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Doc. 103.-capture of the “Cumberland.”

Key West, Fla., Feb. 14, 1864.
For some months past an English steamer has been lying in Havana waiting for a favorable opportunity to run the blockade. Her name is the Cumberland. What added to the interest felt in this was the impression that should she succeed in getting into a rebel port with her valuable cargo, she would be fitted out as a privateer, and issue forth for the purpose of preying on our commerce, after the manner of the Alabama, Florida, and other Southern rovers. To this end, it was alleged that the Cumberland had a formidable armament on board, furnished by some accommodating British firm, of the Laird Lindsay stripe, ready to be mounted as soon as her cargo was discharged in Mobile or some other port in rebeldom. Under such circumstances, a strict watch was kept on the Cumberland, and information of her doings was from time to time transmitted from Havana to Rear-Admiral Bailey, commanding the East-Gulf squadron at this station, and that indefatigable officer issued a general order for all the vessels belonging to the squadron to be on the alert for the would-be privateer.

Not for one moment was the vigilant surveillance by the blockading vessels relaxed. Every thing consistent with international comity and the rights of neutrals was done to prevent the Cumberland from giving our blockaders the slip and depriving our gallant tars of one of the richest prizes of the present war, when, lo! two weeks and a half ago, the portentous news reached this place: “The Cumberland has escaped from Havana.” But while this unpalatable morsel was being digested by some, and others were “chewing the cud of reflection” thereon, as Smollett hath it, the loyal folks of this little island had their hearts cheered by the intelligence that the United States steamer De Soto, Captain Scott, had just arrived, and that the Cumberland, captured by her, was close behind. This was on Monday last, and, sure enough, two or three hours after, the Cumberland herself, in charge of Acting Master L. II. Partridge, as prize-master, was seen coming through the north-west passage, whither she had been convoyed by the De Soto, in consequence of the valuable cargo on board, while the De Soto herself, from her great draught of water, came through the ship-channel. Much adroitness seems to have been exercised by Captain Scott, and considerable ingenuity manifested in leaving the coast clear for the Cumberland to run out of Havana, and then falling in with her at the right time and in the right spot to make her an easy prey. To those who can see deeply into a millstone, I leave the putting of this and that together, and arriving at a correct solution of the modus operandi by which the whole delicate transaction was carried out.

Of the capture itself, I have nothing of an exciting nature to record. There was no long, stern chase; no waste of “villainous saltpetre;” no screaming shot and shell. The whole affair was conducted in the most prosaic, common-place manner, and did not differ from the most ordinary capture of a ten-ton sloop, laden with physic and notions. What matter? Some seven [448] hundred thousand dollars in gold changed hands in the space of a few minutes, to the profit of Uncle Sam and his handy mariners. The main chance being secure, the romance can be dispensed with. But to the record.

On the fifth of February, as the Cumberland was making the best of her way toward Mobile, her captain and passengers felicitating themselves on the speedy termination of a prosperous run, with large profits looming up in perspective, a check was suddenly put to their gayety by the appearance of the much-dreaded enemy. At the time she was sighted from the deck of the De Soto, about half-past 8 o'clock in the morning, the Cumberland was in twenty-nine degrees forty minutes north latitude, and eighty-seven degrees thirty minutes west Latitude. On sighting her the De Soto immediately gave chase, and was soon running at the rate of twelve and a half knots, gaining on the Cumberland (which the stranger was known to be) very fast, although she had been reported as a fifteen-knot vessel. At twenty minutes past ten the Cumberland was under the guns of the De Soto, from which a boat was hoisted to board the prize. Captain Blakeney, commanding the Cumberland, together with her officers and crew, were then transferred to the De Soto, when a prize crew of twenty-seven men and two engineers, commanded by Acting Master Partridge, were sent from the cruiser to the Cumberland, and she was brought into this port under convoy of the De Soto, as already mentioned.

The cargo of the Cumberland is a well-assorted one, and very valuable. Among other things found on board, were one hundred barrels of gunpowder and a large number of Enfield rifles. She has also in her hold a very large quantity of fine gray rebel uniform cloth, and bales upon bales of superior navy blue, besides an immense number of ready-made rebel uniforms, boots and shoes — in short, every thing necessary for the outfit of both sea and land forces. I have it on good authority that the cargo cost seventy thousand pounds in gold, in England; that the ship was sold there for fifty thousand pounds, and that ten thousand pounds more were expended on her in Havana. The cargo has not yet been disturbed, and it is therefore impossible to tell whether there are any cannon in the hold, and the captain and passengers, of course, keep dark on the subject; although, as the captain was engaged only in Havana, and most of the passengers are from that place, it is just possible that they know nothing about the matter.

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John C. Scott (2)
Partridge (2)
Smollett (1)
Doc (1)
Blakeney (1)
Theodorus Bailey (1)
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February 14th, 1864 AD (1)
February 5th (1)
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