- Alabama again in Cape Town -- the seizure of the Tuscaloosa, and the discussion which grew out of it -- correspondence between the author and Admiral Walker -- final action of the home Government, and release of the Tuscaloosa.
After our long absence in the East Indies, we felt like returning home when we ran into Table Bay. Familiar faces greeted us, and the same welcome was extended to us as upon our first visit. An unpleasant surprise awaited me, however, in the course the British Government had recently pursued in regard to my tender, the Tuscaloosa. The reader will recollect, that I had dispatched this vessel from Angra Pequeña, back to the coast of Brazil, to make a cruise on that coast. Having made her cruise, she returned to Simon's Town, in the latter part of December, in want of repairs and supplies. Much to the astonishment of her commander, she was seized, a few days afterward, by Admiral Sir Baldwin Walker, under orders from the Home Government. Since I had left the Cape, a correspondence had ensued between the Governor, Sir Philip Wodehouse, and the Secretary for the Colonies, the Duke of Newcastle; the latter disapproving of the conduct of the former, in the matter of the reception of the Tuscaloosa. It was insisted by the Duke, that inasmuch as the Tuscaloosa was an uncondemned prize, she was not entitled to be regarded as a ship of war; but that, on the contrary, having been brought into British waters, in violation of the Queen's orders of neutrality, she should have been detained, and handed over to her original owners. Under these instructions, the Tuscaloosa was seized upon her return to the Cape. This correspondence between the Governor and the Duke had not yet been made public,  and it was supposed that the seizure had been made by order of Lord John Russell. Under this impression I sat down, and addressed the following letter to Sir Balwin Walker, the Admiral, on the subject:—
Governor Wodehouse was, from the first, very clearly of the opinion that the Tuscaloosa was entitled to be considered and treated as a ship of war, and in his correspondence with the Duke of Newcastle, before referred to, he maintained this opinion with great force and clearness. He was, besides, fortified by the opinion of the Attorney-General of the Colony.  The seizure of the Tuscaloosa made some stir among the politicians in England. The subject was brought to the notice of the House of Commons, and information asked for. The Cabinet took it up, and were obliged to reverse the decision of the Duke of Newcastle. On the 4th of March, 1864, the Duke wrote to Governor Wodehouse as follows: ‘I have received your despatches of the 11th and 19th of January, reporting the circumstances connected with the seizure of the Confederate prize-vessel Tuscaloosa, under the joint authority of the naval commander-in-chief and yourself. I have to instruct you to restore the Tuscaloosa to the lieutenant of the Confederate States, who lately commanded her, or if he should have left the Cape, then to retain her until she can be handed over to some person who may have authority from Captain Semmes, of the Alabama, or from the Government of the Confederate States, to receive her.’ The London Times, of the 8th of March, 1864, in reporting the proceedings of the House of Commons for the preceding day, contained the following paragraph:—
‘The Tuscaloosa.—Mr. Peacocke asked on what grounds the Tuscaloosa had been seized at the Cape of Good Hope. Lord Palmerston said, that it was in conformity with the instructions received, that the authorities at the Cape of Good Hope had seized this vessel, but on representations that had been made to the Government, and on full consideration of the case, it had been determined that there had been no proper ground for the seizure of the vessel, and its release had been ordered.’The order to restore the Tuscaloosa did not reach the Cape until after both Lieutenant Low and myself had left, and the war drew so speedily to a close, that possession of her was never resumed. At the close of the war, she fell, along with other Confederate property, into the hands of the Federals. Besides embalming the beautiful name ‘Tuscaloosa’ in history, this prize-ship settled the law point I had been so long contesting with Mr. Seward and Mr. Adams, to wit: that ‘one nation cannot inquire into the antecedents of the ships of war of another nation;’ and consequently that when the Alabama escaped from British waters and was commissioned, neither the United States nor Great Britain could object to her status as a ship of war.