Ship without a country — Civil War Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin

Today, the Civil War Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin remembers when Captain Waddell turned over the Confederate States Navy ship Shenandoah to the British at Liverpool on November 6, 1865.

From the History of the Confederate States Navy from Its Organization to the Surrender of Its Last Vessel by John Thomas Scharf, published in 1887:


The Shenandoah.—

The last of the Confederate cruisers, and the one that, with the exception of the Alabama, inflicted the largest total of injury upon the commerce of the United States, was the Shenandoah, which was purchased by Capt. Bulloch to supply the place of the vessel sunk by the Kearsarge.

She was originally the British merchant steamer Sea King, equipped with a liftings screw so as to be used under sail alone and was fully rigged as a ship, and was very fast under either sail or steam.

The whaling fleets of the United States were the largest portion of its commerce remaining, and this cruiser was especially fitted out to swoop down upon them.

Bulloch paid £45,000 for the ship, buying her through the medium of an English merchant captain named Corbett, who was to transfer her upon the high seas.

At the same time he purchased the blockade-runner Laurel and loaded her at Liverpool with the guns, stores, etc., for the cruiser, and the Laurel also carried out to the rendezvous all the officers except Lieut. Whittle, who went in the Sea King to make himself acquainted with her.

She sailed from London and the Laurel from Liverpool on Oct. 8th, 1864. The Sea King was cleared for Bombay or any port in the East Indies, and the Laurel for Nassau.

On the 18th they rendezvoused off Funchal, Madeira, and proceeded to Las Desertas, an uninhabited island nearby, and in two days the armament and war material were transferred to the Sea King; Capt. James I. Waddell hoisted her new colors and took command of her as the Confederate States man-of-war Shenandoah.

The battery placed on board consisted of four 8-inch smooth-bore guns, two Whitworth 32-pounder rifles and two 12-pounders.

The most serious obstacle that met the ship at the outset of her career was the paucity of her crew.

Eighty seamen had shipped for the pretended voyage to the East Indies, and but twenty-three consented to remain under the Confederate flag; so that, including her nineteen commissioned and warrant officers, the ship had but forty-two men on board; but the crew was soon brought up to the requisite number by enlistments from the prizes she took.

Capt. Waddell steered for Australia, and before arriving at Melbourne, Jan. 25th, 1865, made prizes of the barks Alina, Godfrey, Edward, and Delphine; schooners Charter Oak and Lizzie M. Stacey, and brig Susan, all of which were burned.

The steamer Kate Prince was ransomed, to take home the prisoners, and the bark Adelaide was bonded.

At Melbourne the Shenandoah was permitted to go into a private dock, for repairs, and then trouble with the colonial authorities arose on an allegation that Capt. Waddell had shipped a British subject in the port, in violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act.

He refused to allow his ship to be searched, and his assurances that he had committed no breach of neutrality were accepted.

The Shenandoah left Melbourne Feb. 8th, 1865, in excellent condition, and in three months passed from that far southern latitude to the beginning of her destructive work among the whalers in the Okhotsk Sea, Behring’s Sea, and the Arctic Ocean.

Between June 22d and the 28th she captured, and either destroyed or ransomed, 24 ships.

They were taken in couplets, triplets and quartets, and it was necessary to release and bond four of them, in order to get rid of the numerous prisoners.

The earliest prizes were the Edward Casey, Hector, Abigail, Euphrates, Wm Thompson, Sophia Thornton, Jireh Swift, Susan and Abigail, and Milo, the latter being sent to San Francisco, with the prisoners.

In the next batch were the Nassau, Brunswick, Hillman, Waverly, Martha 2d, Congress 2d, Favorite, Covington. James Maury and Nile.

The two last-named were converted into cartels, and took the prisoners to San Francisco, and the others were burned.

On one occasion eight prizes were taken in a lump, as they had gathered around the disabled ship Brunswick, and when the octette was fired, that hyperborean sea was lit up with a wondrous mass of fire.

This occurred on June 28tn, near the mouth of Behring’s Straits, and comprised the last war exploit of the Shenandoah.

She captured in all 38 ships, 34 of which were destroyed, and four ransomed; their total value was stated by the masters at $1,361,983.

Waddell had faithfully executed the programme of obliterating the American whaling industry in those regions.

It will be seen that many of his captures were effected after the close of the war, and in consequence, Secretary Welles accused him of continuing his belligerent operations when he knew that the armies of the South had surrendered.

That malicious charge has been easily and completely refuted.

From prizes taken on June 23d, he received papers containing the correspondence of the preceding April, between Grant and Lee, relative to the surrender of the latter; but they also informed him that the seat of the Confederate government had been removed from Richmond to Danville, and that Pres. Davis had issued a proclamation giving assurances of the continuation of the struggle by the Confederacy.

With his knowledge of the condition of things in America thus limited, Capt. Waddell had no right to suppose that the war had ended, or to cease his hostile endeavors.

The Shenandoah came out of the Straits on June 29th, and while running towards the California coast spoke, on Aug. 2d, the British bark Baracouta, 14 days out from San Francisco, from whose captain Waddell learned of the capture of Pres. Davis, and the capitulation of the remaining military forces of the Confederacy.

The Shenandoah’s guns were at once dismounted, ports closed, funnels whitewashed, and the ship transformed, so far as external appearance went, into an ordinary merchantman.

Waddell decided to give the ship up to the British authorities, and brought her into Liverpool on Nov 6th, not a vessel having been spoken during the long voyage from the North Pacific.

He turned her over to Capt. Paynter, commanding her Majesty’s ship Donegal, who placed a prize-crew on board, and Waddell communicated with Lord Russell, British Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

In this letter he stated his opinion that the vessel should revert, with other property of the Confederacy, to the U. S. government, and that point was quickly settled; but Mr. Adams raised the usual question of “piracy” against the officers and men of the ship, and there was also a liability to proceedings under the Foreign Enlistment Act, if British subjects could be found on board.

Mr. Adams wanted the officers and crew held, he said, until he could procure evidence from San Francisco, that Capt. Waddell knew of the downfall of the Confederacy before his latest seizures of American vessels; but the law officers of the crown decided that there was no evidence to justify their detention.

On Nov. 8th, Capt. Paynter had the roll of the Shenandoah called upon her deck, and as not a member of the ship’s company acknowledged to being a subject of Great Britain, they were discharged, and allowed to depart.

Mr. Adams, however, continued to urge the arrest of Capt. Waddell, on charges of piracy; and when rebuffed by the British government, he brought forward an affidavit made by one Temple, who purported to have sailed in the Shenandoah.

He alleged that the crew were chiefly British subjects, and Mr. Adams claimed that they should have been held for violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act, but nothing came of his efforts; and he was, indeed, chiefly prompted by a motive to makeup the record that was subsequently presented to the Geneva tribunal.

Capt. Waddell and his officers were never molested.

The Shenandoah was sold by the U. S. to the Sultan of Zanzibar, and in 1879 was lost in the Indian Ocean.


The Civil War Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin shows with an artist’s image of the CSS Shenandoah, circa mid-1860s.

Civil War Commemorative Gold Five-Dollar Coin