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

Tom Chaffin

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

448 Pages



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The sleek, 222-foot, black auxiliary steamer Sea King left London on October 8, 1864, ostensibly bound for Bombay.  The subterfuge was ended off the shores of Madeira, where the ship was outfitted for war. The newly christened CSS Shenandoah then commenced the last, most quixotic sea story of the Civil War: the 58,000-mile, around-the-world cruise of the Confederacy’s second most successful commerce raider. Before its voyage was over, thirty-two Union merchant and whaling ships and their cargoes would be destroyed. But it was only after ship and crew embarked on the last leg of their journey that the excursion 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 world, he had gone from being an enemy combatant to being a pirate—a hangable offense. Now fearing capture and mutiny, with supplies quickly dwindling, Waddell elected to camouflage the ship, circumnavigate the globe, and attempt to surrender on English soil.


Praise for Sea of Gray

"Well-written and interesting, Sea of Gray will be of especial interest to Confederate and Union naval enthusiasts. It is also an excellent work for the generalists or those who just want to learn more about the role of a Confederate cruiser during the Civil War or about the Confederacy's efforts in the Pacific. It is highly recommended."—The Civil War News
"Sea of Gray is a detailed account of the history and voyage of the Shenandoah's men and captives. Tom Chaffin writes a captivating history important to Civil War buffs, mariners and American studies students."—John E. Carey, The Washington Times
"Skillfully utilizing a variety of primary and secondary sources, including officer diaries, Chaffin takes us from the difficulties involved in outfitting the ship, in terms of equipping and manning it, through its tempestuous trips to ice-filled waters in the Bering Strait, and other seas . . . This book is an important, readable addition to a fascinating chapter in U.S. maritime history."—Brother Edward Sheehy, The Philadelphia Inquirer Book Review
"Chaffin's way of telling the tale makes readers understand that this is not just a historical account of the Shenandoah, Bullock and Waddell. By adding quotes from diaries and other first hand accounts, Chaffin gives readers and students of history insight into First Lieutenant William Whittle, Jr., the Executive Officer, and Midshipman John Mason who recorded that the crew 'made it a rule from the start that there should be no pillaging of the captured vessels' . . . Sea of Gray is a detailed account of the history and voyage of the Shenandoah's men and captives . . . Tom Chaffin based most of his work on painstaking research in diaries, letters, and documents of the period. He wrote a captivating history important to Civil War buffs, mariners and students of American Studies."—Commander John E. Carey, USN (Ret), U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings
"Meticulously researched . . . Chaffin, the author of Pathfinder: John Charles Frémont and the Course of American Empire, has drawn from a rich array of primary sources, including shipboard journals, crew memoirs, and newspaper accounts, to tell the story of the raider's 58,000-mile journey . . . A brisk and engaging read."—Elizabeth D. Hoover, American Heritage
"Chaffin has done his homework—the narrative is salted with the testimony of the men who sailed the Shenandoah and of others who watched their ships burned to the waterline by a crew they considered no better than pirates . . . Chaffin delivers a crackerjack story, well-researched but not overwhelmed by technical details. He writes with authority and a clear passion for the colorful, fated characters of this true-life bluewater saga."—Phillip Gerard, Raleigh News and Observer

"A highly readable and well researched volume . . . In crisp, rapidly moving prose, he tells the story of a successful 58,000-sea-mile voyage around the world that included the sinking of 21 Union merchant and whaling ships . . . The book includes excellent maps of the entire 13-month trip, including a detailed look at the successful cruise through the Bering Sea preying on American whalers in June 1865 . . . A finely written volume . . . Sea of Gray is full of beautiful period photographs, excellent line drawings of the Shenandoah, a detailed sail plan of the warship, and appendices, footnotes, and indices. It most certainly deserves a place in the library of any serious scholar of the Civil War or of nautical history."—Vice Admiral James Stavridis, U. S. Navy, United States Naval Institute
"Chaffin.. . . knows enough not to bore the lay reader with too much nautical argot. And much of the story tells itself."—The Nashville Scene
"Tom Chaffin tells the story of the single cruise ably in Sea of Gray: The Around-the-World Odyssey of the Confederate Raider Shenandoah. The story has been told before, but never with such style or drama. Research in all the pertinent sources grounds a narrative that moves quickly but authoritatively, with insightful inner glimpses of the men of the Shenandoah, especially Captain James I. Waddell as he faced ending a distinguished naval career branded as an outlaw. Virtually all of the Confederacy's experiments with unconventional warfare provide tales of interest and subjects to provoke thought about war itself, but none more than this one of a lonely vessel whose war began as a contest against one nation, and ended in a battle with the globe itself."—William C. Davis, History Book Club Review

"Tom Chaffin's latest is a superb account of how the Confederate raider Shenandoah brought the American Civil War to the farthest reaches of the world. A book that will fascinate Civil War buffs and maritime aficionados alike, Sea of Gray is also the very human story of how a captain and his crew coped with one of the strangest circumnavigations in American history—an absorbing and illuminating read."—Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea and Sea of Glory

"In Sea of Gray, Tom Chaffin has delivered a rollicking ride of a book: the Quixotic trek of Confederate raiders at sea, at war without cause or country. Civil War buffs take note: more than just compulsively readable or good fun, this happens to be a long overdue study as well."—Jay Winik, author of April 1865: The Month That Saved America

"A thorough, colorful, readable rendering of one of the most intriguing stories of the Civil War—the round-the-world voyage of the Confederate Raider Shenandoah."—Evan Thomas, author of John Paul Jones: Sailor, Hero, Father of the American Navy

"Fans of naval history and of the Civil War will relish this gripping story of the Shenandoah's circumnavigation of the globe."—James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom

"Chaffin does a good job of charting the Shenandoah's path and fortunes . . . Good reading for Civil War buffs, taking the naval aspect of the conflict well beyond the usual Monitor and Merrimac fare."—Kirkus Reviews
"Chaffin chronicles the remarkable story of the Shenandoah's 58,000-mile voyage around the world during the Civil War. Along the way, it sunk 32 Union merchant and whaling ships heavily laden with cargo, including brandy, rum, and whiskey. After the vessel rounded Africa's Cape of Good Hope, it stopped in Australia and then navigated the ice floes of Siberia's Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea, and the Arctic Ocean—much of it through gales, ice fields, subfreezing temperatures, fog, and rain. The ship's crew hoped to destroy the Yankees' western Arctic whaling fleet, but four months after the war ended, the Shenandoah's captain learned that he had been fighting a war 'without cause or state.' He had gone from being an enemy combatant to a pirate, an offense that could get him hanged. He camouflaged the vessel, circumnavigated the globe, and attempted to surrender in England. Chaffin drew on hundreds of original documents in researching this riveting narrative of one episode of the Civil War."—George Cohen, Booklist

"When the Union navy blockaded Southern ports during the Civil War, the Confederates dispatched commercial raiders to prey on private Union ships. One of these raiders was the C.S.S. Shenandoah, a British auxiliary steamer purchased by Confederate agents and refitted as a man-of-war. Chaffin recounts the Shenandoah's round-the-world journey in a compelling narrative based upon Civil War–era logbooks, journals, letters and memoirs. Commissioned to lay waste to New England's Pacific whaling fleet, the Shenandoah sailed from Liverpool in 1864. Thirteen months and 58,000 miles later, it sailed back. Along the way, the ship survived storms, ice jams and a near mutiny while capturing 40 Union vessels, taking 1,053 prisoners and destroying cargo valued in 1865 at $1.4 million. En route to the Bering Sea when the war ended in April 1865, the Shenandoah continued to fight until June for lack of 'reliable evidence.' Thereafter, it dodged capture as it raced for the safety of a British port. Sure to satisfy Civil War and nautical fans, Chaffin's history describes these adventures in gratifying detail."—Publishers Weekly

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 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
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  • Tom Chaffin

  • 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, Time, and other publications. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Tom Chaffin Meta Larsson