The Confederate Cruiser Shenandoah


Bulloch`s note on the future C.S.S. Shenandoah, as received from Stephen Mallory, Secretary of the Navy.

"Mr Carter speaks of a class of vessels built for a branch of the China trade, which sail very fast, and have auxilliary steam power, and he gives the name of the "Sea King", as one of this class. As he describes this vessel, she would make a splendid cruiser, and indeed nothing better would be desired: and I would regard the placing of two such ships at sea as the best service you can now possibly render"

Description of the Sea King (Shenandoah), in the North British Daily Mail, 18 August 1863

Yesterday, Messrs A. Stephen & Sons launched from their new shipbuilding shed at Kelvinhaugh, another of their wood and iron combination ships.
This vessel is a fine steamship of about 1,200 tons, and to class A1 thirteen years at Lloyd`s
She is named the Sea King, and is, we understand, the first screw steamer built on the principles of iron frames and wooden planking, and also the first steamer that has been specially constructed for the China trade, having been built with a view of competing with the fastest ships in the trade direct from China to London, in bringing home the first teas of the season.

The Sea King was a fully rigged ship with yards for square sails, and had 21 working sails. She had a raised forecastle, and the clipper bow stemhead extended from the forecastle to the forecastle bulkhead. She had a poop deck extending about 30 feet, which contained a dining saloon, staterooms, and captain`s and officer`s quarters. Under the poop was a well to receive the propellor when moving under sail alone.
Her crew were housed in the topgallant forecastle, while a large deckhouse between the fore and main masts contained rooms for her petty officers and the galley.Her accomodation with bathrooms and toilets was up to date for a wooden vessel.
Between the main and mizzenmast, space was provided for the auxilliary engine and boiler, which were surrounded by coal bunkers.
Her future armament would consist of, 4 eight inch 68 pounders, two 12 pounders, all smoothbore, and two rifled Whitworth 32 pounders.


In August 1863, Bulloch was in Scotland with his very able assistant, Lt. Robert R. Carter, when he discovered a majestic ship, the Sea King, anchored on the River Clyde. They learned that the "beautifully modelled" and "excellently finished ship" bore the trade mark of Alexander Stephen & Sons, the justly famous Clydebank shipbuilders, whose name was a guarantee of quality and craftsmanship. They both agreed that the Sea King would make a fine addition to the Confederate Navy, and resolved to buy her.At that time however, she was preparing for her maiden voyage, and was not for sale.
Bulloch and Carter were not the only ones aware of the vessel`s potential as a ship of war. From Glasgow, in the autumn of 1863, Thomas Dudley reported the presence of a ship, which might easily be converted into a cruiser, and he relayed to Washington the rumours of the impending sale to the Confederates.
Minister Adams informed Lord Russell that British subjects were actively engaged in fitting out a vessel to resume the Alabama`s "dirty work" ( this was after June of 1864). Secretary Seward warned that Britain "may be held justly responsible" for losses that the Americans sustained as a result of the new cruiser`s depradations.

After the loss of the Alabama in June 1864, the U.S. representatives in Britain, were only to aware that Bulloch would leave no stone unturned in his efforts to replace his beloved Alabama. Bulloch was very aware of this interest, and secrecy and deception became even more prevalent at this time. Bulloch had learned his lessons well regarding the need for secrecy, and after purchasing the Sea King, he himself refused to go antwhere near her, and forbade the use of his name in connection with her.
Lt. William C.Whittle jr., designated second officer for the new cruiser, was instructed by Bulloch, to take a room at Wood`s Hotel, in High Holborn, London under the name of W. C. Brown. He was to sit in the coffee room there, with "a white pocket handkerchief rove through a buttonhole in your coat and a newspaper in your hand," and await the appearance of an agent who would identify himself with an intricate array of signs and countersigns, once satisfied the agent would then arrange to spirit the officer aboard ship "without attracting notice." The precautions may have been melodramatic, but they worked!

Meanwhile other Confederate agents had purchased a tender for the new cruiser, and made the usual arrangements for a rendezvous. Known as the Laurel, the tender was fully expected to recoup her purchase price and make a profit as a blockade runner.

Again the U.S. personnel took a keen interest in these activities. Dudley told Adams that officers from the Georgia planned to sail on this little ship, and that she had an unusually large crew. Although Dudley did have to admit to not having enough evidence to warrant siezure of the vessel. The Confederates meanwhile, advertised for passengers and freight to Cuba , and, with a series of carefully planned moves, ensured that the "freight" consisted of stores and armament for the new cruiser and the "passengers" were the officers and a few choice men for her. The Laurel carried guns and equipment, originally intended for the refitting of the Alabama, includin four 55- hundredweight, 8 inch smoothbore guns, two Whitworth 32 pounders, two 12 pounders, and a selection of small arms, ammunition, clothing and coal.
Customs officials in Liverpool could uncover no violation of any municipal laws, and allowed the Laurel to leave Liverpool on Sunday morning October 9th 1864, the very same day that the Sea King left London. The total cost tfor her purchase, and for the cruise was 53,715 pounds 10 shillings and 9 pence.
Waddell specifically requested George Harwood, who had served Semmes as chief boatswain`s mate on the Alabama, to join the crew. He felt that Harwood was a fine seaman, an experienced "man-of-war" man, and one calculated to be influential in a crew composed exclusively of Englishmen. He was appointed acting boatswain, as soon as the Laurel had cleared English jurisdiction. The true purpose of the voyage being explained to him by Waddell.
The Laurel reached Madeira on Sunday 16th October, and anchored in Funchal Bay, near Loo Rock, in 16 fathoms of water, to await the Sea King. On Monday morning orders were given, that there were to be no communications with the shore, except for the purchase of coal.
On the night of Tuesday 18th October, during the first watch, a black ship rigged vessel came in sight, close by the Funchal anchorage, and showed her signal lights. She steamed up and down the anchorage, but it was impossible for the Luarel to react to this vessel, as her papers were still with the Portugese customs officals, and this strange black craft disappeared into the night. Her appearance certainly caused a stir among the crew who were on deck, rather than in uncomfortably close apartments. The phrase "thats her" was heard all over the vessel.
Daylight came, and a messenger was despatched to the custom`s official, requesting clearance. While the customs vessel approached, accompanied by all manner of fishing smacks and bum boats seeking trade with the crew, the black steamer came in sight again from the North, with flags flying at her mastheads, which were answered from the Laurel. A great cry arose from the assembled Madeiran craft :-

"Otro Alabama" - "Another Alabama"

At the departure of the customs officials, anchor was tripped at 10am, and the Laurel proceeded to follow her quarry, who had slowed her engines. Through his lorgnette, Waddell read the words "Sea King - London" on her stern in large white letters, and ordered that the Sea King be telegraphed to follow the Laurel.
Both vessels then proceeded to the North side of the Deserters (Las Desertas), where in a smooth sea, with a good deep anchorage, the work could begin. Lt William C. Whittle jr. then joined Waddell from the Sea King, where he had been her purser. On the 19th October 1864, the Shenandoah was commissioned into the service of the Confederate States of America, in the lee, and on the North side of Las Desertas, with Madeira in view.
Waddell had spoken to the crew who had come out from England on the quarterdeck, explaining the true purpose of the vessel. He described the forthcoming dashing brilliant cruise, as he attempted to have them join the vessel. But only twenty three out of fifty five men were willing to sign on, and the majority of those for six months only. Thirty two crew were transferred to the Laurel, and, with Confederate flag flying gracefully, the Shenandoah embarked on her great adventure, accompanied by cheers and acclamations from the Laurel.


Related Pages

The Surrender - Newspapers

CSS Shenandoah Logbooks

Cruise of CSS Shenandoah

Sale of the Shenandoah