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[643] If it be gravely held that Great Britain was nowise responsible for the ravages of these marauders, then it must be confessed that the letter of existing international law does no justice to its spirit and purpose, but stands in need of prompt and thorough revision.

The career of the Sumter, Capt. Raphael Semmes, came to an early and inglorious end, as has already been narrated.1 But another and superior cruiser was promptly constructed at Birkenhead to replace her; which our Embassador, Hon. Charles F. Adams, tried earnestly, but in vain, to have seized and detained at the outset by the British Government. Escaping from Liverpool under the name of Oreto, she was twice seized at Nassau, but to no purpose: that island being the focus of blockade-running, and, of course, violently sympathetic with the Rebellion — as was, in fact, nearly every officer in the British naval or military service. Released from duress, she put to sea, and soon appeared as a British ship of war off the harbor of Mobile, then blockaded by Com'r Geo. II. Preble, who hesitated to fire on her lest she should be what she seemed; and in a few minutes she had passed him, and run up to Mobile, showing herself the Rebel corsair she actually was. Preble was promptly dismissed from the service — an act of justice which needed but a few repetitions to have prevented such mistakes in future. Running out2 again under cover of darkness, the Oreto, now commanded by John N. Maffitt,3 became the Florida, thereafter vieing with her consort, the Alabama — a new British vessel henceforth commanded by Semmes-and with other such from time to time fitted out, in their predatory career. Each of these habitually approached her intended prey under her proper (British) colors, but hoisted the Confederate so soon as tile prize was securely within her grasp. Occasionally, a vessel of little value was released on condition of taking to port the crews of several of the most recently burned; a few were bonded, mainly because they carried British cargoes or were insured in British offices; but the great majority were simply robbed of their money, food, &c., and burnt. Among those bonded by the Alabama was the steamship Ariel,4 on her way from New York to Aspinwall, with the California passengers and freight; but the $250,000 which was to have been her ransom, being expressly “payable six months after the recognition [by the United States] of the independence of the Southern Confederacy,” has not yet fallen due. Such was the just alarm caused by this capture, while several National vessels were anxiously looking for the Alabama, that the Ariel dared not bring the specie from California that met her at Aspinwall, but left it there, until a gunboat was sent for it by the Government; and the specie continued to be so transmitted for some months thereafter.

The merchant ships captured and destroyed by these freebooters were hundreds in number, and the value of vessels and cargoes amounted to many scores of millions of dollars.

1 Vol. I., pp. 602-3.

2 Dec. 27, 1862.

3 Of Texas: son of a once noted Methodist clergyman of like name, who was Irish by birth, and a noted pulpit orator.

4 Nov. 18, 1862.

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