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History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.
-- Winston Churchill
On the evening of the 8th day of October, 1864, there met on Princesses dock, Liverpool, twenty-seven men. They were nearly unacquainted with each other, and knew nothing of their destination. All were officers of the Confederate navy, by commission or warrant, and each had his distinct order to report to this place at the same hour. My commission was that of assistant surgeon.
A tug was waiting, and we were hurried upon its deck with great haste. In the stream lay the steam blockade-runner Laurel. In the shortest time imaginable we were hustled on board this craft, and were steaming down the stream. At the same hour, casting off her lines from her London dock, and moving down the Thames, with her grim dogs of war concealed between her decks, ostensibly a merchantman, and bound for Bombay, sailed the English ship Sea King. One week later the ships met in the harbor of Funchal, Madeira. But the captain of the port ordering us out of his waters in the name of his Sovereign of Portugal, we raised anchor and found an offing beside the three great Desertas, massive rocks that rise out of the blue bosom of the Atlantic. Here the ships were lashed together, and the Sea King received from the Laural, which was loaded deep, arms, ordnance, and coal sufficient for an extended voyage of a man-of-war.
This done the crews of both vessels were ordered on board the Sea King, when James I. Waddell, going down into her cabin, soon reappeared on deck clad in full uniform and bearing the side arms of a Confederate naval captain. Holding his commission for such office in his hand he read it to the assembled crews, and closed in a brief address, declaring that this ship, late the Sea King, of England, should now and forever be known as the Confederate States warship Shenandoah; that her object should be to prey upon and destroy the commerce of the United States, and that all of either crew, the Laurel's or the Sea King's, who wished to enlist their lives and services in the defence of the Confederate cause on board this ship might now do so.
Jack shifted his quid, put his hands deeper than ever in his pockets, and thought long at this sudden turn in events. He finally shook his head. Some few asked what about bounty? Not being satisfactorily answered, but very few responded. It was too hazardous an undertaking, with no inducement of gain. Besides, too, the Alabama had gone down before the guns of the Keatsage, and this Shenandoah would now be the only bird left upon the water for the Federals to wing.
Immediately after this the lashings were cast off and guns of salute in parting fired by the two vessels. The Laurel turned her prow to England and we to the south seas. Never before was a ship beset by difficulties apparently so insurmountable. Demanding a complement of 160 men, we bore away that day a ship-of-war with forty-seven men all told. Although liable at any hour to meet the challenge shot of the enemy, we entered upon our duties without fear. There was work for every man to do, and every man put his heart in his task. Boxes, trunks, casks of beef and bread, coal and ordnance, lay promiscuous about deck and below. Then, when after days of toil and with blistered hands all was stored properly below, and while the carpenter and his mates cut port holes for the guns, the captain took his trick at the wheels, and the officers and men, regardless of rank, barefooted and with trousers rolled up, scrubbed and holystoned decks. Yet in that strangely gathered body of men were some of the best blood of the South. Historic names were there. Lieutenant Lee, son of Admiral Lee, commandant of the Philadelphia navy-yard at the opening of the war, and nephew of General Robert E. Lee, was our third lieutenant, and had seen service on the Georgia and Florida. Our chief engineer and paymaster were from the Alabama, and every commissioned officer was a graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and had seen previous service. But all felt the necessity of the hour, and lieutenant, assistant surgeon, boatswain, and foremost hands, of whom there were but seven in all, kept watch and watch. But at length everything was put in shipshape, halyards coiled, and decks made shining. We were then all called aft, officers and men, to 'splice the main brace,' a nautical proceeding much inveighed against by John B. Gough, Neal Dow, and other reformers.
The Shenandoah was built of teak, an Indian wood. She had quarter-inch iron plating, as well as iron knees and stanchions. Of 1,160 tons, English register, 320 feet in length, and 32 in breadth, her average speed was thirteen knots, though, when entirely under sail, with propeller unshipped and sails up, she often outdid this. At one time sailing down the Indian ocean, she made for four consecutive hours the high average rate of eighteen knots.
The morning of October 29th was clear and bright, and was made memorable by our first visitors on board. The stranger showed chase, but quickly changed his mind when a hustling shot across his bows said, 'Do come and see us,' the first of fifty pressing invitations. Of this vessel's complement of ten men, eight joined our crew. I will not stop to enumerate in detail, but rise to indignantly deny as a base lie that Captain Waddell ever put a man in irons because he would not join our ship! James I. Waddell was a gentleman, and would never stoop to such conduct. Certainly there must be discipline on board ship, and at times when there were too many prisoners we had to see that they did not rise and take possession of the vessel.
After our first capture, sailing steadily to the south seas, and destroying a ship nearly every other day, on the evening of November 15th we were on the equator. Here his most saline and anciently-enthroned majesty came on board and brought with him his numerous retinue, and the ceremony of becoming naturalized citizens of the deep had to be submitted to, many of the officers, including the assistant surgeon, undergoing the tonsorial brushing up of old Neptune.
In those warm southern waters, with a clear sky and little to do, our quota of men was now nearly made up--the hours seemed like links of sunshine. In the enchantment of the bright dream one would forget at times that our occupation was less than peace. Then suddenly a sail would be descried, and all would be bustle; top sails would be shaken out, and, forging ahead, our guns would ring out the iron voice of war. The lowering of a flag and transferring of a crew would follow, and then in a sacrificial flame would go up to the blue sky one more of the enemy's ships, leaving a blot in the memory of an otherwise cloudless tropical day.
One day we overhauled a New Bedford whaler attached to a whale. It was the case of the big fish eating up the little one, and we were the largest in that pond just then. So the whaling barque Edward, of New Bedford, went up in flame and smoke. Christmas-day saw us flying before a twelve-knot breeze under a cloudless sky.
Surprising latitudes these to a landsman, who, when from days to days, finds himself going before a sweeping gale without one cloud to be seen, naturally asks: Where does the wind come from? On the 27th of December we came in the harbor of the Island of Tristan de Acunha, the principal of a group of islands in the South Atlantic. In its seventeen families nearly all the principal nations are represented. Here we landed our prisoners, and left them a three-months' supply of provisions. Fortunately for us, we made a short stop at this island, for afterwards, when in Europe, we' were told that just twelve hours after we had left the harbor the United States man-of-war Iroquoise steamed in, and hurriedly taking on board the prisoners, weighed anchor and stood for Cape Town, a favorite rendezvous of the Alabama. Happily, we were bound for Melbourne, and did not stand near the Cape in doubling it. Two days later the little island of St. Paul, about four miles in extent, and rising in beautiful plateaus, swelled up before us, and the weather being calm, we laid-to outside its harbor. Entering its basin in a yawl, we found that the waters must be over an extinct crater, as they were hot enough to boil penguin eggs. These birds rose like clouds before us. Here we found, to our surprise, three Frenchmen. They were employed curing fish, while their vessel was off for another catch. Besides their rude quarters, we were taken to visit the residence of the owner of the island, who lived in France, and were astonished to find here, afar from all the world, apartments displaying all that luxury, wealth and culture suggested, including a library of nearly 1,000 volumes. No bolt held or key unlocked this; it was all as open as the Garden of Eden to our first parents. On our departure the hospitable Frenchmen presented us with a supply of cured fish and half a barrel of penguin eggs.
Two days later we fell in with and gave chase to the bark Delphine, of Searsport, Me. The captain, a plucky fellow, showed high heels for some time, and not until the third solid shot almost cut away his fore rigging did he come to. He told the boarding officer that his wife was ill, and could not be removed. This necessitated a visit from the ship's assistant surgeon, who found as plump and healthy a specimen of the sex as the Pine-Tree State ever produced. Laughing heartily, when asked if she were ill, she said 'No.' She was a brave, cultivated woman, and I was real sorry that the ruse failed, as I wanted to see the ship spared. She was now ordered to gather her effects, which, excepting her piano, were taken to the Shenandoah, where Captain Waddell gave up one of his cabins to Captain and Mrs. Nichols, late of the bark Delphine.
We were now nearing the coast of Australia, and on the 25th day January, 1865, entered the port of Melbourne. Never was conquering flag at peak hailed with such honors as were given us upon that bright, tropical morning. Steamer, tug-boat, yacht--all Melbourne, in fact, with its 180,000 souls, seemed to have outdone itself in welcome to the Confederates. Flags dipped, cannon boomed, and men in long thousands cheered as we moved slowly up the channel and dropped anchor. The telegraph had told of our coming from down the coast, where we had been sighted with Confederate flag flying, and the English papers had said that the great Semmes was on board. Evidently the heart of colonial Britain was in our cause.
An official note sent to Sir Charles Darling, governor of the colony, asking leave to take coal and make repairs, brought a letter granting the privilege, with the wish, however, that we do so as quickly as possible. But upon examination it was found that four weeks would be required for the repairs, and that the ship must be dry-docked, and to do this the government slip must be used. Here was a dilemma for the Governor. The United States consul was demanding of him that we be ordered out of the harbor, and we, as recognized belligerents, were demanding to stay. He 'darst' and he 'darsn't,' as the gamins say. At length he reluctantly yielded leave for full repairs. Now another trouble arose. Two questionable men were thought to be on board the Shenandoah, and were wanted by the Governor. His police came with a search warrant, but were indignantly refused permission to come on board by Captain Waddell, who declared in a note to the Governor that a ship-of-war was, as a nation's own territory, inviolable. The Governor replied by placing a battalion of militia on the wharf, when Captain Waddell gave four hours to the Governor to take away the troops, or he and his crew would leave the ship and call for the vengeance of his Government. In less than the given time the troops were removed.
Excepting this unpleasantness, our stay in Melbourne was one round of pleasure and honors. We were given free rides on the railroads to any point. From commander down to grayback, all had their free passes. The wealthiest club in Melbourne elected us honorary members. Barry Sullivan, then playing Othello, gave us an especial night, when, with true British gusto, the flaring bills read: 'Under the distinguished patronage of the officers of the Confederate Steamship Shenandoah.' There we looked down upon an auditorium packed to suffocation as we sat in the royal box. One hundred miles away, at Ballarat, a red-letter day war, set apart for our reception. Only seven of us could attend. The entire town came out to greet us, and across the main street on a triumphal arch of flowers were the letters in garland: 'Welcome to Ballarat.'
At length the ship came off the ways, and two days were given to receive visitors, during which time thousands availed themselves of the opportunity. At length, on the 28th of February, we put to sea, with our full complement of men, and on the 1st of April, entered the harbor of Ascension Island. Here, in this little, almost landlocked harbor, were four whalers, and after the bare-legged king of the island had condescended to say where he wished them sunk, so as not to destroy good anchorage in his harbor, we set fire and scuttled the fleet. Great events were going on then at home, but we were oblivious of their occurrence. After staying at Ascension Island eleven days, we hove our anchor, and started for the coast of Japan. As we neared the coast, thousands of robins came on deck, and, falling exhausted from the rigging, were picked up in buckets full, and proved a great change for salt horse.
With prow to the north, we found ourselves on the 27th of May in the Okhotsk sea, off the coast of Kamtchatka. Here we destroyed the ship Abigail, of New Bedford. We found ourselves one day after a fog had cleared in a field of ice. As far as the eye could range on every side extended the ice floe. It was five feet thick on our port side, while on our starboard, it rose up on a level with our sails, that, frozen from the drizzling of the night before, laid like boards across the masts. The floe was moving, and we were moved in its vise-like clasp. It grated against the frail timbers that now only stood between us and death, as if envious that its realms had been invaded, and wanting to reach with its cold grasp the intruder. Lips unused to prayer, now sent up a supplication. Added to all, as if to mock our miseries, a group of walruses climbed clumsily out of the sea, and began disporting themselves so near that we could almost touch them. Gradually, as hope began to sink, the sun slowly came upon the scene. Though low in the north, it brought hope and warmth. The long, cold northern day that knows no sunset was upon us with its low, mocking noon. The sails began to lose their rigged bend, the ice loosened, and we forged ahead. Then, lowering our propeller in the wake thus made, we pushed sternwise out of the terrible ice floe.
We had now enough of floe ice; our errand was not that of a Franklin or a Kane, but to follow wherever the hardy whaler went. We sailed into Bering Sea and chasing a bark which proved to be the Robert Downs, an Englishman with a Russian flag flying, he answered to the call that he was the Prince Petropoliski bound for a cruise. Our boatswain, a broad Milesian, with a touch of Sclay upon his tongue, was our spokesman, therefore it was easy to imagine how this unpronounceable name must have sounded through the trumpet from such an anti-Russian source. On the 18th of June we made St. Lawrence Island, and its Esquimaux inhabitants came out to trade with us. They brought out walrus tusks and fur, which we declined to barter for. The cook, however, brought from the galley a slush bucket of odds and ends of grease and food, and our little stunted friends squatted upon the deck in silence, and dug deeply with their hands into the mixed viands. A pound of tallow candles to each served as dessert, and when the king's meal to an Esquimaux was at an end they departed with full hearts and stomachs. On the 27th June, after destroying much shipping in Bering Sea, we captured the Susan Abigail, twenty-eight days from San Francisco. Then, for the first time, we heard that the war was over. But as the captain could show no proof, not even a newspaper, we set it down as a smart Yankee trick, thought of to save his ship.
On the 5th of July occurred our greatest day's work--perhaps the greatest destruction ever served upon an enemy in a single day by one ship. The morning came heavy and thick with fog. Suddenly across our bows swept something; in the for we thought we could outline a ship. A gun brought to a bark. Soon her flaming form broke upon the fog and told her fate. She had nearly run us down in the thickness of the weather. The fog now rising disclosed a wide bay or roadstead in which were anchored with their sails half furled a large fleet of whaling vessels of every rig. They were mostly from New Bedford. Before entering upon our work we counted them; there were eleven. Soon the work of demand, surrender, debarkation, and conflagration began. Two were saved and bonded to take home the other crews. Then followed the torch and auger. Never before had these far latitudes beheld such a dread scene of devastation as this, as ship after ship went up in flame. We had been ordered to wipe out the whaling marine of the enemy; and now, after the government that had so ordered had been itself destroyed, we, unwittingly, were dealing the enemy our hardest blows--not our enemy, if we knew the facts, and we were making of ourselves the enemy of mankind.
Re-entering the Arctic seas, we cruised some days without success. Then turning back to Bering Sea, we pointed our prow to the South. The 2d day of August was clear and bright, and the sea smooth. The cry of a sail! brought all minds to attention. But, alas! it was not to revive the old scenes. The Shenandoah had done her last work, and the now oncoming craft was to bring to us tidings of consternation and despair. She showed the English flag, but this to us was a small matter. Half our prizes had done this. Her double top-sail yards (a Yankee rig) were thought sufficient identity. She proved, however, to be the English ship Barracoutta, two days out from San Francisco. Her captain informed our boarding officer that the war was over, and produced New York and San Francisco papers, telling us for the first time of the great and closing scenes of the fearful drama; the surrender of Lee; the capture of Richmond; the assassination of Lincoln, and the final collapse of the Confederacy. Quick as thought, Captain Waddell now swung his guns between decks, closed the port holes, and the Shenandoah was again a craft of peace.
A council of officers was now held to decide what course to pursue. The opinion of each was asked and given. Some were in favor of sailing to Melbourne; others for Valparaiso, or New Zealand. Captain Waddell, although in the minority, decided in favor of Liverpool. We had no flag and no country, but we had sailed from England, and to England we would now return. We were not aware that from one of the bonded ships which we had sent to San Francisco with the crews of herself and others had gone the word by telegraph to Washington of our depredations, and that President Johnson had issued a proclamation of outlawry against us.
The crew of the Shenandoah were now all called aft, and Captain Waddell, in a brief address, told them of our altered condition, and of his decision to sail to Liverpool. The men gave three cheers to their commander, and pressed forward to their duties with a will, while the ship's prow was pointed to Cape Horn. On our way we sighted many ships; some nearing us would send up signals, but would receive no answer. We had lost our voice and manners with our occupation, and all we thought of now was to get to the other side of this terrestrial globe as soon as possible. We had but seven days' coal supply, and must husband this for an emergency. It came in rounding Cape Horn, when we were obliged by stress of weather to fall upon its use. We now laid our course for our destination, and every day was closing in the miles that separated us from our fate. How far the world had gone in the last few months we did not know. We had been beyond its pale. And now, wanderers without a home, we had not even that which usually follows successful privateering--money, for we had sailed against the flag of the United States, not to plunder its citizens, but to, destroy its commerce. We were imbued with no grasping thoughts of wealth. The success of our cause was what we had sailed for, and now that we had no cause, we were poor indeed. What we had done was all under the open mandate of honorable warfare, recognized as such by the oldest and most powerful of the maritime and naval nations, when she declared we were belligerents, thus recognizing that the flag we bore was a national flag. But, on the other hand, we knew the United States had never recognized the Southern States to be in secession, and, inasmuch as we were unsuccessful, we could hardly know what to expect. But the vastness of the movement, greater in extent and completion of design than anything in history, embodying within itself millions of men who had sprung full armed and as in one step to war, was beyond the pale of international or of national precedent.
Then, too, we felt something must be expected of the great nation that had allowed its people to enter heart and soul into our cause. Would she stand by us now in our day of trial? These were our varying thoughts and hopes against the uncertain future, when on the 5th of November land was descried. Up from the water rose the Welsh hills. Distance lending her charm to their purpling heather, smoothed down their rough exterior as they rose from the water, bright in the autumn sunlight. Now the clear headlands of the Anglesey, rising high out of St. George's channel, stood more near, and a pilot swept alongside.
He asked us to show our flag. We say we have no flag. Then answers the servant of the nations, 'Cannot go on board your ship.' A hurried consultation--an anxious exchange of inquiring looks--what shall we do now--we have but one flag--shall we raise it? It was the flag to which we had sworn allegiance. Shall we lift it once more to the breeze, in defiance of the world--if needs be--and, defying all, be constant to that cause which we had sworn to maintain until we knew there was no Confederacy, and that ours, in truth, was a lost cause? 'We will,' say all hearts with one 'acclaim.' 'And let this pilot, or any other refuse to recognize us if they will.' Then, for the last time, was brought up from its treasured place below, the sacred banner of the fair South, to wave its last defiant wave, and flap its last ensanguined flap against the winds of fate, before going forever upon the page of history. Out upon the free day it flashed, and the far shores of England seemed to answer its brave appeal--that the banner that had led 1,000,000 men to many victorious battles should now have one more and final recognition, should once more be recognized a flag among the flags of nations. The grim old sea-dog, tossing his boat at stern, beholds go up the outlawed banner! He sees it floating in the wild, free air, and anticipates his England's decision that it shall be recognized for this one last time. He calls for a line, swings himself over the old war-ship's side, and up the noble Mersey, thirteen months after the departure from the Thames, and just six months, lacking four days, after the war ended, sailed the Confederate ship-of-war, Shenandoah.
Half way up the river a fleet of English men-of-war lay anchored in the channel. The pilot was directed to bring his vessel alongside the flagship--Her Majesty's frigate Donegal, Captain Painter.
Surrendering to that officer, Captain Waddell immediately dispatched a note to Earl Russell, at that time Premier, stating his situation; that at the close of the hostilities he was engaged in open war far away from any means of communication with the world, and that as soon as he was informed of the tide of events he had headed his ship for England; that it would have been imprudent for him to have sailed for a United States port, having only a newspaper report of the close of hostilities. Uncertain what to do, he had sailed for England. He did not feel that he could destroy his ship, or give her over to any nation but to the United States, into whose hands, by the fortune of war, all property of the late Confederacy had fallen. He had sought for light in the books at his command, but could find none. History, he thought, left him no precedent. Three days of intense suspense followed, when we were informed that all who answered to the question, ' What nationality? ' and should answer ' Southerner,' should be entitled to leave the ship. Of course, all answered, as they were instructed, and officers and crew parted as they had met on that Liverpool dock thirteen months before.
The ship was turned over to the United States Consul, at Liverpool, who tried to send her to America, but she refused. Three days out she encountered a heavy storm, and returned in a battered condition. After some months lying elephant-like on the hands of the American Government, she was sold at auction to the Sultan of Zanzibar, who used her as a pleasure craft. But some years later, as if disgusted with a life of such ignoble ease, she suddenly foundered with all on board.
Such is the history of the Shenandoah and her historic cruise. She had in her short career circumnavigated the globe, had printed the memory of the Stars and Bars upon every sea, and, from sunland never changing tropic skies to the fair Arctic zone, the boom of her gun had commanded the marine of her enemy to surrender.
Note: by Dr. F. J. McNulty
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