The Cruise of the CSS Shenandoah

Tribute by Capt. W. C. Whittle CSN
to John T. Mason and the Shenandoah

As printed in Confederate Veteran, Vol. XII, No. 10, Octoberber 1904.


At a meeting of surviviors of the Confederate navy, during the recent reunion at Nashville, a most interesting paper, prepared by Capt. W. C. Whittle, of the CS navy, was read by Mr. Dabney M. Scales, who also served on the same veesel as lieutenant with Captain Whittle. The object of the paper was to pay tribute to the courage and many manly virtues of the late John Thompson Mason, of Baltimore, who was passed midshipman on the Shenandoah, under Captain Whittle.

John Thomson Mason was a son of Major Isaac S. Rowland of Loudon County, Virginia. He was born in 1844, and was scheduled to attend the United States Naval Academy, but the war intervened. He joined the 17th Virginia Regiment, and shortly after the battle of Manassas he was appointed midshipman in the Confederate Navy. He served at Drury Bluff, and was then sent abroad to serve on one of the Confederate cruisers. Young Midshipman Mason went to Abbeville, a quiet town in France, where he applied himself to the study of his profession and gaining a thorough knowledge of the French language.

About this time, Capt. W. C. Whittle met Mason, who had passed his examination, and secured his appointment as a "passed midshipman." In October of 1864, he was assigned to a cruiser, gotten out from England for the Confederate Navy, and with Commander Waddell and other oficers from the prospective cruiser, except Lt. Whittle, sailed from Liverpool on the consort steamer Laurel, to meet their ship elsewhere.

Captain Whittle writes:
"I was assigned to the ship as her first lieutenant and executive officer, and sailed from London on board of her under her merchant name, Sea King. The two vessels, by preconcertion, met at the Madeira Islands and, leaving there in company sailed to Desertas Island, where the Sea King was commissioned nad christened the Confederate States Cruiser Shenandoah, the guns, ammunition and equipment were transferred from the consort Laurel to the cruiser Shenandoah, which promptly started her memorable cruise.

Her officers were;
Lieutenant Commander James I. Waddell, of North Carolina
W. C. Whittle of Virginia, First Lieutenant and Executive Officer
Lieutenant John Grimball of South Carolina
Lieutenant S. S. Lee Jr. of Virginia
Lieutenant F. L. Chew of Missouri
Lieutenant Dabney M. Scales of Mississippi
Sailing Master Irvine S. Bulloch of Georgia
Passed Midshipman Orris A. Brown of Virginia
Passed Midshipman John T. Mason of Virginia
Surgeon C. E. Lining of South Carolina
Assistant Surgeon F. J. McNulty of District of Columbia
Paymaster W. Breedlove Smith of Louisiana
Chief Engineer M. O`Brien of Louisiana
Assistant Engineer Codd of Maryland
Master`s Mate John Minor of Virginia
Master`s Mate Cotton of Maryland
Master`s Mate Hunt of Virginia
Boatswain George Harwood of England
Gunner Guy of England
Carpenter O`Shea of Ireland
Sailmaker Henry Alcott of England

Under these officers and subordinates this gallant ship made one of the most wonderful cruises on record. She was a merchant ship, which had not about her construction a single equipment as a vessel of war. Her equipment - such as guns, ammunition, breeches, carriages etc.- were all in boxes on her decks, and these gallant officers and a few volunteer seamen from her crew and that of her consort were to transform and equip her on the high seas, and in all kinds of weather. None but the experienced can appreciate what a Herculian task it was. But it was enthusiastically undertaken and accomplished, and none were more conspicuous and untiring in his efforts to bring order out of the chaos than young Mason

Our gallant little ship spread her broad canvas wings and sailed around the world, using her auxilliary steam power only in calm belt or chase. We went around the Cape of Good Hope, thence through the Indian Ocean to Melbourne, Australia, thence through the islands of Polynesia, passed the Carolina, Gilbert, and other groups, on Northward through Kurile Islands, into the Okhotsk Sea until stopped by the ice. We came out of the Okhotsk and went up the coast of Kamchatka into Bering Sea, and through Bering Strait into the Arctic Ocean, until the ice again prevented us from going further, so we turned, passed again through the Aleutian islands into the Pacific Ocean. By this time we had absolutely destroyed or broken up the Federal whaling fleets.

While sweeping down the Pacific coast, looking for more prey, we chased and overhauled a vessel flying the British flag. On boarding her we found that she was the British bark Barracouta, bound from San Francisco for Liverpool. This was August 2nd 1865. From her Captain we learned that the war ahd been over since the previous April. The effect of this crushing intelligence on us can be better imagined than described. We found that much of our work of destruction to the whaling fleet of the United States had been done after the war had closed, unwittingly of course, for from the nature of their work the whalers had been away from communication just as long as we had, and were equally as ignorant of results. We promptly declared our mission of war over, disarmed our vessel, and shaped our course for England with well-nigh broken hearts. We journeyed around Cape Horn, and on November 6th, 1865, arrived at Liverpool and surrendered to the British Government through their guard ship Donegal by hauling down the last Confederate flag ever floated in defiance of the United States, having circumnavigated the globe, in every ocean except the Antarctic, and made more captures than any other Confederate cruiser except the famous Alabama.

James I. Wadell CSN

After a full investigation of our conduct by the law officers of the crown, it was decided that we had done nothing against the rules of war or the laws of nations to justify us being held as prisoners, so we were unconditionally released by the nation to which we had surrendered. But the authorities of the United States considered us pirates and in their heated hatred of that time would have treated us as such if we had fallen into their hands, so we had to find homes elsewhere than in our own native land. Four of us (S. S. Lee, Orris M. Brown, John T. Mason and myself) selected the Argentine Republic, in South America, and sometime in December `65 sailed from Liverpool for Buenos Ayres, via Bahia, Rio De Janeiro and Montivideo. After prospecting for a while, we went to Rosario, on Rio Parana, and near there bought a small place and began farming.

As the animosity iof the Federal Government began to soften towards us, Brown and Mason returned home, Lee and myself coming sometime later.

On returning home, Mason took a law course at the University of Virginia, graduated, and was brilliantly successful at his profession. He settled in Baltimore, and married Miss Helen Jackson, of New York, daughter of the late Lieutenant Alonzo Jackson of the U. S. navy. His wife, two sons and two daughters survive him."