Alaska's odd role at the end of the Civil War - Must Read Alaska
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Saturday, July 11, 2020
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Alaska’s odd role at the end of the Civil War

Americans are being carpet-bombed by stories about Juneteenth, celebrating the day that 155 years ago the final fighters of the Civil War got the memo that the slaves were emancipated. We’ll leave that to the other pundits to discuss, because we’ve got our own Civil War history in Alaska to review.

While Texas was just getting word of the end of the war on this day in 1865, a Confederate war ship was still prosecuting a sponsored piracy campaign and taking down the commerce of the Union whaling industry.

Few in America have heard of Alaska’s unique role in the end of the Civil War.

In June of 1865, the Confederate raiding ship CSS Shenandoah was underway toward St. Lawrence Island, in the Western Bering Sea, where Yankee whaling ships were working. 

The war ship was burning and sinking the U.S. whaling fleet in its path after the captain of the Shenandoah had gotten rough coordinates for where the Yankee whalers were working. He took them from a whaling ship in the North Pacific. 

By this time in 1865, the Shenandoah had destroyed a number of these American whaling ships — as many as 20.

On June 22, 1865, the Shenandoah, fired what is said in some accounts to be the last shot of the Civil War, aiming upon Yankee whalers, some 74 days after General Robert E. Lee had surrendered his Confederate forces at the Appomattox courthouse, and nearly two months after Confederate Army had actually ended the war on land.

There are lots of credible sources that say the event occurred on June 28, 1865, and that whaling ships were still being burned and sunk right and left on June 22, but most historians agree on one thing: This was a well-executed mission and it decimated the whaling fleet.

When Commanding Officer Lt. James Iredell Waddell of the Shenandoah learned of the South’s surrender, he made his way south. Some accounts say he didn’t believe the war was over and was heading to the young state of California to shell San Francisco, another commercial center. California had supplied thousands of soldiers for the Union war effort, and troops from California had pushed the Confederate Army out of Arizona and New Mexico in 1862.

On the way south, his ship encountered a British ship that confirmed the war had ended and that if he showed back up in the United States he would be tried and hanged.

By this time, Waddell had a bounty on his head and he decided to sail his teak-hulled war ship on to Liverpool, England, where he surrendered on Nov. 6, 1865.

Waddell’s was the last surrender of the Civil War, and he presided over the lowering of the Confederate flag on his ship while at anchor on the River Mersey.

The ship itself was put in the custody of the British government via a letter that Captain Waddell penned himself and walked up the steps to the Liverpool Town Hall, presenting it to the Mayor of Liverpool.

The Shenandoah is the only Confederate ship to circumnavigate the globe. Her flag is now in the possession of the American Civil War Museum, which brings it out only occasionally, due to its size.

 The Shenandoah’s flag is rarely displayed due to its size (roughly 7 feet x 12 feet), 

The Shenandoah, which was commissioned to destroy the commerce of the North, had spent nearly a year at sea and had captured 38 ships — two thirds of them after the Confederacy had surrendered. Waddell had reportedly taken more than 1,000 Union prisoners.

The history of how the news reached Captain Waddell is conflicted. The Civil War Museum says that raids continued in Alaska, which was in Russian ownership at the time, until August.

After the Civil War ended, the whaling business fell on hard times, as it was no longer essential to the war effort, and with so many of the Union whaling vessels destroyed, America lost footing in the world as a leader in shipping.

And now, 155 years later, Democrats are destroying the monuments to their Confederate war heroes, and, ironically, they are still trying to destroy United States commerce. Also somewhat ironically, Republicans are still trying to respect the confederacy and its history, because it is the history of the nation.

Alaska had a unique role back in the 1860s. It was not American territory, but it soon became part of the United States under the advocacy of abolitionist William Seward, secretary of State for President Abraham Lincoln. Democrats in Alaska are now trying to remove the statue of Seward from in front of the Capitol.

A nation should be able to talk about its Civil War without getting into another one. The important lesson is that we learn from history, so that we don’t repeat it.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Good luck trying to change or rewrite history, everyone makes mistakes, live with it. People have a right to their opinion just like everyone else. Just becasue their opinion doesn’t suit you, you want to change it? You are taking away someone else’s freedom of speech. Some of our past presidents were slave owners, are you next going to demand they be removed from our currency.( OH —t, me and my big mouth)…….

  • Thanks for the history lesson. I never knew.

  • Aside from John D Rockefeller Capt. Waddell might possibly be credited with having done the most to Save the Whales from extinction. Those rascal yankee New Bedford men were hell bent on Whale Extinction. It has always been a surprise to me why the Democrats have not made a hero of Waddell. Doubtless he was a Democrat.

  • Those who would destroy the history of our nation, including statues of the heroes of the times, belong in jail for vandalism. You don’t destroy history that you don’t agree with. You learn from it. This is a very dangerous time for our country and “white guilt” is nothing more than another destructive arm of political correctness.

  • I’m not sure that Democrats are the ones who are pulling statues down. Seems one would need some verification that this was the case before stating it as fact.

    One must keep in mind that the Confederacy was in open rebellion against the United States of America and waging war against it in order to hold onto the despicable belief that enslaving human beings was OK if it helped the bottom line of the aristocracy. Armed rebellion against the nation is the definition, in the Constitution, of treason. The Confederacy, and everyone who actively supported it, was treasonous, and it cost us on both sides a total of hundreds of thousands of lives.

    If Republicans want to respect and reinvigorate the history of the Confederacy, they should think long and hard about why there is any difference between them and Neo-Nazis who wish to respect and reinvigorate Nazi Germany. I don’t know where those who think the south should “rise” again should fall on the treason scale, but the proper place for historical artifacts, be they mini balls or statues of traitors, is in a history museum that is wisely curated and not on a pedestal in the town square.

    • You’re a tribute to your government school education; you don’t know jack about the so-called Civil War. First, the stupid young, brainwashed punks who voted at all would vote Democrat, unless a green or a libertarian advocating legalizing pot caught their fancy.

      The Confederacy did not rebel against the United States; it withdrew from the United States in the same manner it had joined the United States; by a plebiscite or legislative action. The Confederate States legally withdrew from the United States. The United States refused to accept that withdrawal and invaded the Confederate States to force its continued participation in the United States.

      Are you stupid enough to think that when the US had Jefferson Davis and other CS officers in its custody they wouldn’t have tried them for treason if they thought they could get a conviction. Learn a little something; the factual predicate of a charge of treason under US law is a state of war, and a state of war never existed between the US and the CS; the US was careful about that.

      You’re just spouting leftist government school propaganda, and don’t know an effin’ thing about US History.

      • Such a classy reply, sir. It seems as though your brand on this website, which you so assiduously cultivate, is anger.

        I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you really are a nice guy, but act this way here only to wind people up, and to keep them clicking away on MRA stories.

        • I don’t want any benefits from you, and I’m not a nice guy, at least not a nice guy to lefty idiots.

  • It is my very real fear that some, especially gun-wielding extreme right-wingers, hanker for another Civil War, while not fully appreciating the reality of such a conflict. Once out of the bottle, this genie will be impossible to put back inside.

    Trump’s endless attempts to divide, to unnecessarily create and drive in wedges, are akin to playing with fire. One can only hope that this never comes to pass, and that the next President can repair some of the damage he has done.

    • Strange, the loonies on the left have taken over the city center in the largest city near you, declaring an autonomous zone and banning police…and you worry about a boogeyman. The genie is out of the bottle and encamped in a lawless section of downtown Seattle, complete with armed people shooting each other.
      .
      Whidbey, there’s no reason to fear the boogeyman when there is a real life criminal breaking down your front door.

      • Steve-O, I’m not sure why you keep banging on about the fact that I live in Washington, but I’m going with the assumption that you are trying to brand me as some sort of wacko Lefty liberal, just because I live here now.

        As I may have mentioned, I lived in Alaska for 35 years, contributed significantly to the industry that made Alaska what it is today, and I still have significant financial interests in the State. As a result, I follow Alaska news and politics quite closely.

        The world is too complicated to sort everyone using your Left and Right stereotypes. If you knew me, you’d see that I’m not a “Lefty” at all – I’m just someone who thinks for himself, refuses to accept dogma imposed by others, and tries to live by the Golden Rule. Maybe you try this approach.

  • The sooner the miscreants destroying monuments can figure out that destroying monuments to George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, and William Seward does not further their cause, the sooner we can get on with having an actual conversation about race relations in this country. The problem is that so many do not want an honest conversation, they are just using the murder of a single man to try and burn it all down. All of this nonsense has nothing to do with George Floyd and it’s shameful that so many would use this man’s death to unleash carnage.

  • Which Ds want to take down the Seward Statue because I’d like to personally talk with them. As one of the organizers of the statue that now sits outside the Capitol building I have a very vested interested in keeping it there. thanks,

  • To make Suzanne’s story more interesting from an Alaska perspective, the CSS Shenandoah’s foray against the US flagged whaling fleet in the Alaskan Arctic in June and July of 1865 became an item of issue in The Alabama Claims arbitration cases.

    The US preferred charges against Great Britain for its sale of various vessels to the Confederate States of America, prominently among them the vessel 210 and the vessel Sea Lion, which became the CSS Alabama and the CSS Shenandoah, Confederate commerce raiders which effectively chased the US Merchant Marine from the seaways.

    Arbitration had become fashionable in the late 19th Century and the US and GB submitted their dispute to International arbitration on the claim that GB’s sale of the vessels to the CS violated GB’s Neutrality Act.

    The Board of Arbitration found for the US and awarded $28 Million dollars to the US for the depredations of British ships sold to the Confederate States. $6.8 Million of the award was for the damage done to the US whaling fleet off Alaska by the CSS Shenandoah. So, of the $7.2 Million that the US paid to Russia for Alaska, GB paid $6.8Million, so, net, Alaska cost the US $400,000. Pretty good deal.

  • Abraham Lincoln was a Republican and he and his party fought against the Confederacy. The fact that him being elected caused 7 states to succeed from the Union because they knew what Lincoln thought of slavery, and wanted to end it should tell you that the Republican party did not respect the Confederacy. He called them traitor and hated them for what they put America through all in the name of keeping slavery alive. So you’re wrong about that and I question your motives about such a misleading comment.

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