Australian Confederates on the CSS Shenandoah

Austconfederates copy

Australian Confederates
How 42 Australians joined the rebel cause and fired the last shot in the American Civil War
By Terry Smyth

Published by Ebury Press, Random House
RRP $34.99 in paperback
ISBN 9780857986559, 384 pp

ASPI Chairman and one time Labor senator for New South Wales Stephen Loosley has written a detailed review of this book entitled Our rebels who fought on (The Australian, 12 Sep 2015) – I think this is certainly worth reading – link here


I feel there would be few Australians who know that, in the summer of 1865, a Confederate warship, the CSS Shenandoah, sailed into the port of Melbourne, and secretly enlisted 42 men to fight for the South in the American Civil War.

In fact, some 120 Australians are known to have fought in the American Civil War, on both sides.

Looking back, it seems hard to imagine now the level of sympathy that existed among Australians at the time for a society based on slavery, yet while officialdom in the colonies backed the Union and British neutrality, public opinion generally favoured the South. The gold rush era, during which the Shenandoah arrived, tended to glorify rebel causes, and the Southerners had no difficulty finding willing recruits.

Of the 42 men who signed on in Melbourne as petty officers, seamen and marines, some returned home, others dropped out of sight and one died aboard ship – the last man to die in the service of the Confederacy.

Smyth, a Sydney journalist, has brought this little known story to life. As he writes in his introduction, the men who sailed away on the Shenandoah in the summer of 1865 were ‘men of their times’. We don’t know what their views on slavery were but we do know they fired the last shot of the American Civil War and they destroyed 32 Yankee merchant ships. They were the last rebels to surrender, having sailed their ship 60,000 miles around the world.

This is quite a story.


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