THE CRUISE OF THE ALABAMA AND THE SUMTER.
FROM THE PRIVATE JOURNALS AND OTHER PAPERS OF COMMANDER R. SEMMES, C.S.N. AND OTHER OFFICERS.
Two Volumes in One.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1864, by
GEO. W. CARLETON,
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.
TO THE LONDON EDITION.
The following account of the cruise of the two Confederate States steamers—Sumter and Alabama—is taken from the private journals and other papers of Captain Semmes. It has been found necessary occasionally to adopt a narrative form, but the endeavour has been throughout to adhere as closely as possible to that officer's own words.
Information has also been most kindly afforded by other officers of the two vessels, and especially Lieutenant R.F. Armstrong, and Master's Mate G. Townley Fullam, from whose private journals and other papers much valuable assistance has been obtained.
A good deal of controversy has arisen respecting the legality of the course pursued by the Alabama, in the case of certain vessels claiming to carry a neutral cargo. In all these cases, however, great care was taken by Captain Semmes to enter in his journal full particulars of the claims, and of the grounds on which it was refused admission. These cases will be found quoted in full in the following volumes.
THE ALABAMA AND THE SUMTER.
The Question at issue—An unexpected point of attack—Captain Semmes—The President's instructions—Creating a navy—From the old to the new—An important mission—Appointed to the Sumter—True character of the Confederate "pirate."
The President of the American States in Confederation was gathering an army for the defence of Southern liberty. Where valour is a national inheritance, and an enthusiastic unanimity prevails, this will not prove a difficult task. It is otherwise with the formation of a navy. Soldiers of Southern blood had thrown up their commissions in a body; but sailors love their ships as well as their country, and appear to owe some allegiance to them likewise. Nevertheless, if Mr. Davis had not a great choice of officers, he had eminent men to serve him, as the young history of the South has abundantly shown. To obtain experienced and trusty seamen was easier to him in such a crisis than to give them a command. The Atlantic and the ports of America were ruled at that time absolutely by President Lincoln. The South had not a voice upon the sea. The merchants of New York and Boston looked upon the war as something which concerned them very little. Not a dream of any damage possibly to be inflicted on them, disturbed the serenity of their votes for the invasion of the South. Their fleets entered harbour proudly; their marine swam the ocean unmolested. Though there was war imminent, the insurance offices were content to maintain their terms upon a peace standard. What, indeed, was to be feared? The South had not a single vessel. Here and there a packet-steamer might be caught up and armed, but what would they avail against such fleet and powerful ships as the Brooklyn, the Powhattan, and dozens of others? There was, then, a condition of perfect security, according to the ideas of all American commercial men. The arrangement, as they understood it, was that they were to strike the blow, and that no one was to give them the value in return.
It happened that Mr. Davis was of another mind. He perceived where a blow could be struck, on his part, with terrible emphasis, and how. The obstacles in his way were colossal; but we have learnt that obstacles do not appal his indomitable genius. On the 14th February, 1861, Captain Semmes, being then at his residence in the city of Washington, a Commander in the Federal navy, received the following telegram from Montgomery:—
SIR,—On behalf of the Committee on Naval Affairs, I beg leave to request that you will repair to this place at your earliest convenience.
Your obedient servant,
C.M. CONRAD, Chairman.
The selection of Captain Semmes for the first hazardous service, whatsoever it might be, was due to his reputation and patriotism, as well as to the sagacity of the Confederate chief. He had already, in a letter to the Hon. Alexander H. Stephens, expressed his willingness to fight for the South: "his judgment, his inclinations, and his affections," all hurrying him, as he says, to link his fate with the first movement of the South. "My fate," he pursues, "is cast with the South; but I should be unwilling, unless invited, to appear to thrust myself upon the new Government until my own State has moved." This was at that time the feeling of many border statesmen. In another letter to Mr. Curry he had exposed sound practical views of the situation of the Confederates, as regards their marine, for defence and means of inflicting damage on their opponents.
Captain Semmes at once replied that he would attend upon the committee immediately. His next act was respectfully to resign his commission as Commander in the Navy of the United States; which resignation was accepted in the same terms. He ceased similarly to be a member of the Lighthouse Board. These matters concluded, he telegraphed to the Hon. J.L.M. Curry, in Montgomery, where the Confederate States' Congress was sitting, that he was now a free man to serve his struggling country. Forthwith he was deputed by President Davis to return to the Northern States, and make large purchases and contracts "for machinery and munitions, or for the manufacture of arms and munitions of war;" as also to obtain "cannon and musket-powder, the former of the coarsest grain," and to engage with a certain proprietor of powder-mills for the "establishment of a powder-mill at some point in the limits of our territory." This letter gives a good idea of the business-like qualities brought by Mr. Davis to his high office. "At the arsenal at Washington," he writes, "you will find an artificer named Wright, who has brought the cap-making machine to its present state of efficiency, and who might furnish a cap-machine, and accompany it, to explain its operations." Throughout the letter, which is full of minute instructions and weighty commissions, Mr. Davis shows the fullest confidence in the loyalty and fitness of the man in whom he placed trust.
Captain Semmes was engaged in the performance of these immediate duties, when a confidential communication from Mr. S.R. Mallory, of the Navy department, gave him warning of two or more steamers, of a class desired for present service, which might be purchased at or near New York—"steamers of speed, light draught, and strength sufficient for at least one heavy gun."
"The steamers are designed to navigate the waters and enter the bays and inlets of the coast from Charleston to the St. Mary's, and from Key West to the Rio Grande, for coast defences;" and Captain Semmes' judgment will need no further guide when he is told that "their speed should be sufficient to give them at all times the ability to engage or to evade an engagement, and that an 8 or 10-inch gun, with, perhaps, two 32, or, if not, two of smaller calibre, should constitute their battery."
The Captain's appointment as Commander in the Navy of the Confederate States, and taking of the oaths, followed in April. On the 18th of that month, Mr. Mallory detached him from the post he held, by appointment from the President, of Chief of the Lighthouse Bureau, with orders that he should proceed to New Orleans and take command of the steamer Sumter. Captain Semmes saw clearly that war was coming. He perceived, at the same time, the means by which he could serve his country best. He set forth for New Orleans without delay.
Our readers will see, by-and-by, from the quotations we shall make from the Captain's Log, that he is as little the hungry fire-eater which many of his admirers suppose him to be, as he is the Black Pirate of the New York press. Captain Semmes is a native of Charles county, in Maryland, a State that has furnished numerous patriotic citizens to the South. Before accepting his new service he had taken honourable farewell of his old. The Federals had no charge to bring against him before the day when he stepped on the deck of the then unknown and insignificant Sumter steam-vessel. What they may have said later is of no particular consequence; nor can it be thought to be greatly to the discredit of Captain Semmes that they have cried out loudly, and as men in pain.
The Sumter formerly the Savannah packet-ship—Captain Semmes joins and assumes command—Altering the vessel—Vexatious delays—The war begins—The river blockaded—Crew of the Sumter—Dropping down the river—An attempt—No pilots—Vigorous action—Sumter still at her anchors—Lamps removed from lighthouses—More enemy's ships—Orders on board the Sumter—False hopes—The 30th of June—A courageous pilot—The escape of the Sumter—The chase—The enemy baffled.
The little vessel which now constituted the whole strength of the Confederate navy, was a merchant screw-steamer of 501 tons burthen. She had been hitherto known as the Havannah, and had plied as a packet-ship between the port of that name and New Orleans. She was now to be extemporized into a man-of-war, and in her new guise was to achieve a world-wide celebrity, and to play no unimportant part in the great struggle between North and South.
Arrived in New Orleans, Captain Semmes at once proceeded, in company with Lieutenant Chapman, to inspect his new command—of which he speaks with evident satisfaction as a "staunch and well-built" vessel. In her then condition, however, she was by no means fitted for her new duties; and he accordingly devoted all his energies towards effecting the alterations necessary for that purpose. The first step was to disencumber her decks of the long range of upper cabins, thus materially increasing her buoyancy as a sea-boat, and diminishing the area exposed to the enemy's shot and shell. Then a berth-deck was laid for the accommodation of officers and crew, and the main deck renewed and strengthened to carry the heavy 8-inch shell-gun, mounted on a pivot between the fore and mainmasts, and the four 24 pounder howitzers of 13 cwt. each, to be mounted as a broadside battery. Additional coal-bunkers were also constructed, and a magazine and shell-room built in a suitable position, and these and a few other less important changes effected, the transformation was complete, and the little Sumter ready to proceed upon her work of devastation.
It must not, however, be imagined that all this was done without many and vexatious delays. The emergency had found the new Confederation altogether unprepared, and trouble and confusion were the inevitable result. Hitherto, everything had been done by the North. Up to the very last moment it had been believed that the separation of the two sections would be peaceably effected; and now the necessary works had to be hastily carried out by civilian workmen, under the direction of a department, itself as yet but provisionally and most imperfectly organized.
Sorely tried by the delays consequent upon this condition of affairs, Captain Semmes commences his Diary as follows:—
"New Orleans, May 24th.—A month has elapsed since I began the preparation of the Sumter for sea, and yet we are not ready. Leeds and Co. have not given us our tanks, and we only received the carriage of the 8-inch gun to-day. The officers are all present, and the crew has been shipped, and all are impatient to be off. The river is not yet blockaded, but expected to be to-morrow. It must be a close blockade, and by heavy vessels, that will keep us in. Troops are being collected in large numbers in the enemy's States, marchings and counter-marchings are going on; and the fleet seems to be kept very busy, scouring hither and thither, but nothing accomplished. Whilst penning the last paragraph, news reaches us that the Lincoln Government has crossed the Potomac and invaded Virginia! Thus commences a bloody and a bitter war. So be it; we but accept the gauntlet which has been flung in our faces. The future will tell a tale worthy of the South and of her noble cause."
But the delays were not yet over. On the 27th May, the United States steamer Brooklyn made her appearance, and commenced the blockade of the river. The following day brought the powerful frigates Niagara and Minnesota to her assistance; and when on the 1st of June Captain Semmes began at length to look hopefully seawards, the Powhattan was discovered carefully watching the only remaining exit from the river.
One by one, however, the difficulties were fairly overcome, and the infant navy of the Confederate States was ready to take the sea. The Sumter's crew consisted of Captain Semmes, commanding, four lieutenants, a paymaster, a surgeon, a lieutenant of marines, four midshipmen, four engineers, boatswain, gunner, sail-maker, carpenter, captain's and purser's clerks, twelve marines, and seventy-two seamen. Thus manned and equipped, she dropped down the river on the 18th June, and anchored off the Barracks for the purpose of receiving on board her ammunition and other similar stores. From thence she again proceeded on the same evening still lower down the river to Forts Philip and Jackson, where she brought up on the following day, to await a favourable opportunity for running the blockade.
For three days she remained at her new anchorage, this period of enforced inactivity being diligently employed in drilling and exercising the crew, and bringing the vessel generally into somewhat better order than her hurried equipment had as yet permitted her to assume. On the 21st June, however, intelligence was received that the Powhattan had left her station in chase of two vessels, and that a boat from the Brooklyn had passed into the river, and was making for the telegraph station. Captain Semmes at once decided to avail himself of this opportunity to escape to sea, and getting up steam, proceeded to Pass a L'Outre, and despatched one of his boats to the lighthouse for a pilot.
Here, however, an unexpected difficulty occurred. The light-house-keeper replied that he knew nothing of the pilots, and the Sumter was accordingly compelled again to bring up, whilst the Confederate privateer Ivy ran down, at Captain Semmes' request, to the South-west Pass, to endeavour to procure a pilot for her there. This expedition, however, met with no better success, and the Ivy returned with the information that the pilots refused to take charge of the vessel. A further despatch was addressed to Captain Semmes, from the Captain of the House of Pilots, to the effect that "no pilots were now on duty."
It now became necessary to act with vigour, and the Ivy was accordingly again despatched to the South-west Pass. This time, however, she carried with her the first lieutenant of the Sumter, with the following peremptory message to the Master of the Pilot Association to repair immediately on board, and instructions, if any hesitation were evinced in complying with this command, to arrest the entire body and bring them off:—
C.S. steamer Sumter, Head of the Passes June 22nd, 1861.
SIR,—This is to command you to repair on board this ship with three or four of the most experienced pilots of the Bar. I am surprised to learn that an unwillingness has been expressed by some of the pilots of your Association to come on board the Sumter, and my purpose is to test the fact of such disloyalty to the Confederate States. If any man disobey this summons, I will not only have his Branch taken away from him, but I will send an armed force and arrest and bring him on board. I have the honour to be,
Your obedient Servant,
(Signed) R. SEMMES.
This extreme measure, however, was not found necessary. The mere threat was sufficient, and on the following day the master, with several of his pilots, made their appearance on board the Sumter. After a brief consultation with Captain Semmes, they one and all, with the exception of the master, expressed their willingness to take the vessel to sea, and thereupon the captain, selecting one of the number for this service, permitted the remainder to depart.
Meanwhile, however, the golden opportunity had been lost; the Powhattan had returned to her station, and the harbour was again hermetically sealed. The Sumter, therefore, was again compelled to return to her anchors, and eight more days passed wearily away without affording another opportunity of evasion. The interval of expectation, however, was again occupied in drilling and exercising the crew, which was now beginning to get into good working order; measures being also taken for extinguishing and removing the lamps from the lighthouses at Pass a L'Outre and the South Pass, Captain Semmes addressing to the Navy Department at Richmond the following letter upon the subject:—
C.S. steamer Sumter, Head of the Passes, Miss. River, June 30th, 1861.
SIR,—I have the honour to inform the department that I am still at my anchors at the "Head of the Passes," the enemy closely investing both of the practicable outlets. At Pass a L'Outre there are three ships—the Brooklyn and another propeller, and a large side-wheel steamer; and at the South-west Pass there is the Powhattan, lying within half-a-mile of the Bar, and not stirring an inch from her anchors night or day. I am only surprised that the Brooklyn does not come up to this anchorage, which she might easily do (as there is water enough, and no military precautions whatever have been taken to hold it), and thus effectually seal all the passes of the river by her presence alone, which would enable the enemy to withdraw the remainder of his blockading force for use elsewhere. With the assistance of the Jackson and McRae (neither of which has yet dropped down), I could probably hold my position here until an opportunity offered of my getting to sea. I shall watch diligently for such an opportunity, and have no doubt that, sooner or later, it will present itself. I found, upon dropping down to this point, that the lights at Pass a L'Outre and South Pass had been strangely overlooked, and that they were still burning. I caused them both to be extinguished, so that if bad weather should set in, the blockading vessel will have nothing "to hold on to," and will be obliged to make an offing. At present the worst feature of the blockade is that the Brooklyn has the speed of me, so that, even though I should run the bar, I could not hope to escape her unless I surprised her, which, with her close watch of the Bar, at anchor near to, both night and day, it will be exceedingly difficult to do. I should be quite willing to try speed with the Powhattan if I could hope to run the gauntlet of her guns without being crippled; but unfortunately, with all the buoys and other marks removed, there is a perfectly blind bar except by daylight. In the meantime I am drilling my gun-crew to a proper use of the great guns and small arms. With the exception of diarrhoea which is prevailing to some extent, brought on by too free a use of the river water in the excessive heats which prevail, the crew continue healthy.
* * * * * I have the honour to be, &c., &c.,
(Signed) R. SEMMES.
Hon. G.E. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy, Richmond, Virginia.
The following orders were also issued:—
"Orders to be Observed on Board the C.S. Steamer Sumter."
"1. The deck will never be left without a lieutenant, except that in port a midshipman may be assigned to keep the first lieutenant's watch."
"2. The quarter-deck will at all times be regarded as a place of parade, and no sitting or lounging will be permitted thereon. For the purposes of this order all the spar deck abaft the mainmast will be regarded as the quarter-deck."
"3. Officers will wear their uniforms at all times when on board ship, and when on shore on duty."
"4. No officer will remain out of the ship after ten P.M. without the special permission of the commander."
"5. Each division of guns will be exercised at least three times a week; and there will be an exercise at general quarters twice a week, viz., on Tuesdays and Fridays."
"6. The crew will be mustered at quarters for inspection every morning at nine o'clock (except Sundays), and every evening at sunset."
"7. On Sundays there will be a general muster for inspection at eleven A.M., when the officers will appear in undress with epaulettes."
"8. The chief engineer is to keep the commander informed at all times (through the first lieutenant) of the condition of his engines, boilers, &c.; and he is to see that his assistants, &c., are punctual and zealous in the performance of their duties, and report such as fail therein to the first lieutenant."
"9. There will be an engineer at all times on watch in the engine-room when the ship is under steam, and the engineer on watch will report every two hours to the officer of the deck how the engines are working, &c."
"10. The marine officer will drill his guard once every day when the weather is suitable, and the duty of the ship does not interfere therewith."
"11. The firemen will be exercised once a week, when the pumps, hose, &c., are to be adjusted, and used as in case of actual fire."
On the morning of the 29th of June hopes were again excited by a report from the pilot that the Brooklyn had left her station; and steam being got up with all speed on board the Sumter, she again dropped down to Pass a l'Outre, but only to find that the report had been fallacious. The Brooklyn was still at anchor, though a slight change of berth had placed her behind the shelter of a mass of trees. Once more, therefore, the Sumter was brought to an anchor; but on the day following, her patient waiting was rewarded by the long-looked-for opportunity. On the morning of the 30th of June the Brooklyn was again reported under way and in chase of a vessel to leeward; and no sooner was the fact of her departure fairly verified than steam was got up for the last time, and the little Sumter dashed boldly across the bar, and stood out to sea.
Almost at the last moment, however, it seemed as though the attempt to escape were again to be baffled by difficulties on the part of the pilot. The man on board of the Sumter lost courage as the moment of trial came, and professed his inability to take the vessel through the pass thus left free by the departure of the Brooklyn, alleging as his excuse that he had not passed through it for more than three months. Happily the man's cowardice or treachery produced no ill effects; for, as the Sumter dropped down the river on her way towards the open sea, another pilot came gallantly off to her in his little boat, and volunteered to carry her through the Pass.
The Sumter had not reached within six miles of the bar when her movements were perceived from the Brooklyn, which at once relinquished the far less valuable prize on which she had been hitherto intent; and, changing her course, headed at top speed towards the bar, in hopes of cutting the Sumter off before she could reach it. The narrow opening through the bar, distant about six miles from either of the opposing vessels, now became the goal of a sharp and exciting race. The Sumter had the advantage of the stream: but the Brooklyn was her superior in speed, and moreover, carried guns of heavier calibre and longer range. At length the Pass is reached; and dashing gallantly across it, the little Sumter starboards her helm and rounds the mud-banks to the eastward! As she does so the Brooklyn rounds to for a moment and gives her a shot from her pivot gun. But the bolt falls short; and now the race begins in earnest!
The chase had not continued long, when a heavy squall of wind and rain came up and hid the pursuing vessel from sight; but it soon passed away, and the Brooklyn was again descried astern, under all sail and steam, and evidently gaining upon her little quarry. On this the Sumter was hauled two points higher up, thus bringing the wind so far forward that the Brooklyn was no longer able to carry sail. And now the chase in her turn began to gain upon her huge pursuer. But she was now in salt water, and her boilers were beginning to "prime" furiously. It was necessary to slacken speed for a time, and as she did so the Brooklyn again recovered her advantage. Then gradually the foaming in the Sumter's boilers ceased, and she was again put to her speed. The utmost pressure was put on; the propeller began to move at the rate of sixty-five revolutions a minute, and the Brooklyn once more dropped slowly but steadily astern. At length she gave up the chase, and at four o'clock in the afternoon, just four hours after crossing the bar, the crew of the Sumter gave three hearty cheers as her baffled pursuer put up her helm, and, relinquishing the chase, turned sullenly back to her station at the mouth of the river.
Beginning the cruise—The first prize the Golden Rocket—The capture burnt—The Cuba and Machias—Cienfuegos—The Ben Dunning and Albert Adams—Three at once: the West Wind, the Naiad, and the Louisa Kilham—A fleet of prizes—Saluting the Confederate States' flag—At Cuba—Strict neutrality—A prize agent—The Governor-General of Cuba—Recapture by the United States—An accident to the commander—A gale—At Curacao—The Dutch Governor—An ex-president in difficulties—The Abby Bradford—Venezuela—An inhospitable port—The Joseph Maxwell—Military v. naval—Sagacious skipper—Gulf of Bahia.
The Sumter had now fairly commenced her gallant career. The 1st July dawned bright and fair with, a light breeze from the south-west, and the little vessel sped through the water at an average speed of about eight knots an hour. All that day not a sail appeared in sight. Night settled down in all the calm splendour of the tropic seas, and nothing disturbed its serenity save the monotonous beating of the Sumter's propeller as she steered a south-easterly course down the Gulf of Mexico. The following day brought her safely to Cape Antonio, which she rounded under sail and steam, and striking the trade-winds, hoisted up her propeller and stood away towards the west.
The afternoon of the 3rd July brought the Sumter her first prize. At about 3 P.M. a sail was descried in shore, beating to windward, and steering a course that would bring her almost into contact with the Confederate vessel. To avoid suspicion, no notice was taken of the stranger until the two vessels had approached within the distance of a little more than a mile from each other, when a display of English colours from the Confederate was answered by the stranger with the stars and stripes of the United States. Down came the St. George's ensign from the Sumter's peak, to be replaced almost before it had touched the deck by the stars and bars, which at that time constituted the flag of the Confederate States. A shot was fired across the bows of the astonished Yankee, who at once hove-to, and a boat was sent on board to take possession of the Sumter's first capture.
The prize proved to be the ship Golden Rocket, from the Yankee State of Maine—a fine ship of 690 tons burthen, only three years old, and worth from 30,000 to 40,000 dollars. She Was bound to Cienfuegos in Cuba, but had no cargo on board, and Captain Semmes, being unwilling at that early stage of his cruise to spare a prize crew, determined to destroy the vessel, and after taking the captain and crew on board the Sumter set the prize on fire and left her to her fate.
[Footnote 1: "It was about ten o'clock at night when the first glare of light burst from her cabin-hatch. Few, few on board can forget the spectacle. A ship set fire to at sea! It would seem that man was almost warring with his Maker. Her helpless condition, the red flames licking the rigging as they climbed aloft, the sparks and pieces of burning rope taken off by the wind and flying miles to leeward, the ghastly glare thrown upon the dark sea as far as the eye could reach, and then the death-like stillness of the scene—all these combined to place the Golden Rocket on the tablet of our memories for ever. But, notwithstanding the reluctance with which we did it, we would not have missed the opportunity for anything on earth. We wanted no war—we wanted peace; we had dear friends among those who were making war upon us, and for their sakes, if not for the sake of humanity, we hoped to be allowed to separate in peace; but it could not be; they forced the war upon us—they endeavoured to destroy us. For this, and for this alone, we burn their ships and destroy their commerce. We have no feeling of enmity against them, and all we ask is to be let alone—to be allowed to tread the path we have chosen for ourselves."—"Cruise of the Sumter," from the "Index" May 1st, 1862.]
The following day saw two more prizes fall into the Sumter's hands. These were the brigantines Cuba and Machias, both of Maine. The captures were taken in tow and carried off in the direction of Cienfuegos. The next day, however, the Cuba broke adrift from her hawser, and on being recovered, a prize crew was sent on board the vessel, with directions to carry her into Cienfuegos, for which port Captain Semmes was now shaping his course.
Arrived off that harbour on the evening of the same day, it was found too late to attempt to enter, and two more vessels being descried in the offing, the Machias was cast off, with orders to lay-to until the morning, and the Sumter started off in chase. On coming up with the two vessels, at about half-past nine o'clock, they proved to be the United States brigantines, Ben Dunning and Albert Adams. They were at once taken possession of, and ordered to make the best of their way in charge of a prize crew to Cienfuegos.
The night was passed in standing off and on outside the harbour, and with the earliest dawn preparations were made for running in. The weather was bright and clear, and the brief twilight of the tropics flushed rapidly into the full glare of day, and showed to the watchful eyes on board the Sumter the welcome spectacle of three more vessels being towed out to sea by a steamer, the stars and stripes floating gaily from their peaks. Warily and patiently the little Sumter lay in wait, under the shelter of the land, until the steamer had cast off her convoy, and the three unsuspecting vessels were fairly beyond the maritime league from the neutral shore, within which the law of nations forbids that captures should be made. Then suddenly her decks swarmed with men, the black smoke poured from her funnel, the sails filled, and out she came in pursuit. The chase was brief, and ere long the barque West Wind, the brigantine Naiad, and the barque Louisa Kilham were in charge of prize crews, and wending their way sadly back to the port they had so recently left in full expectation of a prosperous voyage.
So, with her little fleet of prizes, six in all, before her, the Sumter steered proudly into the harbour of Cienfuegos. As she passed the fort which guards the entrance, a hail was heard from the shore, accompanied by the almost simultaneous report of a couple of musket shots fired over the vessel, for the purpose, apparently, of enforcing the order to bring up and come to an anchor. The command having been obeyed, a boat was at once despatched in charge of Lieutenant Evans to call on the Commandant and ask an explanation of this inhospitable reception. The message was brought back, that the flag of the new Confederacy had not been understood by him, and that the vessel had consequently been brought up in compliance with the standing order that no vessel, whether of war or otherwise, should be permitted to pass until her nationality had been ascertained. Explanations, of course, followed, and in the evening came the Commandant, with the Governor's permission either to land or go to sea, but accompanied by an intimation that the six prizes would be detained until instructions could be received from headquarters concerning them.
Lieutenant Chapman was now sent on shore with the following despatch for the Governor, and also to make arrangements for coaling and for the safety and ultimate disposition of the prizes:
C.S. Sumter. Cienfuegos, Island of Cuba, July 6th, 1861.
Sir,—I have the honour to inform your Excellency of my arrival at the Port of Cienfuegos with seven prizes of war. These vessels are the brigantines Cuba, Machias, Ben Dunning, Albert Adams and Naiad; and barques West Wind and Louisa Kilham, property of citizens of the United States, which States, as your Excellency is aware, are waging an unjust and aggressive war upon the Confederate States, which I have the honour, with this ship under my command, to represent. I have sought a port of Cuba with these prizes, with the expectation that Spain will extend to cruisers of the Confederate States the same friendly reception that in similar circumstances she would extend to the cruisers of the enemy; in other words, that she will permit me to leave the captured vessels within her jurisdiction until they can be adjudicated by a Court of Admiralty of the Confederate States. As a people maintaining a Government de facto, and not only holding the enemy in check, but gaining advantages over him, we are entitled to all the rights of belligerents, and I confidently rely upon the friendly disposition of Spain, who is our near neighbour in the most important of her colonial possessions, to receive us with equal and even-handed justice, if not with the sympathy which our unity of interest and policy, with regard to an important social and industrial institution, are so well calculated to inspire. A rule which would exclude our prizes from her ports during the war, although it should be applied in terms equally to the enemy, would not, I respectfully suggest, be an equitable or just rule. The basis of such a rule, as, indeed, of all the conduct of a neutral during war, is equal and impartial justice to all the belligerents; and this should be a substantial and practical justice, and not exist in delusive or deceptive terms merely. Now, a little reflection will, I think, show your Excellency that the rule in question cannot be applied in the present war without operating with great injustice to the Confederate States. It is well known to your Excellency that the United States being a manufacturing and commercial people, whilst the Confederate States have been thus far almost wholly an agricultural and planting people, the former had within their limits and control almost the whole naval force of the old Government, and that they have seized and appropriated this force to themselves, regardless of the just claims of the Confederates States to a portion, and a large portion of it, as tax-payers out of whose contributions it was created. The United States are thus enabled to blockade all the important ports of the Confederate States. In this condition of things, observe the practical working of the rule which I am discussing.
It must be admitted that we have equal belligerent rights with the enemy.
One of the most important of these rights in a war against a commercial people, is that which I have just exercised, of capturing his property upon the high seas. But how are the Confederate States to enjoy to its full extent the benefit of this right, if their cruisers are not permitted to enter neutral ports with their prizes, and retain them there in safe custody until they can he condemned and disposed of?
They cannot send them to their own ports for the reasons already stated. Except for the purpose of destruction, therefore, their right of capture would be entirely defeated by the adoption of the rule in question, whilst the enemy would suffer no inconvenience from it, as all his ports are open to him. I take it for granted that Spain will not think of acting upon so unjust and unequal a rule.
But another question arises, indeed has already arisen, in the cases of some of the very captures which I have brought into port. The cargoes of several of the vessels are claimed, as appears by certificates found among the papers, as Spanish property.
This fact cannot of course be verified, except by a judicial proceeding in the Prize Courts of the Confederate States.
But whilst this fact is being determined, what is to be done with the property? I have the right to destroy the vessels, but not the cargoes, in case the latter should prove to be, as claimed, Spanish property—but how am I to destroy the former, and not the latter? I cannot before sentence unlade the cargoes and deliver them to the claimants, for I do not know that the claims will be sustained; and I cannot destroy them, for I do not know that the claims will not be sustained.
Indeed, one of the motives which influenced me in seeking a Spanish port, was the fact that these cargoes were claimed by Spanish subjects, whom I was desirous of putting to as little inconvenience as possible in the unlading and reception of their property, after sentence, should it be restored to them.
It will be for your Excellency to consider and act upon these grave questions, touching alike the interests of both our Governments.
I have the honour to be, &c., &c.,
His Excellency Don Jose de la Pozuela, Governor of the City of Cienfuegos, Island of Cuba.
At eight o'clock on the morning of the 7th July, Lieutenant Chapman returned, bringing with him Don Isnaga and Don Mariano Dias, two Cuban gentlemen, warm sympathizers with the Confederate cause. The latter of these gentlemen was at once appointed prize agent, and after partaking of the hospitality of the ship, they returned to shore, and the remainder of the day was spent on board the Sumter in replenishing the various stores that had begun to run low after her cruise. In the course of the day about 100 tons of coal and 5000 gallons of water were shipped, besides a quantity of fresh provisions for the crew; and at about 10 P.M. an answer arrived from the Governor to the despatch sent on shore the previous evening by Lieutenant Chapman.
It stated that the Captain-General of Cuba had given instructions as follows:—
1. No cruiser of either party can bring their prizes into Spanish ports.
2. If in any captures the territory of Cuba has been violated, the Spanish courts will themselves judge of the matter.
3. Any prizes will be detained until instructions can be had from the Queen.
These points being ascertained, the prizes already at anchor were left to the care of the prize agent, Don Dias, and at about midnight the Sumter hove up her anchor and again proceeded to sea. Nothing had as yet been seen of the prize brig Cuba, which had been left in charge of a prize crew a day or two before, nor, indeed, did she ever arrive at the rendezvous, being recaptured by the enemy, and carried off to the United States.
Shortly after leaving Cienfuegos, a sail was descried in the offing, which, however, on being overhauled, proved to be only a Spanish brig, and the Sumter accordingly kept on her course, between 9 and 10 P.M. passing the Cayman Islets, which, Captain Semmes remarks in his journal, are laid down some fifteen or sixteen miles to the westward of their real position. Daylight of the 9th July found the little Sumter struggling against a strong trade wind and heavy sea, off the western end of Jamaica, the blue mountains of which picturesque island remained in sight during the entire day.
At this period an accident occurred which for some time deprived the Sumter of the active supervision of her commander. Always of delicate constitution, and ill-fitted for the rough part he had now to play, he had lately been still further weakened by illness; and on mounting the companion-ladder, for the purpose of desiring that the vessel might not be driven at so high a speed against the heavy head-sea, a sudden giddiness came over him, and after leaning for a few moments with his head upon his arm, altogether lost consciousness, and fell heavily backwards down the companion to the cabin floor, where he lay for some time in a state of insensibility. The result of this fall was some very serious bruises, with a difficulty in breathing, which for some days kept him confined to his hammock. At this time, however, the Sumter was quite out of the ordinary track of commerce, and was labouring slowly through a heavy sea against the steady and tenacious trade-wind at the rate of little more than five knots an hour, making terrible inroads upon the small supply of coal which was so precious to her.
The 13th July found the trade-wind increased to a regular gale, the Sumter making literally no way at all against the heavy head-sea. In this state of affairs it was found necessary to abandon the previous intention of making for Barbados, as there was not sufficient coal on board to last the distance. This project, therefore, was given up, the vessel's head turned from the sea, the fires let down, the ship got under sail, and a new course shaped for Curacao. Here it was hoped that a fresh supply of coal might be obtained, and the little Sumter staggered along under a press of canvas towards her new destination, the violent motion causing great distress to the captain, who was still confined to his cabin, and almost entirely to his hammock.
On the 15th July, the weather moderated for a time, and a warm sunny afternoon, with comparatively little sea, gave an interval of rest. The next morning saw the wind again blowing freshly, but at 9 A.M. land was seen on the starboard bow, and at four in the afternoon the Sumter passed the north end of the island of Curacao, running down the coast to within about a mile of St. Anne's, where she arrived at a little after seven o'clock. A gun was fired as a signal for a pilot, and soon after one came off, promising to return again in the morning, and carry the vessel into harbour.
Morning came, and, true to his word, the pilot once more made his appearance upon deck. But the remainder of his promise he was unable to fulfil. "The Governor regrets," he said, in reply to Captain Semmes' inquiries, "that he cannot permit you to enter, he having received express orders to that effect." A little diplomacy, however, soon removed the difficulty, which had arisen from the urgent representations of the United States consul on the previous evening, aided, no doubt, by a defective description of the vessel from the pilot. Lieutenant Chapman was sent on shore with the following letter to the Governor:—
C.S. steamer Sumter, off St. Anne's, Curacao, July 17th, 1861.
HIS EXCELLENCY GOVERNOR CROL:
Sir,—I was surprised to receive by the pilot this morning a message from your Excellency to the effect, that this ship could not be permitted to enter the harbour unless she was in distress, as your Excellency had received orders from your Government not to admit vessels of war of the Confederate States of America to the hospitality of the ports under your Excellency's command. I must respectfully suggest that there must be some mistake here, and I have sent to you the bearer, Lieut. Chapman, C.S. Navy, for the purpose of an explanation. Your Excellency must be under some misapprehension as to the character of this vessel. She is a ship of war, duly commissioned by the Government of the Confederate States, which States have been recognised as belligerents in the present war by all the leading Powers of Europe—viz., Great Britain, France, Spain, &c., as your Excellency must be aware. It is true that these Powers have prohibited both belligerents from bringing prizes into their several jurisdictions, but no one of them has made a distinction either between the prizes or the cruisers themselves of the belligerents, the cruisers of both Governments being admitted to the hospitalities of the ports of all these great Powers on terms of perfect equality. Am I to understand from your Excellency that Holland has adopted a different rule, and that she not only excludes the prizes, but the ships of war themselves of the Confederate States, and this at the same time that she admits the cruisers of the United States, thus departing from her neutrality in this war, ignoring the Confederate States as belligerents, and aiding and assisting their enemy? If this he the position which Holland has assumed in this contest, I pray your Excellency to be kind enough to say as much to me in writing.
I have the honour to be, &c., &c.
(Signed) R. SEMMES.
Governor Crol, St. Anne's, Curacao.
This explanation removed all difficulties, and by 11 A.M. the requisite permission had been obtained, and the Sumter was safely at anchor in the lagoon.
Here she lay for some days, surrounded by bum-boats filled with picturesque natives of all colours, chattering like parrots, and almost as gaudy in their plumage. Meanwhile the crew were hard at work replenishing the coal-bunkers, filling up wood and water, taking in fresh provisions, and effecting the necessary repairs after the late cruise. While thus employed, a visit was received from a Venezuelan, who in very good English represented himself as a messenger or agent of President Castro, now in exile at Curacao with four of his cabinet ministers. This emissary's object was to negotiate a passage in the Sumter for Don Castro and some twenty of his officers, with arms, ammunition, &c., to the mainland opposite. This proposition, however, Captain Semmes politely but very promptly declined, on the grounds, firstly, that he was not going in the direction indicated; and secondly, that if he were, it would be an undue interference on the part of a neutral with the revolutionary parties now contending for the control of Venezuela.
"It was remarked," he writes, "that Castro was the de jure President;" to which I replied, "that we did not look into these matters, the opposite party being in de facto possession of the government."
At Curacao the Sumter remained until the 24th July, coaling, refitting, provisioning, and allowing each of her crew in turn a short run on shore, to recruit his spirits and get rid of his superfluous cash. At noon on the 24th she was once more under way, leaving behind her, however, one of her seamen, a worthless fellow of the name of John Orr, who, enticed away, as was suspected, by a Yankee captain and the Yankee keeper of a public-house, took the opportunity to make his escape from the ship. The loss, however, was not of importance; and after one or two slight attempts to trace him, the Sumter stood out of the harbour and shaped her course towards Venezuela.
Daybreak of the 25th July again presented to the eager eyes on board of the Sumter the welcome apparition of a sail. Chase was immediately given, and at half-past six the Abby Bradford, from New York to Puerto Caballo, was duly seized and taken in tow, her Captain proceeding with her upon her original course towards Puerto Caballo. It was late before that place was reached, and the night was spent standing off and on outside the harbour. With the return of day, however, the Sumter ran once more along the shore; and, without waiting for a pilot, steered boldly past the group of small, bold-looking islands, and dropped her anchor in the port.
No sooner was the anchor down than the following letter was despatched to the Governor, asking permission to leave the prize until adjudication:—
C.S. steamer Sumter. Puerto Caballo, July 26th, 1861.
Sir,—I have the honour to inform your Excellency of my arrival at this port in this ship, under my command, and with the prize schooner Abby Bradford, captured by me about seventy miles to the northward and eastward. The Abby Bradford is the property of citizens of the United States, with which States, as your Excellency is aware, the Confederate States, which I have the honour to represent, are at war; and the cargo would appear to belong also to citizens of the United States, who have shipped it on consignment to a house in Puerto Caballo. Should any claim be given, however, for the cargo, or any part of it, the question of ownership can only be decided by the Prize Courts of the Confederate States. In the meantime, I have the honour to request that your Excellency will permit me to leave this prize vessel with her cargo in the port of Puerto Caballo, until the question of prize can be adjudicated by the proper tribunals of my country. This will be a convenience to all parties, as well to any citizen of Venezuela who may have an interest in the cargo, as to the captors, who have also valuable interests to protect.
In making this request, I do not propose that the Venezuelan Government shall depart from a strict neutrality between the belligerents; as the same rule it applies to us, it can give the other party the benefit of, also. In other words, with the most scrupulous regard for the neutrality, she may admit both belligerents to bring their prizes into her waters; and of this neither belligerent can complain, since whatever favour is extended to its enemy is extended also to itself.
I have an additional and cogent reason for making this request, and that is, that the rule of exclusion, although it might be applied in terms to both belligerents, would not operate equally and justly upon them both. It is well known to your Excellency that the Northern United States (which are now making an aggressive and unjust war upon the Confederate States, denying to the latter the right of self-government, which is fundamental in all republics, and invading their territories for the purpose of subjugation) are manufacturing and commercial states, whilst the Confederate States have been thus far agricultural and planting states; and that, as a consequence of this difference of pursuits, the former States had in their possession at the commencement of this war almost all the naval force of the old Government, which they have not hesitated to seize and appropriate to their own use, although a large proportion of it belonged of right to the Confederate States, which had been taxed to create it.
By means of this naval force, dishonestly seized as aforesaid, the enemy has been enabled to blockade all the important ports of the Confederate States.
This blockade necessarily shuts out the cruisers of the Confederate States from their own ports, and if foreign Powers shut them out also, they can make no other use of their prizes than to destroy them. Thus your Excellency sees that, under the rule of exclusion, the enemy could enjoy his right of capture to its full extent, his own ports being all open to him, whilst the cruisers of the Confederate States could enjoy it sub modo only, that is, for the purpose of destruction. A rule which would produce such effects as this is not an equal or a just rule (although it might in terms be extended to both parties); and as equality and justice are of the essence of neutrality, I take it for granted that Venezuela will not adopt it.
On the other hand, the rule admitting both parties alike, with their prizes, into your ports, until the Prize Courts of the respective countries can have time to adjudicate the cases as they arrive, would work equal and exact justice to both; and this is no more than the Confederate States demand.
With reference to the present case, as the cargo consists chiefly of provisions which are perishable, I would ask leave to sell them at public auction for the benefit of "whom it may concern," depositing the proceeds with a suitable prize agent until the decision of the court can be known. With regard to the vessel, I request that she may remain in the custody of the same agent until condemned and sold.
I have the honour to be, &c., &c.
(Signed) R. SEMMES.
His Excellency the Governor and Military Commander of Puerto Caballo.
To this, however, that functionary could not be induced to assent, his reply being that such a proposition was altogether beyond his province to entertain, and that the Sumter must take her departure within four-and-twenty hours. At daylight, therefore, on the 27th, a prize crew was sent on board of the Abby Bradford, with orders to proceed to New Orleans, and at six o'clock the Sumter was again outside of the inhospitable port of Puerto Caballo.
The anchor was not fairly at the cathead when a sail was reported seaward, which on capture proved to be the barque Joseph Maxwell, of Philadelphia. The capture having taken place at about seven miles from the port to which she was bound, and half of the cargo being the property of a neutral owner, a boat was despatched with her master and the paymaster of the Sumter to endeavour to effect negotiation. The proposition was, that the owner of the neutral half of the cargo should purchase at a small price the remaining half and the vessel herself, which should then be delivered to him intact without delay. This little arrangement, however, was somewhat summarily arrested by the action of the Governor, who, much to Captain Semmes' astonishment, sent off orders that the prize should at once be brought into port, there to remain in his Excellency's custody, until a Venezuelan court should have decided whether the capture had or had not been effected within the marine league from the coast prescribed by international law!
This somewhat extraordinary demand did not receive the respect or obedience on which its promulgator had doubtless relied. Beating to quarters, and with his men standing to their guns in readiness for instant action, the Sumter stood out once more towards her prize; sent the master and his family ashore in one of his own boats, put a prize crew on board the Maxwell, and despatched her to a port at the south side of Cuba. It is believed that these unfriendly demonstrations on the part of the Governor of Puerto Caballo were owing to a fear that the Sumter was in truth employed upon some such enterprise as that on which the agent of Don Castro at Curacao had vainly endeavoured to engage her, and was endeavouring to effect a landing for revolutionary troops.
The Sumter now again stood away upon her course towards the eastward, and at five in the evening came across an hermaphrodite brig, from whose peak floated the hated but welcome stars and stripes. This time, however, it was able to wave in safe defiance before the eyes of the dreaded foe, for the sagacious master had kept carefully "within jumping distance" of the shore, and the sacred "marine league of neutrality" protected the vessel from the fate that had befallen so many of her countrymen.
The afternoon of the 28th July found the Sumter off the island of Tortuga, and at eleven that evening the ship was hove to in thirty-two fathoms of water off the eastern end of Margaritta. Two more days' run along the Venezuelan coast, at times in so dense a fog that it was necessary to run within a mile of the shore in order to "hold on" to the land, and the Gulf of Bahia was reached. Following close on the track of a vessel just arrived from Madeira, and acquainted with the harbour, the Sumter held on her course through the Huero or Umbrella Passage, and shortly after noon anchored off the town of Port of Spain, receiving as she did so a salute from the ensign of an English brig passing out of the harbour.
Excitement—Taking the bull by the horns—official visits—H.M.S. Cadmus—Captain Semmes' commission—At sea again—A dull time—Wind and current hostile—Cayenne—French politeness—False hopes—At Paramaribo—A hot pursuit—A loyal Yankee—Doubtful security—Not to be beaten—To sea again—A parting arrow.
The arrival of the Sumter at Port of Spain appeared to create no small excitement among the inhabitants, official and non-official, of that little colony. The Governor at once proceeded to take legal opinion as to the propriety of permitting the suspicious stranger to coal, and a long leading article in the colonial paper gave expression to the editor's serious doubts whether the Sumter were really what she represented herself to be, a regularly commissioned vessel of war, and not, after all, a privateer. The legal advisers of the Governor seem to have reported favourably on Captain Semmes' request, for permission was given to take on board the requisite supplies, and the Sumter's coaling proceeded, though not with much rapidity.
The morning of the 2nd August introduced on board a visitor of a new description. Through the heavy tropical rain which had been pouring almost incessantly since the arrival of the Sumter, covering the calm water of the harbour with little dancing jets, and drumming on the steamer's decks the most unmusical of tattoos, a little dingy was seen approaching, and in due time brought alongside of the Confederate man-of-war the master of a Baltimore brig, which, was lying at anchor some little distance off. The worthy skipper had heard of the terrible doings of his new neighbour, and in no little anxiety for his own fate had determined to take the bull by the horns, and inquire on board the Sumter herself whether he would be permitted to depart without molestation. Great was the poor, man's delight when he was hailed as a native of a sister State, and informed that Maryland, though compelled by superior force to maintain an apparent allegiance to her enemy, was still considered a friend by her natural allies of the South, and that strict orders had therefore been given to Set her commerce pass unharmed. With a lightened heart he returned on board his vessel, and the Baltimore brig went on her way rejoicing.
The afternoon of the same day brought two more visitors in the persons of two English officers in mufti; but the international courtesy did not extend so far as returning the official visit made on Captain Semmes' behalf by Lieutenant Chapman, and Government-house remained unrepresented on board the Sumter. "His Excellency," it is to be feared, had taken offence at the slight passed upon his official position by Captain Semmes, in not having taken care to recover his health and strength sufficiently early to be able to make the official visit in person!
The morning of the 4th August would have seen the Sumter again under way but for some informality in the paymaster's vouchers, which had to be rectified; and during the delay thus occasioned, H.M. ship Cadmus entered the harbour, and the Sumter's departure was postponed with the object of communicating with her. Accordingly, a lieutenant was sent on board the new arrival, the visit being promptly returned by an officer of similar rank from the Cadmus, who, after exchanging the usual civilities, delivered himself of a polite message from Captain Hillyer, to the effect, that as the Sumter was the first vessel he had as yet fallen in with under the flag of the Confederate States, he would be obliged if Captain Semmes would favor him with a sight of his commission. To this, of course, the latter had no objection; and the demands of courtesy having been satisfied by the previous production of the English lieutenant's commission, that of Captain Semmes was duly exhibited, and the ceremonial visitor departed.
The next morning brought Captain Hillyer himself on board, and a long conversation ensued on the war and various kindred topics, the English Captain leaving behind him a most agreeable impression. The visit over, steam was once more got up on board the Sumter, and at 1 P.M. she steamed out through the eastern or Mona Island passage, and running down the picturesque coast, with its mountain sides uncultivated but covered with numerous huts, passed at ten o'clock that evening between Trinidad and Tobago, and entered once more upon the broad North Atlantic.
For some days the time now hung somewhat heavily upon the hands of the little community. A solitary brigantine only was seen, and she so far to windward, that with the short supply of coal afforded by the not overscrupulous merchants of Port of Spain, it was not thought worth while to incur the expense and delay of a chase. The Sumter was now terribly in need of an excitement. Not a living thing was in sight, but the glittering schools of flying fish which ever and anon darted into view, and skimming rapidly over their surface sank again beneath the waves, only to be once more driven for a brief refuge to the upper air by their unseen but relentless enemies below. Drill and exercise were now the order of the day during the hours of light, and as the sun set and the tropic night came rushing swiftly up over the yet glowing sky, chessboards and backgammon-boards were brought out, and discussions, social, political, and literary, divided the long hours of inaction with the yarn and the song, and other mild but not ineffectual distractions of life at sea.
Still it was with feelings of no small satisfaction that "green water" was again reached, and the Sumter found herself within about ninety miles of the (Dutch) Guiana coast. Hopes were now entertained of soon reaching Maranham, but the next day showed them to be fallacious. A strong northerly current had set in, and, in addition to this drawback, it was discovered that the defalcations of the Port of Spain coal merchants were more serious than had been supposed, and there was not sufficient fuel left for the run. Next day matters were worse rather than better. The northerly current was running at the extraordinary rate of sixty miles in the twenty-four hours, a speed equal to that of the Gulf Stream in its narrowest part. Only three days' fuel remained, and making allowance for the northerly set, there were fully 550 miles to be accomplished before Maranham could be reached.
Still the Sumter held patiently on her course in hopes of a change; but no change came. Wind and current were as hostile as ever, and the observations of the 11th August giving lat. 2 deg. 38' N., long. 47 deg. 48' W., the question of the voyage to Maranham, or even to Para, appeared definitely settled, and letting his fires go down, Captain Semmes put up his helm, made all sail, and stood away on a N.W. course, hoping to find a fresh supply of coal at some of the ports of Guiana under his lee.
The afternoon of that day saw the sky clear, the sea almost calm, and the little Sumter, rolling along on the long, lazy swell, with all her starboard studding-sails set, at about three or four knots an hour, towards Cape Orange, from which point it was intended to make her way into Cayenne.
Here she arrived on the 15th August, but her hopes were again doomed to disappointment. On coming to anchor, officers were at once despatched with the usual complimentary messages to the Governor, and a request to be informed whether the vessel could be supplied with coal. These officers, however, were not permitted to land, the reason given being, that they were without a clean bill of health from their last port. It was in vain to represent the perfect state of health of the crew, and the length of time they had been at sea. The official mind was closed against any argument but that of the consigne. Five days' quarantine were ordered, and five days' quarantine must be undergone, before the salubrious shores of Cayenne could be exposed to the danger of infection from the new comers; and as the authorities accompanied this fiat with the statement, that there was no coal to be had in the place even for the supply of their own government vessels, our captain determined to make no further trial upon the discussion, but to seek his supplies elsewhere.
The afternoon of the next day brought the Sumter to the coast of (Dutch) Guiana; but there being no pilot to be found, she was compelled to come to an anchor in about four fathoms of water. Here, as the sun set, the dark smoke of a steamer was discovered against the glowing sky, and suspicion was at once aroused that the new comer must be a Yankee cruiser on the look-out for the Confederate "pirates." The drums beat to quarters on board of the little Sumter; decks were cleared for action; ports were triced up, guns run out, and every preparation made to give the supposed enemy a warm reception. Darkness had closed in as the suspected vessel approached; the thump, thump, thump of her screw sounding plainly on the still night air. Silently she approached the watchful cruiser, steering completely round her anchorage, as though herself suspicious of the character of her new companion. No hostile demonstration, however, followed; the night was too dark to distinguish friend from foe; and the strange sail having come to anchor at some little distance from the Sumter, and evincing no disposition to assume the offensive, the guns were run in again, and the men were at length dismissed to the hammocks.
Early next morning steam was again got up on board the Confederate cruiser, which ran down under French colours for a closer examination of the stranger, who was lying quietly at anchor about two miles in-shore of her. As the Sumter approached she also mounted the tricolor, at the sight of which the pretended nationality of the cruiser was laid aside, and the stars and bars flew out gaily from her mizen-peak. The Frenchman appeared much pleased at having thus fallen in with the celebrated Sumter; and being, like her, bound into Paramaribo, and of considerably lighter draught, invited her to follow him into the river, where a pilot might be obtained.
Arrived in Paramaribo the Sumter received tidings of the United States steamer Keystone State, which had been "in pursuit" of her for some time. This vessel was not very much larger than the Sumter, and their crews and armaments were very nearly equal, so there were great hopes on board the Confederate of a brush with the enemy on something like equal terms. These hopes, however, like so many others, were doomed to disappointment. By some fatality the Keystone State could never manage to come up with her quarry. While the latter had been coaling at Trinidad, she was performing a similar operation at Barbados, arriving thence at Trinidad after the Sumter had sailed. From this port she again started "in pursuit," but her chances of overtaking her enemy may perhaps have been somewhat affected by the fact, that on learning that the Sumter had started eastward, she at once followed upon a westerly track, which, doubtless to the great grief of her commander and crew, somehow failed to bring her alongside of the vessel of which she was in search.
[Footnote 2: The writer of the Notes in the Index remarks on this curious proceeding:—"Rather a strange idea we thought. It put us in mind of a sportsman in California who was very anxious to kill a grisly bear. At length he found the trail, and after following it for some hours gave it up and returned to camp. On being questioned why he did not follow in pursuit, he quietly replied that the trail was getting too fresh. It must have been so with the Keystone State—the trail was getting too fresh."]
But if the United States war vessels were somewhat eccentric in their notion of a hot pursuit, it must be admitted that the United States consuls and other agents on shore were by no means equally scrupulous. Every possible expedient to prevent the Sumter from obtaining the necessary supplies of coal was tried by the consul at Paramaribo, but with less success than his strenuous exertions deserved. His first idea was to buy up all the coal in the port, and a handsome price was offered—in bonds on the United States government—for that purpose. But with singular blindness to their own interests the merchants of Paramaribo declined to put their trust in these bonds, and the ready money not being forthcoming the hopeful scheme was compelled to be abandoned. Undismayed by this first failure, the gallant Yankee next sought to charter all the lighters by which the coal could be conveyed on board, and here he was very nearly successful. One or two of the owners however declined to be bought up, and in the lighters supplied by them the process of coaling commenced. Still the persevering consul was not to be beaten. Failing the owners of the contumacious barges, their crews were yet accessible to the gentle influences at his command, and some forty tons of coal found their way to the bottom of the harbour, instead of to the Sumter's bunkers for which they had been destined.
At length, however, in spite of both active Yankee and dilatory Dutchmen, the operation was completed, and the little Sumter once more ready for sea. Even now, however, she was not to get away without a parting arrow from her indefatigable enemy. On the morning of her proposed departure the captain's negro servant went on shore as usual for the day's marketing, when he was waylaid by the worthy Yankee and persuaded indefinitely to postpone his return. Poor fellow! if his fate was anything like that of thousands of others "set free" by their so-called friends of the North, he must have long ere this most bitterly repented his desertion.
There was no time, however, to spare for searching after the runaway, so after a brief conference with the authorities, who were apparently not over anxious for his arrest, the Sumter got up steam and once more proceeded in the direction of Maranham.
Leave Paramaribo—Across the equator—A day of misfortunes—On a sandbank—A narrow escape—Maranham—A Yankee protest—Bold assertions—A visit to the President—News—False alarms—Paying bills—A patriot—Off again—A prize—The Joseph Park—News of Bull Run—A sad birthday.
A whole month had thus been lost through the failure of the Sumter's coal off the mouth of the Amazon. News, too, had been received at Paramaribo that six or seven large fast steamers were in hot pursuit; and as it was not likely that all of these—the larger, perhaps, more especially—would adopt the tactics of the Keystone State, it was an object with the solitary little object of their vengeance to make the best of her way to some safer cruising ground.
On the 31st August, then, she took her final leave of Paramaribo, and running some eight or nine miles off the coast in a northerly direction as a blind, altered her course to east half-south, with the intention of avoiding the current by which she had on the former occasion been so baffled, by keeping along the coast in soundings where its strength would be less felt.
The 4th September found her well past the mouth of the Amazon, bowling along under all fore-and-aft sails, with bright, clear weather, and a fresh trade-wind from about east by south. This was about her best point of sailing, and there being no longer any current against her, her log showed a run of 175 miles in the twenty-four hours. On the same day a strange sail was seen, but time and coal were now too valuable to be risked, and the temptation to chase was resisted. In the evening the equator was crossed, and the little Sumter bade farewell to the North Atlantic, and entered on a new sphere of operations.
The 5th September was a day of misfortunes. The weather was thick and lowering; the wind rapidly increasing; to half a gale, and the little vessel straining heavily at her anchor. In heaving up, a sudden jerk broke it short off at the shank, the metal about the broken part proving to have been very indifferent. She now ran very cautiously and anxiously towards the light, and into the bay, no pilot being in sight. For some time all went well, and the chief dangers appeared to be over, when suddenly the vessel ran with a heavy shock upon a sandbank, knocking off a large portion of her false keel, and for the moment occasioning intense anxiety to all on board. Fortunately, however, the bank was but a narrow ridge, and the next sea carried the little vessel safely across it, and out of danger. Much speculation, however, was excited by this unlooked-for mishap, but a careful examination of the ship's position on the chart failed to elucidate the mystery: the part of the bay where the Sumter had struck being marked as clear ground. It was fortunate, at all events, that the vessel escaped clear, for within the next hour and a half the tide fell five feet, which with so heavy a load as that on board the Sumter could not but have occasioned a terrible strain had she been lying on the top of the bank.
Finding the soundings still so irregular as to threaten further danger, the Sumter now came to an anchor, and some fishing boats being perceived on the shore at a little distance, a boat was despatched which speedily returned with a fisherman, who piloted her safely to the town of Maranham. She was visited by a Brazilian naval officer, who congratulated her captain not a little on his fortunate escape, the Brazilian men-of war never thinking of attempting the passage without a coast pilot.
The day following that on which the Sumter arrived at Maranham was the Brazilian Independence Day. The town put on its gayest appearance; men-of-war and merchantmen tricked themselves out with flags from deck to truck, while the guns of the former thundered a salute across the ordinarily quiet bay. Amidst their universal demonstration the Sumter alone remained unmoved. The nation whose flag she bore had not yet been recognised by the Brazilian government, and it would therefore have been the height of incongruity to sport the slightest bunting on such an occasion. The more so as the good folks of Maranham, though to all appearance personally well disposed towards the Confederates, were in such dread of officially committing themselves, that they did not venture to invite the officers of the newly-arrived vessel to the grand ball given by the authorities in honour of the day.
On Monday, the 9th September, Captain Semmes took up his quarters on shore, and proceeded to make a formal call on the President of the Department. That functionary, however, pleaded indisposition, appointing the hour of noon on the following day for the desired interview. Meanwhile Captain Semmes had hardly returned to his comfortable quarters at the Hotel do Porto, ere he, in his turn, received a visit from Captain Pinto of the Brazilian navy, and the Chief of Police, a confidential friend of the President—the object of these gentlemen being to read to him a formal protest from the consul of the United States to the government, against the Sumter's being permitted to receive coal or other supplies in the port. Amongst other equally bold statements this document asserted that the Confederate cruiser had not been permitted to enter the ports of any other European power. Assertions like these were of course easily disposed of, and it was agreed that the question should be discussed at the morrow's interview. The account of this discussion had, perhaps, better be given in Captain Semmes' own words:—
Tuesday, September 11th.—Called upon the President at twelve, and was admitted to an interview; the Chief of Police and Captain Pinto being present. I exhibited to the President my commission, and read to him a portion of my instructions, to show him that it was the desire of the Confederate States to cultivate friendly relations with other powers, and to pay particular respect to neutral property and rights; and the better to satisfy him that he might supply me with coal without a departure from neutrality, and to contradict the false sentiments of the United States Consul, I exhibited to him a newspaper from Trinidad, setting forth the fact that the question of the propriety of supplying me with coal in that island, had been formally submitted to the law officers of the Crown, and decided in my favour, &c.
The President then announced to me that I might purchase whatever supplies I wanted, coal included, munitions of war only excepted. I then stated to him that this war was in fact a war as much in behalf of Brazil as of ourselves, and that if we were beaten in the contest, Brazil would be the next one to be assailed by Yankee propagandists. These remarks were favourably received, the three gentlemen evidently sympathizing with us.
Captain Semmes continues his short diary as follows:—
Fresh wind and cloudy. Painting ship, and making preparations for the reception of coal. We are looking anxiously for the arrival of the Rio mail steamer, as we have a report brought by a Portuguese vessel from Pernambuco that a great battle has been fought; that we have beaten the enemy; and that we have marched upon Washington. God grant that our just cause may thus have triumphed! The whole town is agog discussing our affairs. Different parties take different views of them: the opposition party in the legislature, which is in session, being disposed to censure the government for its reception of us.
Thursday, September 12th.—Clear, with passing clouds; trade-wind fresh, as usual at this season of the year. Indeed, these winds will continue to increase in force until December, when they will gradually give place to the rains. It has been a favourite project of mine from the commencement of the cruise, to run off Cape St. Roque, and there waylay the commerce of the enemy in its transit both ways; but the strong gales and strong current which now prevail, will interfere for the present with my plan, and I must postpone it for awhile. If the war continues I shall hope to put it in execution at the proper time. It was at one time reported to-day that there were two United States vessels of war awaiting us outside, off Santa Anna; but the report proved to be the offspring of the excited imaginations of the townspeople. Had a conversation this evening with Senor Rodrigues, an intelligent lawyer and the Speaker of the Deputies, on the subject of the war. I found him pretty well informed, considering that he had received his information through the polluted channels of the Northern newspapers.
He seemed to think that we had been precipitate in breaking off our connexion with the North; but I told him we had been the most patient, long-suffering people in the world, and waited till the last moment possible, in hope that the fanaticism which swayed the North would have passed away; and that the responsibility of breaking up the once great government of the North rested entirely upon the propagandists of that section.
Friday, September 13th.—Cloudy, with the wind very fresh from the eastward. The town is still busy discussing our affairs. A deputy asked me seriously yesterday if the President had not ordered me to haul my flag down, as not being recognised. He said that the Assembly had called upon him for an explanation of the course he had adopted towards us, but that he had declined to respond.
It is reported, too, that there are two ships of war awaiting us outside near the Santa Anna light.
Saturday, September 14th.—Cloudy, with fresh trades. Having finished coaling and receiving our other supplies, we are engaged to-day in paying off our bills. I have been enabled to negotiate a draft for two thousand dollars upon the Secretary of the Navy; Mr. T. Wetson, one of our fellow-countrymen temporarily here, having been patriotic enough to advance me this sum on the faith of his government. He not only thus aided us, but was very anxious to come on board in person, if he could have wound up his business in time. In the evening at 7 P.M. I removed on board from the Hotel do Porto, preparatory to going to sea to-morrow.
* * * * *
On Sunday, the 15th September, the Sumter was again under way, and passed out of the harbour in charge of a pilot, Mr. Wetson accompanying her until she was fairly outside. No Yankee vessels were found, as had been reported, and the pilot being discharged, and a warm farewell exchanged with Mr. Wetson, the Sumter stood away upon a north-east course in the direction of her proposed cruising-ground in the calm belt between the trades, the Cape San Roque project being for the present abandoned. A dull time now commenced, great difficulty being experienced in forcing the vessel towards her cruising-ground against the current, which at times would carry her out of her course at the rate of more than fifty miles a day. Whilst thus beating wearily and patiently towards the station where it was hoped that more prizes might be obtained, a curious phenomenon was observed, of which the following account is given in the journal:—
Monday, September 23d.—Clear, with passing clouds. Wind right from the south-east, veering and hauling two or three points. We have experienced in the last two or three days a remarkable succession of tide lips, coming on every twelve hours, and about an hour before the passage of the moon over the meridian. We have observed five of these lips, and with such regularity, that we attribute them to the lunar influence attracting the water in an opposite direction from the prevailing current, which is east, at the rate of some two miles per hour. We had a small gull fly on board of us to-day at the distance of five hundred miles from the nearest land. The tide lips came up from the south and travelled north, approaching first with a heavy swell, which caused us, being broadside on, to roll so violently that we kept the ship off her course from two to three points to bring the roller more on the quarter. These rollers would be followed by a confused tumultuous sea, foaming and fretting in every direction, as if we were among breakers. We were in fact among breakers, though fortunately with no bottom near. No boat could have lived in such a cauldron as was produced by this meeting of the waters. They generally passed us in about three quarters of an hour, when everything became comparatively smooth again. No observation to-day for latitude, but by computation we are in latitude 5.25 N. and longitude (chronometer) 42.19 W. Current east by north 58 miles. So curious were the phenomena of the lips that the officers and men came on deck upon their approach to witness them.
* * * * *
It was many a long week now since the sight of an enemy had gladdened the eyes of the Sumter's little crew, when, on the 25th of September, the welcome cry of "Sail, ho!" was once more heard from the masthead. Steam was at once got up, and the United States colors displayed from the Confederate cruiser. A short pause of expectation, an eager scrutiny of the stranger, as the blue and red bunting fluttered for a few moments upon his deck, while his men were busy with the signal halyards, and then a joyous cheer greeted the well-known stars and stripes, as they rose above her bulwarks, and mounted slowly to her mizen peak.
She was not a very valuable prize, being merely a small brigantine, called the Joseph Park, of Boston, six days out from Pernambuco, in ballast. But she was the first fruits of a fresh cruise, and right joyously did the boat's crew pull on board her to haul down the enemy's flag, and replace it with the saucy stars and bars.
[Footnote 3: The author of the "Notes" in the Index writes:—
"The officer who boarded the Joseph Park asked the captain if he had cargo. 'No.'—'Have you any specie?' 'Not a dollar.'—'Then, captain, you must get into the boat, and go with me on board the Sumter.' 'What are you going to do with me when I get on board?' The officer told him it would depend entirely upon circumstances; that if he behaved himself, and did not try to conceal anything, he would receive kind treatment; that it all depended upon himself 'Well,' said he, 'captain' (he called the officer who had boarded him captain) 'I have got a thousand dollars down below, and I guess I had better give it to you.' So he went below, and from out of some little hole took the bag containing the gold. The officer asked him why he had hidden the money, as we had the United States colours up. He said he thought it was the Sumter, and wanted to be on the safe side. The whole scene between the officer and the captain of the Joseph Park was ludicrous in the extreme. The answers to questions with that Yankee nasal twang and Yankee cunning, the officer seeing through it and enjoying it all the while, made many jokes in our mess afterwards."]
This done, the crew were transferred to the captain's vessel, and a prize crew passed on board of the Joseph Park, with instructions to keep within sight of the Sumter, and signal her immediately on perceiving any suspicious sail. So the two cruised for some days in company, the Joseph Park keeping to windward during the day, and at night running down under cover of the Sumter's guns. This capture was none the less welcome for the news she brought in a file of recent papers from Pernambuco, of the first victory of the South at Manassas, or Bull Run, as well as of the successes achieved in Missouri over the troops of General Lyon. Poor Joseph Park! she had little anticipated her fate, and not a little amusement was created among her captors by an entry in her log of the day after leaving Pernambuco:—"We have a tight, fast vessel, and we don't care for Jeff. Davis!" "My unfortunate prisoner," remarks Captain Semmes, "had holloa'd before he was out of the wood."
The journal continues:—
Friday, September 27th.—This is my fifty-second birthday, and so the years roll on, one by one, and I am getting to be an old man! Thank God, that I am still able to render service to my country in her glorious struggle for the right of self-government, and in defence of her institutions, her property, and everything a people hold sacred. We have thus far beaten the Vandal hordes that have invaded and desecrated our soil; and we shall continue to beat them to the end. The just God of Heaven, who looks down upon the quarrels of men, will avenge the right. May we prove ourselves in this struggle worthy of Him and of our great cause! My poor distressed family! How fondly my thoughts revert to them to-day! My dear wife and daughters, instead of preparing the accustomed "cake" to celebrate my birthday, are mourning my absence, and dreading to hear of disaster. May our Heavenly Father console, cherish, and protect them!
A dull time—"Sail, oh-h-h!"—An exciting chase—No prize—A gale—Jack's holiday—A new cruising-ground—Dead calm—An enlightened Frenchman—A near thing—Patience!—The Daniel Trowbridge—A lucky haul—In closer—Double Duns—The prize schooner's revenge—Good news from home—An apology—In hopes of a fight—Disappointment—The West India station—Another blank—Martinique.
Another dull time now set in. On the 28th September the prize crew were recalled from the Joseph Park, which, after doing duty for some hours longer as a look-out ship, was finally at nightfall, set on fire, and burned to the water's edge. And now day after day passed by, unrelieved save by the little common incidents of a peaceful voyage.
One day it would be a flying-fish that had leaped on board, and paid the penalty of its indiscretion by doing duty next morning on the captain's breakfast-table; another day a small sword-fish performed a similar exploit; while on a third a heavy rain provided the great unwashed of the forecastle with the unaccustomed luxury of copious ablutions in fresh water. But not a sail was to be seen. Once only a simultaneous cry from half-a-dozen sailors of "Light on the starboard bow!" produced a temporary excitement, and caused the engineers to "fire up" at their utmost speed. But the alarm proved false. The red light that had been so confidently reckoned on as the port lantern of some steamer moving across the Sumter's bows, was at length set down as a mere meteor, or it might be some star setting crimson through the dim haze of the distant horizon. Luck seemed quite to have deserted the Confederate flag. They were lying in the very track of vessels between San Roque and New York. Allowing a space of seventy-five miles on either side of the Sumter's station as the extent of this track, and calculating upon a radius of observation from her masthead of fifteen miles, one-fifth of the whole number passing should certainly have come within her ken. Yet in the course of seventeen weary days one vessel only had been seen, and the Sumter's stock of patience was beginning to run very low.
At length, at ten o'clock on the morning of the 5th October, the welcome cry was again heard. "Sail, oh—h—h!" was shouted from the masthead with a lengthened emphasis, as though the look-out would mark the unusual fact with a special note of admiration. The stranger was dead to windward, and miles away, probably some seventeen or eighteen at the very least. But not a moment was lost in starting in pursuit. Steam was got up, sails furled, the vessel's head brought round in the direction of the chase, and in less than half an hour from the first announcement of her appearance, the Sumter was dashing through the water at top-speed in pursuit.
The chase was long and animated. At first starting the stranger had all the advantage of a stiff, steady breeze, whilst the Sumter was compelled to trust altogether to her powers of steaming; and the former, being a fine, fast vessel, appeared, if anything, rather to gain upon her pursuer. Gradually, however, as the two vessels changed their relative bearings, the Sumter also was enabled to avail herself of her fore and aft canvas, and now she began to gain rapidly upon the chase. Three hours and a quarter passed in this exciting contest; but at length the pursuer had come fairly within range, and the chase was over. Up went the Stars and Stripes to the Sumter's peak, and the usual pause of excited expectation ensued; when, after bungling awhile with his signal halyards, as though playing with his pursuer's hopes and fears, the red ensign of England rose defiantly from the deck, and there was to be no prize after all.
Very indignant was the captain of the Spartan at being hove-to by a Yankee, and great was the amusement of the boarding officer as he was welcomed with the observation that "the Northerners were catching h——"
"How so?" inquired he.
"Why by getting themselves so badly whipped by the Southerners."
It was observed that the worthy speaker appeared somewhat surprised at the perfect good-humour and satisfaction with which the intelligence was received.
The night now set in wet and wild. The wind increased to a moderate gale with a remarkably heavy sea, and violent rain-squalls passing at intervals over the vessel. The little Sumter rolled and pitched about as though she, too, were weary of the long period of inaction, and determined to effect some kind of diversion on her own account. Morning broke heavy and threatening, with the barometer at 29-87; and by noon it was blowing a whole gale, and the ship labouring so heavily that the ceremony of mustering the hands and reading the Articles of War, customary on the first Sunday of every month, was perforce dispensed with, and "Jack"—as usual, when bad weather has fairly set in, and the ship has been made snug—got his holiday.
Towards night the gale, which had hauled gradually round from E.N.E. to S.E. and S.S.E. in the course of some eight or ten hours, began to moderate. By the next morning it had altogether broken, and though the clouds were still leaden, and the sea ran high after the blow of yesterday, the Sumter was once more able to make sail; and shaking the reefs out of her topsails, she stood away again towards the S.S.E.
The end of the week saw her well upon her way towards a new cruising ground, the Western side of the crossing having been fairly given up as a hopeless job, and Captain Semmes shaping his course for the Eastern crossing. At noon on Saturday, the 12th October, the new station was reached, the vessel's position on that day being in lat. 6.56 N., long. 44.41 W.; the weather calm, the sun shining dimly through a greyish veil of mist, and the little steamer rolling from side to side upon the long, heaving swells, her yards creaking and her sails flapping heavily against the masts with that dull, hopeless sound, more trying to the sailor than the fiercest gale.
Gales and calms—sunshine and rain-squalls—long rolling swell—heavy sea, and not a break in the monotonous round. Thirty-eight days out, and in all that time but two vessels spoken and one solitary prize!
Thursday, October 24th.—Cloudy, with the wind from the eastward. At half-past six in the morning descried a sail in the north east. Got up steam and gave chase. At nine came up with a brig, which proved to be a Frenchman, La Mouche Noire, from Nantes to Martinique. Sent a boat on board of him. He had no newspapers, and said he knew the United States were at war—we had the United States colours flying—but with whom he did not know. Enlightened Frenchman! Or this may teach us a lesson of humility, as showing us how little is thought in Europe of the American Revolution. The brig was a clumsy specimen of architecture, and was out forty-two days. We detained her less than half-an-hour, and permitted her to go on her course again. Our ill-luck seems to culminate; for two out of the only three sail we have seen in thirty-nine days have proved to be foreign.
Friday, October 25th.—Fresh breeze from the north, and trade-wind weather. Morning, a few rain-squalls, clearing, but with passing clouds, as the sun gained altitude. Afternoon heavy, overcast sky, with half a gale of wind. At 2.50 P.M. descried a sail on the starboard-quarter, bearing about S.E. Got up steam and gave chase, and at 5 P.M. came up with her. Fired a blank cartridge and spoke a Prussian ship, which I caused to heave-to for the purpose of sending a boat on board of him; but, as in the meantime the wind freshened, and considerable sea had arisen, and as I had no doubts of the character of the ship, I gave him leave to fill away and proceed on his course (to some one of the Windward Islands) without boarding him. As I was rounding the ship to, near this vessel, we came so near a collision that my heart stood still for a moment as the bows of the huge, heavy-laden ship passed our quarter, almost near enough to graze it. If she had been thrown upon us by one of the heavy seas that were running, we should probably have been cut down to the water's edge and sunk in a few minutes. This will give me a lesson as to the space my long ship requires to turn in when she has a sea on the quarter or bow. We are forty days out to-day, have seen four sails, and three of the four have proved to be foreign. I am not discouraged, however, but I have had an excellent opportunity to practise the Christian virtue of patience, which virtue I think I am a little deficient in.