Seventy-four days after Appomattox, and almost two months after the Confederate Army stopped fighting on land, the last gun of the U.S. Civil War was fired in the Bering Sea.
Not knowing the war had ended, the commander of an English-built Confederate vessel named The Shenandoah fired upon several whalers near Saint Lawrence Island on June 25, 1865. Vessels flying British, French and Hawaiian flags were inspected and let pass, but American whalers were seized, according to an article written by Robert N. DeArmond in the July 1937 issue of The Alaska Sportsman.
The Shenandoah was one of several ships used by the Confederates to disrupt Yankee commerce on the high seas. The 1,100-ton steamer was built in Glasgow in 1863 and purchased by the Confederate government in 1864. She measured 230 feet, had a 32-foot beam and drew 15 feet of water.
During her 13-month saga with the Confederate Navy, The Shenandoah covered 58,000 miles and captured 38 Yankee ships, 25 of which were after the war was over. And her crew never took a life.
Following the capture of the American whalers in the Bering Sea, The Shenandoah followed other whalers that had slipped into the Arctic Ocean. She passed through the Bering Strait and into the Arctic, but after a few miles, was forced to turn southward due to ice.
While sailing in a dense fog, The Shenandoah slammed into ice floes that almost tore off her rudder and threatened to crush her hull. After several hours, however, she managed to steam free of the ice and continue on her course.
The Shenandoah sailed down the Aleutian Chain and set a course for the coast of California. On Aug. 2, just 13 days out of San Francisco, she overtook the English bark Barracouta. That’s when the crew learned the war was over.
The commander needed to take his ship to some port for surrender, but part of the crew wanted to put into a South American port, while others wanted to be landed in Australia or New Zealand.
After careful consideration, Lt. Waddell decided to run the gauntlet of federal cruisers and take his ship to a European port. He reached Saint George’s Channel on Nov. 5, without sighting any land on the way, 122 days after leaving the Aleutians.
On Nov. 6, The Shenandoah dropped anchor in Mersey off Liverpool. The crew hauled her flag down and surrendered her to the British government. The Brits eventually freed the officers and crew and then turned the ship over to the United States.