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The Last Shots of the American Civil War Were Fired in Russia

The CSS Shenandoah wasn't ready to surrender.

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  • Photo Credit: U.S. Naval Institute via We Are the Mighty

Historians don’t talk much about naval action during the Civil War, certainly not as much as they do about the ground combat. If it’s not about a riverboat, the Monitor and the Merrimack, or damning torpedoes, it just doesn’t get the same attention.

The CSS Shenandoah did a lot of things worth talking about.

Her flag was the last Confederate flag to be lowered and she was the ship that took the Civil War to the global stage, looting and burning Union merchant shipping from Africa to India to Russia and back.

She took 38 prizes and more than a thousand prisoners, some of them joining the Confederate ship.

Related: 19 Essential Civil War Books

Shenandoah was built by the British. A fast, steam-powered screw ship, the Brits transferred her to a Confederate skeleton crew under Capt. James Waddell off the coast of Africa. From there, Shenandoah terrorized American ships in sea lanes around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Pacific, and into the Bering Sea off Alaska.

At the time, however, Alaska belonged to the Russian tsar. And the tsar was friendly to the United States. When Shenandoah began burning American whaling fleets in his territory, the tsar was not at all pleased.

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  • Map of Shenandoah's year-long voyage around the world.

    Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Even after the Civil War was over, Shenandoah continued her Pacific rampage. The skipper just didn’t believe Lee’s surrender ended the war, even when American whaling captains told him so.

Pretty soon, he was the only Confederate still fighting. So he moved to shell the defenseless city of San Francisco. It was on his way to California that he met a British ship who confirmed the news: the Confederacy was gone and the captain and crew of the Shenandoah were going to be tried and hanged.

Related: 5 Famous Military Leaders Who Made an Impression in the Air and on the Battlefield

With every Navy in the world looking for Shenandoah and a hefty bounty on his head, Capt. Waddell disguised the ship, stowed its weaponry, and made a mad dash for Great Britain—the long way around.

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  • Commander James Waddell.

    Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Out of major shipping lanes, he faced terrible weather. He also never contacted any ships or stopped in any port, steaming the Shenandoah 27,000 miles to Liverpool, England, where he surrendered to the Royal Navy.

The USS Waddell, a guided missile destroyer, was named for the ship’s captain. Though not the first ship to be named for a Confederate, it was the first one to be named for an enemy captain who wreaked havoc on American shipping.