “on our men using rough persuasion in the dark with those who were undecided. …” But he also noted that “I felt sure that each prize would have in its crew one or more adventurous spirits who would gladly embrace the opportunity …”
Among the adventurous spirits were a good many international floaters who felt no particular allegiance to any flag or cause. The Rebels eventually signed up nearly a hundred mid-voyage recruits, including New England Yankees and even free Negroes along with English, Irish, Australian, French, Swedish, Danish, Portuguese, Hawaiian, Malayan, and Hindu seamen. Waddell, a decidedly race-conscious aristocrat, didn’t approve of this polyglot mixture. He accepted it because he had no other choice.
Flying American or neutral flags to lull the unwary and hoisting their own emblem when they closed in for the kill, the raiders picked off four more Atlantic prizes. One was the Edward, an isolated whaler, and like all ships of its kind it was a seagoing general store. The Shenandoah lay by for two days to stuff its hold with 200 barrels of salt beef and pork, several thousand pounds of biscuits, and huge quantities of rope, sail, and bedding. The biscuits were, said Waddell, “the best I had ever seen.”
Afterward they stopped briefly at Tristan da Cunha, a barren little South Atlantic island inhabited by the descendants of maritime strays and castaways. The raiders took on fresh meat and water there and put the latest batch of prisoners ashore. Hunt described an islander’s bemused reaction:
“And where the devil did you get your prisoners?” queried one of the mystified natives.
“From a whaler not far from here,” responded one of our officers.
“Just so, to be sure; and what became of the whaler?”
“We burned her up.”
“Whew! Is that the way you dispose of what vessels you fall in with?”
“If they belong to the United States; not otherwise.”
“Well, my hearty, you know your own business, but my notion is that these sort of pranks will get you into the devil’s own muss before you are through with it. What your quarrel with the United States is, I don’t know, but I swear I don’t believe they’ll stand this kind of work.”
The Shenandoah caught another prize, the barque Delphine , in the Indian Ocean. This one didn’t have to be chased; she sailed right up to the raider to check navigation readings. Afterward, Lieutenant Francis T. Chew of the cruiser offered his consolation to the Delphine ’s skipper, Captain William Nichols. “Captain,” said Chew, “upon what small actions important results depend. Just think that if at daylight this morning you had changed your course one-fourth of a point, you would have passed out of our reach …”
“That,” snapped Nichols, “shows how damned little you know about it, lor this morning at daylight I just did change my course a quarter of a point, and that’s what fetched me here.”
Nichols had his wile aboard, not an uncommon practice in those days oi long voyages, and she proved the most intractable prisoner the cruiser ever took. Alternately denouncing the Rebels as outlaws and upbraiding her husband for his meek surrender, she remained uiimellowed by enforced association. When they put her ashore a month later, she muttered, “I wish that steamer may be burned.”
The Shenandoah reached Melbourne, Australia, on January 25, 1865, and her sea-weary men cut loose for the only real shore leave they were ever to have. Waddell, however, had no time for revels. His ship needed repairs, and he had trouble getting them as Melbourne’s official attitude stiffened under pressure from the American consul. He fussed, too, over a probably imaginary plot to blow up his ship. He was plagued by desertions, losing eighteen seamen from his still-shorthanded crew, and he was to be embroiled shortly in charges that he was enlisting Australians in violation of British neutrality laws.