Having Done My Duty

Today, we are pleased to welcome back guest author Dwight Hughes

Shenandoah in Mersey River.
Shenandoah in Mersey River.

Dawn, 6 November 1865: The CSS Shenandoah steamed up the Mersey River through heavy morning haze with the Confederate flag flying at the peak and dropped anchor near Liverpool guard ship HMS Donegal. Customhouse officers boarded and granted entry. A lieutenant from Donegal visited, providing what Captain James Waddell recorded as “official intelligence” of termination of the war: “He was very polite toward me, and left me to believe he felt a sympathy for us in our situation.” The last Confederate banner (second national pattern) was hauled down without ceremony about 10 a.m.[1]

Captain James I. Waddell. Naval History and Heritage Command.
Captain James I. Waddell. Naval History and Heritage Command.

Waddell dispatched a communication to Her Britannic Majesty’s minister for foreign affairs announcing his arrival: “The singular position in which I find myself placed and the absence of all precedents on the subject will, I trust, induce your lordship to pardon a hasty reference to a few facts.” He had cruised as ordered against enemy commerce in locations so far removed that timely news could not be received. “I was engaged in the Arctic Ocean in acts of war as late as the 28th day of June, in ignorance of the serious reverses sustained by our arms in the field and the obliteration of the Government under whose authority I have been acting.”[2]

Waddell first learned these facts, he said, from a British merchantman off the California coast on 2 August, but needed official confirmation, so he desisted from further acts of war and shaped course around Cape Horn for Liverpool. A diligent examination of all law writers at his command found neither precedent nor guidance in the management and disposal of the vessel. “History is, I believe, without a parallel.”[3]

Waddell did not consider that he had any right to destroy the ship or any further right to command her, and because Confederate States’ property had reverted by fortune of war to the government of the United States, this vessel should also. “I therefore sought this port as a suitable one wherein to ‘learn the news,’ and, if I am without a Government, to surrender the ship with her battery, small arms, machinery, stores, tackle, and apparel, complete, to her Majesty’s Government for such disposition as in its wisdom should be deemed proper.” The captain did not mention that he and his fellow Southern officers had no desire to submit their persons to U.S. jurisdiction; for all they knew, a pirate’s noose awaited.[4]

The Admiralty ordered Captain Paynter of Donegal to prevent Shenandoah from coaling or leaving the port. Having interviewed Waddell, Paynter did not anticipate any such move but would take no chances. The coast guard was notified and artillery batteries in the North Fort at the river entrance were put on alert. Custom authorities returned later in the day to take possession of the ship. Paynter instructed that no one, officers or crew, was to leave until further instructions were received from London. He ordered Lieutenant Cheek commanding the steam gunboat Goshawk to lash his vessel alongside Shenandoah with boiler fires banked.[5]

Waddell informed Lieutenant Cheek and the customs inspector general that he considered himself, the officers, and crew relieved of all further charge and responsibility, and that his authority over the crew was ended. All hands were relieved from duty and allowed to do as they pleased. “The day hung heavily on our hands,” wrote Lieutenant Francis Chew, a Missourian, in his journal, “everything ready to go on shore and not to make a move.” He walked the poop and gazed at the shore, but obscured by fog and industrial smoke, it presented “such a cold & uninviting appearance!” As night came on and fog lifted, “chimneys ceased to send forth their dark streams of smoke and thousands of lights peeped out, giving animation to the scene. A promenade on deck was then more pleasant.”[6]

With fresh provisions from shore, officers and crew relaxed; good spirits prevailed the next morning as they lounged through the day watching steamboat loads of people cruising by to gawk “as if we were wild beasts.” Chew noted, “[We] banished all thoughts of our condition from our minds. I thought, let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we shall be given up to the U.S.?” But time began to pass wearily; boredom and restlessness took over.[7]

Shenandoah’s arrival in the Mersey rekindled extreme American anger over British support of Confederate commerce raiders, particularly the CSS Alabama, and now generated a slew of correspondence around the British government—up to and including cabinet ministers—concerning how to proceed. Primary questions concerned ownership and disposal of the vessel and status of officers and crew. With fervent hopes for a quick and quiet resolution, the foreign minister turned to the law officers of the Crown. Government and press were highly chagrinned at this reminder of the recent unpleasantness, complicating already strained relations.

U.S. minister Charles Francis Adams respectfully requested that Her Majesty’s government take possession of said vessel with a view to delivering it into the hands of his government, “in order that it may be properly secured against any renewal of the audacious and lawless proceedings which have hitherto distinguished its career.” Adams maintained that Shenandoah had continued her destruction of American whalers in the Bering Strait (twenty-four of which she had captured in one week) even after learning from them of Lee’s surrender, and therefore after ceasing to be a belligerent in international law; she was therefore a pirate. In addition, he noted, Her Majesty’s subjects had been recruited as crewmembers in violation of the British Foreign Enlistment Act. While not prepared to suggest any particular course of action, he hoped the government would mark his countrymen’s “high sense of the flagrant nature of their offenses.”[8]

By the third morning, Wednesday, 8 November, there still was no news from London and no more fresh provisions either. “The thing is being pushed too far now,” complained South Carolinian Doctor Charles Lining, the ship’s surgeon. Chew considered this day ten times worse than the last: “I began to think seriously that we would have to stand a trial in an English court.” Around dusk, guards were doubled; the dingy was hoisted onto the deck of the gunboat, and orders issued that no boats would come alongside Shenandoah. The only exit was across the deck of Goshawk with armed sentries posted.[9]

Lieutenant Francis Chew. Museum of the Confedaracy, Richmond VA.
Lieutenant Francis Chew. Museum of the Confedaracy, Richmond VA.

Finally a three-judge panel of law officers advised the foreign minister that ship and appurtenances should be surrendered to the United States. However, on basis of facts as stated by Waddell and without contravening evidence, there were no grounds for prosecution on charges of piracy as proclaimed by the United States. If evidence could be obtained that crewmembers were natural-born British subjects, then proceedings against them should be initiated for breach of the Foreign Enlistment Act. In the absence of warrants for criminal arrest under British law, there were no grounds for preventing Shenandoah personnel from “going on shore without restraint and disposing of themselves as they thought fit.”[10]

Shenandoah officers sat at supper in the wardroom when a shout was heard on deck as a steam launch bumped alongside with Captain Paynter on board. Paynter entered Waddell’s cabin and asked the former captain on his honor whether he was aware of British subjects among the crew. Waddell assured Paynter that he was not and that he had no evidence, certificates of birth, or nationality tickets, to prove nationality. They were “a desperate and motley set of men,” he said, who had been picked up on the high seas and who ran the risk for high wages and prize money. Paynter proceeded to the wardroom and inquired if any of the officers were British subjects. They were not, nor did they think any of the crew were.[11]

Paynter requested that the crew be mustered. (One sailor later testified that the captain sent marines among them saying that they all were to be Southerners when their name was called. Waddell denied it.) Each man passed before Paynter. Most stated—many in English, Scottish, or Irish accents—that they came from one or other of the Southern states. Some were Sandwich Islanders, a few Portuguese, with a smattering of other nationalities. None acknowledged being British, and they appeared to be in a very excited state at having been held on board without reason or authority. Paynter then read out orders from London that all were to be released who were not British subjects. “With what joy it was received!! The men cheered heartily,” wrote Chew.[12]

Paynter was required to justify these proceedings following pointed allegations of prevarication from Minister Adams. The British captain vented his spleen: It was nearly impossible, he explained, to ascertain with certainty the nationality or birthplace of such seamen. The enormous shipping trade with America and the facility with which American naturalization papers could be obtained obscured the issue, while the dress, style, and habits of these mongrel crews—including Yankee drawls and swaggering gaits—were complete disguises. He was a British officer accustomed to the uniform and clean appearance of British men-of-war’s men. “I trust I may be pardoned . . . if I could not pronounce on my own responsibility whether some of the dirty, drawling, ill-looking, grey-coated, big-bearded men, who passed before me as the crew of Shenandoah, were British subjects or American citizens.” Furthermore, it might be presumed that any British subjects already had made their escape and, he believed, would have had every assistance from those on board in doing so.[13]

Thomas Dudley, U.S. consul in Liverpool, compiled a list of Shenandoah personnel with places of origin. Of 137 persons named, 55 percent (75) were English (46), Irish (14), Scotch (10), Canadian (3), or Welsh (2). Crew members, including most warrant and petty officers, had in fact been surreptitiously recruited in London, Liverpool, and Melbourne, and others from captured ships. Only the commissioned officers and a few others were Southerners. So, quite a few subjects of the Crown walked off. It also would have been highly inconvenient for the British government to witness public prosecutions of its subjects in the heat of ongoing controversy.[14]

Minister Adams, supported by a scathing (and somewhat inaccurate) letter from Secretary of State Seward, rehashed their vociferous complaints of British complicity in rebel piracy during the conflict. Foreign Minister the Earl of Clarendon voluminously countered these allegations as having no basis or evidence in international or domestic law. No American minds were changed, however, as they prepared litigation that would lead to subsequent award for the United States in the so-called Alabama Claims. Shenandoah was second only to Alabama in determining British liability.[15]

By about nine o’clock on the evening of 8 November 1865, customs officials had examined all baggage; everything had been loaded onto the ferry Bee, and they steamed away from Shenandoah. Francis Chew recorded, “I grew sadder & sadder as the outlines of the old ship became fainter & fainter in the increasing distance. Farewell dear old ship, farewell! I have seen you for the last time. I shall never again tread your deck! You now go to the U.S., but with no dishonor to yourself; you roamed the seas in spite of cruisers, some of which are now searching for you in the North Pacific and you quietly anchored off Liverpool, twenty thousand miles away.”[16]

“We bid a final adieu to the old Shenandoah which had carried us safely over so many hundred miles of water,” wrote Charles Lining in his last journal entry. “It is all over & I thank God for it. We were the last thing that flew the Confederate flag & that is something to be proud of.” Lieutenant William Whittle of Virginia recalled, “Thus ended our memorable cruise—grand in its conception. Grand in its execution, and unprecedentedly, awfully grand in its sad finale. To the four winds the gallant crew scattered, most them never to meet again until called to the Bar of that Highest of all Tribunals.”[17]

James Waddell set up temporary lodging ashore where within two weeks he would suffer lung hemorrhages and, coughing up large amounts of blood, be near death for several months. In his final report to posterity, Waddell thanked Captain Paynter for his kindness and then summarized: Shenandoah actively cruised for eight months and made thirty-eight captures—an average of over four per month—releasing six on bond and destroying thirty-two. She was the only vessel to carry the flag around the world, visiting every ocean except the Antarctic, and flying it six months after Appomattox. The last gun in defense of the South was fired from her deck on 28 June 1865 in the Arctic Ocean. She ran a distance of 58,000 statute miles, meeting with no serious injury in thirteen months at sea. She never lost a chase and was second only to the celebrated Alabama. “I claim for her officers and men a triumph over their enemies and over every obstacle, and for myself I claim having done my duty.”[18]

This article is extracted from A Confederate Biography: The Cruise of the CSS Shenandoah, to be published by the Naval Institute Press on December 15, 2015 (aconfederatebiography.com).

[1] James I. Waddell, “Extracts from notes on the C.S.S. Shenandoah by her commander, James Iredell Waddell, C.S. Navy,” in The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1896), (Hereafter cited as ORN), 1, 3:835.

[2] Waddell to Russell, ORN, 1, 3:783–84.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Letters, The Case of Great Britain as Laid Before the Tribunal of Arbitration Convened at Geneva, 3 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1872) (Hereafter cited as Case of Great Britain), 1:928–34.

[6] Francis Thornton Chew, “Reminiscences and Journal of Francis Thornton Chew, Lieutenant, C.S.N.,” Chew Papers #148, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina Library (not paginated), 6 November 1865.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Adams to Clarendon, Case of Great Britain, 1:937–38.

[9] Charles E. Lining, Journal, Eleanor S. Brokenbrough Library, Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, VA. (not paginated), 8 November 1865; Chew, “Reminiscences and Journal,” 8 November 1865.

[10] Law-officers to Clarendon, Case of Great Britain, 1:938–40.

[11] Paynter to the Admiralty, Case of Great Britain, 1:953–54.

[12] Temple, Case of Great Britain, 1:974; Warwick to Paynter, Case of Great Britain, 1:989–90; Chew, “Reminiscences and Journal,” 8 November 1865.

[13] Paynter to the Admiralty, Case of Great Britain, 1:953–54; Paynter to Admiralty, Case of Great Britain, 1:988.

[14] “List of the officers and men of the Shenandoah,” Case of Great Britain, 1:974–77

[15] Letters, Case of Great Britain, 1:963–98.

[16] Chew, “Reminiscences and Journal,” 8 November 1865.

[17] Lining, Journal, 8 November 1865; William C. Whittle, Jr., “The Cruise of the Shenandoah,” Southern Historical Society Papers 35 (1907), 258.

[18] Waddell, “Extracts,ORN, 1, 3:836.

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