The photograph to the right, taken in Leamington in 1865, is of former crewmen of the Confederate naval ship, the Shenandoah. What circumstances brought these sailors to Leamington at a time when fellow Americans were celebrating the ending of the Civil War?
Four years earlier, the Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, sent his representative, James M Mason, to England. With Britain’s reliance on the South’s cotton, Davis hoped he might influence the British government to intercede on their behalf. Mason crossed the Atlantic and made his way to Leamington, where his presence was noted by The Birmingham Journal: ‘Mr. Mason,the Confederate Agent [is] at present staying at the Regent Hotel,Leamington, England.’
The spa town was at the height of its popularity and well known in American circles. A few years earlier it had been the home of the US Consul, the author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who resided briefly at 10 Lansdowne Circus. The information that the town was now connected by rail to both London and the port of Liverpool, probably reached Confederate ears via Hawthorne’s successor, Nathaniel Beverley Tucker,
I had scarcely become domesticated before the visits of the Confederates began, & we have now quite a little Southern Society. Mr & Mrs Fry of N. York, & Mrs Leigh reside very near us. Mr & Mrs Westfeldt also; but just now they are absent. Mr & Mrs Dugan, Mr & Mrs & the Misses
Stewart, Mrs Hanna & Miss Reynolds, Mr & Mrs Clements, Mr & Mrs Skinner, Capt Flinn, & various others who are here, off & on, compose the little nest of Confederates in Leamington.’
Soon after their arrival, Georgiana reports on, ‘a Confederate wedding at the Cathedral Church [Leamington Parish Church] in thepresence of all the Southerners’, when Captain Thom, who had ‘been wounded in the cause’, married ‘Miss Reynolds of Kentucky’.
Meanwhile, the Confederate agents were active on government business. Georgiana notes, ‘Mr Mason who is here for a day or two called on us this morning in company with Judge Buchanan.’ The men were on their way to Glasgow to purchase a ship for the fledgling Confederate navy. Once at sea, the ship was renamed the Shenandoah and secretly converted to an armed cruiser, with the aim of capturing and destroying the Union’s merchant ships.
The war ended in 1865 with a victory for the North. The Shenandoah was still on operational duty in the Pacific and out of contact. Mason, now residing at 28 Grove Street, enlisted Britain’s help in intercepting the ship. The last surrender of the Civil War came with the Shenandoah’s return to Liverpool on 6 November 1865. The crew made their way to Leamington, where they were photographed looking glum soon afterwards. Most of the exiled Confederate families had returned to America by 1868, so the presence in Leamington of southern belles and secret agents was somewhat short-lived.
Jenny St John
Reproduced from Newsletter Summer 2010