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Thursday, November 20, 2014

CSS Shenandoah, The Last Ship Engaged in Raids During the Civil War 1864-1865

Bark Delphine: Capt. and Mrs. William Greene Nichols (Lillias Pendleton Nichols) boarded the Delphine, a merchant ship built by Eliah Wight Metcalf. Lillias is the daughter of my 3rd Great Grand Uncle, Capt. Phineas Pendleton, Jr., and she and I come from a long line of Searsport sea captains traveling the world on Maine-built merchant ships. Capt. and Mrs. Nichols boarded the ship Delphine in Bangor Maine, along with their 6 year old son, Phineas Pendleton Nichols, and their maid. Their long voyage took them to the Indian Ocean. 

<  Capt. William Green Nichols

CSS Shenandoah: The Confederates used ruses to secretly purchase, refit, and take command of the Scottish-built civilian steamer the Sea King, a 1160-tone screw steam cruiser, a very fast iron-sided ship with teak plank flooring, which Commander James Iredell Waddell renamed as the Shenandoah. Waddell, though an experienced mariner of 20 years helped in the refitting of the Sea King for war, he tended to not gain the confidence of the Shenandoah's crew who kept wanting to second-guess his commands on this ship, the first he commanded himself. His ship needed a crew of 150, but had just 42 men despite recruitment efforts in October of 1864. Slowly he would gain a full crew by taking volunteers from the many Yankee ships that he and his crew would halt, seize and burn as he maneuvered through the Atlantic and into the Indian Ocean. He and his ship were always at war despite many monotonous long days at sea. The role of Confederate raider was to reek havoc with any encountered Yankee merchant trade ships upon the high seas.

<  Commander James Iredell Waddell 

On December 29, 1864 a leg of their voyages took both the Delphine and the Shenandoah within proximity near Java Head, Cape Indonesia in the Sunda Strait. The Shenandoah believed the bark to be French and deceptively raised a flag identifying their ship as English. The Delphine was used to meeting other ships at sea and approached to exchange news, etc. Naive, the Delphine raised its flag, the Yankee flag. Waddell fired a blank shot and prepared forward guns. Capt. Nichols of the Delphine  hoved  to! Waddell informed Nichols that the Delphine would be sunk.

Capt. Nichols tried his own subterfuge, but failed. He claimed that his wife Lillias  Nichols was too delicate and in failing health to board the Shenandoah and pleaded for the Delphine to be spared. Waddell  almost let the Delphine go but at the last moment decided to send the ship's surgeon, Dr. Lining, to examine Ms. Nichols. The truth was out; Lillias  was a force to be reckoned with, a beautiful woman, in robust health, but sharp tongued which she used to tongue-lash the Confederates for firing upon the Delphine.

Out came the boson's chair which was rigged between the ships and and Lillias in all her verbal glory no doubt managed the perilous transfer to the Shenandoah along with her son Phineas and the maid. She coerced the sailors to transport her canary bird in its cage also. Later her books were salvaged, but she was not allowed to keep her copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin. The raiders also kept the Delphine's chronometer, against the lashings of Lillias'  tart tongue.

She and her husband, Capt. Nichols watched as the Delphine  was set afire and adrift. Nichols took the ship's loss very badly. Lt. Chew of the Shenandoah actually tried his best to comfort the Delphine's  captain saying "Captain, just think that if at daylight this morning you had changed your course a quarter of a point, you would have passed out of our reach and sight." To which Nichols replied: "That shows how darn little you know about it. This morning at daylight I just did change my course a quarter of a point and that's what fetched me here."

The handsomely dashing and aloof six foot tall North Carolinian Capt. Waddell, perhaps merely courteous with a fellow captain, or perhaps quite curious about the his wife's manner, invited the Capt. and Mrs. Nichols, their son and their maid to his cabin. Capt Waddell wrote in his journal later that "Mrs. Nichols asked in a stentorian voice if I was captain, what I intended to do with them, and where would they be landed." Waddell told her St. Paul, joking. St. Paul is a volcanic rock island in the Indian Ocean. Lillias replied "Oh, no, never. I would rather remain with you." Waddell also jotted in his journal, "I was surprised to see in the sick lady, a tall, finely proportioned woman of twenty-six years, in robust health, evidently possessing a will and a voice of her own." In fact, they would head to Hobson's Bay in Melbourne, Australia as prisoners; and the Shenandoah for repairs.

                                            >The lovely Lillias Pendleton Nichols

Interestingly enough, Lillias and Waddell did form a confidante relationship sufficient for some personal exchanges such as his yearning to see his wife again in Maryland, East London, England. According to the book Sea of Gray, "In time, she and her entire family became a welcome fixture aboard the raider. Officers and crew took particular pleasure in watching the boy Phineas, by now 'Phinizy' to the Confederates, running back and forth across the raider's deck as he played with two goats taken from the Delphine."

The Shenandoah put ashore in Australia and in the morn of January 26, 1865, the U.S. consul William Blanchard found an office full of Yankees who told him they had each signed parole papers requiring confidentiality about any doings of the Confederacy. Blanchard was not pleased that the Shenandoah had landed as he considered them to be nothing but lowly pirates. He contacted officials to capture the steamer and he began deposing the passengers immediately.

Lillias felt no need for confidentiality though her husband tried to remain so. She shared facts on how the Shenandoah came about, how their mission was to destroy everything "flying the federal flag" and how she was not a prisoner though required to sign parole papers before landing in Australia, which papers she stubbornly contested. 

Despite his country's neutral policy, Blanchard disliked the people on the Shenandoah. The colonists of Australia accepted them, almost as celebrities. They were wildly interested in the American happenings. They admired the fine looking Captain Waddell "with thick black hair and a weather-beaten face, the colour of  deep mahogany. He limps slightly from a dueling wound which he never discusses. A gentleman of most prepossessing appearance and bears about him the frank expression of a sailor." (Illustrated Melbourne Post)
The Shenandoah dropped anchor off Sandridge Pier (now Port Melbourne) and became surrounded by a small boat flotilla. Waddell was granted the right to repairs and provisions by the Governor. So popular was the Shenandoah and its crew that the railroad put in extra train schedules to accommodate the thousands of sightseers. The ship's officers attended a ball in their honor and similarly a dinner attended by citizens including politicians, judges and law enforcement. The crew by the way was composed of motley volunteers from near and far, but not necessarily from America.

The longer the ship stayed at port, the more controversial she became being seen more and more as respectable pirates. Eventually the Governor issued their departure papers, so to speak; they set off to sea with stowaways to be new crew members.

1) To the best of my research, the builder was never reimbursed for his burned ship despite 20 years of efforts to do so.

2) The world-famous Shenandoah captured 38 Union merchant vessels, most being New Bedford whalers. All the while, Union ships tried but failed in their hunt for the Shenandoah.

3) Ultimately the Confederacy lost, but news was slow, especially upon the sea. The Shenandoah's raiding lasted past the official end of the Civil War. Upon learning of this end months afterwards while headed for San Francisco, the Shenandoah was turned and headed for England where Waddell turned it over to the Royal Navy.

4) The Shenandoah was the only Confederate ship to sail the world and the last ship in the Civil War action.

The Last Shot: The Incredible Story of the CSS Shenandoah and the True Conclusion of the American Civil War by Lynn Schooler, HarperCollins

Sea of Gray; The around-the-world odyssey of the Confederate raider Shenandoah by Tom Chaffin 
Papers Relating to Foreign Affairs Part I: US Dept of State (Google books)