Doc. 119. the pursuit of the Sumter.The following letter, written on board the United States steamer Powhatan, gives an account of the vigorous pursuit of the Sumter, and of her dodges, escapes, and depredations:
Sumter is at this moment particularly interesting to the mercantile community, some intelligence of the doings of that vessel and her supposed movements at present may be welcome to those who have vessels and property on the ocean. It may not be known to you that, while lying at the Southwest Pass, (mouth of the Mississippi,) on the 13th of August, the look-out at the mast-head descried the masts of a vessel, about twenty miles off, bearing N. W. It being late in the evening, nothing could be done; but at early daylight the captain sent off an armed boat, under command of Lieutenant Queen, with orders to steer N. W. until he made a vessel under sail or at anchor. After steering the direction indicated for five or six hours, with a fresh breeze under sail, Lieutenant Queen discovered a large schooner getting under way. A heavy squall came up at the time, and she was for a short period lost to view; but, coming in sight again, the boat gave chase under oars and sails. When she got within range of the schooner, (which was crowding all sail and trying to escape,) a discharge of rifles was fired at her, and, after a close shot or two at the man at the wheel, the schooner hove to and surrendered. She proved to be the “Abbie Bradford,” of Boston, a prize to the Sumter. Her papers were secured, and by evening she was lying at anchor near the Powhatan. Among the papers were letters from the commander of the Sumter and her officers, giving some idea of her future movements, and indicating that her cruising ground was to be down on the Spanish Main. In two or three hours the schooner had a prize crew on board, and the Powhatan was off for Pensacola to notify the flag-officer of the Sumter's whereabouts, the Niagara remaining to blockade the South-west Pass. On the 14th August, at sunset, we arrived at Pensacola. The captain communicated with Flag-officer Mervine, and in half an hour we were steering south after the Sumter. Rather a lame duck the old Powhatan, in her present condition, to send after a clipper-steamer; but it will be seen that lame ducks on occasions get along as well as some that are not lame. There was, I assure you, a high state of excitement on board the Powhatan at the idea of going after the Sumter, and a great deal of satisfaction expressed at getting away from the mouth of the Mississippi, where the ship had laid at anchor three months, all hands nearly starving for a fight. On the 17th we boarded some American vessels off Cape St. Antonio, and heard that the Sumter had sent another prize, the “Joseph Maxwell,” into Cienfuegos on the 7th of August. In consequence of this intelligence we sailed for Cienfuegos, keeping close into the land, and communicating with all the vessels we met. On the 19th arrived at Cienfuegos; sent a boat in to communicate with the consul; found the Joseph Maxwell in his possession; obtained all the information required; and coasted along the southeastern shore of Cuba, chasing and communicating with all the vessels we saw. Some of these were Americans, and were sure that the Sumter had them, until they saw the stripes and stars. On the 21st we put into Jamaica to coal; heard many contradictory reports about the Sumter, none of which could be relied on, and sailed again on the 25th for Curacoa — so it was supposed. We arrived in Curacoa on the 29th. and found that the Sumter had left there on the 24th of July, and had (owing to the facilities she received there) been enabled to capture the Joseph Maxwell and Abbie Bradford off Porto Cabello. A good deal of dissatisfaction existed in Curacoa amongst the citizens, owing to the course pursued by the Governor in recognizing the Sumter as a vessel of war, and giving her coals, without which she would not have been able to leave that port, and would finally have been captured by some of our ships of war. A long correspondence ensued between the commander of this ship and the Governor of Curacoa, in which the former, in behalf of his Government, expressed the great dissatisfaction that would be felt by the United States at the course pursued by the Dutch Governor, who seemed to be under the impression that the Union was broken up, and the Sumter was the embodiment of Southern rights and chivalry. It is to be hoped that some of these days the Dutch Governor may be hauled over the coals for giving aid and assistance to a rebel privateer to capture American commerce. Before leaving Curacoa we heard that the Sumter had been at Trinidad, and had left there steering west. We left Curacoa on the 2d September, steering northeast, and arrived in St. Thomas on the 5th of the same month, chasing and boarding vessels on the way, by which we found that the Sumter had not been heard of for some time on the Spanish Main. At St. Thomas we heard that the Sumter had gone into Surinam (Dutch Guayana)  on the 20th of August. We hustled three hundred and fifty tons of coal on board, and sailed immediately in chase. On the 10th September we communicated with the American consul at Barbadoes, and learned by a mail (that day received) that the Sumter had sailed from Surinam on the 31st August for parts unknown. We remained only an hour at Barbadoes, and shaped our course for Demarara, to see if the Sumter had stopped there, or had turned a her track and gone back to the Caribbean Sea. On the 12th of September communicated with the light-boat at Demarara, and obtained no news of importance; struck out for Surinam, where we arrived on the morning of the 13th. Here we were informed that the Sumter had left that port on the 31st of August, having remained there ten days trying to get coal, which the Governor and merchants were very much opposed to giving. The Governor of Surinam ordered the Sumter to leave the port in twenty-four hours, but, as she was entirely out of coal, the captain refused to go until he was supplied, and the Governor had not the means to make him go, although there was a Dutch and French steamer of war at the time in port. Previous to entering the port of Surinam the Sumter had gone to Cayenne, (French Guayana;) but the Governor of that place would not permit her to enter or receive supplies of any kind; in consequence of which the Sumter was obliged to proceed to Surinam under sail. Had vessels been sent in pursuit of her at once after her escape from the Brooklyn, or had the Niagara followed her up, instead of stopping the pursuit at Cienfuegos, the Sumter would long before this have been captured; but there was a great want of intelligence displayed in this matter, for which those concerned have no cause to congratulate themselves. When the Sumter left Surinam, which she was enabled to do by getting coals from an Englishman, (who else would have supplied her?) she anchored outside, lowered her pipe, made all sail, and, under canvas alone, stood to the northwest. This proceeding was intended to humbug us, but it deceived very few. The Powhatan's head was put to the southeast, and, after various mishaps to our boilers, having to run under low steam against strong head winds, we arrived on the 21st September in Maranham, in the Empire of Brazil, some six hundred miles to the east of the great Amazon, and two degrees south of the Equator. It was a thick and mucky day when we arrived off the mouth of this dangerous river, and there was no prospect of getting a pilot. Our charts were of no account, and there was a prospect of our bringing up on a mud bank; but fortunately we got in by all the dangers, and toward evening picked up a fisherman pilot, who, after a fashion, took us to anchorage, where at low water we found ourselves high and dry, (almost,) the tide rising and falling here eighteen feet. The American Consul came on board at once, though it was dark, and informed us that the Sumter had only left the port of Maranham five days ago, having cruised off the mouth of the river until three days previous to our arrival, to capture an American brig that was daily expected — the Maria, from New York. For the information of the owners of said vessel, I beg leave to mention that she went into Maranham under the protection of our guns, and the Sumter was for that time disappointed. You may suppose there was no little excitement on board the Powhatan at finding how close we had run the Sumter with our damaged old boilers, and five hundred sheets of copper off the bottom; but there was considerable dejection when it was ascertained that the bird had flown, and we could not follow her for want of coal, having only a supply on board for six days. Orders were, however, issued from Headquarters to go ahead and coal up, which, being a slow business in Maranham, we did not get through until six days, the Sumter thus having nine days start of us again. The limits of this communication will not permit me to give an account of Maranham and all our doings, sayings, and hearings at that place; my object is to keep the run of the Sumter, and let the merchants and those concerned know what she has been about, and where she is now likely to be. We found a curious state of affairs existing in Maranham; the people, from the Governor down, being Sumter-mad, and politics running as high as they ever did in the South--the Brazilians sympathizing almost to a man with the secessionists, under the impression that the South was fighting the battle of Brazil, fighting to protect their property in slaves. Addresses were made by Capt. Semmes to the Governor and people of Maranham, in which he used the most specious arguments to prove that after the North had abolished slavery in the Southern States she would turn her attention to abolishing slavery in the Brazilian Empire. Of course, the arrival of the Powhatan was looked upon with distrust, and a reward of five hundred dollars (made by an American) to any one who would knock a hole in her bottom, so that she could not follow the Sumter, was received with great favor, the Government taking no steps to stop such proceedings. In all communities there are weak-minded people who cannot keep a secret intrusted to them; there were some such in Maranham. Capt. Semmes' particular friends let out many facts in relation to his movements which he would much rather have kept secret. We found out all we wanted to know about the Sumter, what coal she could stow, what was her speed, what number of men and what kind of crew she had, and where she would likely turn her attention to capture prizes. Her cruise to Maranham was rather a barren one, having captured no prizes since she fell in with the “Abbie Bradford” and the “Joseph  Maxwell;” the former recaptured by the Powhatan, the latter given up to the American consul at Cienfuegos. It was said in Maranham that the captain of the Sumter had made arrangements with the Governor by which he could bring his prizes into that port and dispose of them, and there does not seem to exist much doubt on this subject; at all events, Capt. Semmes asserted such to be the case, and his friends and admirers repeated it to show in what high esteem the Sumter and her marauding crew were held. It would take up too much time to tell all that relates to the reception of the Sumter in Maranham; suffice it to say that her reception was in direct violation of our treaty with Brazil, and in opposition to the views of the Minister of Foreign Relations expressed in the House of Deputies in Rio Janeiro. So irregular, indeed, did the actions of the Governor appear, that the commander of the Powhatan addressed him on the subject, and in such plain terms that he was not left in doubt as to the opinion entertained of his conduct by those on board this ship, or what would be the course of the Government of the United States when it was made acquainted with the actions of the Maranham authorities. No courtesies passed between the ship and shore; the commander refused to call on the Governor. The party opposed to his Excellency were in high glee at the mistakes he had committed, and were confident that he would be removed by the Brazilian Government the moment the matter was laid before them. In a certain degree the United States merit all the indignity shown toward them by these pitiful South American States; they will learn hereafter the value of a navy, for heretofore the miserable politicians who have had this matter in charge have been too mean and short-sighted to provide means even for the protection of our commerce in a small portion of the globe. It is not too late to remedy some of these defects. Our flag officer commanding the West India squadron should be on his station with a dozen effective vessels, and let these small colonies know that they cannot violate treaties with impunity. It was a great misfortune that the Powhatan did not find the Sumter in the port of Maranham, for then she would have taken her despite the ships and batteries of Brazil, and would have demonstrated to the violators of neutrality that there is a law of nature which does not prohibit nations from relieving themselves from a grievous annoyance in any manner they may think proper. We waited until the mail steamer came in from the south, and the one from “Para,” in the Amazon. From all the accounts gained from these steamers the Sumter could not (without being seen) have gone east, west, or south; and it was supposed by the commander that she had gone to the northeast to lie in wait for vessels bound home from India, the Pacific, and Brazil, all of which pass the Equator between the longitude of 32° and 40°, and follow one beaten track to the north and west. Having taken in all the coal we could, (without losing time,) the Powhatan left Maranham on the 27th of September, and steered to get into the track of homeward-bound Indiamen; all hands hoping that we might find the Sumter somewhere about those regions. But it is a wide belt of water, and it would be a mere chance hitting the precise spot she would go to. The visit of the Powhatan to Maranham happened at a moment when the interests of the United States were being jeoparded by the stupidity of the Governor of the province, the fanatical and ignorant people acting in accordance with the example set them by their superior. The arrival of so large a ship, (the largest that had ever been seen in that port,) the discipline and good order on board, the drill at great guns, and a sharp shrapnel exercise with the boat guns which took place in the harbor, impressed the citizens with the idea that such a vessel was fully capable of enforcing respect to American rights in that ill-fortified harbor. Her presence was very gratifying to the American Consul, who had seen his flag overshadowed by the ridiculous banner adopted by the so-called Confederate navy. If the Powhatan did not change the secession sentiment, she at least taught the Brazilians that their ports were accessible to our largest ships of war, and they could not allow prizes to Confederate privateers to be held with impunity in that port. They were in no way surprised when informed by the captain and officers that the Sumter would have been taken at all hazards, under the guns of their ships and batteries, and many there were, who, under the circumstances, thought this course perfectly just and proper. These, however, were anti-secessionists, of whom there was a party, (opposed to the Governor,) and the most influential people in the province. The action of the Governor in regard to the Sumter makes a strong ground for his removal on the demand of the United States Government, and there is an influential party in Maranham who will take advantage of the late disgraceful affair to have him put out of office. Independent of a violation of treaty obligations, he has gone in direct opposition to the views expressed (in the Camera Dos Deputadoes) by the Minister of Foreign Relations, who expressly denies any intention on the part of the Brazilian Government to permit privateers or their prizes to enter Brazilian ports. A description of the Sumter, taken from a faithful photograph, may not be uninteresting to merchant captains who may wish to avoid her. She is an awkwardly-rigged bark — half man-of-war, half merchantman. Her mizzenmast is a long way off from her mainmast, and her sails bear a great disproportion to her hull, being too little canvas for so long a vessel. She carries three trysails, all being larger than those  carried by a sailing vessel. She carries a forestaysail and jib, and her bowsprit and head-booms have no steve. She has two large quarter boats, and one hanging at the stern. She carries topgallantsails, and has a seven feet royal pole without stays. Her courses are deep, (particularly the mainsail,) and her topsails look as if they had a reef in them, being short. She carries no guns on the spar deck, and her pivot gun being nearly in the middle of the ship, it cannot be used in chasing without yawing the ship six points. Any smart sailing vessel can run away from her on an easy bowline, for on a wind, under sail, she can do nothing of consequence, and she cannot carry her sail on that course without its shaking or getting aback. The range of her largest gun is only twenty hundred yards at high elevation, and she could not hit any thing at a greater distance than fifteen hundred yards, and could not carry her ports out with a heavy sea on. I trust that, with the above description, (which may be relied on,) merchant ships may be able to avoid her. My own opinion is that the Sumter will finally turn pirate against all commerce. She has a crew composed of all nations, the greater portion being Portuguese, Spaniards, and English. The discipline is severe, and though it might be tolerated on board a regular ship of war, it will not be borne by the pirates on board the Sumter, who are already getting discontented, and are only kept in good humor by the anticipation of getting eight hundred dollars each for the prizes they have already captured. When they hind that all their prizes have been restored to the owners thereof, bitter will be the disappointment and curses in consequence. Capt. Semmes is not yet aware that all his prizes have been recaptured, or, if he does know it, he does not let his crew into the secret. He sailed from Maranham with fifteen of his men in irons. It would not improve their temper to know that they had worked so long without prize-money, on short rations and hard treatment. It would be a “denouement” worthy of the cause in which the Sumter is engaged to have the crew rise upon the officers, and swing them up to the yard-arm they held in terrorem over American citizens who were guilty of no crime, and such will likely be the end of this wicked enterprise. From the cruise of the Powhatan one thing has resulted — a conviction that foreign Governments are disposed to consider the power of the United States so far crippled that she cannot give protection to her commerce abroad, and that an attempt is being made to place the privateers of the rebel States on a footing with our ships of war. Our merchant chips are no longer safe in what we generally have considered as friendly ports, for it has been seen that the Sumter has replenished her coal in neutral ports, has threatened American vessels lying in port at the time with capture when caught outside, and has cruised after such vessels, being enabled to do so by the aid of neutrals. The French are the only people who have acted honorably in this matter. The Sumter was ignominiously turned away from the only French port (Cayenne) she tried to enter; the Governor would not permit him to go in on any terms, though entirely out of coal. There is but one remedy for such a state of things — an order to capture, sink, or destroy any vessels cruising against United States commerce, let them be overtaken where they may. This protection to privateers is a one-sided business altogether, and the United States had better at once show her dissatisfaction in terms that cannot be misunderstood. As things stand at present, Brazil will be open to privateers, and the sale of prizes allowed. It is well understood in Maranham that the Governor gave permission to the captain of the Sumter to bring the brig Maria into port and dispose of her cargo, which vessel fortunately escaped, though the Sumter cruised two days off the port for her. Much disappointment was felt on board the Powhatan at the non-capture of the Sumter. It was confidently anticipated that we should find her in Maranham, when her fate would have been sealed. We lost her only by three days; and had the ship been in a condition to run, or could she have made even seven knots an hour, we would have caught the Sumter and three or four days to spare. The sooner the Government takes steps to capture her the better; twenty vessels would not be too many to send after her. The moral effect of a Confederate privateer wandering over the ocean, (unmolested,) destroying our commerce, is very bad indeed. We must remedy it without delay. Having returned to the north, taking the track of China traders, and looking out carefully for vessels, we arrived in St. Thomas on the 9th of October. Respectfully yours,Q. E. D.