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World Harbors from The Maritime Heritage Project in San Francisco.

Sea Captains: 1800s



James Iredell Waddell

James Iredell Waddell was born at Pittsboro, North Carolina.

He joined the United States Navy July 13, 1824, as a Midshipman. His nearly two decades in the U.S. Navy included early service in USS Pennsylvania, Mexican War operations off Vera Cruz aboard USS Somers, a tour off South America in USS Germantown, an assignment as a Naval Academy instructor, eastern Pacific duty in USS Saginaw and a cruise with the East Indies Squadron with USS John Adams. Lieutenant Waddell resigned his commission while returning home in the latter ship late in 1861 and was dismissed from the U.S. Navy in January 1862.

In March 1862, Waddell was appointed a Lieutenant in the Confederate States Navy. Sent to New Orleans, he was assigned to the incomplete ironclad Mississippi until her destruction in late April. The next month, while serving as an artillery officer ashore, he participated in the battle between Confederate shore batteries and Federal ironclads at Drewry's Bluff, Virginia. Sent abroad in March 1863, First Lieutenant Waddell was stationed in England awaiting the availability of a seagoing position when the Civil War erupted.

He made his way home to find he had been stricken from the Union rolls. He became part of the Confederate Armed Merchant Raiders and was made captain of the CSS Shenandoah, a 1160-ton screw steam cruiser, which had been launched at Glasgow, Scotland, in August 1863 as the civilian steamer Sea King. She was essentially a merchant ship, the decks crowded with stores, gun ports yet to be cut, batteries to be mounted, the conversion to a confederate man-of-war, usually performed in a navy yard, now to be made at sea with an inexperienced and very limited crew. After the Confederate Navy secretly purchased her, she put to sea in October 1864, under the cover story that she was headed for India on a commercial voyage.

Papers in hand, Wadell took his ship through the south Atlantic and into the Indian Ocean, capturing nine U.S. flag merchant vessels between late October and the end of 1864. All but two of these were sunk or burned. In late January 1865, Shenandoah arrived at Melbourne, Australia, where she was able to receive necessary repairs and provisions, as well as adding more than forty "stowaways" to her very short-handed crew. Following three weeks in port, the cruiser put to sea, initially planning to attack the American south Pacific whaling fleet.

Battlefields of the Civil War with the Story of Captain Wadell.Battlefields of the Civil War: Rebels and Yankees, (image right) by William C. Davis includes the story of Lieutenant Wadell. The author recounts the stories of thirteen of some of the most important battles of America's Civil War, from First Manassas in July 1861 to the Battle of Nashville in 1864. Full-color double-page maps show you each move of the opposing forces. Included also are rare war era photographs and color photos of rare artifacts. William C. Davis is the author of more than thirty books on the American Civil War. Writes professor James M. McPherson, "The most readable, authoritative, and beautifully designed illustrated history of the American Civil War."

By this time, the Civil War had ended, but official word had not reached Wadell. Captain Waddell, his crew, and their ship Shenandoah were stateless, without a country, but they did not yet know that. so they continued as a merchant raider, and now operated without Union warships to bar her progress. Wyoming had been ordered home from Batavia, and Iroquois still struggled across the Indian Ocean towards Singapore. When news of Shenandoah's raids finally reach Washington in March, Welles ordered Wyoming to go after her.

The 364 ton Euphrates soon fell to the Confederate Raider. Wadell was being told by captains of the ships he captured that the war was over, but Waddell wanted actual proof of a Union victory, not just stories told by Union Captains. He was well aware that if the war was over, that he ran the risk of a subsequent charge of piracy, but still ordered the latest capture to be destroyed. On the 25th. of June, the 419 ton General Williams was fired, the next day, William C. Nye had the same fate, next came Catherine, of 384 tons and the 340 ton clipper Nimrod. The Raider was stuffed with prisoners, some 200 of them, they were placed into 12 whale boats to be towed behind the Confederate ship, although it somewhat impeded her progress, off they went after the General Price , the 315 ton Isabella, the 360 ton Gipsy and the new Bedford whaler Waverly. Waddell continued into Bering Strait flying a Union flag, but still believing the South was forming a legitimate Government.

Shenandoah proceeded slowly through the whaling fleet, removing any thing of value, then burning, burning, burning: The bark Favorite, the 399 ton, Isaac Howland, Covington of 350 tons hailing from Baltimore, Martha and Hillman skippered by the Macomber brothers, Nassau, a forty year old ship all torched. Since the ship had left Melbourne on the 18th. of February, 29 vessels had been captured, another 3 bonded for $124,600, and the 4 at Ponape were valued at $117,759. The 21 of the total taken had a value of $843,028.

Unknown to Waddell, other than the 4 ships destroyed at Ponape, all other vessels had in fact been captured after the fall of the Southern States.

Mare Island, Vallejo, California.
U.S. Navy Yard, Mare Island
Vallejo, California

Waddell started a slow voyage towards San Francisco, California, which he believed would be weakly defended against his cruiser's guns. Captain David Mc Dougal, who commanded the Navy Yard at Mare Island on the west coast of the United States wrote to the Secretary of the Navy:

"Great apprehensions felt by mercantile community of San Francisco in consequence of depredations of Shenandoah. Merchant ship owners and underwriters have addressed memorial requesting me to telegraph department for authority to charter, arm and man steamer Colorado of Pacific Mail Company to pursue that vessel."

There was no response from Washington, now General Pike arrived with a further group of prisoners, the local paper Alta California headlined its attack on the government, claiming apathy, and called for private initiatives to fit out ships with an armament at least equal to the Raider: "To get out there, find her, and destroy this ship Shenandoah."

The ship's log carried this entry:

"Having received . . . the sad intelligence of the overthrow of the Confederate Government, all attempts to destroy shipping or property of the United States will cease from this date, in accordance with the first lieutenant William C. Whittle, Jr; received the order from the commander to strike below the battery and disarm the ship and crew."

Waddell now consulted his officers on their views on what to do with the ship? Here they were, stateless, deemed to have operated as a pirate, thousands of miles away from the U.S., a cruiser without a country. He sailed for British soil and on November 6, 1865, the ship steamed up the Mersey River, flying the Confederate Flag, and anchored close by a British ship of the line, Donegal, commanded by Captain Paynter Royal Navy.

Waddell surrendered his ship to the British Government, making this the last surrender of the Civil War. He requested that his ship be turned over to the United States. Since 1863, Britain had begun to reverse her policy of giving naval aid to the South and had achieved their objective of taking over maritime commerce supremacy from the United States, and now sought an International law that would prevent neutrals from building navies for any foreign nations at war.

But the US Minister wanted damages for all the damage done by Alabama, and the other main Southern raiders. Crown Law officers side stepped the damages claim, but issued orders that Shenandoah should be turned over to the US, and the crew released with the exception of any of those British subjects who had violated the Foreign Enlistment Act, when asked for a list of British subjects.

Waddell indicated he had not paid much attention to nationalities on enlisting his crew, but he thought they were mainly American. No sailor admitted to British nationality, and Captain Paynter released the entire crew.

Waddell did not return to the United States until 1875, when he became captain of the commercial steamer City of San Francisco, sister ship to the City of New York.

December 2, 1875, California Farmer and Journal of Useful Sciences

The Shenandoah Pirate.

We should very much regret to have any circumstances occur, by which the former scenes of our National Calamity should be aroused again; but we do think that the arrival of one of the new steamers of the "Pacific Mail Company" entering the harbor of San Francisco, under command of Capt. Waddell, the former Commander of the Pirate Shenandoah, is certainly in bad taste and very unfortunate. It seems like Braving Public Opinion, when it is remembered how many of our "Pacific Whale Fleet " were destroyed by the Shenandoah, and also Merchant Ships, by which San Francisco Merchants were heavy loosers. Let Capt. Waddell beat a Retreat quietly, for Peace sake.

The City of San Francisco was a mail carrier on service between San Francisco, Honolulu, Fiji, Sydney and New Zealand under contract to Governments of NSW, Australia and New Zealand. She carried some passengers. Below is the itinerary for her second voyage to New Zealand and she probably made other voyages as it was a regular mail carrier for the Pacific Mail Steamship Company before the company ran into financial difficulties after 1876 and the company ceased operations.

  • San Francisco, USA 25th May 1876
  • Dep Sydney, Australia 2nd June 1876
  • Arr Kandavau, Fiji 9th June 1876
  • Dep Kandavau, Fiji 16th June 1876
  • Arr Auckland, New Zealand 17th June 1876
  • Dep Auckland, New Zealand 17th June 1876
  • Arr Napier, New Zealand 18th June 1876
  • Arr Wellington, New Zealand 19th June 1876
  • Arr Lyttleton, New Zealand 20th June 1876 (Southbound)
  • Dep Port Chalmers, New Zealand 28th June 1876 (Northbound)
  • Arr Lyttleton, New Zealand 29th June 1876 (Northbound)
  • Dep Lyttleton, New Zealand 29th June 1876 (Northbound)

When Captain Waddell died on March 15, 1886, the Maryland State Legislature adjourned in his honor.

Shenandoah attempted to sail to the States on November 21, but fierce storms forced her to return to Liverpool on December 6. She languished for several months there, until the Sultan of Zanzibar bought her to act as his personal yacht, later she went back to the tea trade until in 1879. In the Indian Ocean a storm cast her upon a coral reef ripping open her hull.

~ ~ ~ ~

The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush
David Igler
From Captain Cook to the Gold Rush.The Pacific of the early eighteenth century was a place of baffling complexity, with 25,000 islands and seemingly endless continental shorelines. But with the voyages of Captain James Cook, global attention turned to the Pacific, and European and American dreams of scientific exploration, trade, and empire grew dramatically. By the time of the California gold rush, the Pacific's many shores were fully integrated into world markets-and world consciousness. The Great Ocean draws on hundreds of documented voyages as a window into the commercial, cultural, and ecological upheavals following Cook's exploits, focusing in particular on the eastern Pacific in the decades between the 1770s and the 1840s. Beginning with the expansion of trade as seen via the travels of William Shaler, captain of the American Brig Lelia Byrd, historian David Igler uncovers a world where voyagers, traders, hunters, and native peoples met one another in episodes often marked by violence and tragedy.

"Master Under God"

Captains exercised absolute authority at sea and so were dubbed "Master Under God" by early insurance writs, agreements with ship owners and passengers and the Board of Trade.

Master Under God.

The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws, as well as company and flag state policies.

All persons on board, including officers and crew, other shipboard staff members, passengers, guests and pilots, are under the captain's authority and are his ultimate responsibility.

Customs requirements can include the master providing a cargo declaration, a ship's stores declaration, a declaration of crew members' personal effects, crew lists and passenger lists.

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