Sea of Gray: The Around-the-World Odyssey of the Confederate Raider Shenandoah

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9780809095117: Sea of Gray: The Around-the-World Odyssey of the Confederate Raider Shenandoah

The 58,000-Mile, Around-the-World Cruise of the Confederacy's Last Ship Afloat
 The sleek, 222-foot, black auxiliary steamer The Sea King left London on October, 8, 1864, ostensibly bound for Bombay. The subterfuge was ended off the shores of Madeira, as the ship was rechristened and outfitted for war. With new gun ports cut to accommodate additional cannon, the CSS Shenandoah commenced the last, most quixotic sea story of the Civil War, the 58,000-mile, around-the-world cruise of the Confederacy’s third most successful merchant raider. Before its voyage was over, thirty- two Union merchant and whaling ships and their cargoes would be sunk. But it was after ship and crew had rounded Africa’s Cape of Good Hope, stopped long enough in Australia to cause a diplomatic crisis, and navigated the ice floes of Siberia’s Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea, and the Arctic Ocean that their journey took its most fearful turn.
Four months after the Civil War was over, the Shenandoah’s Captain Waddell finally learned he was, and had been, fighting without cause or state. In the eyes of the Union, he had gone from being an enemy combatant to a pirate, a hangable offense. Hunted by Union and British men-of-war, his polyglot crew rife with hints of mutiny, and with dwindling supplies, Waddell elected to camouflage the ship, circumnavigate the globe, and attempt to surrender on English soil.
Assembled from hundreds of original documents, including intimate shipboard journals kept by Shenandoah officers, Sea of Gray is a masterful narrative of men at sea.

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About the Author:

Tom Chaffin is the author of Pathfinder: John Charles Frémont and the Course of American Empire. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, Time, and other publications. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Excerpted from Sea of Gray by Tom Chaffin. Copyright © 2006 by Tom Chaffin. Published February 2006 by Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.
One

Of Ice Floes and Arctic Fires

It was just past 1:00 a.m., June 28, 1865, a few tilting spins of the earth beyond the year’s longest day. And in the Bering Strait the hazy summer dawn breaking over the blue-white ice floes crowding its waters revealed a curious tableau: framed by the dark, distant, snow-crowned headlands to the east and west and, at a lower elevation, the two flat- and sheer-sided Diomede Islands tucked between those mainland heights, rose a forest of masts, sails, and rigging. Closer inspection revealed a listing three-masted whaleship. Moored to it by a web of radiating ropes bobbed five smaller vessels, the thirty-five-foot whaleboats that, on better days, the whaleship dispatched to harpoon the bowhead whales that brought white men to these remote climes. And, completing the scene, forming its outer perimeter, nine other whaling vessels swung at anchor in the eerily calm waters of this 37° F cloudless Arctic morning.

A day earlier the winds that often slice through this storied icy gut dividing North America and Asia had roiled those waters; swells had blown the Brunswick—the now-listing ship from New Bedford, Massachusetts—against one of the ice floes. During the summer these chunks of ice drift northward from the Pacific to the Arctic through this fifty-mile-wide passage between Siberia’s western and Alaska’s eastern shores.

The collision stove a hole below the Brunswicks waterline, breaching the wooden planking and the copper-alloy sheathing of her hull. Afterward the ship’s officers and crew had done their best to still the rush of seawater into the ship’s holds. But the ship’s master, Alden T. Potter, knew that, with more than a thousand miles of water between them and the nearest shipyard, he and his crew had little hope of repairing the vessel. In the meantime, all he could do was what American captains had always done in such situations: raise Old Glory upside down to signal their distress to any ships that might sail by.

This being a busy passage in a busy whaling season, nine other vessels, all flying the U.S. flag, soon lay anchored along side the crippled Brunswick.

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