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[642] more especially in devising, constructing, charging, and planting torpedoes, wherewith they did more execution and caused more embarrassment to blockaders and besieging squadrons than had been effected in any former war. Their devices for obstructing the mouths or channels of rivers and harbors were often unsurpassed in efficiency. On the ocean, however, they were hampered by the fact that the Southrons are neither a ship-building nor a sea-faring people; that, while they had long afforded the material for a large and lucrative commerce, they had neither built, nor owned, nor manned, many vessels. They would, therefore, have been able to make no figure at all out of sight of their own coast, but for the facilities afforded them by British sympathy and British love of gain, evading the spirit if not the strict letter of international maritime law. Great ship-building firms in Liverpool and Glasgow, wherein members of Parliament were largely interested, were almost constantly engaged in the construction of strong, swift steamships, calculated for corsairs and for nothing else; each being, when completed, in spite of information from our consuls and protests from our Minister, allowed to slip out of port under one pretext or another, and make for some prearranged rendezvous, where a merchant vessel laden with Armstrong, Whitworth, Blakely, and other heavy rifled guns of the most approved patterns, with small arms, ammunition, provisions, &c., was awaiting her; and, her cargo being quickly transferred to the embryo corsair, a crew was made up, in part of men clandestinely enlisted for the service, in part of such as liberal pay, more liberal promises, and the cajolery of officer, could induce to transfer their services to the new flag; and thus the unarmed, harmless British steamship of yesterday was transformed into the Confederate cruiser of to-day: every stick of her British, from keel up to mast-head; her rigging, armament, and stores, British; her crew mostly British, though a few of her higher officers were not; and, thus planned expressly to outrun any heavily earned vessel and overpower any other, she hoisted the Confederate flag and commenced capturing, plundering, burning, and sinking our merchant vessels wherever she could fall upon them unprotected by our navy: every British port, on whatever sea, affording her not only shelter and hospitality, but the fullest and freshest information with regard to her predestined prey and the quarter wherein it could be clutched with least peril. Shielded from the treatment of an ordinary pirate, by the Queen's proclamation of neutrality, and from effective pursuit by the maritime law which forbids the stronger belligerent to leave a neutral harbor within twenty-four hours after the weaker shall have taken his departure, though the latter may have dodged in just out of range of the former, after a keen chase of many hours--one of these corsairs was able to do enormous damage to our commerce with almost perfect impunity; for, by the time her devastations in one sea had been reported to our nearest naval commander, she would be a thousand miles away (but in what direction none could guess), lighting up another coast or strait with the glare of her conflagrations.

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