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Doc. 38. the Sumter's cruise.

Letter from Captain Semmes.

C. S. Steamer Sumter, Puerto Cabello, Venezuela, July 26, 1861.
sir: Having captured a schooner of light draught, which, with her cargo, I estimate to be worth some $25,000, and being denied the privilege of leaving her at this port until she could be adjudicated, I have resolved to despatch her to New Orleans with a prize crew, with the hope that she may be able to elude the vigilance of tile blockading squadron, and run into some one of the shoal passes to the westward of the Mississippi — as Barrataria, Berwick's Bay, &c. In great haste I avail myself of this opportunity to send you my first despatch since leaving New Orleans. I can do no more, for want of time, than merely enumerate events.

We ran the blockade of Passe l'outre (by the Brooklyn) on the 30th of June, the Brooklyn giving us chase.

On the morning of the 3d I doubled Cape Antonio, the western extremity of Cuba, and on the same day captured off the Isle of Pines the American ship Golden Rocket, belonging to parties in Bangor, Maine. She was a fine ship of 600 tons, and worth between $30,000 and $40,000. I boarded her.

On the next day, the 4th, I captured the brigantines Cuba and Machias, both of Maine also. They were laden with sugars. I sent them to Cienfuegos, Cuba.

On the 5th day of July, I captured the brigs Ben. Dunning and Albert Adams, owned in New York and Massachusetts. They were laden with sugar. I sent them to Cienfuegos.

On the next day, the 6th, I captured the barks West Wind and Louisa Kilham, and the brig Naiad, all owned in New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, and laden with sugar. I sent these also to Cienfuegos.

On the same day I ran into Cienfuegos myself, reported my capture to the authorities, and asked leave to have them remain until they could be adjudicated. The Government took them in charge until the Home Government should give directions concerning them. I coaled ship, and sailed again on the 7th. On the 17th, I arrived at the Island of Cuazuo, without having fallen in with any thing. I coaled again here, and sailed on the 24th. On the morning of the 25th I captured, off Laguayra, the schooner Abby Bradford, which is the vessel by which I send this despatch.

I do not deem it prudent to speak of my future movements, lest my despatch should fall into the hands of the enemy. [119]

We are all well, and “doing a pretty fair business,” having made nine captures in twenty-six days.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

The following letter from a passenger or sailor on the Sumter gives a sketch of her voyage and summary of its results:

Porto Cabello, New Granada, July 26, 1861.
dear Andy: After nearly one month's sailing around the West India Islands and the Spanish Main, we have at length arrived at this ancient dilapidated city. As you doubtless remember, the Sumter went into commission on June 5. Her trial trip took place on the 12th, and she left New Orleans on the 18th for the forts, between which (Forts St. Philip and Jackson) she lay at anchor for eleven days, and ran the blockade on June 30. Before this event occurred, however, I should have mentioned that an unsuccessful attempt was made to run the gauntlet of the hostile fleet; and also that a party from the Sumter landed at the lighthouse at Pass-a-l'outre and destroyed all the Government property there. As I said before, the Sumter ran the blockade on June 30. The day was a most beautiful one. It reminded me very much of one described inLord Tom Noddy's Ride to the Execution” --a poem I read a number of years ago:
“Sweetly, sweetly, the morning breaks with roseate streaks,
Like the first faint blush on a maiden's cheeks.”

Early on the morning of the 30th--two o'clock--the steamer Empire Parish came alongside of the Sumter, and delivered two hundred barrels of coal, and then dropped down the river to reconnoitre. In a few hours she returned and reported the coast clear. Immediately the Sumter tripped her anchor and got under way; she lay then at the head of the Passes. All was bustle and activity on board. In about one hour we were at the bar of the Mississippi, and very soon after we crossed it the Brooklyn hove in sight, and then the chase began, which lasted for more than three hours--as beautiful a regatta as ever was witnessed. It was a pleasant sight to see the Brooklyn crowding on canvas, and all to no purpose.

It is not surprising that she made such strenuous exertions to capture the Sumter, for she is a beautiful little craft, with her tall, raking masts and long tender spars — in fact, she looked as charming as a belle decked for a ball or a bride arrayed for the marriage ceremony; and it must have been particularly disagreeable to her commander to give up the pursuit. When it was observed that the Brooklyn had given up the chase, Captain Semmes ordered all hands below on deck, and offered three cheers for the Southern Confederacy, and from the quarterdeck to, the forecastle, alow and aloft, a shout rent the heavens that would have gladdened the heart of any Southron. The Sumter then pursued her course unmolested, and on July 3d overhauled a vessel bearing Spanish colors, and soon afterward chased and captured the American ship Golden Rocket. After removing from her all her extra sails, a portion of her provisions, and all of her treasure and her officers and crew, the torch was applied to her, and in a few minutes the fire began to spread, and the flames leaped wild and high.

First the fire ascended the mizzenmast and ran along the deck to the main, and then to the foremast. I have seen many beautiful sights, but this burning vessel was the most sublimely grand sight my eyes ever witnessed. On the following day, the once-glorious Fourth of July, we captured two brigantines; on the 5th, two more of the same sort; on the 6th, two barks and a brig — making eight captures, including the one destroyed. As the Sumter had only one hundred and six men in all, after she had put her prize crews on board, her own crew was considerably diminished, so that it was absolutely necessary for her to put into some port in order to dispose of the aforesaid captured vessels.

Accordingly, the vessel's prow was turned in the direction of Cienfuegos, Island of Cuba, where we arrived on the 6th. Six of the prizes were left at this place in the hands of a prize agent, with Government protections. The 7th, the schooner Cuba, has not, up to this time, been heard from. She may have been recaptured by some Yankee cruiser, or possibly may have been overpowered by her original crew, which was not transferred to the Sumter.

Left Cienfuegos on the 7th, and on the 9th saw the high hills of the Island of Jamaica. On July 16 arrived off St. Anne, Island of Curacoa; on the following day steamed inside and came to anchor, where we remained for one week. Our intercourse with the citizens of this place was very pleasant, and we left it with regret. On the 25th we captured the schooner Abby Bradford, of Boston, and towed her into Porto Cabello, New Granada. The prize — a valuable one--cannot be disposed of here, nor will the authorities permit any intercourse.

Thus have I attempted to give you an outline of our transactions from the time we left up to the present writing, and I assure you that any thing else but a “masterly inactivity” has characterized our actions.

Yours truly,

This will be handed you by Mr. William May, who goes as navigator of the prize Abby Bradford, sent in charge of a prize crew to New Orleans, by way of Berwick's Bay.

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