Thursday, November 5, 2015

150 Years Ago Nov. 6: Last Confederate Raider Surrenders

150 Years Ago Nov. 6: Last Confederate Raider Surrenders

On November 6, 1865 the Confederate raider CSS Shenandoah, her naval ensign still flying, steamed through the thick, morning fog up the Mersey into Liverpool, where Captain James Iredell Waddell offered the surrender of his vessel to the British government.  The last organized Confederate combat unit to haul down its flag, the CSS Shenandoah was also the only Confederate warship to have circumnavigated the globe,  

The CSS Shenandoah was built in Scotland, fitted out in Liverpool and officially taken into Confederate service off the English coast in October 1864.  Waddell and his crew made their first capture on the 30th of that month.  Over the next nine months they would burn or bond 37 more American-flagged vessels, including almost the entire New England whaling fleet of nearly two dozen great ships in the last week of June 1865.  They inflicted over $1.1 million in losses, making the CSS Shenandoah second only to the CSS Alabama as the most successful commerce raider of the war.  The raider's crew took over 1,000 prisoners during their voyage, but they never took a life, and the only two members of its crew to die in service did so of natural causes.

After burning the whaling ships in the Arctic in June, Waddell headed for San Francisco, which he hoped to bombard and hold for ransom. Waddell also planned to cut out and capture the only Union warship in California (the ironclad ram USS Saginaw) and hopefully intercept one of the California gold ships. On August 2, however, Waddell, now only 13 days sail from San Francisco, stopped the British merchant bank Barracouta, where he learned that Confederate Jefferson Davis had been captured, and that the armies and other warships of the southern states had surrendered.  Hostilities having formally ended before his Arctic rampage, Waddell was being hunted as a pirate.   Fearful of the fate he and his men would suffer if they fell into Federal hands,  the rebel raider captain decided to head for a British port, and to throw himself on the mercy of Her Majesty's Government.

The voyage took more than 90 days - all of it out of sight of land - but on November 5 the warship reached Ireland, where Waddell hailed a pilot boat to guide him into Liverpool.  The pilot agreed, but only on condition that the ship steam into port flying her true colors - which Waddell gladly obliged.

Waddell anchored the CSS Shenandoah alongside the English man-of-war HMS Donegal, a massive 101-gunner of the new Conqueror class.  Waddell surrendered to her captain, and hauled down his colors under the watchful eyes of armed British sailors and marines.   A hurried investigation by the British determined that Waddell and his crew had not broken the laws of war, and they were paroled and released, much to the chagrin of the United States Minister to England Charles Francis Adams.

Waddell eventually made it to San Francisco in 1875, where he captained a mail packet.  From there he returned to his native Maryland, where he commanded a squadron of patrol boats that hunted oyster poachers.  He died in 1886.

To relive the adventures of the CSS Shenandoah and other warships (of both sides) of the American Civil War, play my strategic naval game: Rebel Raiders on the High Seas, available from GMT games.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

150 Years Ago- "Undefeated" Rebel General Sinks His Battle Flag, Goes to Mexico

150 Years Ago - “Undefeated” Rebel General Sinks His Battle Flag, Goes to Mexico

Rather than surrender his command let alone give up his battle flag, 150 years ago General Joseph Orville Shelby sank his banner in the Rio Grande and took his men to Mexico, where he hoped to lead them as mercenaries serving the French-installed Emperor Maximilian.

Shelby made his career commanding cavalry, first in “Bleeding Kansas” and then at Wilson's Creek and Pea Ridge. The scourge of the Trans-Mississippi, in 1863 Shelby took his “Iron Brigade” of horsemen on a 1,500-mile rampage through Union territory, a feat for which he earned his promotion to brigadier general. He is also one of the few cavalrymen in history to be able to boast of having captured a warship – the Union tinclad river gunboat USS Queen City. Shelby raided and battled his way through Arkansas and Missouri which such distinction that in May 1865 his commanding officer General Kirby Smith, promoted him to major general. Unfortunately for Shelby, as Lee, Richmond and Davis by then had all surrendered, the war was over and the promotion was never confirmed. That did not stop Shelby, however, who convinced most of his brigade to march to Mexico rather than surrender – or go home.

Shelby's column paused as it reached the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass, Texas in July. There with great ceremony the general took the signature plume from his hat and the Confederate battle flag under which he had marched and ordered them sunk and buried “in the river's rushing tide,” or so one of his followers the military poet Brevet Colonel Alonzo W. Slayback immortalized in a poem dated July 4, 1865. The poem concludes with the farewell line: “The glorious flag of the vanquished brave, No more to rise from its watery grave.”

The poem is entitled “The Burial of Shelby's Flag” and the spot where the flag was sunk is known locally as “The Grave of the Confederacy.”

Shelby and his men crossed into Mexico – but Maximilian, though embattled, thought better of taking the ex-Confederates into his service as it might worsen his already strained relations with Washington. After all, Mexico had been a haven for blockade runners for four years. The French, however, did agree to allow Shelby and his men to settle around Vera Cruz, provided they would defend the land from the Mexican rebels. When Maximilian fell, however, Shelby and most of his men finally went home, with the general settling in Missouri in 1867. Twenty-six years later he was appointed as the U.S. Marshal for the Western District.

Not all of Shelby's men made it home. One group of Missouri cavaliers led by Brigadier General Monroe Parsons did join up with the Imperial forces and fought the Juaristas on the Chino River, where Parsons was killed 150 years ago - on August 15, 1865.

John Wayne drew inspiration from Shelby's Mexican expedition for the 1969 movie The Undefeated, where Rock Hudson played the Shelby-esque Colonel James Langdon.

The role played by Mexico and its French-installed emperor in the Civil War is represented in GMT's strategic naval game, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas by the Mexican port of Vera Cruz – where blockade runners can load cargo to smuggle into the Confederacy and by Confederate Card 61 – Maximilian.

Monday, June 22, 2015

150 Years Ago: One Rebel Raider Still Burning Yankee Ships


-June 22, 1865:  The clouds of thick smoke from two burning Yankee whalers darkened the sky over the Bering Sea on this day 150 years ago.  That was the handiwork of James I. Waddell of the CSS Shenandoah, the last of the Rebel Raiders still at sea - and still at war.  Although the captains of the vessels he caught showed him newspapers that reported General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomatox in April, Waddell refused to believe that the war was over.  He pointed to paragraphs in the newspapers that commented on how President Jefferson Davis had fled Richmond as proof that the war was not over. Waddell believed that Davis would try to set up a new base or at the very least wage a guerrilla war against the occupying Union armies - a war he and the CSS Shenandoah would support by continuing to raid Union commerce.

(Ironically, the day after these whalers were burned, President Andrew Johnson formally lifted the Union blockade of Southern ports.)

The two whalers Waddell set afire, the William Thompson and the Euphrates, were but the first of a fleet of whaling ships he would destroy in the coming week.  Another 22 whaling ships would be taken in the next six days - 21 of which he burned and one, the James Maury, he bonded and set free to take the crews of the whalers back home.  

As he left the Bering Sea, Waddell set course for San Francisco:  his goal, to take on the single Union warship guarding the harbor - a ship captained by an old friend - after which he planned to bombard and hold the city ransom, and then proceed on to hunt down the California gold ships.

The CSS Shenandoah is but one of the many Confederate commerce raiders that appear in GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War - Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.  Her exploits can be repeated as she raids across the map - or can be put to an end by the Union warships sent to hunt her down.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

150 Years Ago: Confederate Armies Surrender, But the Rebel Raiders Fight On

150 Years Ago: Confederate Armies & Leaders Surrender, But the Rebel Raiders Fight On

May 3, 1865:  As President Abraham Lincoln's body arrived in Springfield, Illinois, the Confederate leadership continued their efforts to escape the Union dragnet.  Some sought to keep the Cause alive, while others, including Secretary of the Navy Stephen Mallory and Secretary of State Judah Benjamin realized that the end had come.  On May 3 Mallory tendered his resignation and Benjamin separated himself from President Jefferson Davis's party, telling the Confederate leader at their last meeting in Abbeville, South Carolina, that he would attempt to reach the Bahamas to send final instructions to Confederate representatives abroad.

What was left of the Confederate armies in the field also began to dissolve.   On May 4 the largest of those, some 42,000, were told to lay down their arms by their commander, General Richard Taylor, who surrendered his command to Union forces at Citronelle, Alabama.  Five days later a force of five infantry brigades around which President Davis tried to organize resistance during his retreat through South Carolina are told to go home by their colonels.  On May 10 the guerrilla leader William C. Quantrill was killed in a skirmish at Taylorsville, Kentucky - after which the remnants of his force (which included Frank and Jesse James and Cole Younger) dissolved.  General Kirby Smith remained in the field with his army in the Trans-Mississippi, but directed his delegate, General Peter Osterhaus, to go to New Orleans to seek terms of surrender.  On June 2 Smith surrendered the last Rebel army - although his deputy, Jo Shelby, refused to give up and headed for Mexico with a band of followers.

The Confederate Navy similarly began to fall apart.  The CSS Nashville and a few gunboats and blockade runners fell back from Mobile up the Tombighee River after the city's surrender, but when Rear Admiral Thater and his Union flotilla followed,  Captain Eben Farrand struck his colors, and surrendered the Rebel fleet on May 10.

On May 11, the ocean-going ironclad CSS Stonewall reached Havana, ready to take on coal and provisions for her planned foray to break the blockade.  When her commander Captain Page learned of the surrender at Appomattox, however, he went to the Spanish captain-general and on May 19 struck a deal to sell the warship to Spain. He divided the proceeds among his crew to pay their wages.

One last Rebel warship, however, kept up the fight.  The CSS Shenandoah steamed on from Australia and on to the Bering Strait, where in late June she decimated the Yankee whaling fleet.  Captain James Waddell was shown newspapers by the whaling ship captains that reported the fall of Richmond and the surrender of General Robert E. Lee, but Waddell believed that Davis would continue the war, at least as a guerrilla struggle, and kept on raiding.  It was not until August 2 that Waddell, en route to San Francisco to bombard the city, learned from an English ship that the war was truly over.  That same day, August 2, as Jo Shelby entered Mexico City to a offer his sword to the Emperor Maximillian, Waddel shipped his guns and set a course that would take the CSS Shenandoah to Liverpool, where he would surrender the last Confederate command in November.

The last two Confederate warships to surrender, the CSS Stonewall and the CSS Shenandoah, appear as counters and cards in GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.

Friday, March 20, 2015

150 Years Ago: Union Warships Play Tag With Rebel Armored Raider CSS Stonewall

150 Years Ago:  Union Warships Play Tag With Rebel Armored Raider CSS Stonewall

On March 21, 1865 the Confederate armored raider CSS Stonewall and two wooden Union warships played a potentially deadly game of "tag" off the Spanish port of Ferrol.    The USS Niagara and USS Sacramento had been shadowing the powerful Confederate vessel since she had left France for the Azores.  Their orders, however, were not to engage - and with good reason. With her armored casemates and massive ship-breaking guns the CSS Stonewall was the most powerful and most modern warship in the world.  She was built with the hope of smashing through the Union blockade and reopening one or more ports to Confederate blockade runners.

A storm cut short this deadly dance, and the CSS Stonewall went into Ferrol to seek shelter and take on supplies.  She came out a few days later, and once again USS Niagara and USS Sacramento were waiting, and shadowed her as she steamed across the Atlantic toward her beleaguered homeland.  Among those ordered to make ready to confront her was Lt. Cdr. William B. Cushing, the man who in a daring naval commando raid had sunk the ironclad CSS Ablemarle. Admiral Porter instructed Cushing to mount a spar torpedo on the USS Monticello and make ready to charge the CSS Stonewall should she appear off Norfolk or Wilmington.

The CSS Stonewall is both a card and a counter in GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War, and if she appears can pose a powerful challenge to the Union player.

For more on the story of how, where and why the CSS Stonewall was built, and what eventually became of her, see my earlier blog entry at:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

150 Years Ago: Charleston Surrenders & CSS Shenandoah Leaves Australia to Hunt Whalers

 150 Years Ago: Charleston Surrenders & CSS Shenandoah Leaves Australia to Hunt Whalers

Charleston Surrenders

February 18, 1865 was yet another dark and sour day for the Confederacy - and a very bright and sweet one for the Union, for on that day Charleston surrendered to Federal troops.  Northern politicians and newspapers had long put pressure on the Lincoln administration to take and punish the city which had fired the opening shots in the rebellion. The Navy had tried numerous times to batter down its defenses and did land troops on the outlying areas, but once the blockade had effectively shut down the port in late 1863, there seemed little military reason to expend so much blood and energy to attack the city, not when other more strategic targets (like Mobile and Fort Fisher) beckoned.

General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard had been in command when the guns of Charleston opened the ball by shelling Fort Sumter in April 1861, and he was in charge of its defenses as Union forces approached in February 1865.  On February 15 he evacuated what remained of the garrison and left it to the city's mayor to surrender the city to Union General Alexander Schimmelfennig three days later.  To further prick the pride of Charlestonians, the Union general chose a regiment of Colored troops,  the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, to lead the parade into the city.   Ironically, that same day Confederate General Robert E. Lee proposed recruiting and arming Blacks for service in the Confederate armed forces.

(The 55th was the sister regiment to the famous 54th, which had served so gallantly and suffered so greatly assaulting Battery Wagner - as depicted in the film Glory.  The 55th had spent much of the war  on Morris and Folly Islands outside Charleston harbor, and fought in the last engagement around the city, the battle of James Island on February 10.)

CSS Shenandoah Leaves Melbourne

Even as Charleston surrendered, the Confederate raider CSS Shenandoah began the final leg of her wartime voyage, leaving Melbourne, Australia. Having spent nearly a month making repairs, acquiring supplies (and, surreptitiously, recruiting 40 sailors) the raider left port on February 18.  Her mission was to seek out and destroy the New England whaling fleet - a mission she began to carry out in April, just as Richmond fell and Lee was surrendering.  The CSS Shenandoah sank four whalers in April, captured and burned a merchant vessel in May, and in June burned or destroyed another two dozen whaling ships - well after the war was over.  It was only after destroying those ships and while en route to bombard San Franciso that her captain, James Waddell, learned for certain that hostilities had ended.  He immediately disarmed his ship and set a course for Liverpool, where he surrendered in November.

Charleston is a key port in GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.  Its blockade or, worse, capture, by the North can be devastating to the Southern player.  The CSS Shenandoah is one of the titular raiders in the game, and with its special abilities can wreak havoc on Union shipping - and give great solace to the Confederate player.   Generals Lee and Beauregard, along with many other leaders, North and South, are also present in the game, for while primarily focused on the ships and naval strategies of the era, Rebel Raiders is also a strategic game of the entire war.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

150 Years Ago: Rebel Raider Captain Makes Admiral (and General)

150 Years Ago:  Rebel Raider Captain Makes Admiral (& General)

February 10, 1865 -    Perhaps no Confederate naval officer did more to hurt the North and give hope to the South than Raphael Semmes, and in February 1865 President Jefferson Davis turned to Semmes once more for salvation - promoting him to rear admiral and giving the former raider captain command of the rebel ironclad fleet on the James River.

As captain of the rebel commerce raider CSS Alabama,  Raphael Semmes had taken or destroyed more than 60 Yankee merchant ships. He had also had twice fought Union warships - one of which (USS Hatteras) he sank.  Although defeated in his engagement with the USS Kearsarge in June 1864, Semmes was rescued by an English yachtsman and managed to make his way back home to the Confederacy.  After Commodore James Mitchell failed in an attempt in late January to fight his way down the James River to attack the Union base at City Point, President Davis called in Semmes, promoted him to admiral and gave him  command of Mitchell's fleet.   Semmes flew his flag from the ironclad CSS Virginia II, oversaw repairs to flotilla and made preparations to launch another attack down the river.

Semmes never got to lead the squadron into the epic battle he sought.  When General Robert E. Lee was forced to give up Richmond on April 2,  Semmes gave the order to scuttle and burn his squadron, then formed his men into the "Naval Brigade."  Cut off from Lee, Semmes put his men on a train and headed south to joined General Joseph E. Johnston.  As effectively there was no longer  a Confederate Navy to be an admiral of, Davis commissioned Semmes a brigadier general - making Semmes the only Confederate officer to hold the rank of both admiral in the navy and general in the army.

Semmes and his men surrendered along with Johnston's army to General William Tecumseh Sherman at Durham, N.C.  Initially held as a prisoner of war, he was charged with treason and expected to also be charged with piracy - but all charges were dropped the following April and he was released from custody.   Semmes became a professor of literature and philosophy at what is now Louisiana State University and served as a judge.  He died of food poisoning in 1877 - the victim of a batch of bad shrimp.

The CSS Alabama is one of the Confederate warships represented in GMT's strategic naval game of the Civil War, Rebel Raiders on the High Seas,   Semmes' famous ship appears as a card and a counter and also graces the cover of the game.  Generals Lee, Johnston, Grant and Sherman are also present as cards in the game, which although focused on the naval side of the conflict also allows players to fight the entire war on land and at sea.