Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Scammon's Note on Confederate Pirate Ship "Shenandoah"

Of all the ridiculous events that took place during the Civil War, none seem quite so ridiculous as the exploits of the Confederate privateer Shenandoah.  (That's the CSS Shenandoah, not the USS Shenandoah, an entirely different ship.)
Captain James Iredell Waddell, for whom the Civil War ended late.
Pencil sketch by Eva Chrysanthe
Technically speaking, the most notorious "accomplishments" of the CSS Shenandoah - the destruction of nearly half of the Yankee whaling fleet in the Bering Sea - took place in the two months after the Civil War had actually ended on April 9, 1865.  That's in large part due to the fact that the Shenandoah's Captain, James Iredell Waddell, refused to believe newspaper accounts that the war had ended, and continued burning the Yankee whaling ships it had looted.

The whole affair involves too many ironies to recount here. I bring it up only because I just found note - here at The Bancroft Library - of the Shenandoah's path of destruction in Captain Scammon's "Journal of the Flagship Golden Gate: Western Union Telegraph Expedition."

On September 27, 1865, Scammon laconically notes - after a far more heartfelt and lengthy page extolling the virtues and skills of the native tribes of Fort St. Michael:

"All the necessary business connected with the Expedition having been arranged for the present he (Captain Marston) returned on board. We found the Brig Victoria lying here... the Captain visited the ship and from him we learned of the destruction by the Pirate "Shenandoah" of a large number of the whaling fleet cruising the Arctic."
That's it? No mention that of the 38 ships captured by Waddell, at least one of those destroyed - the William C. Nye - had once been under Scammon's command?

Is it possible that the Union-loyal Captain Scammon may have felt some relief that Confederate Captain Waddell had been so ruthless, given that Scammon's conservationist feelings were at that time being greatly encouraged by J.R. Browne and William Healey Dall? 

Were it not for the utterly unintentional conservationist Confederate pirate ships, would whale populations not have rebounded to the extent they were able to? 

The following is a list of the Yankee whaling ships destroyed by Captain Waddell and the crew of the CSS Shenandoah (list does not include Yankee whaling ships that were bonded by Waddell):

  • December 4, 1864:  whaling bark Edward, burned  off Tristan de Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean. 
  • December 29, 1864:  bark Delphine, of Bangor, Maine, burned in the Indian Ocean
  • April 3, 1865: whaling bark Pearl, of New London, burned in the harbor at Pohnpei Island in Micronesia
  • April 4, 1865:  whaling ship Hector of New Bedford burned in the harbor at Pohnpei Island in Micronesia; whaler Edward Carey of San Francisco was burned in the same harbor. 
  • April 10, 1865: the whaling bark Harvest was burned at Pohnpei Island.
  • May 28, 1865: the whaling bark Abigail of New Bedford burned in the the Sea of Okhotsk. 
  • June 22, 1865: whaling ship Euphrates of New Bedford, burned in the Bering Strait; whaling bark Jirah Swift of New Bedford, burned in the Bering Sea; whaling ship William Thompson of New Bedford, burned in the Bering Sea northeast of Cape Narrows; whaling bark Sophia of New Bedford, burned in the Bering Sea; Brigantine Susan & Abigail of San Francisco, burned in the Bering Sea.
  • June 26, 1865: whaling ship Gipsey was burned in the Bering Strait; whaling ship Nimrod was burned in the Bering Sea; whaler Brunswick was burned near the Bering Straits Narrows; whaling bark Congress of New Bedford was burned near the Bering Strait.
  • June 28, 1865: whaling bark Covington of Warren, Rhode Island was burned in East Cape Bay, near Bering Strait Narrows; whaling ship Favorite of New Haven was burned in East Cape Bay; whaling ships Hillman, Isaac Howland, Martha and Nassau of New Bedford were burned in East Cape Bay; whaling bark Waverly of New Haven was burned near the Diomede Islands.
After burning their last whaler, Confederate Captain Waddell - a man without a country and a Southern rebel who found himself without a cause - sailed down to San Francisco with the intention of shelling the city, still believing the Confederate cause had not been lost. Fortunately for everyone involved, shortly before entering the Golden Gate, Waddell was finally convinced by a passing ship that General Lee had surrendered.  Which was convenient, because shelling San Francisco, already protected by Fort Point, would have been a pain in the ass to effect.