This presentation is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Barbara Wyatt: Brad is going to talk about the CSS Shenandoah and whaling heritage in the Western Arctic and Brad Barr received a BS from … Why? Nobody, they don’t all know you. Let me tell them a little bit, okay. All right, I’ll edit it. He went to school in Maine, Massachusetts, he got his PhD at the University of Alaska. He works for NOAA as the Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Maritime Heritage Program. He teaches in various universities and I’ll leave it at that.
Brad Barr: Great, terrific. Well, when we were putting together this conference we actually had this session as a kind of battlefield session. Battlefields is illustrative of the kinds of things that may be distinct cultural landscapes, but it got expanded as we proceeded in tweaking the agenda. That’s why my title of my talk talks about a different type of battlefield. I just thought I ought to explain that because it didn’t make a lot of sense in the context of management and protection.
Wanted to, thought that this was a good story to tell and I’m not going to spend a lot of time actually telling the story of the Shenandoah because the room is filled with a bunch of maritime historians and, frankly, a lot of people know this story. But I’d like to get to the nexus between this saga of the Shenandoah and Maritime Cultural Landscapes, the potential maritime cultural landscapes in which that story would be incorporated. Is this the thing? There we go.
So I’m going to talk a little bit about the synopsis of the Shenandoah story and then I’m going to make some observations on the maritime cultural landscape context of that story. As I say, I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the Shenandoah itself. It’s a wonderful, compelling story, happened at the end of the Civil War. It was part of the Confederates’ sort of last ditch attempt to have a part of their naval strategy that dealt with the commissioning of these privateers in Confederate naval vessels to attack Yankee commerce in the high seas.
Certainly we know about the vessel that’s in there, the vessel that the picture shows, which is the CSS Alabama, another very successful, at least from the Confederate point of view, successful sea raider. But the one that was done, the one that was commissioned last, the CSS Shenandoah I think is arguably having the greatest and most enduring legacy of this fleet.
It was originally bought under the cover of secrecy in the United Kingdom, in England by agents of the Confederacy. Very interesting kind of spy story that went along with it about how they were able to buy this without letting the Union know, even though the Union sort of knew they were looking around for another sea raider. It was bought in secrecy, snuck to the Madeiras where it was refit and renamed the CSS Shenandoah. The Confederate officers were brought onboard and they set off on their mission to, in this case, to specifically go after whalers that were from the New England, largely from the New England whaling ports.
Whaling was an incredibly important part of the economy in the 19th Century and this was a way for the Confederacy to strike a blow against the two things that whaling provided. One was the economic contribution to the Union and to the North. The other was the fact that many sailors that sailed in the Union Army were trained on whaling vessels. So this was an opportunity to take a double shot, a double slap at the North.
It was commanded by a man by the name of James Waddell. Waddell, he is also an interesting story insofar as it speaks to effective leadership because Waddell wasn’t particularly an effective leader. There was a lot of discord onboard among the officers and crew, even though they shared a common mission of going out to sink whalers. There’s a whole sort of subtext of this business about Waddell and his leadership and I encourage you, there are a whole bunch of … come on baby. It’s not going to come up.
This is a map that shows the circumnavigation of the Shenandoah. It’s taken from Tom Chaffin’s book, “Sea of Gray”, which I would very much endorse, not that I get any cut from it, but Tom wrote a terrific version of this story and it’s well worth it. If it had shown, would show you that the Shenandoah was the only Confederate ship to circumnavigate the globe. It started out in England, went to the Madeiras, went down around the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean. It stopped in Australia to do some maintenance and then headed up to the north Pacific to target the whalers that were there. Along the way it took whaling ships and other merchants as it went along. It sailed a total, I can never remember dates or numbers, it sailed 58,000 miles in less than thirteen months, lost only two crew and that was to natural causes. Along the way it took thirty-two prizes, so it was a pretty big success.
Seized and burned five merchant vessels and one whaler before they got to Melbourne for repairs and there was a whole diplomatic upheaval when they got to Australia because Australia was neutral but the union felt that by allowing the Shenandoah to come into port it was violating their neutrality. It went to Ascension Island and it took four more whalers there and then turned to the Arctic whaling grounds.
It arrived in the Sea Okhotsk in May, boarded the whaler Abigail on the 27th. The Abigail largely got away because they were carrying a lot of alcohol that they were using to trade with the natives and both crews got involved in drinking as much of that alcohol as possible. Remember that there was a lot of discord and whalers were not happy people particularly, the guys in the foxholes. So anytime there’s alcohol. So anyway, the Abigail got away but that was one of the few that actually did.
Over seven days in June from the 22nd to the 29th, the Shenandoah captured twenty-four whaling ships, twenty of these were reported to light up the night sky as they were burned to the water lines. One of the reasons why whalers burn very well is because they’re impregnated with whale oil. So you light them off and they literally do light up the night sky. I was thinking as I was writing this today, I’ve been up to Alaska in June and there isn’t a lot of night sky in June, so I don’t know where that story comes from, but I wonder. It sounds good, it really does have a great vision of what lighting up the night sky might be. But the night sky in June is largely kind of dim daylight.
Anyway, of the twenty-four, four were bonded and then they were dismasted and the crews were put onboard and set adrift. Sometimes they were put in whale boats and set adrift, but none of the crews that were captured, no one was harmed. Everyone was released alive, but set adrift in either these bonded boards or the vessels, or the dismasted vessels. After the Melbourne it took twenty-nine vessels, three bonded for $124,600. Remember, again, these are 1860s numbers so I’ve actually converted the total one. Four taken in Pompeii estimated at about $117,759, values a total of about $850,000, which was about $1.1 million in 1865, would on average be about $1 billion today. Think about, if you want to strike a blow to the Union and the economy of the Union, mission accomplished. We need a banner, we need to hang it there and have, I guess President Lincoln was dead by then, but the president fly in a carrier or something.
The fact was they had done a really good job, they had gotten that. Interestingly enough, and this is the twist on this story was, all of these vessels were taken after the war was over. Because they were working in such a remote place and this map shows that period of time, that seven days, you can see they were working a very remote place. The whalers, they’d board a whaler and the captain would say, “Well, for God’s sake the war’s over!” Of course, Waddell would say, “We haven’t heard that.”
So they took all of these things, made them look a little like pirates, ultimately they weren’t really, they were vindicated as not being pirates. But anyway, they were … it was all done after the war was over, which is sort of the interesting part of this. So, how’s this story relevant to the Maritime Cultural Landscapes? Very interesting story, but what does it really mean and what are the cultural landscapes that might be relevant to the Shenandoah?
I don’t know. I just don’t know!. I do actually. Let’s go back. Historical significance. Maritime Cultural Landscapes should encompass events that had some significant impact on the course of human history and this ties back into the register language that talked about associated with events that have made significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history. Okay, so, this is how we’re defining historical significance.
Did the Shenandoah change the course of human history? Well, it was an interesting story in Civil War, but it didn’t really affect the outcome because it happened after largely after the outcome was over, after the war had been solved. So did it affect the outcome of the Civil War? Probably not. But did it have an impact on the American whaling industry? I think arguably you could make the case, and many historians have, that this was a significant event, one of the three real nails in the coffin of the American whaling industry which ended about 1914.
With this event in the 1860s we had the 1871 event with the abandonment of the thirty-three vessels that I’ll talk about in a little bit and we also had the 1876 event where another twenty or so odd vessels were lost, all in a very short period of time. It was very much tied to the discovery of petroleum and the rise of alternative sources. But, again, did it have an effect? Absolutely, and I think you can make that case.
Not only for the … just keep going here. Not only does it have an effect at the kind of U.S. whaling industry level, but it also, taking that down in terms of scale, certainly in the Western Arctic, it was a major event, certainly up to and including the Global Whaling Heritage Landscape. Because it changed, the U.S. was the predominant force in the Global Whaling Industry, when the American industry died it certainly did have a profound effect on the global Whaling Heritage Landscape.
So I’ll do this really quickly. There is a global component to whaling, obviously. These are the whaling grounds, these are historic maps. You’ve seen them probably before. It was really the first global industry. So there is a global component to this and we should be thinking about this in a global sort of way. Certainly, it’s very much, from a very parochial view, in the American whaling heritage, very much tied to the National Marine Sanctuaries, it’s one of the reasons why you hear it from Hans, you hear it from me, you hear it from Jim. We talk a lot about whaling because it is a thread that goes through.
You saw this before, this is the whaling ships that are in Hawaii that have been identified, in Papahanoumokuakea we’ve got these very significant whaling sites. West Coast sites, we haven’t rally started looking at this in any substantive way, but there were a lot of shore whaling that went on in the late 19th Century, very important sort of whaling activity and we’re just beginning to see that. We’ve even had a sponsored international symposium, so there’s a lot of that that went on.
I want to make a point that it’s not just us, not just the Sanctuary Program, but there are other protected areas programs like the National Park Service and places like the New Bedford Whaling Historical Site that we work with very closely, other museums like the Nantucket Historical Society in New Bedford Whaling Museum, those sorts of things. So there’s a big group of people who are pretty well interested in this. I’m going to skip over this. This is the why it’s important from the Western Arctic point of view. I think that the take home message here is you can look at this in a whole bunch of different scales. You can look at how this fits into Maritime Cultural Landscapes at a very localized scale, or at the global scale.
I think that the real difference here … That was the cruise that we just finished. That was Hans and I sitting on the back deck having a cup of coffee. I think that some of the issues we have to deal with in terms of how do you determine what the appropriate, or what an appropriate marital cultural landscape might be for something like this, which is very topical, has to do with this notion of cumulative significance. Where do you optimize the significance of this within space and time? I think that the way we might look at that is to really talk about this idea of cumulative significance.
Yankee whaling ended in 1914. This stuff, this Shenandoah events were very important to that and certainly you can look at in that way, but it’s this idea of cumulative significance that I wanted to leave you with because I think, unlike a site or a property, you have to look at the significance and how do you preserve the values that contribute to that significance. I think that’s part of why I was trying to tell this story. Whether I did a good job on that, that’s a different story, but I think that that’s the take home message that we should be looking at, this idea of cumulative significance. So thank you very much.