Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Civil War grave.

Shenandoah at Williamstown, Melbourne, February, 1865.

The Shenandoah was launched from the yard of A Stephen & Sons on August 17, 1863, destined as a British troop transport, the Sea King.   A Confederate agent, James Bulloch noticed the new ship and decided it would make an excellent commerce raider.  For the other side, US agent Thomas Dudley was watching Bulloch and reported to Ambassador Charles Francis Adams about the plan.
US Secretary of State William Seward had warned the British government about allowing the Confederates to purchase ships and weapons but Bulloch knew what he was doing and not only purchased the Sea King but a tender, Laurel. The two ships rendezvoused at Funchal, Madeira Islands, the Laurel carrying guns and military stores.

The Confederate sailors converted the vessel into a warship and commissioned her as CSS Shenandoah, commanded by Lieutenant James Waddell.  The mission was to attack shipping in the sea lanes between the Cape of Good Hope and Australia and they captured six prizes en route to the Cape.
She sailed into Melbourne for repairs in January 1865. The US Consul, William Blanchard, tried to convince the Victorian governor to impound the ship and charge the crew with piracy. But with the Eureka Stockade a recent memory and the gold rush still in full swing, they were treated more like heroes. Blanchard then indicated he would protect any crew member from the Confederate ship who had joined from a captured American vessel, 8 deserted, followed by another 6 later.

When the Shenandoah left she had 42 stowaways who were signed on as crew as soon as the ship reached International waters. They all claimed to be natives of the Southern Confederacy.
The Shenandoah then turned north to find the American whaling fleet in the North Pacific, moving through the Carolines, Waddell burned four whalers and captured a fifth in the Kuriles.
Waddell learned on June 23, 1865, that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House but believing that the war was still ongoing and he continued to raid the whaling fleet.  The Shenandoah took 21 more prizes then turned south to attack commerce sailing from the West Coast to the Far East and Latin America. Waddell disrupted the whaling industry to the point where Whale oil doubled in price.

Waddell encountered a British barque on August 2nd and learned that the war had ended in April and fearing that if they were caught they'd all be hung as pirates, he ordered the guns dismantled, altered the ship to look like a trading vessel and evading American warships, sailed into Liverpool on November 6, 1865 where he surrendered the ship to British authorities. The end of the War also ended his grand plan to sail into San Francisco and hold the city to ransom.

During the year and 17 days that the Shenandoah was a commissioned warship it travelled 44,000 miles, carrying the Confederate flag around the globe and sank or captured 38 ships - all merchant vessels. She never engaged a Union Navy vessel and consequently its crew never suffered a war casualty.

As for the Australian crew, the story of their service was hushed up. After the war ended they feared prosecution for piracy for joining the Confederate sailors now regarded as  rebels.  Some never returned, some changed their names and some were buried in unmarked public graves and very few have been identified. 

This is the Walkling grave where John Henry Smith is buried, one of just five known African-American veterans of the US Civil War (1861-65) in Australia.  The grave also includes a bronze plaque supplied by the US Veterans' Department that formally recognises Smith's military service.  The restoration was due to the support of W. D. Rose Funerals, Cheltenham as well as the generosity of the Walkling family descendants, The Shenandoahs Crew Australia Inc and the Civil War Rountable Australia. 
For more information on the Shenandoah's visit to Melbourne, go here

4 comments:

Andrew said...

Never heard about that at all, let alone that it came to Melbourne. Most interesting that we were indirectly mixed up in the civil war.

JahTeh said...

Andrew, follow the link for the details about the Melbourne visit. I wonder if Miss O'Dyne knows about the Ballarat part?
It interests me that he was African American on a Confederate ship, did he start there or was he one of the crew that they picked up from ships they sunk.
Now I'll have to google the ship that came here and made off with the Irish prisoners because I've just thought of it and can't remember the name and I know there's a song about it.

JahTeh said...

It was the Catalpa and 6 Fenian prisoners were rescued from WA in 1876.

Terry Foenander said...

Actually, John Henry Smith, who is buried at the Cheltenham Cemetery in Melbourne was not one of the crew members of the CSS SHENANDOAH. He was, in fact, a member of the United States Colored Troops.