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.