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Last Shot: The Incredible Story of the C. S. S. Shenandoah and the True Conclusion of the American Civil War

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In the autumn of 1864, at the height of the American Civil War, the Confederate raider Shenandoah received orders to "seek out and utterly destroy" the whaling fleets of New England as part of an effort to bleed the Union of its economic strength — an undertaking that met its greatest success when the raider fell upon a fleet of whalers working the waters near Alaska's Little Diomede Island and sank more than two dozen ships in a frenzy of destruction.

Before the Shenandoah's ...

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In the autumn of 1864, at the height of the American Civil War, the Confederate raider Shenandoah received orders to "seek out and utterly destroy" the whaling fleets of New England as part of an effort to bleed the Union of its economic strength — an undertaking that met its greatest success when the raider fell upon a fleet of whalers working the waters near Alaska's Little Diomede Island and sank more than two dozen ships in a frenzy of destruction.

Before the Shenandoah's voyage was over, the raider had captured or sunk thirty-eight ships. She also took more than a thousand prisoners and led the best warships of the Union navy on a twenty-seven-thousand-mile chase that ended with her escape to England, making her the only Confederate vessel to circumnavigate the globe. At the end of her journey — truly one of the most remarkable in naval history — the effects of the raider's actions reached far beyond the glow of the flames marking the sky above the Arctic ice. The inferno signaled not only the near-demise of the New England whaling industry, but also the end of America's growing hegemony over worldwide shipping for the next eighty years. These Civil War clashes also helped precipitate the establishment of international laws that remain in effect today.

But more important than the tally of damage was the date the final conflagration began: June 22, the longest day of the year, and almost a full three months after General Lee lay down his sword at Appomattox. Contrary to contemporary belief, it was not on the battlefield in Virginia but high in the Arctic where the last shot of the American Civil War was fired.

Blending high-seas adventure and first-rate research, Lynn Schooler's The Last Shot is naval history of the very first order, offering a riveting account of the last Southern military force to lay down its arms.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A longtime Alaskan has given us this impressive history of the last Confederate commerce raider, which fired its last shot at a Yankee whaler north of the Aleutian Islands two and a half months after Appomattox. It begins with the ship leaving England under the name Sea King, then meeting a chartered cargo ship at Madeira and loading guns and other warlike gear-without more than a fraction of the crew needed to use them. A gifted seaman if more than a little irascible, Capt. James Waddell recruited his crew as he sailed. After an eventful stop in Melbourne, Australia, the ship sailed north to the Arctic whaling grounds, ravaged the whaling fleet and was proceeding to attack the California gold ships when Waddell learned that the war was over-whereupon he set off to deliver his ship and crew to the British by sailing 23,000 storm-tossed miles back to Liverpool without sighting land. Researched heavily from primary sources, filled with vivid personality portraits and almost miraculously accessible to readers without a background in maritime history, this is an absolutely irresistible sea story. The seafaring audience is likely to be as strong as or stronger than the Civil War audience for this book, and the combination may really set it afloat. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Schooler (The Blue Bear) has written a fine account of the C.S.S. Shenandoah, one of the Confederate States Navy cruisers commissioned to prey upon Union commerce during-and, in the Shenandoah's case after-the Civil War. (The Shenandoah's captain, James I. Waddell, did not learn of cessation of hostilities for several weeks.) From its 1864 purchase in Liverpool to its voyages that covered 58,000 miles (the only ship to fly the flag of the Confederacy over every sea except the Antarctic Ocean), the Shenandoah's "flirtation with glory and doom" unfolds as it captures 38 ships, mainly whalers in the Pacific and North Atlantic. Schooler points out that these raids served a near-death blow to the New England whaling industry and resulted in "the establishment of a body of international law that remains in effect today." Especially interesting is Schooler's epilog, summarizing the importance of the 1871 Treaty of Washington, which set a precedent in providing for "two powerful nations to settle a dispute in international court, through arbitration before representatives from several nations." Schooler maintains an elegant and fascinating balance between the adventure, which the Shenandoah's petty officer and commander each wrote about soon after the war, and its implications. In addition to illustrations, there is a useful select bibliography. Recommended for academic libraries and for public libraries with an interest in naval history.-Robert C. Jones, formerly with Central Missouri State Univ., Warrensburg, MO Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The story of a Confederate raider that was still sinking ships months after Appomattox. Schooler (The Blue Bear, 2001) begins by outlining the state of naval affairs as the Civil War began. The U.S. Navy had enough ships to blockade Confederate ports, but not enough to protect its own ships on the high seas. The Confederates sought to exploit that gap by attacking Union merchant ships and whalers. But first they had to get a ship. They found her in England, where the Sea King, built as a troop carrier with a steam engine in addition to sails, had already proven herself one of the fastest vessels afloat. Late in 1864, Sea King sailed to the Madeira Islands to be "sold" to the Confederacy beyond imperial borders, a subterfuge to preserve British neutrality. Commander James I. Waddell armed her, renamed her Shenandoah and went to work, attacking any merchantman that showed a U.S. flag. Imprisoning the crews and seizing provisions, he burned the captured ships, 40 in all, taking more than a thousand prisoners by the time his voyage ended. Shenandoah raided the South Atlantic, then made for Australia to release his captives and make repairs. Foiling Union sympathizers who hoped to impound Shenandoah for violating British neutrality, he headed to the Arctic whaling grounds, where he captured more than 25 Yankee whalers, 9 in less than 11 hours. Finally learning of Lee's surrender, Waddell disarmed the ship and headed for neutral England. The last leg of the trip was a desperate race along South America, around Cape Horn and up the Atlantic to Liverpool, a remarkable feat of navigation in the face of raging weather, a state of near-mutiny among his officers and men, and constant fear ofencountering a U.S. warship. Schooler does an excellent job of portraying the ship, her colorful crew and her astonishing mission, putting into clear perspective a key Civil War episode. A first-rate sea saga.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060523336
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/31/2005
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Lynn Schooler, author of The Blue Bear, has lived in Alaska for more than thirty years. He is a two-time winner of Alaska magazine's grand prize for wildlife photography and winner of the National Wildlife grand prize.

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Read an Excerpt

The Last Shot

The Incredible Story of the C.S.S. Shenandoah and the True Conclusion of the American Civil War
By Lynn Schooler

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Lynn Schooler
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060523336

Chapter One

The American Civil War began on April 12, 1861, when forces of the newly declared Confederacy fired on the Union garrison at Fort Sumter. At the time, the South had only one fighting ship, four small cutters, and a limited number of commercial vessels. Building facilities were limited to a few small yards in Florida and Virginia, and none had the capacity to build in the dimensions and materials needed for fighting ships. A few days after Fort Sumter surrendered, President Lincoln ordered the Union navy to initiate a blockade of all Southern ports, adding a proviso that any privateers caught sailing under Confederate colors would be jailed and hung.

Blockading more than three thousand miles of coastline was a colossal task, but the effort was largely successful and quickly began to have effects far beyond America's borders. In England, where 80 percent of the cotton consumed in that country's massive textile industry came from the Southern states, thousands of unemployed mill workers were thrown onto the streets. France, where the populace was laboring under the rule of Napoleon III, was in much the same boat. Within months the looms of England and Europe slowed nearly to a halt. Exports of cotton goods, which had reached a value of approximately a billion dollars in 1860, were almost choked off, and with the market so disrupted, the leaders of the Confederacy quickly realized that the war could not be won without a supply of ready cash.

Britain's prime minister, Lord Palmerston, firmly believed that a dissolution of the burgeoning, juvenile America was inevitable (and indeed, like many European heads of state, would probably have preferred such a thing) but nonetheless felt it would be unwise to interfere in the conflict. As a result, two weeks after the blockade began, England officially recognized the Confederacy as a belligerent and issued a proclamation outlining the principles of Britain's neutrality: Her Majesty's subjects were not to enlist in the armed forces of either side, break the blockade, or allow their ships to transport soldiers, military supplies, or dispatches for either side. They were further enjoined from building, arming, or outfitting any vessel that might be used as a ship of war.

Politically, Palmerston's desire for a hands-off policy was sound, but the forces of international trade quickly drove cracks into his country's presumed neutrality. Sniffing enormous profits, British ships began running the blockade with regularity, smuggling goods into the South which could be traded at extortionate rates for cotton that in turn would be nearly priceless in Europe. So great were the margins that captains of "moon chasers" operating out of Nassau in the Bahamas were often paid as much as $10,000 in gold for a single voyage, equal to nearly $160,000 today.

Lucrative as it was, however, the amount of cotton the blockade runners could get through the Union stranglehold was insufficient to supply Europe's needs. In June Lord Palmerston wrote to England's foreign minister, John Russell:

This cotton question will most certainly assume a serious character by the beginning of next year; and if the American civil war has not by that time come to an end, I suspect that we shall be obliged either singly or conjointly with France to tell the northerners that we cannot allow millions of our people to perish to please the Northern States.

In return the foreign minister proposed that England team up with France early in the coming year to act "on a grand scale" to force terms on the Americans. Ever cautious about antagonizing a nation as strong as the muscular young America, Palmerston rejected the notion of overtly threatening war and replied that "the only thing to do seems to be to lie on our oars, and give no pretext to the Washingtonians to quarrel with us."

Large and powerful as the Federal navy was, it did not have enough ships to both maintain the blockade and protect the Union's own trade routes.* To exploit this weakness, Confederate leaders developed a plan to obtain and arm a number of raiders, voracious, fast-moving predators meant to swoop down on slow-moving Yankee merchant vessels and sink them. In addition to disrupting the Northern economy, the tactic would also force the Union navy to withdraw critical fighting ships from blockade duty to pursue the raiders, leaving the coastline more porous for smugglers. Because the Confederacy was hampered by the lack of shipyards, obtaining foreign-built vessels was the key to the plan. And doing so was the work of one man.


Excerpted from The Last Shot by Lynn Schooler Copyright © 2005 by Lynn Schooler. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1
The Last Shot 9
Epilogue 295
Acknowledgments 303
Select Bibliography 307
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2005

    Fascinating read!

    I have only recently started getting into reading novels(I'm 40)thanks in part to my wife who loves to read, and reading to my kids. This book kept me turning the pages and I was even reading it to my 5 1/2 year old daughter at bedtime. Through exhaustive research, the author did an excellent job of putting the pieces together of these remarkable brave men, who will do what it takes to help their 'country' win the Civil War. It really peaked my interest in the Civil War and American History. And it satisfied the hidden pirate in me!

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    Posted December 29, 2011

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    Posted January 14, 2012

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