When did the American Civil War end?
Could it really have been late June or early November of 1865?
April 9th is the date widely accepted, and for good reason: it marked the surrender of General Lee’s army at Appomattox, Virginia.
It was a foregone conclusion that other field commands would quickly follow suit. In fact, they did, with very little violence. A short skirmish at Palmito Ranch in Texas resulted in the death of one soldier, a Union private.
By May 26th, all organized units except for two had capitulated.
One was a cavalry brigade that slipped across into Mexico and eventually disbanded after an adventurous journey, which involved brief action in the war between Archduke Maximillian and the followers of Benito Juarez. Many of its men eventually returned to the United States.
The brigade was effectively finished as a sustainable fighting force not too long after crossing the Rio Grande in June 1865. It is worth noting that the unit buried its battle flag – the object connected to the South Carolina murders -.sensibly recognizing the Confederate cause was finished forever. The commander, General Jo Shelby, returned to the United States in 1867 and renounced slavery. He was later appointed as US Marshall for Western Missouri by President Grover Cleveland.
The other combat unit was the CSS Shenandoah, a commerce raider purchased by the Confederate government from Great Britain.
The ship was at sea when the Confederacy collapsed.
The captain, James Waddell, an Annapolis graduate, was feasting on Union whalers in the Bering Sea in June 1865. No one was ever killed in his actions against commercial shipping. Crews would be consolidated on a few ships for safe transport home; the other vessels set afire. Waddell even recruited sailors from his prizes, with money and adventure being the lure.
On June 22nd, the Shenandoah fired a warning shot across the stern of a ship, part of a whaling fleet. It was probably the last shot in the war.
Waddell and his crew went about their business, but they learned of Lee’s surrender from newspapers provided by the captains of the whaling fleet.
Unfortunately, the newspaper articles lacked any information on the overall status of the South and its other armies. Furthermore, the newspapers reported President Davis as being committed to a continuation of the conflict. As far as Waddell was concerned, a state of war still persisted.
It wasn’t until August 2nd when he learned of the complete surrender from the captain of a British merchant ship.
It was not a moment too soon since Waddell had thoughts of sailing to San Francisco to shell the harbor.
Now he had to make the most critical decision – surrender his ship to the first US naval vessel he encountered, cruise to a west coast port and turn it over there, or head to a neutral port to attain immunity from possible prosecution for piracy. It would seem Waddell could have mounted a credible defense against charges of piracy, given the lack of timely communication about the end of the war.
He chose to make a run for it.
Waddell knew it would not be long before the Shenandoah would be targeted as a rogue by every navy in existence. He had his crew stow the deck guns and camouflage the ship, changing the appearance of its profile.
The ship sailed from the North Pacific, around Cape Horn and then on to Liverpool, where it entered the River Mersey on November 6, 1865, almost seven months after Lee’s surrender. British authorities insisted that the ship show its colors to establish official recognition. So the date not only marks the final formal surrender of the war, but the last time the Confederate flag was raised by an organized unit.
Neither Waddell nor his crew were detained for long. An investigation by the British government determined they had not violated the rules of war.
The crew was largely international and returned to their respective homelands without fear of arrest. The officers, on the other hand, were American and had to wait for emotions to settle down back home. They eventually returned to the United States; most pursued careers in commercial shipping. Waddell was one of the last to return, waiting until 1875.
The Shenandoah logged 58,000 miles in its one-year voyage and became the only Confederate ship to circumnavigate the globe, and the only American warship to conduct punitive military operations during the rebellion in the faraway waters off Alaska, then a possession of Russia. Putin, had he lived back then, would not have been pleased.
One interesting footnote to this saga: the Shenandoah unknowingly contributed to saving the whales. The destruction suffered by the whaling industry at the hands of southern raiders forced the United States to rely more heavily on kerosene for lighting. While the battle to save these grand creatures continues today, extinction would have been a distinct possibility had our growing nation continued to consume their oil.