by Tom Chaffin
From the publisher:
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.
Tom Chaffin is the author of Pathfinder: John Charles Frémont and the Course of American Empire (H&W, 2002). His work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, Time, and other publications. He lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Chaffin does a good job of charting the Shenandoah's path and fortunes, and though the narrative could have stood a little trimming here and there, he makes it clear that there were plenty of worse places to be in the war than on the ship's decks; the officers had time to read the many books they liberated from enemy vessels, while the crew, for all its rebelorthodoxy, merrily disported themselves among the dark women of Ascension, unrepentant pirates to the last. Good reading for Civil War buffs, taking the naval aspect of the conflict well beyond the usual Monitor and Merrimac fare.
Books on the CSS Shenandoah keep coming. This one joins the ranks of The Voyage of the CSS Shenandoah: A Memorable Cruise (2005); The Last Shot: The Incredible Story of the C.S.S. Shenandoah and the True Conclusion of the American Civil War (2005); and Confederate Raider in the North Pacific: The Saga of the C.S.S. Shenandoah, 1864-65 (1995). We do not know how Sea of Gray differs from its predecessors except that here the subject is backed by a major trade publisher.