Last shot: Alaska’s odd role at the end of the Civil War



(Editor’s note: This column was published at Must Read Alaska on June 19, 2020 and is republished on June 22, 2021.)

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.

Suzanne Downing is editor and publisher of Must Read Alaska and writes a Must Read America column for NewsMax.


  1. As evidenced by the history, Waddell was a pirate and traitor. I see no need to “respect” his legacy or the legacy of the other traitors who flew the confederate flag.

    • Ordinarily I ignore this level of stupidity, but I have time on my hands today.

      Since you obviously are a public school grad AND under 40, let me help you.

      The CSA did not try to overturn the US. They wanted to leave it. It was the US who, unconstitutionally, used force to prevent said exit.

      By definition, secession was an act of independence. One can’t commit treason against a foreign country. Acts of war, yes. Treason, no.

      Moreover, if you want to use the “morals” of modern times, the US committed numerous war crimes against the CSA. Lincoln, Grant, Sherman should have been executed as genocidal war criminals.

      By modern standards the CSA should be advocating succession from a oppressive occupier. And reparations.

      See how stupid it is when you comment about history from a modern “moral” lens.

      • I respectfully disagree with your interpretation of secession. I cannot find the word “secession” in the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution. If you find the concept within that amendment it is only because you interpret it that way.
        The United States, according to the US Constitution, was not created by the individual states. The first three words of the US Constitution’s Preamble plainly indicates who are the true sovereigns that created our country. These three words infuriated Patrick Henry to the extent that he denounce this constitution. One of the goals of the US Constitution was to improve the “perpetual union: created by the Articles of Confederation. In order to achieve that improvement, the US Constitution made the US federal government sovereign over the states. The constitution’s “supremacy clause” makes this clear and undeniable. Logically, there cannot be two sovereign entities in one jurisdiction. One must have the final say. In this case, the constitution states the national government’s laws are supreme to the various states’ power.
        Our founders were intelligent individuals. They knew the unfortunate history of self-government. Since secession was the ruin of every previous attempt of self-government, they would never have condoned unilateral secession. They did support bilateral secession as outlined in the US Constitution, Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1. This is the process used to separate Maine from Massachusetts. Incidentally, this is why the US and most other democratic countries condemned the unilateral secession of the Crimea from Ukraine.
        As the founders understood, unilateral secession was illogical and immoral. Their logic, based on history, was: (1) Self-government is the best form of political administration, (2) all previous self-government had failed due to the incremental breakup of the government due to factions and secession, (3) every previous dissolution of self-government due to factions and secessions led to a “strong-man” dictator who restored stability, (4) each dictator became a despot, and (5) eventually the people (the ultimate sovereigns according to the Enlightenment philosophers, such as John Locke) rebelled and attempted to form another self-government.
        Therefore, it is illogical for a self-government to allow unilateral secession, as it always leads to the breakdown of self-government, which in turn always leads to the emergence of a depot. As a corollary, it is also immoral for a faction to unilaterally leave a self-governing body.
        The Confederacy was never a country. There are at least three criteria to be a nation. First, it must have a functionally government, which the Confederacy did have. Second, it must be able to protect its borders. Even you must admit that the Confederacy never achieved this as virtually all of the American Civil War battles were fought within the borders of the 11 rebellious states. Third, a nation must be recognized as such by other countries. The importance of this was not lost on the Confederacy, as they vigorously lobbied England and France to do so, but to no avail.
        Therefore, the Confederacy was never a nation, which also means the war was not between two nations. The logical conclusion is that the war was fought within the boundaries of one single nation, the United States of America, and therefore was a civil war, which everyone clearly recognizes the rebellious 11 states lost. In virtually every other such war, the rebellious leaders would have been ignobly hanged with their heads covered and their hands tied behind their backs as the traitors they so clearly were. Both R.E Lee and Jefferson Davis had sworn oaths to uphold the US Constitution. The fact they violated that oath, which is undeniable, clearly attests to their guilt as traitors, which was punishable by execution. Only the graciousness of the United States allowed them to live out their lives and die a natural death, something they did not deserve.
        The 11 Southern states attempt to break away from the United States was illogical, ill-conceived, immoral, and self-defeating. The fact that their predominant reason for doing so, maintaining their immoral “peculiar institution” made it even more egregious.

    • No need to respect the entire Democrat Party then. The Party that went to Civil War to defend the barbaric institution of Democrat Party Slavery.

  2. Re: Mike D’s comment above: I guess there is no substitute for putting a century and a half between one’s self and a perceived enemy to bring out a maximum quantity of moral certainty and righteousness. Such courage.

  3. A war ship against unarmed and untrained civilian fishermen. That guy would’ve been a pariah in any crowd.

    • Commerce raiding is as old as naval warfare. The Sea King was build as a merchantman for the India trade. The CS Navy surreptitiously bought her in England and took her to, I think, the Bahamas where she was lightly armed and commissioned CSS Shenandoah. She was at most an armed merchantman, of which there were many, not a warship.

  4. Democrats…..what ever floats your boat……rewriting history still isn’t going to change it to suit you.

  5. Tell that to every commerce raider in history, from every war… ever.

    Recently for example, the entire Pacific Submarine Fleet sinking Japanese shipping. Total war is total war, that includes civilians providing war materiel.

    As for “traitor” to Mike D: Despite Texas v White (a VERY partisan and recent decision by SCOTUS right after the war), the 10th Amendment clearly allows States to remove themselves from the Union. You can disagree if you want, and the victors write history, but COTUS is pretty clear on the issue.

  6. In this age when folks are astounded if you don’t have a cell phone, it is very hard for us to understand Waddell was just following orders and didn’t get word until well after that the war was over. Celebrate him? Nah, no more than any other military leader. Spit on his memory? Not worth the spit. But it is history, and of that we must not turn our backs. Thanks Suzanne.

    • It was more than following orders. Waddell essentially destroyed the American whaling industry, but most importantly did it without a single engagement casualty. He understood that wars are between politicians, not the people, and that people are bystanders and victims of politicians’ policies. Compare that to Curtis Lemay’s intentional firebombing of Tokyo, killing 200,000 non-combatants, or Lt Calley’s killings at My Lai (for which he served only about 3 years house arrest with no other leader or participant punished).
      People generally get along. I recall during the Cold War, meeting, talking and joking with Soviet officers. We all shared the same desires and goals for life (and laughs). Our leadership intervened when we tried to exchange uniform items.
      True story-during the Christmas Truce in 1914, soldiers left the trenches to share the holiday, gifts and songs together. The event caused panic on both sides as leadership broke up units and 100% censored all correspondence even mentioning that the enemy was people just like themselves. Only in the last few years have events (and confiscated letters) come to light. The movie Joyeux Noel tells this story based on as much information as remains.
      Waddell was a hero not because he fought to preserve an inhumane system, but because he followed orders humanely. It is an important lesson for all of us if we as a people desire to keep our humanity. This story is the most important lesson of battles during the Civil War and I have long taught it to my children in hope that they will learn to emulate the mercy of it, especially compared with the likes of Pickett’s Charge at Cemetery Ridge.

  7. This was one of my favorite reads. The Last Shot tells the whole story: 58,000 miles sailed in circumnavigation of the globe, 38 ships captured or sunk and over 1,000 prisoners taken with no casualties, though two men died of disease during the voyage. I highly recommend it for everyone studying the Civil War. The story of Captain Waddell ranks with Count Felix von Luckner and his raider SMS Seeadler in WWI, which accomplished a similar feat.

  8. A really interesting article and well done!

    One question – Where was the Russian fleet that was protecting San Francisco at the time, and should have searched for and engaged the raider? But most important was your last sentence with which I whole-heartedly agree:

    “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.”

    Isn’t this why we study history?

  9. Great history read, Suzanne. Thank you. Art Chance is not the only historian here at MRAK.
    If Dermot Cole had written this article, he might have opined that sinking whaling ships is a good thing for saving the whales.

  10. Dermot Cole couldn’t write this article.
    He was totally influenced by his twin brother who spent all of his time writing and lecturing on revisionist History, wokism, partisan Lefty- politics, and utter nonsense. And these were the guys who got kudos and backslap awards from the Democrats and local communists. No wonder some folks up in Fairbanks refer to them as the two Dwarfs.

    • @Ted:
      There’s only one dwarf left. The other made it to dwarf heaven Regarding Dermot Cole: he had a piece in the Fairbanks paper on Monday lambasting Dunleavy over DMV and the long wait times for vehicle registration. My gosh, dwarf journalists should never have to wait in line like the rest of us. He deserves a limo. And a free ride to API, where you no longer need to drive a vehicle, or wait in any line.

  11. Great historical story ruined with partisan political statements. Shameful to introduce politics into education and history.

    • You’re kind of a year late commenting. Some people cannot get past politics nor sticking their noses into other peoples’ lives-the Karens and Mrs Grundys of the world. People should have sufficient business of their own to not have time to meddle in the business of others. Nor should they flaunt their own for all the world to see and not expect backlash.

  12. As a genetic descendent of the Lees I believe they were loyal to God, family, and their understanding of their rights to travel the kings highways, armed and knowing their rights and never waiving them. The German side of the family was ambivalent about these rights having been educated in Germany and high seas were ambivalent about them.

      • Masked Avenger, the story above could be construed to mean that the CSA Captain was defending whales from greedy capitalist. While that may have been an unintended consequence, the “real savior” of whales was John D. Rockefeller.
        No single man in history did more to save whales. Turns out that his refining of oil put whalers out of business.
        Market forces at work, who knew?

  13. Thank you! I wrote a paper on the Shenandoah’s ventures in Arctic when I was in grad school. I often mention it in my classes when I was a professor. Thank you for sharing!

  14. Thankyou for reposting this. The history of the NW Arctic is fascinating. Our grandparents still have stories of the whaler days when people interacted with these sailors from afar. Whales were the source of oil in that era, destroying the yankee infrastructure to harvest and transport this resource was a critical objective to weaken them. Just as the Yankees blockaded the southern ports to prevent exporting cotton, the #1 cash commodity of the era. Waddell was not a pirate or traitor. Contracting privateers was an age old practice. Britain used them against the Spanish for a century or more. He was effective and competent. The last Confederate general to surrender his command and ground forces was a Native American, not a White. Yes, there were many non Whites who were dedicated Confederates. History is so much more complex than the fiction promoted to what has become an uneducated and ignorant general public. Ironically the universities are producing the most functionally illiterate and rabidly indictrinated “graduates” since the last dark ages.

  15. We didn’t always have the mukluk telegraph you know. How were we to know we COULD get to heaven without a Russian name. But we knew about the fourth of July though. How did that happen?

  16. Point 1 – over 90% of the delegates to South Carolina’s December 1860 secession convention were slaveholders, and over 60% of these slaveholder delegates owned 20 or more slaves.
    Point 2 – in his “Cornerstone Speech” delivered in Savannah, Georgia (March 21, 1861), the CSA’s Vice President A. H. Stephens justifies the secession by declaring that “slavery… is (the negro’s) natural and normal condition.”
    Point 3 – the USA and the CSA could not long remain at peace, even if the hotheads of South Carolina had not bombarded Fort Sumpter. The common border would have been the source of innumerable conflicts, certainly over the enslaved people who would continue to flee the CSA.
    Point 4 – War was inevitable, “…and the war came” (Lincoln, 2nd Inaugural Address).
    I have long been puzzled by those antebellum Southerners of otherwise good character (not slaveholders) who fought so nobly for what they must have known was a deplorable cause.
    USS Waddell (DDG-24) was a Charles F. Adams-class guided missile destroyer in the United States Navy. She was named for Captain James Iredell Waddell CSN (1824-1886).

    • Point 1: most of the delegates from SC were rich. Rich people owned slaves. Today they are Hispanic illegals.
      Most SC citizens didn’t own slaves. Too expensive.

      Point 2: and? That was a common opinion. Over 150 years ago. Key point. Over 150 years ago. But if you want to get cute, the race riots in NY and Boston were much more brutal than anything occuring in the south. Point being, hatred and distrust of black people was not and never has been limited to geography.

      Point 3: hypothetical at best. The US never accepted the boundaries of the CSA, preferring an unconstitutional invasion of a sovereign country. Negotiations never occurred. If the US and Lincoln hadn’t been bound and determined to use force to keep the south in the fold (enslaving them, if you like), talks might have happened. Never know.

      Point 4: war was inevitable because Lincoln wanted it. He could have let the CSA go. But his ego drive him beyond common sense.

      Point 5: why the South fought, despite the vast majority not owing slaves? Simple. Lincoln wouldn’t let the South go, and later invaded. Same reason Ukraine fights now.

      Point 6: post war, the Lincoln govt made a point of trying to knit the union back together. Partly out of a sense of honor-not doing so would have further fueled the Southern resentment of being second class citizens in a country they didn’t want to be a part of. Also out of a real fear of a ugly gorilla war.

      This especially occurred in the US military, which desperately needs Southerners to populate the military. Even today. Part of that was allowing the military to honor their CSA colleagues. Ships, bases, etc have been named after them for generations.

      Ironically, the same drivers (the states which composed the then union) which used force to keep the CSA in the Union continue with the same attitudes toward the South which led to war over 150 years ago. Can’t help but wonder why the North fought so hard to keep something they don’t want.

  17. Suzanne, you can learn from history without celebrating it. Take down all of the monuments celebrating the US traitors now–don’t remove the records of their vile actions from the history books.

    • I agree. Start by removing the monuments to Abe Lincoln, the author of horrific war crimes and crimes against humanity inflicted on non combatant southern civilians. But leave his atrocities in the history books.

      See how stupid your post is.

  18. History is usually written by the victors, not the defeated. There was a lot more to the American Civil War than Slavery. At the time of the war, the South had the world’s 4th largest economy, because cotton was also used in war. There was no way it would have been allowed to leave the Union. Lincoln’s original goal was to “preserve the union.” It wasn’t until the South kept winning battles that he decided to make Slavery the issue by writing the proclamation freeing the slaves in the South. He and his advisors were hoping for a general slave rebellion. Look at Lincoln’s remarks before the war regarding slavery. The serfs of Russia were freed in 1861 by proclamation from Lincoln’s chief ally during the Civil War, Russian Czar Alexander II. Lincoln’s proclamation came in 1863, when the Union forces were not doing too well along the Atlantic. That was before Grant took over. Incidentally, Grant had a slave. Robert E. Lee did not have a slave. Lee fought for his state, as states were more important then. There is so much that has been submerged and the further we get from any event, that is usually the case. It is much easier to simplify an event the further you are actually from it in time. That is why so much of what now passes for scholarship misses the mark. Suzanne, this was a great article, congratulations again on being a true journalist. You are correct. We must look back at history not only so we don’t repeat the same mistakes, but so we can spot the trends and be prepared to act to save our freedom. Carpe Diem.

  19. I’m pretty confident that I’m the only participant in this conversation that is a life member in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. All of my military age ancestors served in the Army of Northern Virginia. Most fought from the Seven Days until near the end, but none that I can trace were there at Appomattox. My gg/grandfather Sgt. Joseph Sherrod , Co. H, 48th Georgia, was KIA in Mahone’s counterattack at The Crater and is buried in the mass grave of the body parts thought to be Georgia soldiers at Blanford Church in Petersburg, VA. My g/grandfather Pvt. Amos Riner, Co. F., 48th Georgia was last on muster in December of 1864. His family was in Sherman’s path and it seems he went home to take care of his family. Confederate officers were pretty forgiving of men in Sherman’s path and you didn’t usually go down as a deserter if you didn’t formally take the oath. A maternal g/grandfather, Pvt. Robert Curl, 49th Georgia may have served to the end, but I haven’t been able to find his records. In any event he survived the war. My surname g/grandfather John M. Chance, I believe 51st Georgia, I can’t sort out because there are several men of the same name, but he survived the war. He had a dispute with some guy about who owned some cattle and the other guy died; he slipped back into the county in his old age to say his goodbyes to the family but we don’t really know his fate or where he was buried.

    I went to high school with the gg/grandson of Lt. Kell of the CSS Alabama. I still know all the words to “Dixie” and to “I’m a Good Ole Rebel.” I even know the words to “Bonny Blue Flag.” I can remember when if the band played “Battle Hymn of the Republic” there would be some, more than a few, in the audience who would turn their backs. To this day, old family Southerners, the ones who know their g/or gg/ grandfather’s regiment, are no more reconciled to Yankee rule than are the Irish and Scotts to British rule. It is just something you endure.

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