The Civil War Capt. Who Wouldn’t Believe the War Was Over & Kept Sinking Ships


This is a story of the CSS Shenandoah, formerly Sea King and later El Majidi, and the Confederate Captain who wouldn’t believe the war was over and wouldn’t surrender. The ship was a nine-year-old iron-framed, teak-planked, full-rigged sailing merchant ship with auxiliary steam power chiefly known for her actions under Lieutenant Commander James Waddell as part of the Confederate States Navy during the American Civil War.

Capt. Waddell

On June 27, 1865, Waddell learned from a captured ship, Susan & Abigail, that General Robert E. Lee had surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia almost three months earlier at Appomattox Court House. Susan & Abigail’s captain produced a San Francisco newspaper reporting the flight from Richmond of the Confederate government ten weeks previously.

He didn’t believe it. The newspaper also contained President Davis’ proclamation that the “war would be carried on with renewed vigor.” Waddell then sank that ship and captured ten more whalers in the space of seven hours just below the Arctic Circle.

They were still fighting in pockets in Tennessee, Texas, and other locales where the news hadn’t reached them that the war was over.

On August 3, 1865, Waddell learned of the war’s definite end when Shenandoah encountered the Liverpool barque Barracouta, which was bound for San Francisco.

Waddell was heading to the city to attack it, believing it weakly defended. He learned of the surrender of Johnston’s army on April 26, Kirby Smith’s army on May 26, and most crucially of the capture of President Davis. Captain Waddell then knew for certain the war was over.

The Shenandoah

Captain Waddell lowered the Confederate flag, and Shenandoah underwent physical alteration. Her guns were dismounted and stowed below deck, and her hull was painted to look like an ordinary merchant ship. He made it back to Britain which was quite a feat, and there he surrendered in Liverpool on November 6, 1865. the British turned it over to the US government, and it was later sold more than once.

Capt. Waddell had taken nearly 1,000 prisoners without a single war casualty among his crew. Two men died of disease. The ship was never involved in conflict against any Union Naval vessel.

The Confederate cruiser claimed more than 20 prizes valued at nearly $1,400,000 (equivalent to $26,800,000 in 2022).

Eventually, most of the crew made it back to the US under fictitious identities and were never arrested.

My father’s ancestors fought on the Union’s side in the Civil War. However, I must say that I am very impressed with Capt. Waddell’s sticktoitiveness and effectiveness.

As for his later career, Waddell did not return to the United States until 1870. That’s when he became captain of the commercial steamer City of San Francisco. He later was in charge of the State of Maryland’s oyster regulation force. He died at Annapolis, Maryland, on March 15, 1886, and was buried at St. Anne’s Cemetary.

Capt. Waddell sailed the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, disrupting American trade. He was the last Confederate officer to surrender. In 1964, a destroyer was named after him. The USS Waddell was in service during the Vietnam War and decommissioned in 1992.


5 2 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments