Last Of The Rebel Raiders

PrintPrintEmailEmail

The truth could no longer be denied. The Shenandoah was a ship without a country, and had been during all of that pointless, destructive rampage through the whaling grounds. Her men, if caught, might very well be tried as pirates.

Waddell assembled his crew, delivered a rousing oration on the glories and hardships they had shared together, and said he would seek sanctuary at the nearest English port. He handled it so well that few noted an ambiguous phrase in the Captain’s address. They thought he would run for Australia, which seemed quickest and safest, and they realized only later that “the nearest English port” might mean a long, dangerous voyage back to England itself.

Waddell kept his counsel while officers and men bombarded him with petitions and advice. Most of the officers wanted to put in somewhere, anywhere, just so it was soon. Most of the men were willing to go along with the Captain’s judgment. After a while it became apparent that all petitions were a waste of time. Consulting no one, confiding in no one, Waddell set his course south, then east round Cape Horn, then north and east. He was determined to make England.

The ship was seething now with the feuds and jealousies of weary, frustrated, frightened men who had been penned up together for too many months. Junior officers openly disparaged the Captain, and he reacted in stiff-necked fashion, demoting first one officer and then another to the status of “passenger” for the most trivial offense.

Then death struck the ship. The first to go was a Kanaka native, a man known only as Bill, who had joined them from a whaler. “Poor fellow,” wrote the ship’s chief surgeon, “he had been suffering from venereal for a long time and was covered with ulcers.” A little later they lost George Canning, who was suffering from an old, unhealed lung wound.

Sick, tired, and quarreling though they were, the Rebels managed somehow to hold together. Their luck held, too. They saw only one ship in more than 17,000 miles, and Waddell avoided that one by changing course at night. The long strain eased at last on November 5, when they sighted Ireland off the port bow. It was their first landfall in 122 days; they had hit it right on the nose, and Waddell unbent so far as to hand Sailing Master Irvine Bulloch a compliment. “The navigation,” he said, “was very beautiful.”

They anchored that night off Liverpool, the port whence they had sailed thirteen months before. Behind them lay a globe-girdling voyage of almost 60,000 miles in which they had captured 38 American ships and taken 1,053 prisoners without fighting a battle or killing a man. Ahead lay a final, unpleasant duty. On November 6, 1865, Waddell surrendered his ship to the British and ran down his flag for the last time.

The British did not exactly welcome this turn of events. They had connived quite openly in arming Confederate raiders, and now that it was all over they regarded the Shenandoah as a chicken come home to roost. England would have to pay damages later—the owners of the whalers sunk by the Shenandoah after the war had ended were eventually reimbursed from the Alabama Claims monies—but meanwhile a diplomatic way had to be found to dispose of the surrendered Shenandoah ’s crew. England announced that she would arrest any United States or British citizens found aboard, but added that she could not detain a citizen of the former Confederate States.

That decision was relayed to the ship, and the Shenandoah ’s men lined up accordingly to declare their loyalty. In the tongues and accents of a dozen lands they did solemnly swear that they came from Dixie. A British officer accepted these affidavits without battins; an eve, and all hands were turned loose.

Most of the real Southerners knocked around Europe for a few years, then slipped back to their homeland one by one as war’s memories faded and old hatreds began to wane. Waddell himself eventually became a familiar figure at the old-timers’ bench close by the gates of the United States Naval Academy. He was accepted there, but he was never an insider again in the institution that he had once loved and served and then fought against. Beside his name in the records of the United States Navy still stands the single word “Dismissed.” As for the Shenandoah, she remained to the end an oddly romantic ship. She was sold at auction to the Sultan of Zanzibar and perished one stormy night in the Indian Ocean.