The story of a Confederate raider that was still sinking ships months after Appomattox.
Schooler (The Blue Bear, 2001) begins by outlining the state of naval affairs as the Civil War began. The U.S. Navy had enough ships to blockade Confederate ports, but not enough to protect its own ships on the high seas. The Confederates sought to exploit that gap by attacking Union merchant ships and whalers. But first they had to get a ship. They found her in England, where the Sea King, built as a troop carrier with a steam engine in addition to sails, had already proven herself one of the fastest vessels afloat. Late in 1864, Sea King sailed to the Madeira Islands to be “sold” to the Confederacy beyond imperial borders, a subterfuge to preserve British neutrality. Commander James I. Waddell armed her, renamed her Shenandoah and went to work, attacking any merchantman that showed a U.S. flag. Imprisoning the crews and seizing provisions, he burned the captured ships, 40 in all, taking more than a thousand prisoners by the time his voyage ended. Shenandoah raided the South Atlantic, then made for Australia to release his captives and make repairs. Foiling Union sympathizers who hoped to impound Shenandoah for violating British neutrality, he headed to the Arctic whaling grounds, where he captured more than 25 Yankee whalers, 9 in less than 11 hours. Finally learning of Lee’s surrender, Waddell disarmed the ship and headed for neutral England. The last leg of the trip was a desperate race along South America, around Cape Horn and up the Atlantic to Liverpool, a remarkable feat of navigation in the face of raging weather, a state of near-mutiny among his officers and men, and constant fear of encountering a U.S. warship. Schooler does an excellent job of portraying the ship, her colorful crew and her astonishing mission, putting into clear perspective a key Civil War episode.
A first-rate sea saga.