11 September 2008

The last shot of the American Civil War was fired...

... in the Arctic, off the coast of Alaska!

I learned this from an interesting book - The Last Shot: The incredible story of the CSS Shenandoah and the true conclusion of the American Civil War, by Lynn Schooler (Harper Collins, 2005).

The Shenandoah departed from an English port, commissioned by the Confederacy to interrupt Union shipping and impair their war effort. It was a three-masted cruiser with, interestingly, a supplemental coal-fired steam engine, the smokestack of which could be retracted to disguise its presence and allow the ship to sneak up on unsuspecting victims.

The Shenandoah sailed from England the length of the Atlantic, around the Cape of Good Hope, and then to Australia. From there she headed up the Pacific. On April 9, 1865 while Lee was surrendering at Appomattox, the Shenandoah was at Pohnpei (Micronesia) in the western Pacific, and understandably did not know the war was over.

From there she headed up to the Aleutians and the Bering and Arctic seas, where 58 Union whalers were virtually decimating the bowhead whale population; she destroyed nearly half of that whaling fleet. On June 28, 1865, as they approached yet another whaler, “At Waddell’s signal, the gunner aimed, jerked a lanyard, and fired the last shot of the American Civil War.”

Even more remarkably, after being informed that the war was over, Captain Waddell decided to return to an English port, and to evade capture stayed away from all shorelines and once again traversed the entire length of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, including the treacherous Cape Horn, sailing 23,000 miles without seeing land. By the time they reached Liverpool, they had circumnavigated the globe and sailed 58,000 miles.

You can read the Wiki summary here, but the book is a well written and interesting read. Other things I learned -

“Jack” was slang for an ordinary sailor, shortened from the British “Jack Tar,” for the seaman’s use of tar to restrain hair grown long over the course of an extended voyage." (p.48)

"By October of 1864 many rebel areas were starving, with some of the more unfortunate Confederates reduced to picking through horse manure for kernels of undigested corn." (p.54)

"A man sailing before the mast must even supply his own mattress, a straw pad called a “donkey’s breakfast…” (p.85)

[The Shenandoah] "...carried a coal-burning water maker capable of distilling freshwater from salt water, allowing her to stay at sea as long as her supply of coal held out." (p.90)

“Dead-reckoning” is a corruption of the abbreviation “ded. reckoning,” for “deduced reckoning.” In using dead reckoning, a vessel’s position is estimated using a formula of time, speed, and direction applied to the vessel’s last fixed position." (p.99)

...and finally see the blog entry below this one re the fate of castaways on the open sea...


  1. check your date - it was June 22, 1865

    Last Flag Down - John Baldwin and Ron Powers

  2. interesting but y alaska?


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