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For a year or more after the outbreak of the war, privateering under letters of marque issued by President Davis was carried on with considerable success, but shipowners soon discovered that commerce destroying was not a lucrative business. The Federal war-ships captured most of the early privateers or drove them from the seas, and their masters found a more congenial occupation in carrying contraband goods. The Confederate navy now took entirely upon itself the work of commerce destroying. In the middle of April, 1861, the Habana, one of a line of steamers plying between Havana and New Orleans, was lying at her wharf in the latter city. She was taken by the Government, renamed the Sumter, and refitted and armed under the direction of Commander Semmes. She cruised in the Gulf, the Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic, and succeeded in burning six American vessels with their cargoes. Seventeen captures in all were made, of which two were ransomed and seven were released in Cuban ports. The Sumter finally found herself blockaded, early in 1862, in the harbor of Algeciras, Spain, by the Tuscarora, Kearsarge, and Ino. Her boilers were now worn out, and there was no opportunity to repair them. So the vessel was sold, and was turned by her new owners into a blockade-runner.

This vessel, of all those available for the Confederate navy, alone seemed suited for commerce destroying, and consequently the authorities at Montgomery, early in May, 1861, determined to send agents to Europe to obtain there what the South had not the means to provide.

One of the first of the confidential emissaries employed by Secretary of the Navy Mallory was James D. Bulloch, a

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