The Last Act II

150 years ago today, the last act of the Civil War played out. Here is that story.

Shenandoah arrived at the Mersey Bar shortly before midnight on November 5. The next  morning she entered Liverpool Harbor and anchored near the frigate HMS Donegal, which happened to be in port that day. “The fog shut out the town from our view,” recalled a crewman, “and we were not sorry for it, for we did not care to have [a] gaping crowd on shore witness the humiliation that was soon to befall our ship.”

The Donegal’s captain, James A. Paynter, boarded Shenandoah “to ascertain the name of the vessel and gave me official intelligence of the termination of the American war,” recalled Waddell. “He was polite.” Waddell handed over a letter addressed to Lord Russell, British Foreign Secretary, in which he gave up Shenandoah to Her Majesty’s Government. “I do not consider that I have a right to destroy her or any further right to command her,” he declared.

At 10 AM, November 6, 1865, James Waddell ordered the Confederate flag lowered. After 58,000 miles, 38 ships captured, and the only circumnavigation of the globe by the Confederate ship, CSS Shenandoah’s career was over. She, along with the Confederacy she served, now passed into history.

For two days the officers and men stayed on board Shenandoah while the British government decided what to do. On the evening of November 8 the answer came. According to the Liverpool Mercury:

About 6 o`clock . . . a telegram was received from the Government by Captain Paynter . . . that the whole of the officers and crew, who were not British subjects were to be immediately paroled. Captain Paynter immediately proceeded to the Rock Ferry slip, and applied for a steamboat. The Rock Ferry steamer Bee was placed at his disposal by Mr. Thwaites, in which he immediately proceeded alongside the Shenandoah. Captain Paynter went on board and communicated to the officers the object of his visit. The crew were mustered on the quarterdeck by the officers of the ship, the roll book was brought out, and the names of the men called out as they occurred. As each man answered to his name he was asked what countryman he was. In not one instance did any of them acknowledge to be British citizens. Many nations were represented among them, but the majority claimed to be natives of the Southern States of America or “Southern citizens”. Several of those however, who purported to be Americans, had an unmistakably Scotch accent, and seemed more likely to have hailed from the banks of the Clyde than the Mississippi. Captain Paynter informed the men that by order of the Government they were all paroled, and might proceed at once to shore. This intelligence was received by the men with every demonstration of joy, and they seemed to be delighted at the prospect of leaving the craft in which they had hoped to be able to assist the Southern Confederacy. They commenced to pack up their bedding and other articles as fast as possible, and conveyed on board the Bee, which was to take them to the landing stage. Before leaving the vessel, however, they gave three lusty cheers, for Captain Waddell, their late commander. Captain Waddell, in feeling terms, acknowledged the compliment, and said that he hoped the men would always behave themselves, as brave sailors ought to do. The men then went aboard the Bee, and were conveyed to the landing stage. This separated the Shenandoah and her crew.

CSS Shenandoah was no more.

The United States took possession of Shenandoah and sailed her to America. In 1866 the Sultan of Zanzibar bought her and named her El Majidi. She sank in a storm off Zanzibar in 1872.

Waddell and most of his officers remained abroad for some years, eventually returning to the United States under various amnesties. The Shenandoah’s foreign-born crew went home or signed onto other ships.

HMS Donegal outlasted all the actors in this final drama, becoming the Royal Navy’s torpedo school under the name HMS Vernon until being broken up in 1923. Part of her planking was used to construct the façade of a pub in Portsmouth. (The author’s great-grandfather served on Vernon in 1912.)

5 Responses to The Last Act II

  1. What happened to the flag and log book? Hopefully both are in a museum where they can be viewed.

    1. Both are in the Museum of the Confederacy/American Civil War Museum in Richmond. They actually brought out the flag this week in honor of the anniversary.

      1. Cool! Do you think they will display the flag at another time? Can’t make it there this week as it is a 4 hour drive from home.

  2. Great articles on the final acts of the ACW. Worth noting however that HMS Donegal was a 101 gun First Rate rather than a Frigate, though of course the advent of HMS Warrior made her obsolete overnight. The timbers from Donegal were also used in the construction of ‘The Old Ship’ pub in Brighouse, Yorkshire.

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