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Official correspondence of Confederate State Department.

Letter from Mr. Benjamin.

Department of State, Richmond, 20th April, 1864.
Hon. James P. Holcombe, &c., &c.:
Sir — I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your dispatch of the 1st instant, giving the result of your investigation into the facts connected with the capture of the steamer Chesapeake and the action of the British Colonial authorities in relation to the vessel and cargo and the parties concerned in the capture; also inclosing the printed pamphlet and newspapers containing reports of the judicial proceedings and decisions.

A careful examination of the whole subject has brought this Government to the same conclusion as has been reached by yourself, and we cannot hesitate to admit that the facts as now established present the case in an aspect entirely different from that in which we viewed it on the representations made by the parties engaged.

In the instructions prepared for your guidance in the conduct of this business, it was carefully pointed out that they were based on the supposition of the truth of the following facts:

First. That John C. Braine and Henry A. Parr were citizens of the Confederate States, enlisted in its military service, had been prisoners in the hands of our enemies, and that having escaped to New Brunswick, they there devised a stratagem for the capture of an enemy's vessel on the high seas, which was successfully carried out by the seizure of the Chesapeake.

Second. That acting exclusively as belligerents in the public service of their country, they touched at a point or points in the British Colonial possessions for the sole purpose of procuring the fuel indispensable to making the voyage to a Confederate port.

Third. That there had been no violation of the neutrality, nor of the sovereign jurisdiction of Great Britain, by any enlistment, real or pretended, of British subjects on British territory for service in the war waged by us against the United States.

It now appears from your own inquiries into the facts and from the judicial proceedings that we were led into error, and that the truth is as follows: [133]

First. That the expedition was devised, planned and organized in a British Colony by Vernon G. Locke, a British subject, who, under the feigned name of Parker, had been placed in command of the Privateer Retribution by the officer who was named as her commander at the time of the issue of the letters of marque.

Second. That Locke assumed to issue commissions in the Confederate service to British subjects on British soil, without the slightest pretext of authority for so doing, and without being himself in the public service of this Government.

Third. That there is great reason to doubt whether either Braine, who was in command of the expedition, or Parr, his subordinate, is a Confederate citizen, and the weight of the evidence is rather in favor of the presumption that neither is a citizen, and that the former has never been in our military service.

Fourth. That Braine, the commander of the expedition, after getting possession of the vessel and proceeding to the British Colonies, instead of confining himself to his professed object of obtaining fuel for navigating her to a Confederate port, sold portions of the cargo at different points on the coast, thus divesting himself of the character of an officer engaged in legitimate warfare.

Although at the period of your departure from Richmond we had no reason to doubt the statements made, it was considered imprudent to act on them without further inquiry, and your instructions were therefore closed with the following sentences:

Before closing these instructions it is proper to add that they are based on the statement of facts which precedes them, but our sources of information are not perfect enough to permit entire reliance. You will be able on arrival at Halifax to ascertain whether there be any important divergence between the facts as they really occurred and those assumed in this dispatch. In such event you will exercise a prudent discretion in your action, and be at liberty to modify your conduct, or even to abstain altogether from any interference with the matter. While desirous of upholding to the full extent the rights and interests of our country, we wish particularly to avoid the presentation of demands not entirely justified by the principles of public law and international morality.

I have the directions of the President to intimate to you his satfaction with your exercise of this discretion. The encroachment on the sovereign jurisdiction of Her Britanic Majesty over her Colonial possessions in North America, and the violation of the neutrality proclaimed by Her Majesty, as disclosed in the judicial proceedings, are disclaimed and disapproved by this Government. [134] While we maintain and shall continue to uphold the right and duty of every citizen of the Confederate States and every foreigner enlisted in their service to wage warfare, openly or by strategem, upon the vessels of our enemies on the high seas, whether armed or not, we distinctly disclaim aud disavow all attempts to organize within neutral jurisdiction expeditions composed of neutral subjects for the purpose of carrying on hostilities against the United States. The capture of the Chesapeake, therefore, according to the facts now disclosed, so far from forming the basis of any demand on the part of this Government, is disclaimed.

The President is much gratified that the superior judicial authorities of New Brunswick have rejected the pretentious of the Consul of the United States that the parties engaged in this capture should be surrendered under the Ashburton treaty for trial by the courts of the United States on charges of murder and piracy. The case as presented seems to be simply that of men who, sympathizing with us in a righteous cause, erroneously believed themselves authorized to act as belligerents against the United States by virtue of Parker's possession of the letters of marque issued to the Privateer Retribution. They may possibly have been conscious that they were acting in opposition to the policy and wishes of their Government; but no reason exists for supposing that they entertained any such motives as would justify their being charged with a graver misdemeanor than disobedience to Her Majesty's proclamation and to the foreign enlistment law of Great Britain.

It may not be without good effect that you should communicate to the Attorney-General of the Province, in the same unofficial manner in which you communicated the instructions relative to the return of our escaped prisoners, the views above expressed and the conclusion reached by this Government.

The President has not read without marked gratification your warm tribute to the grenerous gentlemen whose sympathies in our cause have been evidenced in so effective and disinterested a manner.

He begs that you will to each of them, Dr. Almon, Mr. Keith, Mr. Weir and Mr. Ritchie, address officially a letter in his name, returning his thanks and those of our country for testimonials of kindness, which are appreciated with peculiar sensibility, at a juncture when the Confederacy is isolated by the action of European governments from that friendly intercourse with other nations [135] which it knows to be its rights, and of which it is conscious it is not undeserving.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of State.

Letter from Mr. Holcombe.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, April 26th, 1864.
Hon. J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of State, C. S. A.:
Sir — Nothing has transpired since the date of my last dispatch to alter my convictions of the impolicy of any intervention by the Confederate States in the affair of the Chesapeake. I have conversed freely on the subject with eminent legal gentlemen both in official position and out of it. They generally express regret that through the folly and misconduct of the captors the Chesapeake was not secured to the use of the Confederacy. They think, however, that the courts, if required to pass upon the character of the transaction, would have been compelled to regard it as in fact a capture by British subjects never enlisted in our service by any person having authority so to do; or, if otherwise, then enlisted in violation of the neutrality laws. It is morally certain the home Government would not, under the circumstances, allow a claim for compensation for the surrender of the vessel by the judicial authorities. And I cannot but think that the presentation of such a claim by our Government and its rejection — the case being one, as all must admit, very doubtful both in law and in morals — would impair its public prestige and weaken the moral weight which might attach to its interposition upon future and more important occasions.

None of the captors have as yet been taken under the new warrants. It would embarrass the Government here, as much as it would the Confederate Government, to have the solution of this question forced upon them, in reference to the captors. Whatever may be the strict legal character of the transaction, public opinion would not tolerate their treatment as pirates, whether by proceedings against them as such on the part of the Colonial authorities, or by their extradition to the United States.

For the reasons stated in dispatch number four I shall remain here until the return of the next Bermuda boat, about the middle [136] of May, when I hope to hear that the course I have taken in this matter meets with your approbation and that of the President.

I remain, &c., &c.,

Letter from Mr. Holcombe.

April 28, 1864.
Hon. J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of State, C. S. A.:
Sir — The season has thus far rendered it impracticable to forward the arrangements for returning home our escaped prisoners. The ice has just begun to move in the Saint Lawrence, and it will be from the middle to the last of May before the navigation will be open. Land carriage at this time through Canadian territory is out of the question, not only on account of its expense, but the extremely limited facilities which it would afford for transportation. I wrote, indeed, upon my arrival, to some of our friends at Montreal to send in that way any who might be reached conveniently and who were anxious to reach the Confederacy as early as possible. I have authorized a gentleman in Montreal, who is highly recommended, Mr. S. Cromwell, to go at once as far as Windsor, and advise our friends of the existence of means to send back our soldiers to their posts, and to bring in some forty or fifty, who are reported at that point, to take passage on the first boat from Montreal or rather Quebec to Picton. I have also authorized the expenditure, if necessary, of one thousand dollars at different points to relieve cases of entire destitution, where there was no doubt as to the wish and purpose to get back into the service as soon as possible. I feel some apprehension that an effort may be made to capture our men when collected in large numbers on sailing vessels, whilst coming to Halifax, on the high seas. I see no mode of avoiding the difficulty, however, and I do not know that the risk would be materially increased, whilst the expense would be greatly diminished, by sending them directly to Bermuda from Quebec. Please let me hear at once from you on this point, for the unavoidable delay in collecting them along such an extensive frontier will give me an opportunity, at least to some extent, of acting under your specific instructions upon this matter. The accommodations of the regular mail steamer from Halifax to Bermuda are not very extensive, and it makes only a round trip in a month. The expense of subsisting them here, as well as the liability of men in their condition to be [137] involved in some disturbance when collected in large numbers, renders it very expedient, if thought safe, to send them directly on from Quebec to Bermuda and even also to Nassau. I cannot hear with any certainty as to probable number, but unless I receive instructions which impose upon me other duty by the next steamer from Bermuda, I purpose going in person probably over the whole line as far as Windsor, with a view of making some final arrangements.

My impression, derived from some experience already at this place, is, that of the large number who as escaped Confederates are appealing to public sympathy for material aid, there are some impostors — some who have never been in the service, but are shirking duty, and some who would be very glad for help here, but are in no haste to return home. The number of those who will go back to service is entirely conjectural. Knowing how much in this hour of agony we need men, I shall use most expedition in my power.

I am, &c.,

Letters from Hon. Jacob Thompson.

Wilmington, N. C., May 2, 1864.
Hon. J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of State:
Sir--Mr. Clay did not arrive until after dark last evening, and he delivered to me your letter with its inclosures. Herewith you wilt find my receipt for the bills forwarded by you. We shall sail to-day at one o'clock in the “Thistle,” which is considered by shippers as a safe boat, for Halifax; touches at Bermuda on the 13th instant, and the voyage thence to Halifax usually occupies four days. With no untoward event we will reach Canada by the 20th instant. m, &c.,

Sir — We reached this port safely this morning. While we were chased by a blockade vessel for five hours on our way out, yet we escaped with no further interruption than being forced to leave [138] our true course for that length of time. I am informed to-day the steamer for Halifax is not expected to leave Saint George's before Monday the 16th instant.

I am, &c.,


Arrived this morning. Six thousand bales of cotton burnt last night, which will delay all boats until Monday or Tuesday.

Mr. Clay delivered me your letter with inclosures last night.

We think copies of President's message would serve our purpose. If you agree, send them. We can't go till Thursday.

Letter from William J. Almon.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, May 26, 1864.
To Hon. James P. Holcombe, Special Commissioner of C. S. A.:
My Dear Sir — Allow me to express the extreme gratification I experienced upon the receipt of your letter conveying to me the thanks of the President of the Confederate States for the sympathy and kindness he has heard I have manifested towards the Southern cause.

I feel that this honor which he has conferred on me, though undeserved by any acts of mine, yet I trust is not wholly undeserved, if the sympathy I feel for the Confederacy is considered.

I feel assured that ere long public opinion, both in Great Britain and her Colonies, will act on our Government and compel it to [139] acknowledge the nationality of the South, which a very large majority of our people have already done.

I am, dear sir, yours very truly,

Letter from Mr. Holcombe.

Halifax, Nova Scotia, May 27, 1864.
Hon. J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of State, C. S. A.:
Sir — I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your dispatch of 20th April, communicating the opinion of the Government upon the affair of the Chesapeake, after a full report of all the facts connected with its capture.

I learn with great satisfaction that the exercise of the discretion confided to me over that subject has met with your approbation and that of the President. I shall now devote myself exclusively to the duty of sending home as rapidly as possible such of our escaped prisoners as may be willing to return. There are now twelve in Halifax, nine of whom will go on in the British mail steamer which leaves to-day for Bermuda, and the remaining three, with some others that are expected in the Constance, in about ten days or two weeks hence. The first party is composed of very intelligent and high spirited young men belonging to Morgan's command, and will be a valuable accession at this time. Their representations lead me to fear that the apprehensions intimated in my last will be more than confirmed by the developments of the future. Colonel Kane was greatly mistaken in his estimate of the number in Canada and of those willing to return. I shall proceed at once as far west at Windsor, and endeavor to stimulate them to discharge their duty to their country in this hour of her trial. Besides transportation, I shall offer (what they are very solicitous to procure) such clothing as they may actually need. I fear we cannot expect more than a hundred, however, at the utmost.

I have written to the Governor-General of British North America, informing him of my instructions to respect not only the rules of international law, but the municipal law of Her Majesty's empire.

On reaching Canada I will write more fully.

With the highest consideration, I remain yours, &c.,

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