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carry into effect, certain severe measures of retaliation, in case the privateers recently captured were convicted and condemned as pirates, according to the declaration in Mr. Lincoln's proclamation (see p. 21), when the trial came on it was found to involve grave questions of law, as well as expediency. The trial lasted a week and the jury disagreed. Learned jurists discussed the subject at large; it was even thought necessary to take notice of the matter in parliament; and finally, under all the embarrassments of the question, and the certainty that numbers of our officers and men in the rebels' hands would be put to death in case the piratical privateersmen were hung, the government abandoned the prosecution, and thenceforward treated them simply as
i prisoners of war.*
The vessels fitted out by the rebels as privateers were chiefly the coasting and gulf steamers lying in the southern harbors, which the blockade had rendered useless for their usual purpose; several revenue-cutters, the property of the United States, which had been seized
| in the ports; a number of schoon
ers and pilot-boats—a motley fleet, not exceeding some fifty in all, in the early months of the war. At first
their movements from New Orleans, . ,
letter and sent it by a special messenger to Washington. It was addressed to President Lincoln, and stated in plain terms that if the privateersmen were hung, be sliould hang in return an equal number of officers and men. prisoners at the time in his hands. On the 9th of November, after a man named Smith had been tound guilty of piracy, by the jury in Philadelphia, the rabel war department sent an order to Richmond, to select by lot an officer of the highest rank, to be dealt with as Smith might be by the United States authorities, and also thirteen others to bo held in place of the privateersmen then under trial in New York. The
Charleston and other ports, were exceedingly annoying to the merchant service in the Gulf of Mexico and adjacent waters; but, as our government, with a speed unparalleled and astonish ing, created a navy, so as to render the blockade efficient, the privateers were soon deprived of places of refuge, and found many obstacles thrown in their j way in the West India Islands. With a few exceptions, as the Sumter, Nashville, etc., the privateers were unable to execute the terrible threats of destruction, on the result of which they counted so largely at the outbreak of the rebellion. Prizes were indeed made, marine insurance rose to a high point, and it was feared that the Aspinwall steamers, with the gold products of California, would fall into the hands of the privateers; but the results were not at all equal to the expectations and hopes of the confederates.
Among the vessels seized by the rebela in the southern ports, was the rev- j enue-cutter Aiken, which was taken possession of in Charleston harbor. j Surnained the Petrel, and fitted out as j a privateer, she ran the blockade, and i immediately, July 28th, fell in with what appeared to be a lumbering mer- | chantman, trying hard to make its es- I cape. This was the United States frigate St. Lawrence, then on a cruise
order was of course obeyed, and several of our unfortunate officers were treated as felons of the lowest class, until finally the government abandoned the ground it at first had taken.
* "Are tlie Soutlurn Privateersmen Pirates f" A letter to the Hon. Ira Harris; by C. P. Daly, Judge of the Common Pleas, New York. This is a pamphlet of thirteen pages, under date of December 21st, 1801, and may be consulted to advantage, to show the ground taken by those who desired to see the privateersmen regarded as prisoners of war and not as pirates.
along the Atlantic coast in quest of piratical craft of the enemy. To disguise her real character, her port-holes were closed and her men kept carefully out of sight. The commander of the Petrel, misled by the deception, bore down upon the innocent-looking vessel, eager to secure the prize. Presently a couple of shots from the Petrel were fired across the bows of the St. Lawrence, followed by a discharge of canister striking the rigging. The frigate directly after threw up her ports, and opened fire upon the Petrel. The destruction was instantaneous. A shell struck the galley, entered the hold, and exploded, tearing the vessel fearfully, and bringing her to a sinking condition. Part of the crew threw themselves overboard, or sought refuge in the lifeboat, holding up a flag of surrender. The boats of the St. Lawrence were immediately lowered; and the survivors were rescued and brought on board of the frigate. Four of the privateer's crew thus perished with the sinking
| vessel, and thirty-six were captured and carried into Philadelphia.
The Jeff. Davis, early in June, appeared on the north-eastern coast, and running in as near as the Nantucket shoals, made on her cruise, prizes estimated at some $225,000. She was formerly the slaver Echo, a full-rigged brig, with a crew of 260 men and six guris, and in general appearance not
! lik< ly to alarm a vessel at first sight. On the 4th of July, Avhen about one hundred and fifty miles from Sandy Hook, she captured the schooner J. G. Waring, on a voyage from New York to Montevideo. The captain, mates,
and two seamen were taken out and five of the Davis's crew put on board. The colored steward, W. Tillman, was left on the Waring, and the schooner's course was directed towards Charleston. Tillman, terrified at the prospect of being sold into slavery, in case he were taken into port, resolved upon desperate measures. Watching his opportunity, and with the aid of one of the seamen, he killed the prize captain and mates, secured the other two men, and made directly for New York. After a devious voyage from within fifty miles of Charleston, and guessing their way northwardly, they reached Sandy Hook on the 21st of July, and were safely piloted into the harbor. Tillman was awarded salvage for his resolute conduct in saving the vessel.
On the 6th of July, the Jeff. Davis captured the schooner Enchantress, on her way to Cuba. Several men, with the colored cook, were put in charge of the vessel to go to Charleston, where the cook was expected to bring a good price. Not long after, they met the Albatross of the U. S. Navy, and attempting to deceive her, the negro jumped overboard, and gave information which led to the vessel being retaken, and the freedom of the cook preserved. Some weeks later, Sunday morning, August 18th, the Jeff. Davis was wrecked, in attempting to cross the bar at the entrance to the port of St. Augustine, Florida. Her heavy guns were thrown overboard in the effort to relieve her and save the supplies which she had captured. The crew, however, escaped, and were congratulated on their dashing success amongst the Yankees.
It is not necessary to enter into details of the operations attempted by the rebels in regard to privateering. For reasons above given, added to the energetic action of our government compel
! ling neutrality, as far as possible, on the part of foreign nations, the rebels met
j with only partial success. The cruises
'of some of the privateers, like the Sumter, Nashville, and others, were remark
I able, and will be noted on a subsequent page. The actual loss to our merchants from the depredations of privateers was undoubtedly great, and more or less severely felt; but the chief evil result was deeper and more lasting than the
. I destruction of property alone could produce. The course pursued by the English government, professing the strictest neutrality, and being on terms of amity I with our country, was such, nevertheless, I as to bring conviction to our people, that that government was not unwilling to permit, under the thinnest disguise, vessels to be built in English shipyards,
! and fitted out to a large extent in Eng
j land, to serve in rebel hands as privateers, and prey upon the commerce of the United States. The loyal people of our country entertained strong feelings of resentment against England for what had taken place, and, at a later date, questions of grave importance came up for settlement.
Although it is a little in advance of other parts of our narrative, we may here, most conveniently, give the record of an affair which, at the time, made great noise, and seemed likely to involve a serious collision with Great Britain. On a previous page (see p. 66), we have noted that the rebel commissioners had
met with indifferent success abroad. As it was evident that the hopes of the new "confederacy" were based largely upon foreign recognition and assistance, the leaders in revolution knew that every effort must be made to secure these at the earliest moment. Consequently, as the present agents in Europe had virtually failed, a fresh attempt was set on foot, under the sanction of the rebel Congress, and the prime mover in the whole matter, Jefferson Davis. Two persons, J. M. Mason and John Slidell, both in former days members -of the United States Senate, and well known to be ardent, thorough-going secessionists and haters of the Union, were selected for the new and difficult work to be performed, and were charged with the imposing commission of ambassadors from the " Confederate States of America" to England and France. The arrogance and presumption of Mason, on the one hand, and the bold, unscrupulous character of Slidell, on the other, gave to their appointment, and the mission they had undertaken, more than usual importance. The government resolved, if possible, to intercept them, and prevent their reaching Europe. A strict watch was ordered, and several vessels detailed to keep a sharp look out for the new agents in revolution. Mason and Slidell, however, with their secretaries and a number of others, took the small steamer Theodora, and about midnight, October 11th, escaped the blockade at Charleston, and made their way safely to Nassau, New Providence. Thence, the Theodora carried the party to Cuba, where they waited for the regular West India steamer in order to proceed to England. None of the vessels sent out by government were fortunate enough to meet with the persons of whom they were in search; it was reserved for a ship returning from the coast of Africa to accomplish the capture of these dangerous rebels.
MASON AND SLIDELL CAPTURED.
Captain Charles Wilkes, of the San Jacinto, a first class screw steamer, mounting 13 guns, having learned at Cienfuegos, in Cuba, that the Theodora had run the blockade and reached Havana, resolved at once to secure the rebel " ambassadors " so soon as they set out for Europe. He reached Havana, October 31st, and found these gentlemen enjoying the hospitality of the British consul and other sympathizing friends, and waiting for the English steamer Trent, which was to leave November 7th, for St. Thomas, and tranship her passengers there for Southhampton. Acting on his own convictions of the legality of his contemplated act, Captain Wilkes made all needful preparation, and left port on the 2d of November, to keep strict watch for the Trent, and carry out his design of making prisoners of the men who were engaged in treasonable practices against the government. The San Jacinto took up a position in the old Bahama channel, some 250 miles from Havana, and about nine miles from the light-house, Paredon del Grande, the nearest point of Cuba at the time. At noon, November 8th, the Trent made her appearance; two shots were fired across her bows; and she was speedily brought to by the San Jacinto. Lieut. Fairfax was sent on board, with
a proper force in waiting; he conducted himself as an officer and a gentleman through a very unpleasant scene, mingled with expressions of decided hostility on the part of the officers and others on the English vessel; and Messrs. Mason and Slidell, with their secretaries, Messrs. Eustis and Macfarland, were taken on board the American steamer. The families of Mr. Slidell and Mr. Eustis preferring to re main on the Trent, that vessel proceeded on her voyage. Captain Wilkes ran into Hampton Roads, on the 15th of November, and reported immediately his doings to the authorities at Washington. The next day, he sailed for New York, and thence by order to Boston, where his prisoners were safely lodged in Fort Warren, November 24th.
Captain Wilkes prepared an elaborate dispatch, setting foith the grounds on which he justified the seizure of "the embodiment of dispatches," as he shrewdly termed Mason and Slidell; he also stated, that he would have made a prize of the vessel, had it not been for an unwillingness to inconvenience the passengers on the Trent, who were certainly innocent of any offence. "I concluded," said the gallant captain, in bringing his dispatch to a close, "to sacrifice the interests of my officers and crew in the prize, and suffered the steamer to proceed, after the necessary detention to effect the transfer of these commissioners, considering I had obtained the important end I had in view, and which affected the interests of oui country and interrupted the action of that of the confederates I ma)
add that, having assumed the responsiI, bility, I am willing to abide the result." Captain Wilkes was highly lauded by the press and the people generally, was feted by various public bodies, received the special thanks of Secretary Welles of the navy department, and a vote of thanks from Congress. Various legal authorities supported his action, and the country at large was assured of not only the legality, but the positive merit of his conduct on this occasion. It was observable, however, that the president, in his message, early in December, said nothing about the subject, and Mr. Seward, secretary of state, equally kept himself free from committment, until the news from England should manifest the spirit in which that government was disposed to view the matter. The wisdom of the secretary's course was soon after abundantly verified. He wrote to Mr. Adams, stating the facts as narrated, and also that Captain Wilkes had acted without instructions in what he had done; and expressed the hope "that the British government would consider the subject in a friendly temper," being assured of the willingness and best disposition of the United States so to consider it.
As was to be expected, the affair produced no little excitement in England, and the rebels and their friends endeavored to make the most of it.* The law officers of the crown pronounced Capt. Wilkes' act unjustifiable, and
* The English press fairly overflowed with abusive denunciation of Captain Wilkes, Secretary Seward, and the " Yankees " generally and in particular. For a more full account of the seizure of the rebel commissioners, and the style and manner of abuse indulged
the English government determined to demand peremptorily the restoration of Mason and Slidell to British protection. Earl Russell sent a special messenger to Lord Lyons, Her Majesty's minister at Washington, with a dispatch, dated Nov. 30th, denouncing what had been done as "an act of violence, which was an affront to the British flag, and a violation of international law;" declaring that "the British government could not allow such an affront to the national honor to pass without full reparation." Lord Russell insisted on the giving up of Mason and Slidell and their secretaries, with " a suitable apology for the aggression which had been committed.'' War preparations were begun at once, the fleet in American waters was ordered to be largely increased, and in every way the spirit of the English government and people was aroused, in apparent expectation that war with the United States was the only alternative.
Mr. Seward, who had been courteously addressed by the ministers of France, Russia and Austria, deprecating the sustaining the action of Capt. Wilkes, communicated with Lord Lyons in the latter part of December. He went over the whole matter, correcting Earl Russell's dispatch as to the facts, and discussing at large the principles and views which governed the United States in the course the president had determined to pursue. The final result at which Mr. Seward
in on the other side of the water, see Duyckinck's "War for the Union," vol. ii., pp. 121-150. Mr. Russell also in his " Diary," p. 573, infra, gives a lively account of the current opinions and talk of the day on this subject.
THE TRENT AFFAIR SETTLED.