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Doc. 11.-rebel Privateers.


Letter of New-York Merchants.

Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.:
sir: The continued depredations of the rebel cruisers on the mercantile marine of the country have not only destroyed a large amount of the active capital of the merchants, but seriously threaten the very existence of that valuable part of our commerce.

Apart from the loss of so much individual wealth and the destruction of so valuable a source of material power and enterprise, it is humiliating to our pride as citizens of the first naval power on the earth that a couple of indifferently equipped rebel cruisers should for so long a period threaten our commerce with annihilation. It is a painful source of mortification to every American, at home and abroad, that the great highways of our commerce have hitherto been left so unprotected by the almost total absence of national armed vessels as to induce rebel insolence to attack our flag almost at the entrance of our harbors, and to actually blockade our merchantmen at the Cape of Good Hope recently — an account of which you have here inclosed, being a copy of a letter recently received from a captain of one of the blockaded ships, having a valuable cargo. We are conscious that it is no easy matter to capture a couple of cruisers on the boundless waters of the ocean, aided and abetted as they too often have been at ports where international comity, if not international law, has been set at defiance, and we have witnessed with satisfaction the patriotic zeal and energy of your Department and the glorious successes of our navy in subduing the rebellion which threatens our national Union. Still we think that the loyal merchants and ship-owners of the country, whose zeal and patriotic cooperation have generously furnished the funds to sustain the Government, are entitled to have a more energetic protection of their interests than has been hitherto extended to them. Your very arduous official duties have, no doubt, prevented you from investigating the serious inroads which the unprotected state of our carrying trade has produced on our tonnage; and, without troubling you with the great loss which our ship-owners sustain in the almost total loss of foreign commerce, it is only necessary to call your attention to the inclosed table, prepared and published by one of the best informed commercial journals of this city, showing the loss of the carrying trade on the imports and exports of this city alone, by which you will perceive, that while during the quarter ending June thirtieth, 1860, we imported and exported over sixty-two million dollars in American vessels, and but thirty million dollars in foreign vessels; we have in the corresponding quarter of this year only twenty-three million dollars by our own ships, while we have sixty-five million dollars by foreign vessels. The intermediate periods show a most painful decadence of our shipping interest and tonnage by transfer and sale to foreign flags, which, at this time of considerable commercial activity, does not so much indicate a want of enterprise in this field of occupation as a want of confidence in the national protection of our flag on the ocean. The national pride of many of our patriotic ship-owners has subjected them to heavy sacrifices in difference of insurance against capture, of two per cent to ten per cent, while the underwriters of the country have been compelled to make great concessions in favor of American shipping, yet without materially affecting the result, and many of them encountering heavy losses by capture, in quarters where they had every reason to believe our commerce would be protected by national vessels of efficiency and power. Indeed, the almost total absence of efficient naval force in many of the great highways of commerce has had a damaging influence on our prospects, by producing a great degree of temerity on the part of the rebel cruisers, and corresponding misgivings on the part of underwriters and others in interest as to whether Government protection would be afforded to our ships laden with valuable cargoes. The want of adequate armed vessels on prominent naval stations for protection of our ships has become so hotorious, that under-writers have no longer speculated on the chance of the capture of these rebel cruisers by any of our national ships, but calculate only the chance of escape of our merchantmen, or the possible destruction of the piratical craft from reported unseaworthiness or mutiny. These statements are made with all candor and in no spirit of captiousness, but with a desire to concede that the embarrassment of the Department, which it may not be prudent or practicable to explain to the public, may fully justify the unfortunate position which the want of naval protection has placed our commerce in. Yet, it is respectfully urged that you will give the subject the benefit of the same energy and ability which have so creditably marked the administration of your Department in all other channels of your official duties. No one can better comprehend than one in your position the value of successful commerce at this time of great national expenditure, and a paralysis of so important an interest cannot be contemplated [168] without horror at this period of our national struggle. We beg leave, also, to inclose an extract from the Commercial Advertiser, of the twenty-sixth instant, and to request your attention to the paragraph marked.

We are, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servants,

Richard Lathers, President Great Western Insurance Company. J. P. Tappan, President Neptune Insurance Company. F. S. Lathrop, President Union Mutual Insurance Company. M. H. Grinnell, President Sun Mutual Insurance Company. Robt. L. Taylor, Merchant Ship-Owner. C. H. Marshall, Merchant Ship-Owner. A. A. Low & Bro., Merchant Ship-Owners. Grinnell, Minturn & Co., Merchant Ship-Owners. Wilson G. Hunt, Merchant. Chas. Newcomb, vice-President Merchants' Mutual Insurance Company. Brown Bros. & Co., Bankers. W. T. Frost, Merchant Ship-Owner. Bogert & Kneeland, Merchants. Duncan, Sherman & Co., Bankers. Buckltn & Crane, Merchant Ship-Owners. E. E. Morgan, Merchant Ship-Owner. Wm. Whitlock, Jr., Merchant Ship-Owner. Geo. Opdyke, Mayor of New-York City. August Belmonts & Co., Bankers. Jas. G. King's sons, Bankers. Archibald Gracie, Merchant. Howland & Frothingham, Merchant Ship-Owners. Williams & Guion, Merchant Ship-Owners. John H. Earle, President New-York Mutual Insurance Company. Isaac Sherman, Merchant Ship-Owner. W. A. Sale & Co, Merchant Ship-Owners. Thomas Dunham, Merchant Ship-Owner. Spofford, Tileston & Co., Merchant Ship-Owners. Babcock Bros. & Co., Bankers. J. P. Morgan & Co., Bankers. E. D. Morgan, United States Senator. New-York, October 28, 1863.


Secretary Welles's reply.

Navy Department, Washington, November 14, 1863.
gentlemen: The Department duly received your communication of the twenty-eighth ultimo, in reference to the depredations committed upon American commerce by the Alabama and other rebel cruisers. The pursuit and capture of these vessels is a matter that the Department has constantly in view, and swift steamers have been constantly in search of them, and at times very close on to them. They are under orders to follow them wherever they may go. The only vessel that had the impudence to attack our flag at the entrance of our harbors — the Tacony — was promptly pursued and her career was soon terminated. The Department had about thirty vessels after her.

I thank you for your expression that energy and ability have creditably marked the administration of the Department in all other channels of official duties. A rigid blockade of the coast has been demanded, and its accomplishment has required all the available force that the Department could bring to bear. To do this, it could not well despatch a larger force than it has in search of piratical rovers. It will continue to give this subject its attention, and hopes, as the avenues to the insurrectionary region are becoming closed and the navy is enlarging, to be able to have a larger force to pursue the pirates and secure the safety of our commerce abroad.

Very respectfully,

Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy. to Richard Lathers, Esq., and others.

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