The Arctic Confederates and the last shots of the Civil War,
Ironically the last shots of the American Civil War did not occur in hot humid Deep South, or in Virginia, or the borderlands of Texas, or by violent guerrilla fighters in Missouri. No, the last shots of the Civil War occurred far north, in the cold arctic waters of the Bering Sea near Alaska.
Great Britain made a killing building and selling ships to the Confederacy during the Civil War. It was not a political thing, but merely good business. British ship builders sold ships to Confederates, who used them to raid Union shipping, which caused American insurance rates for shipping to skyrocket, devastating the American shipping industry, which gave British shipping an incredible advantage in the world shipping market. In fact British shipping would dominate for 50 years after the close of the Civil War. Supplying Confederate raiders and privateers was good business indeed.
One such Confederate raider was the CSS Shenandoah. Built in 1863 as the HMS Sea King, it was a steam/sail ship originally intended as a troop transport. In 1864 the Sea King was outfitted with guns and transformed into a war cruiser. She was transferred to the Confederate Navy where it was renamed the Shenandoah. Under the command of Capt. James Waddell, the Shenandoah sailed past the Cape of Good Hope, across the Indian Ocean, and headed for the North Pacific.
Using Australia as a base for rest, repair, resupply, and even recruitment of sailors (yes Australians in the Confederate Navy), the Shenandoah cruised and raided the rich whaling waters of the Bering Straight, far north in Arctic between Russia and Alaska. Whale oil was an important commodity to industry, being the main lubricant and illuminant until the invention of petrochemicals.
From Winter to Spring of 1865 the Shenandoah sunk, captured, or ransomed a dozen Union merchant ships and whalers. Captured goods and ships were sold at foreign ports, with each crew-member being given as share of the profits. As Spring drew nearer weird things started happening. Crewman of captured ships would present Captain Waddell and crew newspapers or telegraph transcripts depicting unusual events, such as the capture of Richmond, the Surrender of Gen. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, however Capt. Waddell assumed that the war was still being fought on other fronts, such as in the deep south or by Joseph E. Johnston’s forces in the Carolinas. He continued his attacks, raiding two dozen more ships in June (10 in the space of 7 hours), around two months after the war had ended. On June 28th, the Shenandoah captured the whaling ship Nile, firing the last shots of the Civil War, it was now almost three months since the surrender of Gen. Lee at Appomattox.
In late June, 1865, Waddell formulated a plan to bombard San Francisco, the largest city in the West, left completely undefended as it was far away from the war (not to mention the war had ended three months ago). On August 2nd, a mere days travel away from the city, the Shenandoah was met by a British ship. The Captain of the vessel presented Waddell with newspapers proclaiming the capture of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and the surrender of Gen. Johnston’s army, the war was officially over.
However the crew of the Shenandoah were in a pickle. The US government granted a full pardon for ex-Confederates, however they wanted the crew of the Shenandoah to hang as pirates, as they were raiding well after the war had ended, Confederate commerce raiders were not afforded the same protection as soldiers, and much of their crew were foreigners (Australians). Within a few days the Shenandoah was transformed. The Confederate ensign was removed and replaced with a false flag, her guns and gun decks removed, and she was repainted to look like a merchant ship. The Shenandoah then sailed south, through the South Pacific and around the Cape Horn of South America to the Atlantic. Avoiding other ships and staying off shipping lanes, she crossed the Atlantic and made her way to Britain. The Shenandoah surrendered to the British government on Nov. 5th, 1865, becoming the last Confederates to surrender and bringing a final close to the Civil War. The Shenandoah also has the distinction of being the only Confederate ship to circumnavigate the world. During her 12 and a half month journey she raided 38 ships, took over a thousand seamen prisoner, and caused millions of dollars in damages. Eventually the US Government’s stance on Confederate raiders softened, and the crew of the Shenandoah was permitted to surrender and return home.