Friday, May 15, 2009


Non-fiction, pictures, maps, appendix A and B, notes, bibliography, index, 432 pp., 2006. Hill and Wang, A division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 19 Union Square West, New York NY 10003.

There were many battles, small and large, fought during the four years of the War Between the States, but not all of these conflicts were on land. The Confederate States Navy, although small due to its infantile state, was effective. Most people think of the struggles that took place within the harbors and on the rivers of the South. An example of such an engagement was the CSS Virginia versus the USS Monitor in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The CSS H.L. Hunley has earned its place in history as the first submarine to sink an enemy warship. There are numerous other accounts of Confederate ships engaging the enemy.

However, one aspect of the Confederate Navy that goes unnoticed is the warships that roamed the international waters in order to destroy United States merchant ships. One such ship was the CSS Shenandoah. This 222-foot steamer left London under the guise of a merchant ship Sea King on October 8, 1864. Once off the shore of Madeira, the ship was rechristened and outfitted as a man-of-war. During its thirteen month voyage, the CSS Shenandoah earned the distinction of the being the third most successful commerce raider. Her crew and she covered 58,000 miles, destroyed 32 vessels and their cargo, ransomed six others, and took 1,053 prisoners. The estimated value of the merchant ships and their wares that was demolished was $1.4 million in 1864 standards. Although all of these feats are considerably difficult, the CSS Shenandoah will be remembered as the only Confederate Naval ship to circumnavigate the world.

In the book Sea of Gray, The Around the World Odyssey of the Confederate Raider Shenabdoah, Tom Chaffin does a wonderful job presenting a chronicle of events from the point that Commander James Bulloch, chief Confederate Naval operative in England, prepares to purchase a shop to the final voyage. To tell the story, Mr. Chaffin uses original documents, intimate ship journals kept by officers, and a wealth of other primary sources. The reader is able to see first hand how the crew felt toward their officers, or officers toward the captain. Everything was not always “smooth sailing” for the crew and officers during this historic voyage.

An interesting fact presented in Sea of Gray is that the CSS Shenandoah and her crew did not surrender until November 6, 1865 in Liverpool, England. Cornelius Hunt recalls on that day, “We got clear of the bar and steamed up the river toward the city, with the flag that had accompanied us round the world flying at our peak for the last time. The fog shut out the town from our view, and we were not sorry for it, for we did not care to have the gaping crowd on shore witness the humiliation that was to befall our ship.” He continued to observe Lt. Whittle, as he was standing on the steamer’s poop deck, looking up at the Confederate ensign that was still waving from the steamer’s stern, “turned away least anyone see the tears rolling down his face.” The flag was hauled down by the quarter master and the folded banner was presented to Lt. Whittle, who in turn gave it to Capt. Waddell. The ship was not surrendered to the United States government, but instead the formal surrender was to Royal Navy Commander, Capt. James A. Paynter, of the Donegal. A letter of surrender written for the British foreign minister was given at this time. The letter explained that Capt. Waddell did not find out that the war had ended until August from another ship, but he doubted it until he verified it in the next English port. “I am without a government, and 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.” Capt. Waddell goes on to say in the letter, “The last gun in the defense of the South was fired from her deck.” After much consideration, the British government freed the crew and turned the ship over to U.S. Consul Thomas Dudley. The CSS Shenandoah was ultimately auctioned off in Liverpool by US Consul Dudley. She was purchased by Nathaniel Wilson who immediately sold her to the sultan of Zanzibar, who made her a merchant steamer. She would strike an uncharted reef and sink in the Indian Ocean in 1879.

Commander James Bulloch, who purchased the Confederate fleet from the British, was the uncle of President Theodore Roosevelt. Commander Bulloch would never return to live in the United States, but his nephew would visit him many times in England, especially when he was researching for his book Naval War of 1812. During his time with “Uncle Jimmy”, Teddy encouraged him to write his memoirs The Secret Services of the Confederate States in Europe. Ironically, Commander Bulloch was never pardoned and dies in 1901.

This book is a must for anyone who would like to know more about the Confederate States Navy, and more importantly the CSS Shenandoah. It explores the internal political turmoil in England over the support of the Confederate States of America. Numerous photographs of the officers, images from newspapers and charts create a visual appeal for the reader. The fast pace story reads as an epic fiction, but is a vital part of Confederate history.

Written by Cassie A. Barrow

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